The Middle East is a big connecting hub so there are lots of people who fly in and have a long time to kill before their onward flight. If you’ve got a long layover and want to get out of the airport (who doesn’t), you have the option of taking the complimentary Doha city tour through Qatar Airways. You may be wondering what there is to see in Doha. Or maybe you’re thinking nah, I don’t want to pay for the visa just for a few hours in the city.
If you have questions about the Doha city tour and wonder if it’s worth it, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll cut to the chase, the short answer is: YES! The Doha city tour is absolutely worth it. For starters, it’s always great when you can see a bit of a city or country that otherwise you wouldn’t bother stopping off in. I’ll be honest, I liked Doha from what I saw during the city tour, but I wouldn’t be hurrying back. I have other places on my list that I am keen to go to far more than I am to go to Qatar.
With that being said, I’m so glad I did the city tour and if I had a long connection in Qatar, I’d totally do it again.
So why is the Doha city tour through Qatar Airways worth it?
There are 3 main reasons why I think this tour is absolutely worth your time and consideration.
Look, I absolutely love free stuff. I cherish it. Because free stuff means I have more money to spend on other things and experiences that otherwise I might not pay for. In fact, I even wrote about 15 free things to do in Boston (because who doesn’t want to take a trip and only spend money on food and totally unnecessary tchotchkes? ME!)
And the tour of Doha is 100% free and that alone gives it a big old yes from me.
You Pay No Visa Fee
If you were entering the country of your own accord, there’s a small chance you would have to pay a visa fee, but this depends on your citizenship. It’s most likely you’re eligible for the visa-free entry, but if you aren’t listed as one of these visa-free countries, then you would have to pay QAR 100.
Regardless, even if you did have to pay a visa fee, going through the city tour you’re automatically exempt from it. That’s pretty amazing!
You Breeze Through Immigration and Security
Even better, when you go through immigration and security with your guide, you pretty much get to march straight up to the front and bypass all the lines.
I can assure you if you tried that on your own you would not make any friends.
Have I convinced you yet? What I think is just so awesome about this is that you have the option to spend some time you otherwise would be doing nothing actually exploring a new destination and if you know me, I’m all about short trips if that’s what you can make work. You’re pretty much escorted from point A to B to C and back to A without any hassle, so you really can’t get any easier nor could you find a better way to kill several hours in the airport.
The Nitty Gritty
There are four tours each day and each one is capped at 33 people. As you can’t book ahead, it’s a little bit of a gamble whether you’ll be able to go or not, but I’d say as long as you’re there to register an hour or two before assembly time you’ll be absolutely fine.
The tours run at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and all tours assemble at the check in desk (inside the terminal airside in Concourse B) one hour before the actual tour time in order to allow enough time to get everyone through immigration.
The tours last just under three hours and in order to be eligible, your connection must be between 5 and 12 hours and you’ll need to show your onward boarding pass at the check in desk.
You tour in a coach bus (or what we Americans sometimes like to call charter buses) so you’ll be able to store your luggage under the bus and keep smaller items on your person. This is great because now you won’t be hindered by your bag when you’re trying to knock out a city in just a matter of hours.
Qatar Airways City Tour Itinerary
We’ve finally reached the fun part! I was on the 8 p.m. tour and since it was already dark and some things were closed, I would maybe recommend an earlier one if you have the option because I think you might get to experience a tad more. Nonetheless, I still think this was a great service from Qatar Airways and if anything, seeing the city in the dark was pretty cool.
This pearl-shaped artificial island was incredibly cool to see at night and our first stop was by the marina where the boats dock. It was really cool to see the downtown area across the way and I really wanted to just hop on a boat and sail away! (And I don’t even like boats.)
We didn’t spend a lot of time here, we just got off the bus and had some time to take some photos and walk along the edge of the marina by the boats before we all loaded back into the bus.
We then drove to another part of the Pearl-Qatar that wasn’t by the water, but further inland. This was just a shopping center and was more for a bathroom break than anything else, but I still enjoyed all of the architecture of the buildings and just the sheer scale of this artificial island.
I could have easily spent more time here though and that’s a downside of the tour. Even if you want to spend longer, you can only spend as long as the tour guide decides you will.
Katara Cultural Village
This is the next stop of the Doha city tour and I was really disappointed because as it was the late tour we didn’t actually stop here because it was closed. As the Cultural Village is still not entirely complete, this may have partially contributed to it not being open at this hour. Perhaps in the future this will be different.
If you do get the opportunity to go, it’s a great combination of modern and traditional where you can learn about Qatari culture and, in the future, it will feature handmade items, a museum and right now it also holds concerts.
I’m sure this would be an awesome site once it’s finished so if I ever go back, I’d love to see it when it’s completed.
The Museum of Islamic Art
This was unfortunately another thing on the itinerary that we didn’t really get the chance to see because it was closed during our tour time. Should you be visiting of your own accord though, it’s open until 7 p.m. We did drive past and it looked really cool, but I think it would have been amazing to actually go inside (and see it during the day).
The museum features Islamic art dating back 1400 years and looks pretty incredible. This is definitely another thing I’d love to see if I go back. If you’re on an earlier tour, you’ll definitely be able to make the stop here.
This was 100% my favorite part of the tour because I love the chaos of souqs and all the traditional items being sold that I can buy for myself. Sadly, I ended up not buying anything here this time around because I didn’t see anything I LOVED and to be honest I was a little strapped for space on that trip (unfortunately this is what happens when traveling in winter to a hot as heck destination).
This particular souq only dates back about 100 years and was devastated by a fire in 2003 and was renovated in 2006. Despite this, it still has that ancient market feel with its narrow alleyways and traditional stalls selling spices, handmade items, jewelry and garments.
At one point I saw a spice that was fascinating both in color and smell and when I asked the man in the shop what it was he smiled broadly at me and said, “you eat!” Sure, I still don’t know what it was, but his enthusiasm was awesome and I’m sure he sells a lot of spices. I would have loved to buy some, but it’s sort of an impractical item to buy and travel with.
Souq Waqif is also known for its restaurants and if I hadn’t eaten in the lounge at the airport before the city tour you can rest assured I’d have filled myself up with all of the unidentified food.
Like most souqs, it’s winding and confusing and you can easily get lost, thinking “didn’t I just pass that shop five minutes ago…?” But that’s part of the fun! Unless you get perpetually lost and never make it back to the group and if we’re being honest, if it were up to me, we probably would have needed to just make new lives for ourselves in Doha. Luckily, Michael has a much better sense of direction than I do (it’s not hard though – I’d get lost in my own house if it were any bigger) so we did manage to locate the group again and there wasn’t any need to accept my new life in Qatar.
The tour guides set you loose to wander and do what you like in the souq with a place and time to meet up. They really stress the need to meet back on time because the group could potentially have travelers with the complimentary visa that wouldn’t give them full access to the country.
Would I go again?
Yes! Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but I saw way more of the city than I otherwise would and it was still a great experience and taste of what Qatari culture is like. If you ever have a long enough connection, I couldn’t recommend this city tour more. After all, anything is better than sitting in an airport, right?
Have you done city tours over layovers before? I’d love to hear about them!