With a weekend to spare, Nathan and I decided to hop over to Doha, Qatar. Though I work with a number of teachers that have lived in Doha in the past, I’d heard mixed things about just how worthwhile the city was.
Is it work a stopover if you’re flying through? Should you book a flight if you’re living in the Middle East and want a weekend away?
We think so!
Despite having the highest GDP per capita in the world, we found the people of Qatar to be welcoming and approachable. The wealth of the country is evident in its gorgeous buildings that are shooting up like wildfire.
Though the city doesn’t rival Dubai in terms of scale or grandeur or compete with Muscat’s stunning mountain ranges. It doesn’t have speedy rollercoasters like Abu Dhabi but it does have an energy that is uniquely Qatari and, in our opinion, certainly worth seeing.
If you’re planning a visit to Doha or stopping over on your way elsewhere (which you definitely should do), this guide is for you.
Tourist Activities in Doha, Qatar
Home to a variety world-class exhibits, the Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) contains beautiful and intriguing artworks from three continents, spanning 1,400 years.
Though we’ve lived in Abu Dhabi for the last year and a half and have travelled fairly extensively throughout the region, we’ve not seen an art collection that comes even close to rivalling this one.
With the smell of shisha and oud drifting through the air and the buzz of goods changing hands as if in a scene from Aladdin, Souq Waqif has an old-world charm that is sometimes lacking in other Middle Eastern markets.
Souq Waqif was one of our favourite parts of Doha and we could have very happily stayed there people-watching all night. The souq alone is reason to visit Qatar!
Take a Walk Along the Corniche and Check Out the City Lights
Winding 7 kilometres along Doha Bay is the corniche, providing visitors with perfect views back over the city. Doha’s skyline is gorgeous and instantly recognisable with such iconic buildings – things will only get more exciting too as the city ramps up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Construction is already well under way – we can’t wait to see how the skyline continues to evolve.
If parks, restaurants and statues are more your style, there are plenty of other options along the corniche including pop-up markets, traditional arts and crafts and playgrounds. If you’re after a cheap momento to take home, you might get lucky and find a local lady offering henna – if you do (and you’re a lady), jump at the chance – henna smells amazing thanks to the addition of essential oils and it’s a great opportunity to chat with a Qatari.
Did you know? Qatari’s make up only 12% of the entire population in this small Middle Eastern country.
Relax with a Massage
After a busy week at work or when you’re straight off a long flight, there’s not much better than a luxurious massage or spa treatment. Upon arriving into the city we checked into Chi, the beautiful spa at the Shangri-La – we booked in for a wellness massage (the ku nye to be specific) and it hit the spot perfectly!
If massages aren’t your thing, Chi also has a hydrotherapy pool and a full range of health and beauty therapies to help make you look and feel like a million dollars.
Enjoy World-Class Cuisine
When we talked to our friends that have lived in Qatar they all had the same advice – go to Doha and eat up a storm. Food is an important part of life there and it’s done well because of it. I’m not sure if people eat out lots because the food is good or if the food’s good because lots of people head out but either way, make the most of it!
Our favourite was the Shanghai Club where we enjoyed world-class Chinese food with breath-taking views (162.3m above ground to be exact) – just go in with empty tummies as the amount of food was absolutely incredible. Duck pancakes and sweet and sour fish were the standout dishes of the night for me – I’m getting hungry just thinking about them again!
Have More Time Up Your Sleeve?
There’s a surprisingly diverse range of things to do in Qatar considering the size of the country. Why not pay a visit to the Singing Sand Dunes, the Katara Cultural Village or the Pearl (Doha’s take on the Dubai’s Palm)? Alternatively, head into the warm Arabian waters and enjoy a scuba dive or head out into the dunes on a quintessentially Middle Eastern desert safari (where you can even camp overnight amongst the stars!)
Getting There – Flights and Visa Requirements
Qatar shares a land border with only one country, Saudi Arabia, and due to visa limitations, the vast majority of people are not able to use this point of entry to the country.
If you’re visiting Qatar, chances are it will be on a stopover or a quick getaway from another Middle Eastern country and your point of arrival will be Hamad International Airport. This stunning airport sits approximately 25 minutes out of the city centre making it easily accessible.
Residents of thirty-three countries are entitled to a visa on arrival (for QAR100 per person) and though this can be purchased online, doing so at the airport is quick and easy making it a viable option.
Alternatively, if you’ve booked a stopover through Qatar Airways (for between 5 and 96 hours), you’re entitled to a complimentary transit visa – just be sure to allow at least 7 days to process the visa. Once it’s up and running, you’ll have a 30 day window with which to use it.
If you book a through-ticket with Qatar Airways, you’ll also be eligible for a free city tour (on a first come, first served basis) but it is a real whistle-stop tour so should you have the time to explore on your own accord, we’d definitely recommend doing so.
To find the lowest priced fairs and compare value between different airlines, we recommend using Skyscanner.
Regardless of how you get to Doha, you’ll want to head into the city. To do so, you can choose between taxis (which you’ll find waiting just outside of the terminal) or have the Shangri-La organise a private car for you. Check out our ride!
Doha is well serviced by taxis, which are the easiest way to get around. They’re well priced and the drivers we had all knew their through the city (which is more than we can sometimes say for drivers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai!) – just remember to ask them to put the meter on and round your payment up for the driver.
Though it’s possible to hire a car, we did see some fairly erratic driving and taxis are cheap and comfortable so we’d be hard pressed to recommend driving yourself for a short stay.
Where to Stay in Qatar
Opened in 2015, the Shangri-La Hotel Doha is synonymous with warmth and luxury – the perfect balance, ensuring guests are spoilt whilst still feeling at home. It’s a spectacular option in Doha. With 272 rooms, this striking city hotel is located in the central business district of West Bay which makes it a convenient base for a weekend away.
With a fully appointed gym (and personal trainers on hand throughout the day), four restaurants, three bars, a falcon and its handler in the lobby (I’m not joking!) and a direct connection to one of the biggest malls in Doha, there’s plenty to keep guests busy.
Most impressive of all though is the incredible pool and the spectacular city views.
The pool, built on the 7th floor of the hotel, is surrounded by towering hotels and office blocks. It’s a genuine oasis in the hustle and bustle of downtown and with its sheer size and the number of palm trees (2,000 square metres and over 70 palms!), it’s surprisingly easy to forget there you are. In all our travels, we’ve never seen anything quite like it.
When you’re finished relaxing pool-side, we suggest heading up to the Horizon Club Lounge on the 42nd floor. Here breakfast is served to guests in the largest lounge in all of Doha, with stunning 360-degree views. Regardless of the time of day, refreshments are available at no additional charge and come early evening, a lavish spread is put on making the Horizon Club Lounge the perfect spot to relax before dinner and watch life in the city go by beneath you.
We’re not normally ones to sit around in a communal space, preferring instead to be out exploring or relaxing in our room but with snacks, relaxing music, books galore and incredible views, we found ourselves slipping quietly onto a comfy sofa more than once.
If you’re looking to treat yourselves (and why wouldn’t you?), the booking a Horizon Club room is the perfect way to do so. By the time you account for all of the additional benefits, it’s an easy decision.
As you would expect, the rooms in the Shangri-La Hotel are exceptional, each with their own floor-to-ceiling windows allowing guests to make the most of views out over the ever-expanding city.
All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, TVs with a wide range of channels (and a sound system that even lets you listen to your favourite shows whilst in the bath!) and spacious floor plans. The bathrooms are also generously sized with moulded bathtubs, rain showers and high-quality toiletries.
It’s the finishing touches in a five-star hotel that set it above the rest and the addition of a simple hair-tie to our amenity collection is surprisingly telling. As silly as it is, I hate it when my hair tie breaks and the fact that the Shangri-La go to that level of detail to look after their guests tells you just how invested they are in giving their guests the very best experience, each and every time.
Beautiful pools and views aside, it’s those personal touches that take a gorgeous hotel to the next level and the Shangri-La Hotel Doha sits very comfortably in the that echelon – what I would call personalised-luxury.
As we found in when staying at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, service is the core focus of these beautiful hotels. When we walked around the Horizon Club Lounge we couldn’t help but notice that our hosts knew all of the guests by name – no small feat considering the number of people they must see through their doors. Though the building and facilities are obviously top-notch, in our opinion, it’s the service and finishing touches that makes Shangri-La memorable as a brand.
When all is said and done, was the trip to Qatar worth our time and would we recommend others visit?
Though it’s not a glitzy as as Dubai or steeped in history like Cairo, Doha has its own down-to-earth charm whilst still wowing with its obvious wealth (a difficult balance but one that it somehow manages).
Having visited, I can now understand why so many of my friends that have lived in the region consider Doha to be such a liveable city – it seems to strike the right balance in so many regards.
So, next time you’re looking for a weekend away from your adopted GCC homeland or are considering stopping off in the Middle East, don’t overlook Qatar. Too many people pass through the airport without ever really setting foot on Qatari soil and take it from us, they’re missing out.
If you’re headed to Doha, Qatar, why not pin this post for future reference?
Thank you to the Shangri-La Hotel, Doha for inviting us to join them to experience a snippet into life in Qatar. As always, all thoughts are our own.