I arrived at Hamad International Airport, Qatar on an early morning flight, waiting for my connecting flight to Istanbul. The 24-hour layover motivated me to step out of the airport to explore what Doha could offer. While waiting for the check-in time at the hotel, I decided to walk to Souq Waqif.
Reminiscing Old World Charms at Souq Waqif
If there is a place in Doha that you can’t miss, it has to be Souq Waqif.
“Souq” in the Arabic language means marketplace, and given its location right in the cultural centre of Doha, it’s no wonder that tourists and locals flock the market, looking for jewellery, carpets, pets, handicrafts, spices, and all kinds of souvenirs.
The traditional Qatari architectural style left me impressed — I felt like I was going back to the time when Bedouins and locals traded their goods by the shore. Since I took a walk early in the morning, I had a chance to witness lively auctions at the square near the end of the alley.
Feeling the Local Vibe at Corniche Promenade
After the morning stroll in Souq Waqif, I checked into the hotel to unwind and let the warmer hours of the day pass by. I returned to the seaside in the afternoon and walked along the Corniche Promenade to see the Dhow Harbour and to treat myself to a panoramic view of Doha’s modern skyline.
As I only had less than 24 hours left in Doha, I gave the dhow cruises a miss. They are known for barbecue dinner with beautiful sights of the city from the water. Instead, I spent my time observing the people and the street scenes to get more acquainted with the city. Many locals and expats gather at the seaside promenade, especially in the late afternoon.
Marvel at the Treasures of the Muslim World in the Museum of Islamic Art
On the other end of Corniche Promenade opposite the Dhow Harbour, I caught the eye-catching architectural design of the Museum of Islamic Art. Wanting to learn history and be inspired by great art collections, I walked towards the museum to see what’s inside. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about the entrance fee because it’s free!
Housing valuable artworks and scientific projects from all corners of the Muslim world such as Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, the museum narrates the rich influence of art on the history of Islam in the last 1,400 years. You will find antique clocks and compasses, lots of original Arabic manuscripts, intricate textiles, and precious stones.
Enjoying the Vibrant Nightlife and Food Scene at Souq Waqif
Spending the afternoon in Corniche Promenade and the Museum of Islamic Art made me hungry, and so I backtracked to Souq Waqif and saw how the place transforms after sunset! The busy and energetic night hustle and bustle at the Souq was a stark contrast from the quiet ambience the place exuded during the day. The place was packed with tons of tourists, in search of the vibrant nightlife and local cuisine in the area.
When I was about to leave Souq Waqif to conclude my day in Doha, I chanced upon a free cultural performance near the entrance. I found a cosy spot to sit among the crowd to watch the whole performance. Truth to be told, I had never imagined finding myself so comfortable in a foreign city, enjoying something that I didn’t understand due to the language barrier. I might not understand their language, but their movement and rhythms captivated me that night.
Dune Bashing: A missed opportunity
If there is one thing I wish I had time to do during my short stay in Qatar, it would be dune bashing in the desert. The Middle East is famous for its vast deserts, but it is in Qatar where they say you’ll find steep dunes that come up for extreme 4×4 driving adventure! How I’d like to experience the thrill of speeding up and down the dunes as I watch the raw beauty of the desert.
I also read that there are chances of finding the desert fox and wild camels during the trip. Dune-bashing in the Qatari desert sounds super fun, and if ever I get a chance to go back to Qatar, I’ll book a trip to the desert for sure.
Planning a Trip to Qatar
How to Get to Qatar
Like many of the major airports in the Middle East, Hamad International Airport in Doha is a regional hub for flights coming from various parts of the world. Malaysians can stay in Qatar for up to 30 days without a visa. Flying with Qatar Airways also qualifies you for a free transit visa in Doha if your stay is between 5 to 96 hours. To reach the central Doha from Hamad Airport, take a cab from the Taxi Pavilion.
When is the Best Time to Visit Qatar?
November to March is the best period to experience Doha in cooling weather. Otherwise, the scorching weather may be intimidating for sightseeing around the city. Apply sun protection when going out and avoid prolonged sun exposure especially during the hotter parts of the day.
Where to Stay in Qatar
Stay at Doha’s cultural centre for easy access to the major tourist attractions in the city. I would recommend Century Hotel, located right in the centre of downtown Doha, featuring a full-service spa, a health club, and a sauna perfect for the complete relaxation of guests. The sea-view rooms offer magnificent vistas of the Corniche and the Persian Gulf. The National Museum of Qatar which is scheduled to open in December 2018 is only a short walk away from the hotel.
If you are looking forward to a more pampering stay in Doha, I would recommend Sharq Village and Spa, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The luxurious hotel provides top-notch services for customers, from the comfortable bedroom to the wide array of amenities.
My trip to Qatar was too short, but fulfiling indeed. Even in less than 24 hours, I could witness the rich culture and friendly residents engaged in their daily activities. I can’t wait to spend more time discovering the hidden parts of Doha’s downtown waterfront.