Doha

Once little more than a minuscule pearl fishing village, Doha, Qatar's capital and largest city, has emerged to become one of the pearls of the Middle East. It is one of the most rapidly-developing cities in the Persian Gulf, akin to the development seen in nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and is destined to become a centre of international trade and travel.

Understand

Dhows on the Doha Bay

For most of its history Doha was a poor fishing village dependent on pearl diving, and was regarded as a sleepy backwater until as recently as the early 1990s. Following the accession of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani as Emir in 1995, however, Qatar quickly began to modernize, and Doha is now taking huge strides to catch up with other nearby Gulf cities, especially in preparation for its hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The city is very much a work-in-progress, with a rapidly growing skyline and new buildings sprouting up almost like mushrooms.

For most visitors, Doha is synonymous with Qatar, as the vast majority of the country's population resides in the capital city. Doha has an astonishingly diverse population – just 13% of residents are native Qataris. Although Arabic is Qatar's official language, English is by default the lingua franca, as the majority of the city's expats do not speak Arabic, including most shopkeepers and service providers. Doha is also now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, as workers continue to pour in to help build the developing economy.

If you've visited before, be assured that Doha today is not the same as it was just a couple of years ago, and will be very different again in a few years time.

Read

Get in

Inside Hamad International Airport

By plane

Qatar Airways operates the vast majority of connections to and from Doha

Hamad International Airport (IATA: DOH) is the primary point of entry for most travellers, and is the hub and base for Qatar Airways, which has positioned itself as one of the "Big Three" Middle Eastern airlines. It has built a far-reaching network, flying to destinations in Europe, South and East Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas.

Contrary to Dubai, the home of Qatar Airways' archrival Emirates, Doha is served by much fewer other carriers. The major European airlines usually provide a single connection to Doha from their main hubs (e.g. Lufthansa from Frankfurt, KLM from Amsterdam), but minor ones do not. Pretty much all airlines of the Middle East, Turkey included (but not Israel), provide connections to Doha. Relatively few Asian airlines do so, however, with the exception of a relatively good choice of connections to India and Pakistan.

Qatar Airways has also become a member of the oneworld alliance (which includes e.g. British Airways), and an increasing number of their connections are also on offer as codeshare flights by oneworld members.

Hamad International Airport became fully operational on 27 May 2014, replacing the overcrowded Doha International Airport.

If you're arriving from outside of the Persian Gulf region, probably the most economical way to visit is to use Qatar as an intermediate stopover en route to another destination. Prices of tickets originating in or terminating in Doha are artificially high because of limited competition, while prices for transit tickets are very competitive, as Qatar Airways continues working to build Doha as a global transit hub.

The cheapest method to reach Doha from within the Persian Gulf region is with local budget carriers, such as FlyDubai and Air Arabia, which provide cheap flights with a stopover in Dubai and Sharjah respectively.

Public Wi-Fi is provided free of charge throughout the airport.

By car

Doha is the heart of all activity in the country, so most travellers will start off in the city. All highways and roads throughout Qatar will most likely connect to Doha, so look out for the signs.

Qatar only land border is with Saudi Arabia in the south. However, this is rarely an option, as obtaining permits to drive through Saudi Arabia can be extremely difficult. The Qatar article provides more information. Early plans are underway to connect Qatar using bridges with both Bahrain in the north-east and the United Arab Emirates in the south-east.

Get around

By bus

Karwa public bus

By tour bus

Doha Bus offers a hop-on, hop-off tourist bus service, with stops at various locations between the Marriott Hotel and the Pearl-Qatar. Buses arrive at each stop every 20 minutes. Tickets are QR 180 (adult), QR 90 (children) and valid for 24 hours; bookings can be made on-line at http://www.dohabus.com, also via telephone (+974 4442 2444) and email (admin@dohabus.com). Alternatively, the manager/dispatcher is happy to take your call on her mobile (+974 5534 2964) and this will prevent you waiting on hold or even getting a busy signal. The energetic young crew of Pinoy, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan expats might not seem like the most organized bunch, but they try really hard to make things right, and they never stop smiling. There is shuttle service available from the airport to the first stop of the tour, which requires 30 minutes advance notice to arrange. If you're doing this on your last day in Doha, they will even arrange to pick you up at one of the main stops along the route and transfer you back to the airport for a not-unreasonable QAR 50 (US$14).

By taxi

Other than buses, the only alternative to not renting a vehicle is taxis. There are two taxi services, also operated by Mowasalat: Karwa and Al Million. Alternatively, "limousine" taxis are available, which are unmarked, much more expensive (often two to four times the cost of Karwas) and may not carry a meter. If you feel sure about the fare, you can negotiate it up front, but it is advisable to insist on a meter.

Because of increasing complaints regarding taxis, some precautions should be noted. For nearly all journeys within Doha the tariff should be set to '1', and for journeys at night or outside of Doha it should be set to '0'. Airport taxis have a single tariff, which begins at QR 25. Reports of tampered meters are on the rise (look for black tape or paper), as well as reports of drivers locking the doors or refusing to open the trunk without extra payment. Technically if the driver refuses to use the meter, the ride should be free. If you have problems, you can call the police at 999, at which point the driver will suddenly be very cooperative.

The demand for taxis far exceeds the supply and waiting times may vary greatly. During morning business hours, companies usually require 24 hours notice if you need a taxi; however in practice, even this is unreliable as the scheduled taxi often doesn't show up. At other times, it may take upwards of 90 minutes for an on-call taxi to arrive, and hailing one may be impossible in many places. The only places where you are guaranteed to find a taxi (normal or limousine) are at major malls, the airport and international hotels. The acute shortage has led to a thriving market for unlicensed, or unofficial, taxi services, most with a steady clientele. For visitors, the best way to find a reliable driver is to ask around – many residents, particularly expats, hire such drivers regularly and will happily share contact information.

Occasionally, you may find a local driver will stop and offer to give you a ride if he or she sees you looking lost on the side of the road. It is customary to offer some money at the end, though sometimes they will refuse to take it. If a driver slows down and flashes their headlights, they are usually signalling they're willing to give you a lift; beckon them over with a wave in response. However, hitchhiking always has its risks, and it is not an advisable practice for solo women.

By car

Several car rental agencies are located in and around Doha International Airport. The rental desks are not that easy to find and the signs to them are poor. They are located on the lower floor in the car park area. The popular agencies include Hertz, Avis and Budget. These rental agencies offer seasonal discounts and it is advisable to check their websites before booking. If you're looking to rent a car, it is best to reserve in advance, to ensure a good price and minimise wait times. As of late 2013, visitors can drive a rental car for six months with an international driving licence. However, do note, the laws regarding driving licences change almost yearly; visitors are advised to verify this information before arrival.

Driving in Qatar is on the right hand side of the road, with similar traffic rules to elsewhere in the world. However, because Doha residents come from all corners of the globe, driving styles vary wildly. Also, road rage is becoming more of a problem.

Expansion of the road network has not kept up with the explosive population growth of recent years, so drivers will encounter frequent traffic jams as well as numerous diversions due to road construction. With the addition of new roads, as well as renaming of old roads, even the latest available road maps may be out-of-date. This also applies to satellite imagery, which can be outdated, even when it is only a few months old. So do not rely on Google Earth, Openstreetmap or your TomTom.

See

Museum of Islamic Arts
Fanar Qatar Islamic Cultural Center

Museums

Considering Doha is attempting to become something of a regional cultural hub, the current state of its museums is somewhat shambolic. Many museums are under seemingly never-ending refurbishment, the opening hours are not particularly tourist friendly, websites lack practical information such as opening times and location, and many museums require you to phone in advance for a special appointment (which can make the solo visitor feel somewhat uncomfortable as the curator opens up just for one person).

Cultural heritage

Al Koot Fort
Covered passageway in Souq Waqif
Msheireb Enrichment Centre
Old door in Al Najada

Other sights

Al Corniche
Mosque at Katara Cultural Village
Highlights along the Corniche (from east to west) include an informal morning fish market, the MIA (Museum of Islamic Art), the 'Water Pots' fountain, the giant Oyster and Pearl sculpture, the Dhow Harbour (with traditional wooden dhows), and a giant 'Orry' statue (the mascot for the 2006 Asian Games).
There is also a public beach here (entry fee QR 100) which offers watersport activities. Modest beach attire is required, i.e. for women a one-piece suit.

Do

Traditional dhows along the Corniche

Doha has a reputation for not being the most exciting place on earth; however, should you find yourself here for a longer visit there is a variety of activities and events. Start off with a city tour of the city, which should take you about 2 hours and from there you will have a good idea of what you would like to see.

The debates are always very thought-provoking and a good window to understanding the current state of the Arab world. Tickets are extremely limited but can be obtained from the website above.
Update: The debates have been suspended, and it has not been announced if/when they will resume in the future.

Buy

You can buy pretty much anything you want in Doha, apart from pork products and alcohol (except with a licence or in the major hotels). Shopping is a major leisure pursuit of many Qataris and expats; prices however are somewhat higher than in Dubai. As with in most of the Middle East, be prepared to bargain.

Souqs

Souvenirs for sale in Souq Waqif

The best shopping experiences are undoubtedly to be had in the various souqs (markets).

Malls

The Gate Shopping Center

Typically most malls in Doha are open from 10AM to 10PM Saturday to Thursday. Most will be closed on Friday mornings but will open up during the evening, when they'll be the most crowded. Also, be aware that some malls schedule "Family Days", where single men will be turned away at the door. In practice, however, most Westerners will be allowed in, but brown-skinned persons (particularly South Asians in their native dressing) will be turned away.

Bookshops

The availability of English-language books in Doha is fairly limited but improving, and there are several shops which offer some current titles as well as regional travel guides. Carrefour, Lulu Hypermarket, and Megamart all sell international magazines and newspapers along with local maps.

Eat

Restaurant at Souq Waqif
Qatari sweets at Souq Waqif
Informal fish market along the Corniche

Given the population diversity in Doha, there is a large variety of different types of cuisine, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Korean and, of course, typical Middle Eastern food. Since Qatar is a Muslim country, all food is certified halal.

American

Most major American fast food chains have multiple branches here, including McDonald's, KFC, Hardee's, Arby's, Burger King, Subway, and Dairy Queen.

Pizza places include Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's, Pizza Inn, and Papa John's. Many of these are located in the major shopping centres, and at Ramada Junction (the intersection of C-Ring and Salwa Rds).

There are also a number of more upscale American chains, including TGI Fridays (in the Landmark, Villaggio shopping malls, Bin Omran Opposite the Civil Defense and Suheem Bin Hamad Street, Al-Sadd), Applebee's, Chili's, Fuddruckers, Bennigan's, and Ponderosa Steakhouse.

Asian

European

Indian

Doha is home to a large Indian population. As such, the city centre is full of small Indian restaurants, with many other excellent Indian restaurants scattered throughout the city.

Middle Eastern

For local street food, nothing beats the home-made goodness dished out by the Pancake Ladies in Souq Waqif every evening in the square by the car park. The crepe-like mankouche is particularly tasty, filled with your choice of labneh (cheese), za’atar, or the less-traditional Nutella for QR5. Other local specialties feature meat, chicken, and fish, and there are even a couple of vegetarian options.

There are also many good restaurants in Souq Waqif worth trying. Perhaps the best include Tagine (Moroccan) and Le Gourmet, particularly good for sheesha and a cup of tea. These are not as inexpensive as the Pancake Ladies but are good for ambiance and people watching.

Seafood

Grocery stores

For self-catering options there are a few hypermarkets as well as a number of smaller neighborhood grocery stores distributed throughout the city.

Tipping

Tipping at restaurants is not compulsory, although it has become fairly standard to tip about 10% to the waitstaff. Despite being banned, some restaurants still include a 10% service charge in the bill. Should your bill include a service charge, feel free to strike it from the total and leave a tip on the table instead.

Drink

Arabic coffee in Souq Waqif

Alcohol

Alcohol is strictly regulated in Qatar, as it is a Muslim country, and for visitors is only available in bars attached to large 5-star international hotels. Bars are required to see identification (i.e. a passport) at the door, although this is rarely enforced. Residents with a special liquor license may purchase alcohol at the QDC (Qatar Distribution Company) on the outskirts of town. Importing alcohol is not permitted – all bags are x-rayed upon arrival and any alcohol will be confiscated and held for you. With a claims receipt you can pick up your bottle again when you leave.

Some of the places favoured by local expats are the Crystal Lounge and Waham Poolside Lounge (W Doha Hotel), Sky View Bar (La Cigale Hotel), the Belgian Café (InterContinental at West Bay Lagoon), and Trader Vic's (Hilton). The Irish Harp (in the basement of the Sheraton near City Center Mall) has frequent live music.

Tea and coffee

Karak is the local specialty, a very sweet concoction made from tea and evaporated milk available from stalls everywhere, some of them drive-through (just park your car outside and honk). A particularly popular place is Chapati & Karak (tel. +974 4408 1408) at Katara Cultural Village.

Most international coffee chains (including the ubiquitous Starbucks) are well-represented here, especially in shopping malls.

Sleep

The Four Seasons hotel is notable for utilizing local architectural features in the design of its building
The Aspire Tower, also known as Torch Hotel

Compared to Dubai, which has hundreds of accommodation facilities, Doha does not offer that much variety with less than a hundred hotel properties and some other accommodations. There are quite a few five-star international chain hotels in Doha and there are scores of new five-star hotels on the rise, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Intercontinental. More modest choices come in shorter supply.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

The iconic Sheraton Doha Hotel
The Merweb Hotel in Central Doha

Stay healthy

If you need emergency medical treatment, the government-owned Hamad General Hospital provides A&E (accident and emergency) care to everyone regardless of insurance status, and has the most advanced and best-equipped facility. Other smaller, private hospitals will charge for any emergency services.

999 is the emergency number for ambulance, as well as police and fire service. You will likely need to give directions or a nearby landmark. Response times in Doha are dependent on traffic, and there have been reports of long waits for ambulances, along with long waits for English-speaking operators. Medical teams however are highly skilled and all fluent in English.

HMC operates A&E departments at the medical centers listed below.

Connect

Pre-paid SIM cards and top-up cards for Ooredoo and Vodafone can be purchased at mobile phone shops, as well as at Carrefour and Lulu hypermarkets.

Free Wi-Fi is available in Souq Waqif, public parks including the Sheraton Park and Rumaila Park, and along the Corniche. Some coffee shops also offer free connection. Ooredoo HotSpots are scattered throughout Doha, mainly in hotels and cafés. HotSpot cards in denominations of QR 30, 50, and 70 are available in any Ooredoo shop.

Cope

Currency exchange centres

For especially large denominations or more unusual currencies it is best to call beforehand to ensure the centre has the desired currency and amount on hand.

Embassies

News

Go next

Singing sand dunes
The dunes are located a bit off road and can be tricky to find. Head SW of Doha on Salwa Rd; after about 13km you will pass a large roundabout; after you come to the Mobil Petrol station make a U-turn and turn right on Messaieed Road. Drive past two roundabouts, then take the next right. Take the left fork at the T-junction, and you will see the dunes on your right. It is possible to make the trip in a 2WD, but a 4WD is better to get close to the bottom of the dunes. Free.

Caves

There are a number of karst caves in Qatar, the most well-known of them a short distance from Doha. All caves have not been fully explored, and it is believed that there is an extensive network of tunnels connecting many of them.

Desert safari

If you want to get out of the city, the desert awaits. Whereas you could take your rental car out to the sand dunes, unless you are familiar with the route or GPS, you run the risk of damaging your rental car and getting lost. The alternative is to go through one of Qatar's many licensed tour companies, which can arrange a trip. Additionally, there are a handful of sights outside of Doha which can only be accessed with prior government permission, which a tour company can arrange on your behalf. This will cost you several hundred Qatari riyals, and may require a minimum of four persons to join in the fun. At international hotels, the receptionists can advise you, and hire a driver for you. Otherwise, there are several tour companies that can arrange a trip by phone or via their website.

Beyond sand dune trips, several of these companies can arrange for overnight desert camping, excursions to historical sites, and city tours.

Diving

Other cities

Doha is by far the biggest city in Qatar, but the country's other towns can provide an interesting glimpse of Qatari life outside of the bustle of Doha.

Head west to see the camel races, and then visit the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum in Al Shahaniyah. Drive south to visit the dhow harbor in Al Wakrah, and then hit the beach and go dune bashing near Mesaieed. Or drive north to see the fortress and prehistoric gravemounds near Umm Salal Muhammad, and continue on to kayak through the mangrove forests near Al Khor.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, November 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.