Skyline of Doha, Qatar On the right the museum of islamic art

Your Trip to Doha: The Complete Guide

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Doha, the capital of Qatar, has long been known to long-haul travelers as a transit hub between East and West, but more recently it has, quite literally, become hot new destination, famous for its art. To get the most out of your visit to this bustling city flanked by the Arabian (Perisan) Gulf and the desert, find out the best to visit and what to do when you are there with this guide. 

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: If you are looking for a warm, sunny getaway, look no further. It's always sunny in Doha, with a maximum rainfall of three inches a year—all of which fall in brief but sometimes heavy showers during the winter months.  The best time to visit is between October and late April, when the sun shines, but the temperatures are comfortable. Even in the cooler months of December and January, the temperatures rarely dip below 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius), whereas in the summer months, they regularly reach temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius).

But, as Qatar is a Muslim country, keep a note of when Ramadan falls. It changes every year, and during this Holy Month, it is illegal to eat and drink in public between sunrise and sunset, so you will find most restaurants and cafes closed, even in hotels.

Language: The official language is Arabic, but everybody speaks English, so communication is not a problem. Please note that Arabic is a phonetic language, and often you will find the English translations spelling the same words differently, such as Al Dhakira Beach which is also spelled Al Thakirah, Al Thakeera, and Al Thakhira.

Currency: The official currency in Doha is the Qatari riyal, abbreviated to QR or QAR. One riyal is made up of 100 dirhams, which is also the smallest coin denomination. Notes come in 5 riyals (violet), 10 riyals (brown), 50 riyals (green), 100 riyals (red) and 500 riyals (blue).

The Qatari riyal is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate of US$1 = 3.64 QAR.  ATMs dispensing the local currency are found dotted around the airport and the city, most of which allow you to withdraw QAR with a foreign card. There are also plenty of money exchange kiosks, where you can exchange money for riyals.

Banks are open daily except Fridays between 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., although some branches in busy shopping malls, for example, may also be open in the evening. 

Getting Around: The most widely used form of transport is the hire car and the taxi. All the well-known car hire companies have a kiosk at the airport, while Karwa taxis are abundant and cheap, with the meter starting at 20 Qatari riyals from the airport, elsewhere at 4 Qatari riyals, adding 1.2 to 1.8 Qatari riyals per kilometer, depending on time of day. There are public buses, which are air-conditioned and clean, and while they have a schedule, the actual service may be a little erratic. You will need a Karwa Smart Card to pay for bus tickets. Machines dispensing those are located in the Arrivals Hall in the airport. The Doha Metro is also an option.

Your hotel can order you a limousine and driver for the day if you want to have several stops in comfort and privacy, at an hourly or day rate.

Travel Tip: The Qataris are a modest people and appreciate it when visitors dress according to the culture and traditions of the country. Women don’t have to wear an abaya nor do they have to cover their heads, but it is advised that women cover their shoulders and legs down to the knees. Men in shorts are frowned upon as well, especially when out and about. On the beach however, you are welcome to wear briefs and bikinis, although topless sunbathing is prohibited. 

Bring layers – in the malls and anywhere indoors the AC is usually blasting, so just bring a cardigan or shirt to cover up when inside.

Things to Do

Doha is a bustling city in a desert country. In the city itself you can visit the superb museums and galleries, walk along the beach promenade, the Corniche, and shop all day and late into the night in the traditional souk and large modern shopping malls. But only seeing Doha is missing an important part of what is essential and ingrained into Qatari daily life, the desert. Day trips or overnight glamping trips are a must to get the full experience of this small country.

What to Eat and Drink

Qatari cuisine is a mix of Lebanese, Yemeni, and Indian. Expect a lot of chicken, lamb, and rice, paired with plenty of salads, dips like hummus and moutabal, fresh fish, and honeyed sweets and dates. Restaurants in Doha are as diverse as the cuisine. You can enjoy a meal at luxurious fine-dining restaurants like Hakkasan or have a more down-to-Earth, but equally delicious meal at Bandar Aden. Head to Al Aker Sweets to enjoy some traditional desserts. You will also find nightclubs and bars for tourists.

Where to Stay

If it’s your first time staying on the Arabian Peninsula, prepare to be amazed. You might think that you have seen luxurious hotels and know what to expect from a Ritz Carlton or a Kempinski, but in Doha they added that little bit extra. Most global luxury and lower-end hotels have a property in the capital, and you can choose from beach resorts or city business hotels.

Getting There

Pretty much the only way of getting to Doha is by plane, unless you are driving across the border from Saudi Arabia. Qatar Airways flies direct from some 160 worldwide destinations and has won many awards for its outstanding service. All major international airlines such as American Airlines, Cathay, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, and United Airlines all fly into Hamad International Airport.

Travel Document Requirements

Nationals of some 85 countries can enter Qatar without a prior visa and stay for a predetermined length of time (either 30 or 90 days depending on the country) without needing a visa.  Those countries include the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and the EU. Your passport must be valid for six months or more upon arrival.

Culture and Customs

Qatar is a Muslim country and it is expected that visitors dress modestly, covering shoulders and legs down to the knee when outside of their hotel. On the beaches and by the pools you are allowed to wear bikinis, although topless bathing is not allowed. Alcohol is available in most hotels and restaurants located within hotels, although you will find local smaller restaurants will not have an alcohol license. Pork products are not available in Qatar. During Ramadan it is forbidden to eat and drink in public between sunrise and sunset, and most shops and restaurants will be closed during the day. The major hotels will have a secluded restaurant open for visitors to eat in.

When eating with your hands, avoid using your left hand, as that one is deemed unclean. Equally, if you choose to sit on the floor with locals, try not to show the soles of your feet to the other guests.

Money-Saving Tips

You can easily spend a lot of money in Doha staying at luxury five-star hotels, eating in some of the best restaurants, and buying top designer clothes. But there are plenty of smaller hotels in town where the prices are not extravagant, and eating in the local restaurants outside of the hotels is a real bargain, and more authentic to boot. Try the local shawarma, a wrap with shaved lamb or chicken meat, or an egg shawarma, essentially a thin omelette in a wrap, and you will be eating deliciously for loose change. 

For good 2-for-1 savings deals, download the My Book Qatar app, where you can find many restaurants and leisure activities listed offering special deals.

Article Sources
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  1. "Doha Climate."

  2. Qatar Central Bank. "Exchange Rate Policy."

  3. Qatar Airways. "Welcome to Qatar Airways."

  4. Qatar National Tourism Council. "Visas for Visitors."