How to see beautiful Doha in a day: Layover in Qatar

Itineraries, Qatar, Urban Exploration

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Are you traveling to Qatar soon and looking for ways to spend one day in Doha? Our article on what to do in Doha for a day has got you covered. We were visiting Doha on our way to the United States from India and were surprised to learn that the Doha airport layover can be utilized so well to see the vibrant city. We have created this detailed itinerary for 1 day in Doha for traveling families and couples who want to see the highlights based on our time in the city.

Where is Doha City? And what exactly is Qatar?

We have seen a lot of confusion regarding Doha and its location. Some think of Doha as a country while others think of Qatar as a city in UAE. Here are the facts: Doha, popularly known as Doha City, is the capital of Qatar. Qatar is a country located in the Middle East next to the Persian Gulf. It shares land borders with Saudi Arabia and marine borders with Bahrain, Iran, and UAE. Qatar is an Islamic monarchy and ruled by the Arab Al Thani family. Qatar makes significant revenues due to its oil and natural gas reserves and based on per capita income, is the richest country in the world. That’s right – Qatar is the Middle East’s Luxembourg.

Are Qatar and Doha safe to visit?

When visitors know about Qatar’s location in the Middle East, they are naturally concerned with safety issues. However, Qatar is extremely safe to visit. It is one of the safest countries in the world and has a low rate of crime. It is safe to visit and travel for most tourists, including solo women and families with kids. We recommend exercising usual caution like not traveling alone in deserted areas and keeping valuables safe. Also, tourists should remember that Qatar is an Islamic country so alcohol, public displays of affection, and revealing clothing is frowned upon.


Exhibits at the Museum of Islamic arts

Should Qatar be your final destination?

While we are happy to urge travelers to visit Qatar, we wouldn’t recommend planning a trip solely to Qatar. Rather we suggest adding Doha airport layover while visiting another country for a couple of reasons as outlined below:

  1. Adding a one-day to multi-day layover in Qatar when booking your itinerary through Qatar Airways is very inexpensive. So if you are traveling between Europe or the Americas to Asia and vice versa, you can easily see Qatar on your way. 2 destinations on one ticket? Now that’s something we like.
  2. The country has an extremely visa-friendly policy and has free visa or arrival for citizens of 80 countries so your layover will have almost no visa hassles. Again, something we like!
  3. Most of Qatar’s tourist attractions are concentrated around Doha and can be easily seen in a short time. Even if you venture further from Doha, Qatar is a small country and can be completely seen in 3-4 days. Experience a new country in depth for free? Yes, please!
  4. If you’re lucky enough to have a long layover without adding it by yourself, you will also be in for a free hotel courtesy Qatar Airways. They also have free airport tours for short layovers – definitely worth looking into!

Why visit Doha City and Qatar?

Now that we have convinced you to book a Doha layover, let us reiterate why it is such a good idea. Located in the Middle East, Qatar has a rich Bedouin culture and tradition that goes back a long way. In Qatar, you will come face to face with the ancient practice of falconry and see a sprawling collection of Islamic arts. However, Qatar is not all about history: Doha’s skyline rivals that of New York and Shanghai and modern buildings are a stunning blend of traditional and futuristic architecture. Doha’s culinary scene is inspiring and delicious; it’s also a world-class spa destination with luxurious resorts offering a range of luxury massages. In short, the country has enough going for it to tempt every type of traveler. And in spite of all that, it still isn’t recognized as a mainstream tourist destination – perfect for off-the-beaten-path visitors!


When is the best time to visit Doha?

In general, Qatar is pleasant to visit throughout the year so you can plan a trip at any time. That said, the best time to visit Doha is from February to June and September to November. July and August are peak summer months and the heat on the Arab peninsula, where Qatar is located, is too stifling. If you are traveling during these months, we suggest taking it slow and being prepared for the heat by bringing along hats, glasses, and sunscreen. Also, ensure that you stay hydrated. December and January are Qatar’s winter months and while the day is still pleasant, night temperatures drop rapidly as it is located in the desert. It can also rain during these months. Be sure to pack along woolen sweaters or jackets and winter hats and scarves. We didn’t and were freezing in the evening even though it was almost the end of January – which gave me the excuse to buy a beautiful shawl in Souq Waqif (more on that later).

Is one day in Doha enough?

Now that’s a tricky question. Doha is not like New York or London, where the answer to this question would be a ‘Hell, no!’. You actually can see a lot of the city and cover the most must-see attractions of Doha in one day if that’s all you have. However like all travelers, we are never really satisfied with the time we spend exploring a destination and if you have the time, we would suggest spending at least 3 to 4 days in Doha.

Things to do in Doha for a day

While we ideally suggest a stopover of 2-4 days to see the entire country and check it off your bucket list, you can see a lot of Doha in a day as well. Our itinerary for spending a day in Doha ensures you get to see the country’s most prominent attractions.

Museum of Islamic Arts, Doha

The #1 stop on your Doha itinerary should be the Museum of Islamic Arts. Completed in 2008, this free museum is one of the premier art institutions in the Middle East. It has a stunning collection of Islamic Arts, architecture specimens, wood carvings, sculptures, calligraphy, jewelry, utensils, astronomical instruments, and more from over 3 continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. The collection is spread over five stories and easily takes a minimum of 2 hours to view at a leisurely pace.

The Museum of Islamic Arts is not famous only for its art collection but also features stunning architecture. The building was designed by the famous architect, I. M. Pei, after extensively studying Islamic architecture. The design is a superb blend of traditional Islamic and modern elements and is visually stunning. Its prominent location on an artificial island by the Doha Bay with superb views of the skyline was also suggested by the architect.

We suggest spending a couple of hours here to see the impressive collection and the building from the inside. The Museum Cafe has breathtaking views of the skyline and is Doha’s top Instagram spot! The Museum surroundings including the Aspire Park are also worth a quick stroll.


The Corniche and Dhow ride

If your Doha layover starts in the evening, we suggest taking a stroll along Doha’s famous Corniche. There are many attractions located along the Corniche including Doha’s harbor. The harbor is full of wooden dhow boats that can be hired for a cruise around the Doha Bay. The boats are traditional Qatari fishing boats and being in one makes you feel as if you stepped back in time. The dhow boats are often lit up by string lights at night and look beautiful. If you have less time, we recommend taking a dhow ride to see the rest of the Corniche and Doha West Bay skyline from up close.

If you have some time and are in the mood to walk, we suggest walking some distance along the Corniche. Many famous sculptures and public artworks are lined up along the Corniche – the most famous of them being the Pearl Monument. There are also many places where you can sit, relax, and people watch. The Corniche is beautifully landscaped and was blooming with flowers when we visited Doha City.


Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif is one of Doha’s highlights. This was once a traditional standing market that started crumbling with age and neglect. Fortunately, the authorities stepped in and restored it to its former magnificence making it the city’s most visited and loved place. If you are visiting Doha for a day, Souq Waqif has to be definitely on your to-do list. Souq Waqif has boutique hotels, popular restaurants, and really comes alive at night. We spent a lot of our time in Doha in Souq Waqif and fell in love with the beautiful vibe and atmosphere. Souq Waqif is an amazing place to drink some Qatari tea or thick Turkish coffee, smoke a hookah and see the world pass by. We suggest having dinner here at whichever restaurant fills your fancy.

Aside from the food and ambiance, I loved exploring Souq Waqif’s narrow alleyways full of specialty shops. While the main alley has restaurants and souvenir shops, the real Souq Waqif lies hidden inside the side alleys where locals come to shop for necessities. You should definitely venture into the side streets and step inside spice shops, china shops, and woolen apparel shops. I particularly fell in love with the traditional Qatari tea sets in a china shop – they were exquisite!

Souq Waqif also has other interesting souqs linked to it by narrow alleys including the Falcon Souq (where falcons are actually sold), pet souq (here you will find all kinds of pets), and the gold souq. You can easily spend two to three hours exploring the alleys of this market.


Souq Waqif is a wonderfully restored standing market.

2 Days in Doha

Wait, you have a bonus day in Doha? That’s awesome. Now you can venture a bit off the tourist track and explore Doha’s secret attractions, using our Doha 2 day itinerary. We recommend spending the first day exactly as we suggested before in Doha one-day itinerary.

West Bay Skyline and the Teapot Sculpture

On your second day in Doha, you can walk all the way along the Corniche to West Bay if the weather is good. The walk is long but beautiful: we could see a few public gardens, the Oryx sculpture, murals, and dhow boats along the way. This walk is best taken early in the morning or late evening when the sun is low. If you follow the curve of the Corniche, you will reach the West Bay skyline or the new town. This area is full of skyscrapers, luxury resorts and hotels, shopping malls, and eateries. Here you will forget you are in the Middle East as you spot luxury brands in malls, premium cars on the road, and expat families going about their day.

The other thing you must do in this part of the town is to find the Teapot sculpture. I had seen a picture of this sculpture on the internet and liked it so much that I was determined to visit it. However, the location is simply not available online, even on Google Maps. So we actually found it by walking around till we saw similar surroundings in the picture. The sculpture is really beautiful and the skyline looks brilliant from here.


Lunch with a view at the Museum of Islamic Arts cafe

Katara Cultural Village

Katara Cultural Village located on the eastern part of the coast of Doha between West Bay skyline and the Pearl is a relatively newer attraction in the city. Katara or Catara was the former Arabic name of Qatar, hence the village’s name. The village of Katara is planned to highlight Qatar’s rich cultural and architectural heritage.

The village has stunning Islamic architecture with beautiful design motifs, intricate lattices, and windows. There are many attractions located in Katara including the Katara mosque, an amphitheater, small boutique shops, fine dining restaurants, and a beach. The village looks really beautiful at night and the views of the Doha Bay from the beach are awesome. You can easily spend an hour to half a day exploring the attractions of Katara.


The Pearl

The Pearl-Qatar is an artificial island created on the Doha Bay. On the Pearl, you can have multicultural cuisines, shop for international branded goods, and indulge in a lot of sightseeing. There are beautiful homes on the beach and the roads are wide and perfectly landscaped. Pearl also has yacht rentals available. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can just drive through the area admiring the views.

Aspire Zone

Aspire Zone in Doha has many attractions including the Aspire Tower, Aspire Park, and Villagio Mall. Aspire Zone is also home to the Doha Sports City, which is a collection of several sports venues. Aspire Tower, also known as The Torch, Doha, is the highlight of a visit to the Aspire Zone. It is the tallest skyscraper in Doha and looks spectacular when lit at night. Aspire Park is Doha’s biggest park and has fountains, picnic tables, play areas etc. The views of the Aspire Tower from the park are amazing. Villagio Mall is the city’s most popular mall and designed to look like Venice with an indoor canal and gondolas. The mall has stores of all international brands and is a paradise for shoppers.

We hope you liked our Doha itinerary. Did we miss any of your favorite stops? Are you a local and know about the city’s secrets? Drop us a comment and let us know!


What do you think? Leave comments and let me know!

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