The worst part of travelling is long layovers! Whether you want to save money or ok with shelling out, layovers are part and parcel of every traveller’s life. At nicer airports like Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam, you can walk around for a while shopping. But, if you are tired, it is irritating not to find a quiet spot to nap off. Qatar Airways has the most convenient and best way to make these long layovers at Doha Hamad International Airport by Transit tours.
We couldn’t ask for a cheaper and better way to see a city for a few hours that was getting all decked up for the 2022 FIFA world cup, So we don’t claim that we have seen the entire Qatar, as we saw only Doha for three to four hours. So this post is all about what can you see in a capital city in three hours! Let us take you on a mini adventure in the wealthiest country in the world on our way back home from Iran.
What to expect in Qatar Transit tours.
A transit tour is a short tour of the city that takes off from the airport and arrives back at the airport. There are various types of tours for those with layovers between 7 to 24 hrs at Doha Airport. Yes, Doha airport is like a mall, where you can shop for luxury brands or even window shopping. How long can you do that when you have a 10hr layover? A quick outing is always good to get out of the airport and get a glimpse of this tiny nation’s outlandish capital with modern skyscrapers surrounded by the Persian Gulf.
What you see in the Doha transit tour depends on what kind of tour you choose. One thing common among all is that you will be picked up and dropped back at the airport without worrying about missing your next flight. A few nationalities are eligible for Visa-Free entry to the country.
Therefore, you may think of getting out of the airport by yourself or hiring a separate tour other than Discover Qatar for a few hours if your nation is eligible for Visa on Arrival. However, it is risky – Doha traffic is terrible. If you are stuck in traffic, you may miss the flight or struggle at the last moment. With the Discover Qatar tour, you have no worries about missing your flights.
Qatar is the wealthiest nation as of 2020. It has remained in the top 10 richest countries of the world for many years. So in the transit tours, you will be shown the more prosperous parts of Doha.
We opted for a three-hour city tour in the afternoon. A big bus with around 40 tourists takes you around the beach-side capital with a few minutes’ stop at various locations. The city is modern, beautiful and spotless. You can easily make out the country is rich. On the bus, the manager narrates the facts and histories of Qatar. Wherever any major landmarks come up, he neatly explains it in brief. The narration about climate, history, population, migrants, FIFA 2022, fishing villages and so on made the tour even more enjoyable.
Is everything perfect – Not precisely. Expect to see the things on the surface level. You can’t go on exploring deep. Most of Doha, you see from your bus window. You are given specific timings at each spot – 10 minutes at Harbour, 30 minutes at the old market, 20 minutes at the Marsa Arabia area. For that three hours in Doha and the money you pay – It is worth it. Anyday, roaming in a new place is better than trying to sleep on the airport lounge benches.
Is the Doha Transit tour Free?
HEADS UP – I am not sure why a few websites/blogs call the transit tours “Free”. As Indians, we didn’t need a transit Visa; other than that, everything else was payable. So don’t consider the transit tours “Free of Cost” though you are travelling by Qatar airways as we did.
I felt, in Doha – there are more buildings than Humans. There are way too many men than women.
Anyone ( check your visa criteria here) travelling via Doha (Irrespective of the airlines) with a layover of more than 6 hours are eligible for the Transit tours. You can book the tours 48 hours before travel. So if you are unsure of your dates, you can book on the spot on the day you arrive. If you are worried about what kind of tour you want to take or which suits your layover, no worries. The Discover Qatar desk in Doha airport guides you perfectly with this.
Once you book the tour, you can’t alter or try to get things customised. You can’t extend the duration or change the departure hours. The tours run on specific schedules throughout the day. If your layover is 24 hours or so, you can book two different trips at different times.
What do I do with my luggage at Doha airport
Though you have dumped your suitcase/trolley/rucksack as check-in luggage, you will have at least a day pack with you as cabin luggage. After booking the Discover Qatar tour, we went hunting for lockers to deposit our backpacks. Strangely, nobody knew if there was a place for a passenger locker or not! Even at the Discover Qatar desk, the person in charge said,” Check with others”
We have roamed for almost an hour. Ultimately, a coffee shop guy confirmed that there is no such locker facility. So saddened us, we thought we might have to roam around with our 10kg backpack while our trolley suitcase was under transfer already. Fortunately, the Discover Qatar buses allow tourists to store their bags under the tour bus. So don’t search for a locker; keep it in the storage under the bus.
Multiple bloggers told us that Qatar is one of the safest, and petty crimes are nil. We believed the same until my Wallet was picked. I had kept it safe and secure inside my smaller backpack. I am not sure when and how someone flicked it. We have travelled across the globe and all over India. Never I have lost my Wallet! Doha airport is one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world. So be super cautious about your luggage.
Things to know before you opt Qatar tours
You need to be at the Discover Qatar desk an hour before the departure of the tour. Then, you need to go through the regular immigration process with your passport and carry-on luggage. Doh is one of the busiest airports globally; the immigration process may take time during rush hours.
Doha Airport is big! So you must have an idea of how to navigate inside the airport to reach the Discover Qatar desk near gate A4.
At shops in the airport, many shops take Indian Rupees when you buy things. The unique thing is, you can either get the change back in either Qatari Riyal or Inr. If the change money amount is higher, they even give you Euros of the same value!
If it is your first time in Bazars and Souqs, Doha old Souq is sure going to allure you with its carpets, jewels, dry fruits and other things. When I checked, most pieces were on the higher end but were of good quality. So carry Qatari Rial or International Credit/Debit cards.
Make sure you keep an extra pair of clothes in your carry-on luggage to change before going on a Transit tour. The long flight hours might make you look tired. Also, you will be travelling on an AC bus. I am sure you don’t want to be smelling bad, causing trouble to others. We had a terrible experience of sitting on a stinking bus during our trip. Everyone was covering the nose because of stinky socks or some kind of smell. Fortunately, the smelly person must have noticed his co-passengers struggling (we don’t know who it is). After a few minutes, he/she must have removed her/his stinking socks and thrown them away (or kept them in a bag).
Doha is modern in terms of its amenities and appearance. But still conservative when it comes to clothing. You will find foreign women in shorts and bralettes, men in sleeveless shirts and shorts only inside the airport. It is good to keep it in smart casuals when you step outside. Knee-length skirts, capris, skinny jeans, leggings are all fine. Avoid wearing crop tops, noodle straps and backless. Men – keep it in full pants with a T-shirt. You hardly find anyone roaming in sleeveless T-Shirts in Doha city.
Be conscious when you click pictures, especially at Souq Wakif. Even when we tried to click images of a carpet or the bird markets, Arab men in white robes used to have problems most of the time. We both are super conscious; we always make sure that we don’t kill someone’s privacy while clicking. But here, no matter where we were walking, there was always an Arab couple – a man in a white robe ( thoub/thobe, dishdasha or kandora) and the lady in black Burqa.
It was super hard to click without them in the frame. You really need to wait for them to cross your frame. Even though we didn’t intend to click them, we were asked not to click them! I focused on the birds at the bird market; a man in a white robe came out of the shop and yelled at us to click his photo. Once we showed the bird photo on our phone, he nodded and returned without apologising.
Like any middle east country, Shisha is common in Souq Wakif. You will need at least 30 minutes to enjoy one course of Shisha. If you are on a three hour Doha city tour, you will get 40 minutes to spend in the Souq. So suit yourself – you want to roam around the Souq or enjoy Shisha in that 40 minutes.
Probably Doha is one of the very places in the world where “Not so wealthy” people like us get to touch Rolls Royce. So without hesitation, enjoy feeling the windows of luxury shops outside at Versace, Hermes near Marsa Arabia.
Whatever may be your type of travelling – Transit tours are arranged, and they got fixed plans. So instead of judging or whining, sit back and relax, listen to the narration by your manager while the broad roads filled with glass skyscrapers pass by.
What are our thoughts on Doha?
At Doha Harbour, it is a fascinating view of the modern skyscrapers against these old boats used for fishing before. It is fascinating to realise how oil wealth can change a nation’s fortune in two decades when you stand there and look around.
As an architect, I don’t find imitated things fascinating. I always respect and love one’s genuinity. The Katara village felt like a place built by borrowing different things from various nations like Mali, Iraq and ancient Persia. The theatres looked like Greek theatres there. The Spiral mosque in the city reminded me of Iraq’s spiral tower. So I am not sure if the Katara village is genuine or made for tourists to add “one more tourist spot.”
Any country in the world will have two faces – the nicer and not so nice one. As a tourist, we always want to see the nicer part. I am not saying I want to explore if there are any slums in Doha or the poor fishing villages of Qatar. But, within three to four hours, you can see only the touristy places. The places are “made to look good.”
There are many exciting places in Doha other than the Versace or Rolls Royce showroom. For example, “Museum of Islamic Art – The building that looks like a woman in Burqah.” When I checked their website, I regretted seeing the nice building only from the outside and not exploring the real museum. Check their website – you can easily spend three hours in the museum only.
The city was all about luxury, lavishness and wealth. Nowhere else, I don’t think, we can ever touch a Rolls Royce car. But here, we could touch it and even pose. It was truly entering Ms Miranda Priestly’s world in real life. As much as we travel on a budget, we love brands (all I have is a Jimmy Choo sunglass and Patola scarf). So be it a Versace gold theme jacket or diamonds of Harry Winston, you can see it all from outside.
Around 80% of the Qatar population are immigrants. So you saw lots of Asians – Indians, Pakistan, Nepal, Philippines. If you want to experience real Qatar Arab life, you have to get out of Doha and explore. Go to the desert, walk on the tall sand dunes, wander in the old Fisherman’s Village. Spend around five days in Qatar if you want to feel Qatar beyond seeing Doha. The country is compact. My home state Karnataka 16 times bigger than Qatar. So anything between 5 to 6 days must be good enough to see Qatar as a whole.
So our verdict is – Go with an open mind and don’t expect to experience Qatar – It is seeing Doha in a few hours. Then you will love those four hours.
Where else have you been on a transit tour, and what are your opinions on it? Let us know in the comment section below.