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A glimpse of Doha, Qatar

20 hours in sizzling Doha, Qatar

Emblem of the city over one of its main roads


It was just by accident that we spent (nearly) a day in Doha. I was desperately looking for reasonable flight tickets to any exciting destination all April and May and I almost gave it up. Then I found this special offer by Qatar Airlways (no, this is not a paid advertisement) to Thailand. The only drawback was the duration: 32 hours in total from Budapest to Pattaya. This meant arriving in Doha at midnight and get on the next flight 20 hours later.

The original plan was to spend a few hours at the airport and spend the day in the city, saving the cost of the hotel room. Then a well-travelled friend advised us that you get a free night’s stay (or even 2 nights) at a 4 or 5 star Doha hotel if you have a long stopover. I checked the official website of the airline and within 3 minutes we had a night booked in the Holiday Inn. Not one but two rooms absolutely free.

I can fully recommend this option if you don’t mind arriving a little later at your destination. Just make sure you contact the hotel about the free transfer (part of the offer in case of 4-star hotels) before you travel. We didn’t book a shuttle so we had to take a taxi (70 riyals or 20 US dollars).

Warm welcome

The first thing that struck me (apart from the mile-long queue at immigration) was how kind and helpful people are in Doha. This includes airport staff (except maybe immigration officers), hotel reception, shop assistants, museum staff and people at restaurants. Perhaps it’s only because I come from a post-Communist country where politeness towards customers isn’t necessary the norm but all three of us noticed immediately.

Road on an artificial island with the skycrapers of Doha in the background
Road on an artificial island with the skycrapers of Doha in the background

Of course, we couldn’t wake up early so our sightseeing walk coincided with the hottest part of the day. It was around 45 Celsius but we didn’t want to start spending our bucks on the first day of our holiday so we walked. If you do the same, take some water with you and cover your head. Sunscreen is also a good idea. Most stores have AC and there is quite a lot of shade so you’ll survive.

A museum you shouldn’t miss

There are three places I’d like to recommend in Doha. The first one is the Museum of Islamic Art, a modern building situated on its own artificial island. The building itself a feast for the eyes with its square blocks curiously forming a dome not unlike that of a mosque. And the two openings on the top resemble the head of an Arabic woman wearing a chador.

The museum seen from the port
The museum seen from the port
The dome of the museum rethinks ancient mosques
The dome of the museum rethinks ancient mosques

The space inside is no less impressive. The exhibition halls are arranged on three floors around the open interior so that you can walk around the dimly lit rooms. The principle of “less is more” is perfectly applied here so each object receives the attention they deserve. There are carpets, tiles and various everyday objects created in the Islamic world from Spain to China. Some of them are more than a thousand years old.

An ancient bazaar

You can spend hours lost in the mazes of the bazaar
You can spend hours lost in the mazes of the bazaar

The second must-see sight is Souq Waqif, probably the oldest remaining part of Medieval Doha. In contrast with most of the buildings you can see in the capital today, the alleys full of little shops recreate the atmosphere of a world gone by. Sure, it’s touristy and way too clean compared to Damascus or Jerusalem but you can spend an hour or two browsing or shopping. The streets are shaded, which is a huge advantage in the summer months.

Tickle your palate

And, finally, let me recommend a friendly South Indian restaurant located about 20 minutes’ walk from the Corniche (and the two sights above). If you just desire a snack, you can (hardly) choose from the range of super sweet cakes on display in the bakery section. But if you are after something more substantial, the restaurant offers a fine selection of spicy South Indian fare. We loved the vegetarian aloo gobi masala and the Rayroth chicken curry. It’s also great value for money as the three dishes with steamed rice, water and coffee cost only 80 riyal (23 USD).

Visitors take a break in the lounge of the museum
There are many other places to have a drink or a meal – even in the museum.

All in all, Doha with its unique sights and friendly inhabitants was a very pleasant kick-off for our holidays and we’ll be happy to return for another round on our way home.