If you’re flying to a far-flung destination like South Africa, Australia or Asia, then you might be flying with Qatar Airlines via Doha. There’s always the temptation to get the flying part of the holiday out of the way as quickly as possible, with the final destination being the ultimate goal. But, what if you’re missing out on new experiences by just sitting in your transit airport for a few hours? What if you could be experiencing a new city, or even country? Is Doha a stopover destination worthy of closer exploration?
We sent Phil (our CEO) on a short trip to Doha, on a mission to answer 2 key questions…
1. Is there enough to do in Qatar to constitute spending a few nights there, rather than travel through?
2. Are the stories we hear in the media reason enough not to travel to Qatar?
Phil flew from Manchester on an early morning flight, and was lucky enough to be travelling in business class on the Dreamliner service…
So, I checked in at Business Class at the Qatar desk Manchester Airport T2. I was given a pass to the 1903 Lounge, where I had an excellent choice of drinks and food. In there the WiFi is fast, and I was able to work after taking breakfast.
Once I’d boarded, and the crew seated me, I was instantly offered a choice of beverages – great service!
As for the pod itself… aside from the standard seat controls, taking it from upright to flat-bed, the pod has a charging cradle for your mobile and storage with a vanity mirror.
The food is on another level, and certainly an indication that this is a worthwhile upgrade from economy. My personal recommendation at breakfast is the Superfood salad.
The crew are attentive not intrusive and when that pod door closes, you slip into a world of home entertainment. When you are ready to sneak forty winks, you simply activate the auto dimmer to black out the window glass, and set the seat to flat-bed mode.
Lie back and recharge the batteries, ready for the adventure that awaits on land…
Let’s start with a few facts about Qatar…
- There’s a population of 3 million, but only 15% are Qatari nationals.
- The country is not huge, in fact it would take you 2 hours to drive North to South, and 1 hour 30mins to drive East to West.
- There are 8 “districts”, Doha being the largest.
- Sport is very important to the Qataris and they have 8 stadiums with 50km of each other.
- The first international hotel was built in Doha in 1982. It was the Sheraton, and to this day it hasn’t changed its facade and stands out in Doha’s super modern cityscape.
- There’s an offshore neighbourhood called the Pearl. It has 33,000 residents, which is actually 1% of Qatar’s population.
- The Pearl industry used to be huge in the Persian Gulf. It’s perfect for easy cultivation, as it’s only 25m deep. The fisherman used rocks tied to rope and threw them overboard. When they dragged them along the bottom and then brought them up. If they were scarred then there was a good chance oysters were down there. In the 1920’s Japan created a new approach to cultivating pearls, by placing oysters in large tanks and perfecting a farming method. This was the start of the end for the pearl fishermen of Qatar.
- In the 1940s, at the end of the Pearl fishing period, the Qataris found oil and gas. Ironically, after finding out how to create LNG, the Qataris started to export this gas and the first country they exported to was… Japan!
- The national museum of Qatar was once a Palace. It’s known as the Desert Rose.
- Qatar is extremely flat, in fact the tallest point in Qatar is a dune approximately 103m high.
© Discover Qatar
If You Really Are Just Passing Through
I should add that even if you just have a longer stopover in Doha, rather than a few nights, before your onward journey, you can book “Transit Excursions”. This could be a desert safari or a city tour including Souks, or even 6 holes of golf! The city tour is approximately $32 per person, and it’s a great way to see Qatar, rather than just sitting in the airport. Your luggage is even taken care of.
So, Is Doha A Stopover Destination?
What’s there to do?
We visited the Cultural Centre and learned how to make Arabic coffee, including the rituals and ceremony around this.
Coffee is made by the man of the house and served by the youngest son or youngest male family member present. Coffee is served from right to left, and filled to a third of a small handless cup. The process of grinding the spices is a tradition that involves tapping the side of the mortar with the pestle. The noise signifies coffee is being prepared and anyone is welcome.
You must always accept if offered and take a sip, even if you don’t want any.
Always drink the coffee with the right hand, and, if you are finished or do not want any more, when approached simply shake/tip the cup from side to side and it will be understood you are finished.
If you are presented with a full cup by your host, it means drink up quickly and go because it’s not convenient to talk or for you to be in their company at that moment.
For families there’s a great indoor amusement park to spend some time in (and escape the heat!) called Doha Quest – it’s in an area called Oasis. Entry is approx $70 per person.
One of my favourite excursions is the Mangrove Kayaking from the Aqua Sports Camp. You can have double or single kayaks, and I would say anyone over the age of 8 could stand up when the tide is in. The water is really shallow – when it’s out its only a couple of feet deep. It’s perfect for almost all ages but you have to be mobile to take advantage of this experience.
You get the opportunity to kayak to Purple Island, where you can have a swim or take a short walk to the top of the hill for some spectacular photographs.
Make sure you take a change of clothes. In the kayak you’ll definitely want to wear a hat, light clothing and some flip flops.
A Beach Stopover With A Difference
If you’re a kite surfing enthusiast, don’t miss out on this…
Go a little further north, from Doha, to the Hilton FKB (Fuwairit Kite Beach Resort). It’s just incredible and they even have motorised surf boards!
This place is featured on the world kite surfing tour, so it’s a big deal for anyone who kite surfs and is looking for somewhere to take a short 2-3 day stopover en route to/from the Far East, Australasia or the Indian Ocean.
There’s a great vibe around the place… there’s a funky bar and lobby, and the beach front rooms have views to die for! Plus, there’s an incredible gym and air conditioned yoga/studio room that will blow your mind. Location location location…
On your bed, you may find a turtle-shaped towel waiting for you after dinner, and this is quite symbolic. Why? Well… Hawksbill Turtles!
If you know your nature, you will know that these amazing animals are on the critically endangered species. The turtles mate every two years, with nesting beginning in late March to early April. The females leave the sea and look for suitable nesting grounds. Then, two months after they are laid, the eggs hatch. If you are lucky, and are staying at the Fuwairit Kite Beach resort, you will see the young hatching turtles rush instinctively towards the sea to begin their life journey. A magical experience to behold I’m sure!
Is There Nightlife?
There’s a plethora of activities to keep you occupied in the day, but as night falls, Doha undeniably comes alive.
We called in at the spectacular Souq Waqif where, amongst all the incredible shops, three buildings stood out to me.
Firstly, there’s a hospital for falcons! It’s situated opposite the falcon shops… Falcons are the national bird of Qatar, and are incredibly important to the rich heritage and culture – Qataris are even able to book a flight seat for their falcons!
Secondly, there’s the most popular restaurant in Qatar – Parisa – which serves incredible Persian cuisine…
Thirdly, there’s a hotel in the centre of the Souq.
It’s considered not only the first hotel in Souq Waqif, but also in Qatar, having been built in the 1950s for foreign merchants.
If you’re looking for the most amazing dining experience (and you MUST book this in advance!), the JW Marriot Marquis has a venue that is simply one-of-a-kind… on their helipad overlooking Doha. WOW!
Spectacular views, matched by the outstanding food delivered to our table – this was in no uncertain terms a bucket list experience!
To Visit Or Not To Visit?
I’ve had the best time in Qatar.
I’ve experienced heat like I’ve never experienced before, but that’s why there are air conditioned streets (yes, you read that right!).
Qatar has busted a few myths for me along the way. For example, I’ve enjoyed fine wine; sat in restaurants next to openly gay groups; seen families enjoying the nightlife and food of the Souq; and felt as safe here as, if not safer than, sitting in my own home! Ultimately, when we travel we accept that we’re visiting places with different customs, cultures and traditions… surely this is why we travel and explore? I would always advise you to do your own research, and speak to people that you know who may have visited before; rather than listening to the media.
In my honest opinion, you have choices in life. So, personally, I would choose to experience time in Qatar, rather than just travel through it to my final destination.
If you’re planning a long-haul holiday, in a far-flung destination, then speak to our award-winning team, on 02380 658 386 to discuss your plans. Qatar may well be an option on the horizon for you. Why not add a few nights in Doha before enjoying an Emirates cruise with MSC Cruises?