With eleven days for winter break, Chris and I decided to seek warmer weather, and picked Qatar and Oman: a perfect winter destination. We took a direct flight from DC to Doha, and 12 hours (and four movies) later we arrived.
Qatar has a first class airport, at the eastern edge of the capital city. Most hotels offer free pick up, or you can take a taxi or a bus into the city. If you’re on a long layover, Qatar Airways offers a brief city tour. If you’re doing it on your own, you can buy a 24 hour Karwa bus pass to get around cheaply (look for the aqua colored busses).
The luxury resort hotels are across the water in an area called West Bay, but Chris and I were looking for something a little more basic. We stayed three nights at the Golden Ocean Hotel, which was around $50 a night and featured a pool, gym, and restaurant, and lots of marble tiling, as well as free airport pick up and drop off. We wanted to stretch our legs after our long flight, so our first night we got some great night views of Doha.
From that side of town (other nearby hotels are the Double Tree, Movenpick, Golden Tulip, and Best Western), you can walk to several attractions: the Fanar Islamic Cultural Center, Souq Waqif, the Corniche, and the Museum of Islamic Arts. You may have seen your fair share of souqs, but be sure to stop by the falcon market and the camels at this one. Next to the souq is Fort Al Khoot, which makes a nice photo, but you can’t enter it.
At the Corniche, traditional dhows line up and are available for rides across the bay (the area is particularly lively at night, with stringed lights and music and dancing, as well as street food). At one end of the Corniche is the excellent Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). The museum, designed by IM Pei, is four floors of Damascus Steel and Islamic Art: rugs, pottery, jewelry, carved wooden doors, and religious texts. The museum is free and closes daily at 7 pm. Highly recommended.
Qatar is a city under construction, so prepare for road works and half-completed sidewalks amongst the dozens of towering sky-scrapers. A few times, the bus stop we wanted was not quite completed, but the driver will drop you off as near as he can. Alternatively you can take Doha Bus, a hop on hop off bus, but at $65 we thought it wasn’t worth it. We took the public Karwa bus for 10 QAR (about $2.50 USD). We took one bus from the MIA to West Bay City Center, and another from City Center to Katara Cultural Village- which features shops, restaurants, art galleries, a beach, and an amphitheater. It’s a nice evening destination (and not quite complete but it is open for business). Another popular site is The Pearl, a man-made island neighborhood, but you’ll need to take an elevator up to see the design it makes.
Qatar is a dry country, but foreigners can get alcoholic drinks at the bars of some hotels. We went to the Doubletree rooftop bar, Pure, 20 floors above the city, and watched the sun set and had an over-priced gin and tonic. Another option is to pick up some duty free on your way in- you can bring in two liters.
The food in Qatar is a mix of Indian, Pakistani, and Arabic (thanks in part to the huge influx of guest workers from Asia). Biryani, chapatti, paneer, and shawarma feature at most places. One delight is karak tea, made with cardamom and condensed milk, and a dessert called kanafeh- especially if made with cheese and local honey imbued with thyme or lavender.
There’s a mix of dress in Qatar- local men wear dishdashas (also called thoubes) with a ghutra on their head, while Qatari women are generally veiled, called a sheyla or abbeyah. Guest workers often wear Indian-style kurta pajamas, and tourists generally wear loose trousers and shirts, or a skirt/dress over leggings. Modest dress is expected from everyone, but covering the hair or face is not.
We didn’t get out of the city, but Doha is a nice layover spot. You should be able to cover it in a one day layover if you hurry, or a 2-3 day adventure if you take a more leisurely pace.
Questions about Doha? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them.