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Travelling from the east to the west of the globe can be quite taxing. But if you have a stop-over in the Middle East, especially Qatar, you’re sorted. This country has a lot to offer in terms of exploration, fun and relaxation. Whether for a few hours or half a day, read our guide on how to make the most of a layover in Qatar.
If you only have three hours to spare on your stopover in Doha, stay at the airport. Hamad International Airport was recently ranked the second best airport in the world in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2017 readers’ survey. With over 100 restaurants and shops, the airport is a great destination for shopaholics and food fanatics, as everything from fine dining to on-the-go snacks are available.
To relax and take a break from being in an enclosed space for long hours, walk into any of the nine lounges at the airport, with facilities such as unlimited high-speed Wi-Fi, showers, conference rooms, smoking rooms, family rooms, a business center, gaming room for kids and a nursery. Walk around the airport to find some amazing art installations, like the famous 23-foot canary yellow Lamp Bear by Urs Fischer in the grand foyer, a mural by Qatari artist Faraj Dunham, The Nurseries of El Dorado by Marc Quinn and Rudolf Stingel’s work that reflects the passage of time.
The terminal is rather cold, however, so be sure to bring a travel blanket or wear warm clothing.
With five hours in hand, step out of the airport and take a short 10 minute drive towards the Doha Corniche area. Stretch your legs while taking advantage of the walkway and stepping into the Museum of Islamic Art, a marvel designed by world renowned architect I. M. Pei. The park next to the museum is a great place to take in the sun or the stars while getting some fresh air. The two coffee shops at the end of the park are good spots to catch the famous Doha skyline.
Across the road from the museum is the Souq Waqif, a market selling traditional clothes, herbs, spices, gold and souvenirs. It also houses a pet center, falcon centers and camels, plus a small park for kids to play. Have a quick bite and chai/Moroccan tea at the traditional Arab restaurants like Tajine or Zaatar W Zeit, which are open 24 hours, then head back to the airport for your onward journey.
With seven hours, there’s time to hop on the Doha Bus for a tour of the city. It’ll take you to all the important places, such as Katara Cultural Village, where visitors can have a hearty lunch while taking in the sights of the beach and expansive art installations; The Pearl-Qatar, which is an artificial island with hundreds of high-end retail shopping outlets and food options; the Emiri Diwan, which houses the offices of the Emir, Prime Minister and other ministry officials; and the Grand Mosque, with its sandstone facades and 90 smaller domes. Or, you can also opt for a customized tour by booking in advance.
If you’re travelling with Qatar Airways and have a long stopover, this tour is complimentary.
The perfect way to get around the city for half a day could be by taxi, rental car, or bus. As there’s construction all over the city, it is advised to go with an experienced professional driver who knows the way around. Visit the Education City for the Oxygen Park, located near the Hamad Bin Khalifa University.The highlights are 7,000 m of pathways, a covered walkway, a 1,600 m running track, an equestrian track, sports pitches, and sculptured gardens containing more than 100 plant species. The Al Shaqab Equestrian Club is another wonder, where visitors can pet the horses. Also have a look at the Qatar National Convention Center,which is shaped like the branches of a tree and hosts musical shows, concerts, corporate events and the WISE event every year. Qatar invests a lot in art, which can be seen in the form of murals on the walls of the Qatar Foundation buildings. Another fun thing to do is to seek out the inspirational art installations of words like discover, explore, and fly placed around the city at important tourist destinations.
The Qatar National Library recently opened to the public and is a must-see for tourists. The 45,000 square metre building has an expansive collection of books and uses cutting-edge technology.
Head back to the airport in time to make it for your flights, as immigration lines can be very long for tourists in the peak travel seasons of Eid, December and the summer holidays. Winter in Qatar is pleasant, and less crowded.