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Visiting Qatar for the first time and looking for fun things to do in Doha? Well, you’ve come to the right page! Check out things to do, where to eat, and places to visit in Doha, Qatar!
The World Cup 2022 is just around the corner, and Doha is hosting it for the first time! They’re expecting 1.5 million fans from around the globe from 20 November to 18 December 2022 – that’s way more people than what Doha residents are accustomed to!
First things first: where is Doha, and how to get there?
Sorry, can’t help myself. I used to hear this phrase (and even announced them myself) every single work day for almost 4 years. And yes, Doha is the capital city of Qatar, located on the east coast of the Qatar Peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Notable neighbours include the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates – the most popular being Dubai and Abu Dhabi – and the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Qatar Airways is the national airline of the State of Qatar and joins the three main Middle-Eastern aviation powerhouses, Emirates and Etihad Airways. Qatar Airways has been crowned the world’s best airline in the Skytrax World Airline Awards in 2019, 2021 and most recently in 2022. Qatar Airways flies to over 160 destinations worldwide, bringing world-class, five-star service to its passengers (nope, I’m not biased.)
Qatar boasts 2 main airports – the old Doha International Airport and the world-class Hamad International Airport, which also snatched the title of World’s Best Airport from my home country’s Singapore Changi Airport for two consecutive years. I can’t say I’m disappointed; these are my two favourite airports worldwide. While Hamad International Airport will be the main gateway to the world during the World Cup, the old Doha International Airport will be reopened to ease traffic.
What’s the weather like in Doha?
Doha has a desert climate and enjoys sunshine all year round. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t 50 degrees Celsius every day. There are two seasons in Doha: Summer and Winter.
|Average Temperatures||Day: 40 to 50 °C|
Night: 24ºC to 35ºC
|Day: 24ºC to 35ºC |
Night: 15ºC to 22ºC
The best time to visit Qatar outside the world cup season is during March and April, their unofficial spring months. The weather is still cool from the past winter season, minus the rain, and not yet sweltering hot as it would be in July all through to September, so there’ll be lots of things to do and places to visit in Doha. The weather gets unbearable, like being in a perpetual sauna in September, both daytime and night, so if you’re planning to spend some time outdoors during that time – think again.
Remember to pack a jacket if you’re heading to Doha for the World Cup!
Getting around in Doha
When I first came to Doha in early 2016, I peered out from our company transport into the vast nothingness and thought, “What the heck did I get myself into?” But when I left 4 years later, so much had changed in transport infrastructure; I am excited to see what it’ll be like when I revisit Doha at the end of the year.
There are 4 main modes of transportation people use to get around in Doha (in order of prevalence):
- Karwa taxis
- Private hire cars (e.g. Uber and private drivers)
- Doha Metro
- Lusail trams
- Mowsalat public buses
In 2021, Doha launched Sila, a one-stop app for public transportation in Qatar. It’s like Google Directions for getting around on public transport. It details which bus, tram or metro to take and how long your journey will be. It’s available for iOS and Android, so download them before you go!
Karwa taxis and private hire cars are probably the most efficient ways to get around for tourists. The fares run by meter, and generally, no haggling is involved. In the early days, some Karwa taxi drivers used to rig their meters illegally. This meant fares increased suspiciously faster than usual, or they “didn’t work at all”, so they used to quote a price to get from point A to B. Hence, many of us prefer to get around by Uber because we know we’ll be paying the exact fare – nothing more, nothing less.
PRO TIP: Should a taxi driver suggest turning off the meter or doesn’t start the meter upon driving off, insist on paying by the meter, or immediately (and safely) get out and find another driver. Same when it comes to your Uber rides. If your Uber driver insists, “This is the way”, it isn’t, and report him if needed.
Alternative things to do in Doha
Qatar is a wealthy sovereign country with abundant oil and natural gas resources fuelling the country’s leading economy. Tourism, however, makes up 8% of its gross domestic product (GDP) and somewhat pales in comparison to her bigger, shinier sister, Dubai.
Throughout the years, I’ve seen the city transform; imagine how different it’ll be now! I’ve had the privilege of doing most of the things on this list, and now I’d love to share them with you. There’s definitely something for everyone to do, so let’s begin!
Visit the Museum of Islamic Arts and take insta-worthy pictures with Doha city as your backdrop.
The Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) is set near the beginning of the corniche on the Doha waterfront. It features many exciting exhibitions featuring collections of Islamic artefacts dating from 7-20th century. The MIA also boasts modern architecture and huge floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to a panoramic view of Doha city. It’s quite a sight when it’s a clear day out, and you’re there at 7 pm when the skyscrapers light up.
The MIA park is located adjacent to the museum and is linked to the corniche. The promenade is lined with palm trees and has small hills and lush green lawns for picnics during the cooler months. The park hosts various events all year round, ranging from outdoor film screenings to pop-up flea markets.
You never know what you’ll find if you wander through Souq Waqif’s every nook and cranny.
Souk or Souq means ‘marketplace’ in Arabic. Souq Waqif is probably the most popular marketplace and a must-see in Doha. It’s open till late and always super crowded during the weeknights. There’re restaurants and cafes, boutique hotels, and places you can try shisha. You can find typical tourist shops selling magnets and trinkets, hanging lamps, traditional clothing and rugs. But if you go deeper, you’ll find shops selling sundries and spices, and there’s even the “pet souq” – which I’m not the biggest fan of. It gets quieter and more peaceful the deeper you venture. Don’t worry if you’re vigilant; Doha is exceptionally safe.
Skip Villagio Mall, and head to the Mall of Qatar
I’ve read many guides recommending a visit to Villagio shopping mall to do some shopping. The fake Venetian architecture gets boring after seeing it in many parts of the world, to be honest. As a former Doha resident, I’d recommend heading to the Mall of Qatar. It’s about 25 minutes from the city centre, but trust me, it’s worth visiting.
The Mall of Qatar is the biggest shopping mall in Doha. It’s massive and caters to families, fashionistas, foodies and sports fans! The mall’s centrepiece suspiciously looks like the super trees in Singapore, but only other Singaporeans would take a slight offence. Minus the Venetian-inspired canal and gondolas that meanders through the entire mall, the Mall of Qatar has everything Villagio mall has and then some!
Book a desert tour to bash dunes and see the inland sea
The desert ranks high on the list of places to visit in Doha. I mean, the entire country is a desert, but you must go out and see the original untainted desert. There are many types of desert tours to choose from. For the adventurous thrill-seekers, try dune bashing in a 4WD. For those looking for a new experience, some tour providers offer a tour of the desert and lunch or dinner after. If you’d like to spend overnight in a luxurious tent in the desert, that’s an option too!
Alternative food-related things to do in Doha
One of my favourite things to do in Doha (and also while travelling) is going out to eat. Doha is home to countless restaurants serving delicious cuisines catering to meat-lovers and vegans. Some of Doha’s finest dining establishments are housed in five-star hotels, which can burn a hole in your pocket. But for those looking for more budget-friendly options, there are many international cuisines to choose from! Most Doha residents are expatriates from South Asia, East Asia, Europe and many more. So there are outstanding American and local fast food chains and Indian, Thai, and Japanese restaurants to try. The best part is because Doha is a Muslim country, everything is halal-certified!
Have a special dinner in a luxe Persian restaurant at the Souq
Parisa is one of the most beautiful hidden gems I’ve discovered while living in Doha. The restaurant’s decor is super grand and tasteful; it feels like you’re dining in a palace. They serve traditional Persian fares at quite reasonable prices. I didn’t know this until recently, but Parisa is owned by the Ritz-Carlton group (gasp). A dinner for two will set you back around QAR 300 (USD 82) with all the drinks and desserts included, so I think it’s the place for special occasions. Parisa is one of my ultimate things to do in Doha when guests visit me (that includes my parents and my then-date-now-husband, so it’s a special place for me.
Feeling fancy? Head to Three Sixty at The Aspire Tower for a revolving restaurant experience!
The Aspire Tower, commonly known as The Torch Doha, is a 300-metre tall hotel that boasts a 360-degree view of Doha or as far as your eyes can see! It is best known for commemorating the 15th Asian Games Qatar hosted in 2006. It’s located near the Villagio Mall and right smack in Aspire Park, where you can have picnics if you don’t feel like splurging.
The Three Sixty restaurant is one of the best restaurants in Doha and is on the 47th floor (out of 50). One of the biggest attractions is dining while you revolve slowly around the restaurant, getting 360 degrees view of Doha without ever leaving your table! Expect world-class fine dining featuring Arabic mezze and international fares like steaks and seafood. One thing you won’t be able to find in Three Sixty is alcohol. As The Aspire Tower is located in the “Aspire Zone” – known as Doha’s sports city – serving booze is strictly prohibited.
Indulge in a bottomless Friday brunch
Qatar is a Muslim country, and the laws concerning the selling and consuming of alcohol are strict. Some popular tourist places like the Souq, Katara and the Pearl are designated alcohol-free zone. So, where are the common watering holes for those who drink? Hotels, of course!
One fun thing I loved indulging in once in a while was the bottomless Friday brunches spread across Qatar. Why Friday? Qatar’s official weekends are on Fridays and Saturdays. From noon to 4 pm on Fridays (and some on Saturdays), many high-end hotels and mid-range restaurants offer all-you-can-eat-themed buffets. You can choose between two packages: a boozy brunch or a family-friendly mocktail galore. Some of my personal favourite brunch places include Nobu Doha Friday Brunch, The St Regis Grand Brunch at Vine and Royal Thai Brunch at Sabai Thai.
Friday brunches are definitely indulgences that are not for everyone. Still, I recommend trying them at least once to experience great food in as many portions as you want! Unfortunately, there’s a Saturday brunch I loved at Opal by Gordon Ramsay in St. Regis. But, as of 2022, it’s permanently closed. Aww well.
And now, for the less bank-breaking things to do in Doha. During my time there, there were very few aesthetic cafes to hang out in on my days off. The majority were at The Pearl (about 20 minutes away from the city) and were a little too pricey for the quality of food and drinks they served. As the years went by, more of these aesthetic and Instagrammable cafes started to pop up around the city.
Some of my favourites include Lily House at the Mall of Qatar, Two to Six Coffee at Aspire Park, and Boho Social at Katara Cultural Centre. Boho Social deserves a special mention because it was the last cafe I hung out at before leaving Doha. It has a beautiful view of the sea, lots of seating places and rattan hanging chairs on the outdoor terrace.
Enjoy a cup of piping hot Karak chai by the roadside.
It gets chilly after sundown in Doha during the winter months. Karak chai is the perfect way to warm up on a cold night. Karak chai is a blend of fermented black tea leaves with a hint of ginger and spices like cardamom, fennel and cloves. It’s a robust brew, almost always served with milk and a lot of sugar. It’s really an acquired taste. I don’t really care for it, but when I have it, I’ll ask for it to be made less sweet.
You can find Karak in almost every corner of Doha. Some cafes serve it, but the best Karak chai costs QAR 5 (USD 1.37) at a neighbourhood roadside stall that opens 24/7 and is served in a to-go paper cup with or without lids. If you have a personal driver, ask him to bring you to the best Karak place he knows. You won’t be disappointed if you can get past the intense flavour.
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We hope that you’ve enjoyed this list of alternative things to do and places to visit in Doha, Qatar! Do leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions that I might have left out. Till then, have fun planning for your trips, and safe travels wherever you may be!