Qatar – Doha

[To see sneak peak of my time in Doha, check out my IGTV video by clicking here.]

First: A HijabiOnTour HoT Tip 😋

One of my HoT tips is to use a travel agent when booking long haul tickets, so that, if you have a stopover in the middle, you can request to extend it and add another destination to your trip, for next to no expenditure.
When booking the long haul tickets for our honeymoon, we took two things into consideration: Value for money, and possible stop over destination.
We had heard a little bit about Qatar and Doha through family; my husband’s brother had lived there for about a year. So we chose to fly via Qatar Airways.
Personally, I’ve had good experiences with Qatar Airways beforehand, and I’d recommend flying with them.
The original stop over was scheduled to be only a few hours, however, we extended this to 4 days for an additional £50, in order to give us time to explore Doha properly. If you have enough time, I’d definitely recommend using this technique to sneak in an additional destination to give you more places to explore!

What’s it like?

Doha is still a city in transition. I mentioned on my Instagram that it reminds me a lot of what Dubai was like about 10 years ago, but more conservative.
There is a lot of building work going on around the city, and it’s clear they’re in the midst of a real development phase. I imagine that much of this will be completed by the 2022 World Cup, however, with the recent embargo this may be delayed.
This points to Doha having much more to offer over the next few years, but even now, there’s still plenty to see to fill your weekend with!
The City is similar in style and environment to the other large newly built Arabian Cities around the Arabian Peninsula. Without a true central medina, but spots to explore in different areas across the city.
I’ll be running through some of the highlights later in this post.

When to go

Qatar’s climate of course varies throughout the year. When you go, therefore, is likely to affect your enjoyment of the trip. The summer months; defined as May to September can get very hot. During the day it’ll experience temperatures of above 40 degrees C, and at night: around 30 degrees C. It’s a very dry, desert heat, which means I’d recommend always carrying some water with you if you go during this time. Between October and April the temperature is much more comfortable. You’ll still get daytime temperature’s reaching 30 degrees, 35 in October. At night it’ll settle to mid 20s.
[NB: December to February the temperature drops to Mid 20s during the day and mid teens at night.]
I went during the back end of our honeymoon, in late September. the weather was uncomfortably hot during the day with temperatures above 40; resulting in us spending much of our time indoors and waiting for the evening. It was still slightly uncomfortable when the sun set: approx. 30 degrees; but it was manageable. Both my husband and I agree that we would have enjoyed it more in March or April, or late October and November.

Transport

Public transport is almost non-existent in Doha, so the recommended method of getting around is by car. Either hiring your own or using taxis. We used Uber during our stay which proved relatively cheap. It’s not uncommon for tourists to strike agreements with taxi drivers for transport over the next few days, however if you’re going to do this, please make sure the taxi driver is trustworthy! We’ve not had any issues during our travels so far Alhumdullillah. We took an Uber from the Airport to our hotel; Shangri-La, in the West Bay Area.
Which leads me nicely on to…

Where to stay

There are three* main hotspots when booking hotels:
1. The West bay Area
2. The Pearl (and surrounding)
3. *Banana Island Resort
The Pro’s & Con’s to each location:
West Bay: Close to the predefined CBD, meaning shorter distances to travel on average to places around the City. You’re less likely to get a beach front hotel in this area. There is the West Bay Beach, which is a nice public beach, but it’s not actually that close to the West Bay Hotels, definitely not walking distance. These hotels seem like they’re more for business guests.
The Pearl however has accommodation with much nicer beaches. There are some beautiful hotel’s here, The Ritz Carlton springs to mind, but you’ll have to pay up.
I’m not sure being close to the CBD is that much of an advantage in a place like Doha.
Arabian Desert cities rarely have a bustling outdoor city centre, and instead these are replaced usually by large air-conditioned malls.
The Shangri-La (in West Bay), where we stayed is a good hotel, with nice amenities including a large pool area, Spas and restaurants. The price is good relative to the city (Doha being on the expensive side). The rooms are good, but they weren’t as nice as we expected. The views however are lovely.
Thanks to the lovely people at the Shangri-La Doha, we were given the opportunity to take some nice shots on their helipad.
NB: The Shangri-La Doha has now closed and I believe has been replaced by JW Marriot Marquis Doha City Centre. This is the same hotel under different ownership.

The hotel is adjacent to the Doha City Centre Mall. A nice mall, but by no means one of the better ones in the area. In fact it felt quite empty.
As you’re likely to be travelling in a car when you want to get around (walking is not really an option here), whether the trip takes 10 to 15 minutes to your destination or 15 to 20 doesn’t really make much of a difference. Therefore, I’d recommend finding a residence around The Pearl to make the most out of your trip.
*Banana Island; this is a beautiful purpose-built resort island off the mainland. It is the most luxurious and relaxing place in town. But you pay for what you get, and prices start from £240 per room per night.

What to do: Some highlights and honourable mentions

The Corniche

Doha is horseshoe shaped city surrounding a bay of water. Therefore, along much of its inner edge there is a corniche along the waterfront. A 7 km stretch which connects the West Bay area to the Museum of Islamic Arts and Souk Waqif.
This is a beautiful place to go for a stroll or a jog. There aren’t many bikes around however it’d be a lovely path to cycle. Along the whole path you’ll see the view of the city skyline and once you get closer to the Museum of Islamic Arts you’ll have the opportunity to take in the sights whilst cruising the bay in a traditional Arab dhow. You’ll get some spectacular views here, during a relaxing experience.

It’s a popular spot, with locals and tourists. Dhow cruises can cost up to £40 when booking online in advance but negotiating with the locals is recommended to get much cheaper prices.

Katara Cultural Village

Katara Cultural Village is located along the coast between West Bay and the Pearl.
I really enjoyed this part of town. This was my favourite area of the City. This is a beachfront area with gardens, Mosques, galleries, an open Amphitheatre, an Opera House and an abundance of restaurants and cafes.
Often there will be shows and culture focussed events taking place here.
When you arrive in the area you’ll be taken around using their free golf caddy transport service, but I’d recommend taken a stroll to experience the area properly. You can spend some time here enjoying the gardens and the beach front.
The Masjid of Katara is a beautiful Mosque, with an exquisite turquoise and purple mosaic exterior as well as an incredibly pretty interior. The design of the mosque is inspired by several famous mosque from around the Muslim world. Unfortunately, as I went at night, I wasn’t able to grab a picture showing its true beauty but I’d definitely recommend visiting.
The Amphitheatre is regarded as the main attraction here and its architecture is beautiful, taking Greek influences with an Islamic twist.
It has a capacity of 5000 people and there are often performances here.
However, as with much of Doha, the experience can’t be regarded as ‘authentic’. This is newly built modern attraction trying to give a traditional vibe, but it still can be enjoyed.
The Golden Mosque is an Ottoman style mosque where religious lectures will often be held.
We stopped off in the Katara area to have some dessert, tea and my husband enjoyed some shisha whilst watching a game of football (sigh).
It was fairly expensive (as is much of Doha; esp the tourist areas), and I’m not one to be swept away by fancier environments but it’s one of the few places I’d recommend spending a little bit more in the City as it’s a nice experience.

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif: a traditional standing Market; is an area selling traditional garments, spices and souveniers. As well as containing several restaurants, shisha cafes and a few other attractions.
This place has a bit more history than others in Doha, as it dates back around 100 years (yes a whole century! Lol that is how new Doha is). But even so, it’s recently been renovated. There’s plenty to do here, so depending on the amount of shopping you plan to do, I’d say give it half a day if you’re planning to eat also.
It’s easy to get lost amongst the winding alleys, as you’re taken away by the abundance of goods on offer; traditional garments, scarves, cloaks, robes, spices, pots and pans, souvenirs, crafts… you get the gist.
And as with any market in this part of the world, haggling is part of the experience. You’ll need some cash however, as many shops won’t accept plastic.
As you’re wandering, look out for some of these gems:
The Art Centre. The Gold Souk. (both pretty self-explanatory)
The Falcon Souk. Falcons and birds of prey are revered by Qataris and around the Arabian peninsula, and here you can learn about falconry, whilst having a bird of prey perch on your arm. You can also buy a falcon… for thousands of dollars, if that’s your thing.
The Horse Stables. From Falcons to Horses; another animal highly revered and respected in Qatar. There’s no charge for entry here, and you can wander freely around the grounds. Look out for the heritage police’s daily ride through the area; a popular tourist attraction.
Before we move on to the restaurants and cafes, I’d just like to address one area of the Souq which made me feel uneasy. Behind the spice section of the market, there is a collection of caged animals for sale: cats, birds, rabbits, tortoise etc.
I know this is quite common in eastern markets, but it has never sat well with me and I can’t help but to feel so sorry for animals in these types of locations. I’m constantly stuck between wanting to purchase some animals to let them free (safely) and not wanting to spend money contributing to the practice.
Places to Eat:
There are plenty of options on where to eat. This area also seems to be the main hotspot for shisha.
One of my favourite restaurants in the whole of Doha; was Parisa, a stunning Persian restaurant in the heart of Souq Waqif.

Styled majestically. The food; delicious (including the Saffron flavour ice cream we had for dessert) and the experience; wonderful. I’d highly recommend visiting this place for a nice evening meal.

Museum of Islamic Arts

Initially greeted by a walkway lined with palm trees and a road running alongside a man-made waterfall that make for an impressive approach. At the end of which is a stunning building sitting out in the bay, looking as if it’s floating on the water. Its exterior beauty is reflected by the collections on the inside.
Admission is free, this is a must visit.

HoT Tip: A Ready Made Day Plan

The Corniche (West Bay to MIA), Museum of Islamic Arts, A ride on a traditional dhow, Souk Waqif.
After having breakfast and perhaps enjoying a morning swim at your hotel;
Head to The Corniche at West Bay and walk along its length. You’ll end up at the Museum of Islamic Arts. Take a few hours to enjoy what’s inside before heading one of two ways. Either take a trip on the traditional Arabian Dhow around the Bay, or head straight to Souq Waqif towards the latter part of the day. Where you can enjoy the market and all there is to uncover before your evening meal.

Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque (State Grand Mosque)

The National Mosque of Doha is a gem. As you’ll see from my Instagram, I loved this Mosque. Not just the mosque, but the sense of peace I felt as I sat in the forecourt during the evening, staring at the skyline of Doha. You’ll also note that it features heavily in my short video of Doha. Visiting Qatar’s largest mosque should be high on your to do list, and I’d recommend going in the evening for Maghrib prayers.

Desert Safari or Desert Camping Tour

Desert Safari: If you’re staying more than just a few days in Doha, then taking a desert safari for the day, or Overnight Desert Camping Tour is a must. These tours, offered by a number of agencies, are all fairly similar. Some online travel agents include: Regency Sealine Camp, Arabian Adventure Qatar, 365adventures to name a few. Hotels can also organise these trips for you, and you’ll be able to find tours with local vendors whilst in Doha aswell. There is not really much difference in price.
With the Desert Safari the options are for either 8 or 4 hours. 4hr tours go either during the morning or evening, I’d recommend the evening tour. Both tour lengths usually make quick stops at some traditional Qatari tents, then to a camel riding spot for around half an hour (there are also other animals here, including falcons), and then onto 45 minutes of desert rallying over the dunes. Next, you’ll be taken to a photography spot and perhaps the inland sea (which is essentially the Saudi border).
If on the 4-hr tour you’ll head back to Doha at this point. With the 8-hr tour you’ll have some more time at the inland sea to be allowed to swim and then go onto having dinner at a traditional style campsite, where you can relax under the stars.
Prices vary, and can be either per person or per vehicle. 4 hours tours can be around £40-£60, whilst 8 hour tours tend to be around £100-£120

Desert Camping: depending on how much time you have I’d actually encourage you to go on an overnight desert camping tour. Staying overnight in the desert, as long as it’s well organised, is always a unique experience. Now this will be more expensive, but you should bear in mind that these trips include transport and one night’s accommodation, so you can save that night from what you will have spent at a hotel.
These tours incorporate all that is in the 8-hour desert safari tour, plus a stay at a Bedouin style campsite where you’ll enjoy around a fire and under the stars.

Hounourable Mentions

  • The Villaggio Mall (pictured below). A nice high-end mall, with a Venetian feel. It includes a medium size indoor theme park, which is good for younger children.
  • MIA Park (Museum of Islamic Arts Park)

Doha: The Enigma

I felt Doha to be difficult to understand.
The city was very quiet, which has its pro’s but can also make it feel as though there’s something missing; a certain buzz associated with middle eastern locations.
This will most definitely have been attributed to two things:
1. the time of year we went; it was very HOT. Pick your dates wisely.
2. the embargo placed on the nation, which has caused much of the construction to be postponed. Specifically that by foreign investors.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of experiences are added to due to the fact they’re less busy: having much of the hotel pool to yourself; finding quiet spots at the beach; the exhibits at the Museum of Islamic Arts can be enjoyed wholly; at picturesque locations you’re able to get a moments peace and reflect, as I did at Qatar State Mosque.
When thinking of this topic my visit to China springs to mind where scenic locations were affected negatively by the huge crowds of tourists and it took away from the experience massively.
But at times, certain locations are supposed to be busy; the Souq for example, without the buzz of high numbers of shoppers, can lose its character. You may think this means you can shop in peace, but not really when you’re often the sole focus of shopkeepers (who are lovely btw, I never once was badgered or on the end of someone’s attempt at a hard sale) but you know the feeling when you’re in a shop and you feel you’re being watched because you’re the only shopper? Yeah … that.
In the malls, the sense that something is lacking is emphasised by the regularity of shops that are still waiting to be opened.
This feeling is apparent generally throughout the city, because of the lack of people, and therefore lack of demand; you won’t see many ‘hotspots’ or hubs that you expect to find in cities where people can just chill and watch the day go by.
Make of that what you will, some of you will be drawn to this, others will be put off, myself: well I’m undecided to how it made me feel… hence; Doha the enigma.

On the whole, however

I enjoyed my time in Doha, and was pleasantly surprised by the direction it’s going. Tourist locations aren’t superficial like they can be in similar newly built cities (aside from Villaggio Mall – that was built for show, but can be enjoyed on its own merits). Each place is created purposefully, especially Katara Cultural Village and the Museum of Islamic Arts. The Qatari’s are trying hard to display their heritage and this is in mind in nearly every new project. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it feels less genuine.
As a stopover destination I feel it’s worthwhile, and in fact, if you decide on an overnight stay at the desert it can be quite a well-rounded location.
In the city itself you almost must force something to happen. In other cities, often those with more history, you can take things as they come. With Doha, I felt we had to really search for the worthwhile things to do to make a holiday out of it.
Personally, I wouldn’t fly solely to Doha for a holiday. I don’t think it offers as much as of right now. I’d happily visit it as part of wider trip, or as a stopover destination and this is where I think it works well.

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