- How many hours do you have to spend?
From Doha, Qatar Airways (place 2 in overall ranking, place 4 in airline safety ranking) fly to about 160 destinations all over the world.
Therefore, it is very clear that Hamad International Airport (http://www.qatarairways.com/qa/en/hamad-international-airport.page) was built to become one of the best airports worldwide with superb facilities, great choice for shopping and dining, spa, relax and entertainment areas and enormous space. Suitable place to spend 2-3 hours of your stopover, right? Even 4-6 hours if you go in spa. But what if your layover if longer than 6 hours? Let’s say, 8 or more? In this case you are eligible for an organized bus-tour through Doha with Qatar Airlines and sometimes even a complimentary transit accommodation. The tour takes about 3 hours and is a matter of availability/ time suitability. More information could be found here: http://www.qatarairways.com/global/en/offers/doha-city-tour.page.
A complimentary visa is included in the tour – it is, indeed, a huge advantage. Nevertheless, you are not allowed to stay in the city and have to return to the airport. In our case, we had 16 hours in Qatar, between 3 pm and 7 am next day, and were not eligible for the gratis accommodation. It means, if we would have taken a tour, we would have spent a night in the airport or booked the overpriced airport hotel. Therefore, we have decided to apply for a Qatar visa in advance and get a great chance to explore Doha on our own and spend a night in a hotel of our choice.
The detailed application procedure is described on the web-page of the Embassy of Qatar: http://botschaft-katar.de/en/consulate/visa/. You have to send all documents via post (Hagenstr. 56, 14193 Berlin) together with the second registered envelope with your address. The following documents to be submitted:
- Filled visa application form (available online)
- Original passport valid at least 6 months (travel documents or temporary passports are not accepted).
- 2 colored personal photographs of applicant (the size doesn’t matter)
- Copy from the bank Transfer visa fees at the expense of the Consular Section (27 €)
- Copy from the hotel reservation in Qatar
- If you are non-German passport holder you have to provide a proof of residency in Germany.
To process a visa you have to allow for at least 10 working days. In our case, it took them three weeks to issue the visa. I got panicky about my passport getting lost, so we collected the documents ourselves from the embassy (this is also possible if you arrange it by phone in advance).
The visa control in Qatar was quick and smooth, without many questions. Feeling lucky to be able to explore a new country, we headed into the city.
- How to get there:
Taxi to the city center costs about 40 QAR (Qatari Rials) what equals 10 € (25 QAR you pay for the airport pick-up). Inside the city you rarely exceed the minimum price of the trip, 10 QAR (2,5 €). Taxi to the airport from out hotel at 5 am cost 50 QAR.
- What to do:
First, we headed to the Museum of Islamic Art (http://www.mia.org.qa/en/) as it eventually closes at 5:30 pm. Already standing in front of the entrance, we recognized that it is closed on Tuesdays (what a luck!).
Still, the architecture and the seaside park in front looked beautiful. I think, the slightly whitish (dusty?) air and blurred skyline contributed to the overall very positive and authentic impression (and some nice photos).
We walked to Souq Waqif, the traditional Arabian market. We spent surprisingly much time waiting on every crossroad: the streetlights seemed never to turn green for pedestrians. The cars, by the way, rarely stop on the zebra crossings. The pedestrians are therefore forced to cross (carefully) whenever they can. We followed the locals.
Souq Waqif is definitely worth a visit to give a look or buy traditional jewelry, spices and handicrafts. This is also a good area for dining. We have been to Bandar Aden Restaurant (http://www.bandaraden.com/) where you can choose if you want to sit at a table or on the floor (we have chosen the latter) and tried Arabian (Yemeni) cuisine.
The food was accompanied with deliciously spiced (saffron and something else) rice with raisins. Much fun was simply strolling along the pet market streets, gazing at the hawks in amusing blinding hats and trying freshly baked bread.
Other places of interest are the Pearl-Qatar (here the finest quality shops and restaurants are situated) and Katara Cultural Village (http://www.katara.net/en/, cultural and historical center dedicated to celebrating Qatari arts and heritage; various festivals and events take place here all year long).
It was easy to notice that the men are prevailing on the streets and in the shops. We were guessing, what the women were then? In regard to the dress-code: several women that we met were wearing hijab, some – burka, some – no scarf. In Qatar, the regulations are not so strict in comparison to Iran. So I left my hair open but wore a long Arabian style dress that we bought in Morocco.
- General impression
Qatar changed dramatically after oil was discovered there in 1940. Since then Qatar became one of the richest countries in the world with very high level of living for its legal citizens. This discovery transformed the country economy formerly based on fishing and pearl hunting.
Many sports and cultural events are planned for the next years here; the government prepares the country to massive tourist visits. Therefore, Doha looks partially like a big construction area with many empty spots. Huge investments made in the country development and tourist infrastructure that didn’t exist a decade before. I believe, in several years Doha will have so much more to offer to the full-time visitors and well to those who have a long layover in Qatar.