We were completely surprised by Doha, Qatar, though to be fair we didn’t have strong expectations. Doha felt like the Singapore of the UAE: it’s an international hub where English speakers will have no trouble, extremely clean and welcoming, and the perfect intersections of culture and food. You’ll get much of the desert vibes, at a much higher price tag but without the hassle and grime of Morocco (though we do love Morocco as well). The architecture throughout the city is striking in its myriad of forms; both striking and elegant.
We came only because of the Qatar Airways Stopover special (good job to their Marketing team), so we only had a short 2 day visit and now we can’t wait to come back – hopefully during a cooler season though! Be aware that there’s currently lots of construction still going on in preparation of FIFA 2020 and their public transportation is just beginning to take shape.
What to Do in Doha
You can live the life of luxury or hop in the car to visit any number of cultural and artistic sites such as the Museum of Islamic Art. While the exterior sits in a demure manner, stepping inside will reveal a completely different face. Symmetric bursting details made us feel like we’d just entered another La Sagrada with its dominant oculus and play with light. The MIA os must visit for any interested in the architecture, art, and history of Islam. Though you could easily spend all day in there admiring the intricacies of the museum and the housed artworks, a couple hours is sufficient to make the rounds. My favorites were the bright and colorful pottery from Turkey and the elaborate floral patterns etched on metal or carved into doors. The Arabic script has always fascinated me and the varying layouts of the folios (pages) from poems or the Qur’an were inspiring.
We booked an excellent Dune Bashing tour and got lucky with a super skilled driver Mr. Habeeb Afridi – easy to talk to and great choice in music. He seemed to lead the drive between the 3 cars and our car got some of the better views. We were taken to the sand dunes in Mesaieed, Qatar, south of Doha. If you’re a fan of the desert views and roller coaster like thrills, then we highly recommend this activity.
Another stunning site to visit is the Katara Cultural Village. We happened to catch sunset here, which was well worth the sweating that happens anytime you set foot outdoors in Doha. Amazingly there is air-conditioning all along the vents of the main squares: outdoors! Of course you can always just step into the shopping malls as well; we spent an hour or so in the Children’s Mall, unintentionally succumbing to their theme of “Play” by playing miniature pool and an ATARI simulator. We walked through the amphitheater and enjoyed the buildings and fountains lit up with lights, but even in darkness it was too hot to wander long.
It may also be worth seeing both in the day and in the evening, but in the heat it would be difficult to do. Note that there’s no free wifi there and no taxi stand, you’ll need to find a restaurant with internet or ask them to help you call you a taxi if you don’t have your own means of internet. Also be aware that on Fridays everything opens later, including the Museum of Islamic Arts.
After only 2 days we regretted not having more time, and perhaps our own car to get around and enjoy more of the beautiful architecture; we’re realizing just how little the States has to offer in terms of architecture compared to the rest of the world during our travels!
What to Eat in Doha
Ah the pangs of frustration as you travel: there’s only so many times a day you can eat! The further complicate things for us, the stifling heat in Doha made everything completely unbearable to walk during the day and simply made me less hungry. We did manage to find a couple notable places though and cannot wait to return to try some more.
While the Souq Waqif has plenty to offer you in terms of culinary delights, a friend of ours recommended Parisa Souq Waqif. The restaurant itself is a bit of a visual delight, you may find people wandering in to take photos in the hallway, with its myriad of mirrors and mosaics. The main dining area reminded us a bit of a riad: a central fountain bubbling gently and the ceiling opening to the top floor. Their fried eggplant appetizer was so flavorful, slather it on their fresh thin bread! Carl’s choice of the lamb neck stew surprised us with its ultra tender chew and barely any gamey taste. While we were excited about their drink list, the saffron lemonade and the Doug (salted yogurt) turned out a bit too potent for us. The prices here are not what you’d expect in a souq, but it’s well worth the luxurious experience.
Another surprising spot (or perhaps its better to assume the extreme in any theming or decor in Doha) was Sugar and Spice. The restaurant feels like you’re visiting the house of an eccentric relative, fake animal busts line one wall while velvet and 60s-style upholstery pair with lacy curtains framing the many windows. It’s a very endearing space with a menu is full of tasty sounding treats. The service is extremely attentive: the moment we pulled out our phones they offered the wifi and even portable chargers. Try their Nutella pancakes: both soft like cake with a little crisp on the edges plus the crunch of hazelnuts makes for wonderfully textural bite. Their tempura french fries with a pesto cream sauce was also very interesting and fun to eat.
We also made a trip out to City Center Mall as our Dune bashing tour meet there, so we browsed a bit and had lunch at Noodle House, decent but unremarkable. The food court upstairs is mostly chain shops, many of which were American chains.
If you’re carless and too lazy to venture out into the heat, you might opt to order in! We attempted to with various food apps but discovered that they required a local number. Eventually we found that we could order on Talabat as long as we opted to pay cash on delivery.
With just a 2 night stopover in Doha we barely got a taste but we certainly want to come back. We would love to come back in the winter season and perhaps rent a car then so we can venture out farther to other eats and areas of Qatar. Browse our photos for inspiration or read on for more things to know before going to Doha and other logistical information or jump down to the details on all the places we recommended.
Where We Stayed
We took advantage of the Qatar Airways Stopover special which gets you a significant discount on Doha hotels. We stayed at the Saraya Corniche Hotel, which is right near the Corniche and the harbor. We picked it based on its convenient location, thinking we could walk to the souk and the museum but not realizing that in the 100+ degrees weather, walking is not an ideal option. The hotel itself was ok, ornate in decor but not the newest. The room was a nice size with a comfortable bed, sitting area, and kitchenette space – though no cooking or dishware and the mini fridge didn’t seem to work. The staff was pleasant enough and we were allowed an early check-in when we emailed them in advanced. They do have a cafe, restaurant, laundry service, and restaurant on site, but we did not use any of their services.
If you’re visiting during the hottest season, you’d likely drive or get an Uber ride everywhere, so the location of your stay isn’t quite as crucial. You may want to consider night activity proximities though if you do want to walk around in the evenings when it’s not as scorching.
Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations
Mosquito problems: None while there
Problems for tattoos: None
Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions. Traveling through the UAE you’ll want to be respectful of their cultures even if you do not agree with them. Foreign women are not expected to cover their heads in public but please remember to dress respectfully, especially if visiting any religious areas. Though there are concerns about non-married couples sharing a hotel room, we did not experience any issues with this.
Getting Around in Doha, Qatar
This being our first time, we simply used taxis or Uber whenever we needed to get anywhere. We had intended to use the new public bus system (their train and bus system just opened a year ago) to travel from the airport to the hotel, but the bus ticketing kiosks at the airport required exact cash, which we didn’t have since we just pulled cash from an ATM. At the bus “terminal” there are 2 blue smart card kiosks that offer two cards, a basic card for 10QR and a 24hr card but it was a little unclear as they only display a picture of the card and offered no additional text. This seemed contrary to the information I got online about there being a reusable card you could purchase for 30 QR, which includes 20 QR useable credit. Only one card can be purchased at a time. Because of that and the no change, we ended up taking a taxi instead.
Something we learned first hand is that you’ll want to have a sim card or guaranteed internet while you’re visiting Doha, because there are not always taxis (or free wifi) around. We were visiting the Katara Cultural Village, which is a popular tourist site and mall, but there do not have a taxi stand there, so we almost got stranded. Luckily someone else had taken a taxi there to drop off his family members and was willing to share his taxi with us back to Corniche. If we had internet, then we could have called for an Uber no problem. Next time we visit we may even consider renting a car, as there is a lot to explore in Doha but much of it requires a drive. Also the roads are quite spacious and well marked – though some drivers can be very aggressive and impatient, not unlike Morocco!
In terms of leaving the airport, you should check first with your hotel if they offer a transfer service. Ours did not and recommended a taxi or using the bus. We were told that using Uber to leave the airport was somewhat frowned upon, so we just went with a taxi, which cost us about 45 QR to get to our hotel. On our way back to the airport we used Uber and the cost was about 25 QR.
Currency: 3.64 QR = 1 USD
In general there is not really a tipping culture in Doha. Restaurants will charge a service tax but that does not include tip.
$80-90/person: This was for 2 evenings in Doha at the Saraya Corniche Hotel with the Qatar Airways Stopover special. We took taxis and Ubers to get around, ate mostly at sit down restaurants, went to the Museum of Islamic Arts and took a Dune Bashing tour through GetYourGuide. A big variable for budget would be food costs and activities in Doha: if you stick to “street food” in the souks or eat farther away from the waterfronts, you’ll find much better prices. Of course if you’re looking for a luxurious stay in Doha, then the sky’s the limit on costs.
Some typical costs
- Dune Bashing Desert Tour: $39 pp
- MIA admission: 50 QR pp
- Brunch at Sugar and Spice: 178 QR
- Taxi ride from airport: 45 QR
- Uber ride to airport: 27 QR
- 3 orders of momos from Chai & Momo: 100 QR
- Qatar Airways Stopover special hotel: $60/night
Sugar and Spice, sugarandspiceqatar.com, Aspire Park, Qatar, $$ – Quaint and cozy cafe for brunch or lunch or desserts. Try their nutella pancakes and pesto tempura fries!
Parisa Souq Waqif, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/qatar/sharq-village/dining/parisa-souq-waqif, Al Souq St, $$-$$$ – Glamorously ornate restaurant serving fragrant Persian dishes with high class mannerisms. Reservations are recommended. Try their lamb neck for the most tender lamb stew you’ll ever get. My favorite was the fried eggplant appetizer ontop of their complimentary fresh bread!
Museum of Islamic Arts, mia.org.qa/en, $$ – Not only a curation of beautiful art but an architectural experience in itself, we highly recommend a visit to the MIA. Note that a general ticket gives you admission for 3 consecutive days, so if you have the time – go back!
Doha Desert: 4-Hour Safari Tour, getyourguide.com $$ – Excellent Dune Bashing tour with a super skilled driver Mr. Habeeb Afridi. Rode in a land cruiser which sits 5 comfortably not including the driver, chilled water is provided. There is an obligatory pit stop for tea/bathroom/camel ride if you’re interested, otherwise you can wait in the car. In the dunes you stop twice for photos and to enjoy the view.
Doha City Center, citycenterdoha.com/en/home, Doha City Center 4th Street – City Center shopping mall. A popular meeting spot for some tours, note that it can get very crowded at the drop off area during the rush hour.
Katara Cultural Village, katara.net/en – A waterfront neighborhood with a beach, shopping center, theater and many restaurants. Note that taxis are not readily available here, so plan your ride back accordingly.