Wandering Doha on a stopover in Qatar

Using the Middle East as a hub when travelling around the world is becoming an increasingly attractive option and this year we had a brief stopover in Qatar between the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

With approximately 20 hours between flights, we were keen to see a bit of this desert city state on the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Do you need a visa for a stopover in Qatar?

As of October 2017, Qatar has become the easiest place in the Middle East for a stopover, offering visa-free access to 80 nationalities.

You don’t need to apply or pay for a visa. A multi-entry waiver is issued free-of-charge at the airport (you just have to present a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months and a confirmed onward or return ticket).

There is a new e-visa platform for Qatar, through which travellers of all nationalities can easily apply for tourist and visitor visas.

A snooze and a swim

We arrived in Doha around 7am local time and went straight to our hotel in a taxi (some hotels offer free shuttle pick up/drop off or you can pre-book a taxi for around $20). Qatar Airways was offering a free hotel stay and the Holiday Inn generously allowed us both early check in and late check out so we had the hotel room right through until midnight when we departed for the airport.
Holiday Inn Doha Qatar swimming pool
The hotel is definitely a cut above Holiday Inns I have experienced in the UK, particularly as it opened last year (2017). The room and facilities were excellent and the staff were incredibly welcoming and helpful to a tired family of travellers.

The Museum of Islamic Art

MIA is the absolute ‘must-see’ in Doha. Not only for the exquisite collection of art and artefacts from across the Islamic world over the past 14 centuries, but for the beautiful architecture and views of Doha from the cafe.

Museum of Islamic Art Doha stopover in Qatar

To describe this as a treasure house is an understatement. I love Islamic art and the collection of Iznik tiles, Persian carpets, Ottoman armour, ancient decorated manuscripts, and gorgeous ceramics from throughout the Islamic world is breathtaking.
 Museum of Islamic Art Doha Qatar collection
Architect IM Pei has created an airy and welcoming building that reminded me of the great mosques of Istanbul, complete with the huge circular suspended lighting frames. The mathematical art of architecture is on display here as well as the historic exhibits.
Museum of Islamic Art Doha Qatar interior
It would be dull if I were to list all the incredible artistic highlights so you’ll just have to visit the Museum of Islamic Art for yourself.
Entrance is free and I recommend downloading the museum app (there is free wi-fi) and utilising one of the museum trails to explore, including the family trail if you have kids in tow.
Doha MIA Qatar

Wandering in Souq Waqif

After the museum we wandered along the Corniche looking at the hundreds of colourful wooden dhows in the marina to the Souq Waqif. We also had a good view of the mosque of Bin Zaid (full name the Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Centre) with its unusual spiralling minaret.

Stopover in Doha Qatar

Souq Waqif is around 100 years old and what remains of the historic building has been carefully preserved in recent years so you can still see the traditional architecture, even though it serves a useful shopping function today. It’s possibly the only place in Doha you can get a feel for what this glittering modern city was once like.

Souq Waqif pet street Doha Qatar

The maze of narrow alleyways are mostly covered and there are streets devoted to clothing, spices, handicrafts and household wares. The street of pet stalls was a big hit with my daughter and she loved the wide variety of pets. It was difficult to tell if the living conditions of the animals was good behind the scenes but everything seemed well cared for and healthy. I was concerned to see a number of native birds from Australia for sale.

Souq Waqif in Doha stopover in Qatar

A local meal

Qatar has some top-of-the-line restaurants and eateries (the world’s biggest Nobu for example) but we opted for a more authentic local option at Shay Al Shoomos in the heart of the Souq Waqif.
It is a great place for people watching and seeing the cosmopolitan nature of modern Qatar. Enormous skewers of freshly-grilled meat with a selection of dips, breads and salads was the perfect way to end our day in Doha.
Souq Waqif Shoomoos cafe Doha

After dinner headed back to our hotel to catch a few hours’ sleep before our long flight to New Zealand.

If you have a bit more time in Qatar…

If your Doha stopover lasts more than a day then consider a ‘Hop on, Hop off’ Doha Bus city tour to take in the major sights of the city and perhaps an evening of entertainment at the Katara Cultural Village. Another option is a traditional Dhow boat cruise with views of the Corniche and Doha’s glittering skyline. Also the Gold Souq is next door to Souq Waqif if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Or head south from Doha to one of Qatar’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea), one of the few places in the world where the sea encroaching deep into the heart of the desert can be witnessed. Inaccessible by road, this tranquil expanse of water can only be reached crossing the rolling dunes.

You could combine this with a desert safari in a 4×4, maybe including a camel ride, sand boarding or quad biking.Further afield, to the north of Doha is the Al Zubarah Fort and archaeological site, and to the west the Zekreet Peninsula has unspoilt beaches and wind-carved rock formations.

So you see there is quite a lot to do on a stopover in Qatar!

By Natasha von Geldern

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