For me, Doha just happened. Yes truly. We were travelling to Greece for the summers and the best and most economical option to fly was the Qatar Airways. I had never flown Qatar Airways and with its self proclaimed ‘World’s 5 star airline’ tag it was worth a try. The onward journey to Athens had a stopover of about 9 hours which was a little unnerving. But then I chanced upon the Free Doha City tour, courtesy Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism and suddenly the 9 hour wait didn’t feel that bad (I just love travelling and hence any chance of packing in an extra place of travel in my itinerary leaves my ecstatically dizzy). And the best thing is you donot even need a transit visa for this, Qatar Airways takes care of everything, absolutely free.
The first tour starts at 8am, followed by three more at 11am, 4pm and 8pm. The City Tour counter opens at 6am and starts taking bookings. The first 22 eligible passengers are booked into the first lot and so on and so forth. Our flight was to land just after 5am so we were just fine. But we couldn’t have been more wrong! Infact our flight landed at 4.45 am, about 20 mins before the scheduled arrival, and without having to worry about taking our checkin luggage we almost ran to search for the City Tour counter. Traveller tip here: Almost everything that you need at the Hamad International Airport, Doha – food courts, Airport hotel, Day lounges, City Tour desks- is somewhere around the giant $6.8mn yellow Teddy Bear lamp made of bronze, weighing 20 tons and owned by the royal family of Qatar.
By the time we reach the counter, it was around 5.20 am and there was already a long queue at the counter. A quick count showed about 60 odd people! Remember that you need to carry your passport (obviously), your onward journey boarding pass with Qatar Airways and enough time before your next connection (around 4- 5 hrs as the tour itself takes 3 hours) to be eligible for the tour. Miraculously we were the last ones to get a seat at the 8am tour (pheww such a narrow escape). It was 6.30 am by that time and we were asked to assemble at the counter at 7.15am, just enough time for a quick tea and croissant at a nearby cafe.
So at around 8am, we board the 22 seater bus that would take us around the city of Doha with stops at the Pearl Qatar, Katara Cultural Village, Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif. The guide on board was a friendly chap from Nepal who provided crisp information on Doha and the various places of interest that we stopped at. The picture that you see on the right is of the Doha city scape and the haze that you find is almost a perpetual haze that surrounds the city’s air. The moment you get out of the airport, you will start to feel the desert heat even at 8 o’clock in the morning and what you will also notice is how new the city is. Practically everything that you see around has been built in the last 16 years (since 2000) with more and more construction happening, especially the Metro, because of the FIFA World Cup that Doha will be hosting in 2022.
One of the best places was the Katara Cultural Village which was opened in 2010 and is part of Qatar’s 2030 vision to be a cultural hub. Amongst other things, it consists of an Opera House, Amphitheatre, Masjids and numerous Halls and Galleries holding exhibitions. You can just wander around a little bit and the amphitheatre is a sight to look at. For the non Indian traveller the Souq Waqif is another intriguing visit, with its maze of alleyways flanked with shops selling all sorts of things housed under a 100 year old building. You will be given about 30 mins on your own at the Souq so you can walk around the shops. Most of the shop owners are Indians with people selling shawls to carpets and even South Indian dosas! We, still recuperating from a sleepless night, sneaked into an air conditioned cafe and sipped on our glasses of Frappuccino while watching the city pass by. And with this as our final stop, we finally headed back to the airport for our onward journey onto Greece (read my travel review of Athens and Santorini here).
Some traveller tips for waiting it out at the Hamad International Airport, Doha
- There are multiple family lounges across the boarding terminals where you can relax. However they donot have sleeping facilities
- We had the Priority Pass from HDFC which will give you access to the Al Maha lounge at the airport (amongst other airport lounges across the world) for 6 hours. If you donot have the pass you need to pay $55 for a 6 hours stay. There is hot food being served there at all times and the lounge comes with a smoking room, a family room and a shower room equipped with all toiletries. Again, it is not a sleeping lounge, but the chairs are comfortable enough for a quick doze off.
- The entire airport has excellent WiFi access so you need not worry about staying connected
- For a longer layover at the airport (and if you are not eligible for a free hotel stay) you can always head over to the Aiport hotel which is one floor above the Al Maha lounge and check in for a few hours of ultimate luxury. We used it for our return journey, with a 13 hr layover, and paid EUR 190 for an 8 hour stay. I would say that if you need to pamper yourself while at the airport or catch-up on that elusive sleep, you should book yourself into this hotel. Its worth every penny you pay
- Finally if you are planning to hoard on Duty Free, liquor was the only thing that I found cheap here. Perfumes were the same price that you get locally in India (I had compared the prices with that in Amazon.in). As a matter of fact, I have found perfumes to be a lot cheaper in any of the European Duty Frees
To sum it up, no longer how long your layover is at the Hamad International Airport, the Airport has abundant to offer in terms of luxury, shopping and rest. So although I wouldn’t know if Qatar Airways is the world’s 5 star airline, Doha airport can surely give you a 5 star experience.
So, happy travelling. And if you have anything to say about the blog or would like to add some more tips for travellers, do leave a comment.