With Qatar Airways operating 100 flights a week during the summer peak period, with over 13 routes connecting different Indian cities with Doha, exploring Qatar has become easier than before. The visa-free entry program is just another bonus. From UNESCO World Heritage Site to world-class museums to fine dining and shopping to Angry Birds World theme park, this tiny nation, not larger than Mumbai, has plenty to offer by way of attractions. Besides, May/June is the time to go whale-shark spotting.
Here are a few suggestions on what visitors can experience when stopping over in Doha, the capital of Qatar, for 24 hours or enjoying a short break on route to one of Qatar Airways’ 160 plus onward destinations worldwide.
The best way to beat the heat is to explore the museums and cultural centres by day. Begin with an exploration of the recently opened National Museum of Qatar, which showcases the nation’s rich cultural heritage. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, it is located in the heart of the capital city Doha, just a short 10-minute drive from Hamad International Airport. Spread over 1.5km, the building’s unique design of interlocking disks was inspired by the desert rose and the concept behind the museum was to evoke the life of the Qatari people and celebrate the country's connection between the desert and the sea. Visitors are taken on a journey through the museum's three core “chapters”—Beginnings, Life in Qatar, and Building the Nation where each theme is presented across eleven galleries.
Lessons in history and culture can be heavy stuff. So this is the time to break for lunch. Either drive down to the Pearl-Qatar with its slew of restaurants along the marina or choose one of the fine dining addresses in Doha. The city is home to the world’s largest Nobu, two Gordon Ramsay restaurants as well as the hip STK lounge and steakhouse at the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton hotel, which opened earlier this year. Traditional dining options can also be discovered in restaurants such as Al Mourjan, which offers stunning views across the Corniche, or the Shay Al Shoomos restaurant in the heart of the Souq Waqif, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine and traditional Arabic coffee.
As the afternoon draws to an end, get ready to explore the bustling alleyways of Souq Waqif, which still harbours traditional architecture and local life. Besides the many treasures on offer to buy, it is a lively market area with cafés and food stalls and is ideal for people-watching. The Gold Souq and Falcon Souq are also nearby. Visitors can book an Embrace Qatar tour to immerse themselves in Qatari culture and learn about the country’s rituals and traditions.
Spend the evening relaxing in Doha Bay on a traditional Dhow boat cruise and enjoy the panoramic views of the city’s glittering skyline before taking an evening stroll along the Corniche boardwalk.
Early morning set off for the Al Thakira Mangroves Forest in north-eastern Qatar where you can enjoy kayaking among the narrow channels that run through the mangrove forest. Or, if you are loath to leave the city, try the many water sports on offer along the Corniche in central Doha.
The ‘Hop on, Hop off’ Doha Bus tour is a convenient way to travel from one attraction to another. Don’t miss the Museum of Islamic Art, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018. The museum, designed by the celebrated architect IM Pei, features some of the finest art and artefacts spanning 14 centuries from across the Islamic world.
The following day, head south out of the city to one of Qatar’s UNESCO-listed heritage sites, the Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea) natural reserve. The Inland Sea is a natural phenomenon and one of the few places on earth where the sea encroaches deep into the heart. Inaccessible by road, this tranquil expanse of water can only be reached by crossing the rolling desert dunes in a 4x4. Combine the Inland Sea with a desert safari. Safaris can also include camel riding and sand boarding before rounding off the day at a desert camp with a delicious moonlit Bedouin-style barbeque under the stars.
Begin with a trip to the Banana Island Resort Doha, where the five-star resort by Anantara offers a host of activities and entertainment, for a fun stay. Just off the coast of downtown Doha, it is accessible by private catamaran. Apart from a luxurious stay, the resort offers a range of water sports, such as surfing and diving, as well as a bowling alley and cinema, among other things. It also has a wellness centre, spread across lush botanical gardens.
Next day, return to Doha port and make a journey north to Al Zubarah Fort, a UNESCO-listed archaeological site, or head out west to see the Camel Races at Shahaniya (seasonal) and then onward to the Zekreet Peninsula. Here unspoilt beaches, wind-carved rock formations and the awe-inspiring East-West/West-East Public sculpture by Richard Serra can be found.
Then spend the afternoon at the world’s first Angry Birds World theme park which covers 17,000 square metres and offers indoor and outdoor attractions inspired by the blockbuster movie. Angry Birds World features more than 20 rides and Angry Birds-themed activities, including sand areas and a trampoline park.
The following day, you may pay a visit to the Education City Golf Club in Doha for a round of golf. The club’s state-of-the-art facilities include TrackMan Technology, where each shot is tracked by radar and PowerTee, an indoor putting green with moving floor to simulate sloping putts.
Spend the afternoon relaxing by the poolside or visiting one of Doha’s many luxury spas, including the Spas at the brand new Mandarin Oriental located near the Souq or the spa at the Sharq Village & Spa at the Ritz-Carlton resort, which is Doha’s largest spa.
Round up your holiday to Qatar with a visit to the Katara Cultural Village in the evening. Considered as a cultural beacon and lighthouse of art and cultural exchange, the village houses remarkable theatres, two mosques, art galleries and an amphitheatre which plays host to year-round concerts, shows and exhibitions.
Getting there: Qatar Airways operates direct flights to Hamad International Airport, Doha, from several Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Nagpur, Goa, Bengaluru, Kochi, etc. Book directly on Qatar Airways where you can access a variety of stopover options. There are also tour operators in India offering twin-centre packages with a stopover in Doha on route to long haul destinations within Qatar Airways’ network.
Indian nationals can obtain a free of charge visa waiver–valid for 30 days from the date of issuance–upon arrival in Qatar by presenting a valid passport with a minimum validity of six months and a confirmed onward ticket.
Getting Around: Hamad International Airport is located to the south of Doha while West Bay is to the north. It takes around half an hour to reach the city centre from the airport with normal traffic.
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