With a 9-hour layover in Doha, Qatar, squeezed between a 16-hour flight and a 10-hour flight, my husband and I faced a decision. Was it worth our time to leave the airport?
Our flight on Qatar Airways had taken us from Dallas to Hamad International Airport in Doha, before continuing on to Cape Town, South Africa.
We were heavily jet-lagged and a bit hazy, yet still curious about exploring a new place. We decided in favor of seeing Doha — and against sleep.
We showered and changed clothes in the Qatar Airlines lounge, but passed on a hotel room. I decided to dress a bit more conservatively. Despite the warm weather, I wore a cardigan over my top and loose-fitting pants.
The airline’s famous free Doha City Tour touches on city highlights such as the Katara Cultural Village, The Pearl man-made island, The Museum of Islamic Art and Souq Waqif market. However, the tour was overbooked so we decided to head to the souq on our own.
But first, I stopped for a photo op with the airport’s most famous art installation, a giant teddy bear.
I was feeling pretty woozy, and staring up at a bizarrely giant 23-foot-tall yellow bear under a heat lamp was a trip in itself. The now iconic “Untitled Lamp Bear” was constructed by Swiss artist Urs Fischer.
The airport calls it a “playful piece that humanizes the space around it and reminds travelers of childhood and precious objects from home.” I’m not sure if the bear triggered nostalgia in me. Rather, I viewed the yellow bear more as a whimsical giant oddity. So of course I took a selfie with it!
In retrospect, I’m pretty shocked that we were lucid enough to figure out how to exit the airport. Indeed, we wandered aimlessly up and down escalators for a bit until we located the exit.
We caught a taxi and headed straight for the Souq Waqif, the main market with lots of shopping and restaurant options.
In addition to shopping, the souq offers some great people-watching opportunities. People of all ages strolled the streets at night. Young families pushed children in strollers. Large groups of men gathered to smoke shisha (hookah) and drink tea. We sat down for dinner at a Moroccan restaurant.
My husband and I set out to buy my father-in-law some new prayer beads, which were easy to find. We also bought some magnets, but we weren’t there long enough for more dedicated shopping.
While we were rushing through, you can shop for many diverse items at the market. You can shop for scarves, jewelry, spices, falcons and many more items. Half the fun is in wandering through the narrow alleys of vendors. (Remember to carry some cash if you want to shop!)
The scene at the souq night is quite magical, with lots of people enjoying socializing. The buildings are illuminated beautifully as well.
We saw some colorful street vending carts.
We also saw some ice cream vendors who joked around as they scooped ice cream for children.
We decided to leave the souq and explore along the Persian Gulf water front, where we came across a giant oyster sculpture fountain along the shoreline containing a pearl, where many people were posing for photos.
This sculpture piece is a nod to the history of the pearl fishing industry in the city. Before oil was discovered around 1939 and made Qatar insanely wealthy, the local economy depended on traditional diving for pearls in the Persian Gulf.
We continued to walk around, and found people strolling near fountains in a park at night.
We walked along the seven-kilometer waterfront promenade known as the Corniche along Doha Bay. Colorfully lit buildings illuminated the buildings.
Our waterfront walk capped out an exciting evening before we rushed back to the airport to catch our connecting flight to South Africa.
While we did not have much time on the ground in Qatar, I would highly recommend taking a quick layover trip into the country if you have time to experience this Middle Eastern country! With the World Cup coming soon to Doha, I’m sure that many more international visitors will experience the city.
- “Doha City Tour,” Qatar Airways
- ‘Untitled Lamp Bear,’ Hamad International Airport
- “Souq Waqif: 10 Things to see and do at Doha’s ‘standing market,'” CNN
- “Souq Waqif,” Lonely Planet.