Have a Layover in Qatar? Here’s How NOT to Waste It!

Have a Layover in Qatar? Here’s How NOT to Waste It!

Why waste a layover when it can be used to see and do so much?

Pfft…layovers, am I right? Sandwiched between connecting flights, layovers can last as short as under an hour or two, or stretch over half a day! You could find yourself rushing with ungraceful haste to the next boarding gate, but you could also end up wandering aimlessly around, befuddled over what to do and annoyed that time isn’t ticking by any faster.

Don’t just plonk yourself on a random seat and while away time scrolling through your social media accounts, which seems to be everyone’s favourite pastime at every airport. If you’re in Qatar, however, Hamad International Airport has a multitude of entertaining activities to fill your time beyond browsing through the same old duty free shops.

But hey, you’re in a foreign country! If your layover affords ample time, step out of the airport and explore your surroundings. Thankfully, Qatar’s Doha capital and its slew of attractions are mere minutes away from the airport. You might as well make the most of your time there and immerse in as much of the local culture as you can. Besides, layovers give you the bonus opportunity to tick another country off your bucket list, and this article will show you just how to go about doing it.

Within the Airport – Less than 5 hours layover time

Image credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

Though a shorter layover wouldn’t give you enough time to see Doha, you can still make full use of everything Hamad International Airport has to offer! Occupy yourself with a languid dip in the indoor swimming pool or indulge in an unwinding massage and facial. Snap photos of various art installations in the passenger terminal that also include a gigantic yellow teddy bear! Sculpted from bronze, the bear is an engaging art piece that humanises the space as well as remind travellers of their childhood and the precious objects which are a reminder of home. Those travelling with kids can also entertain their energetic youngsters at one of the five activity nodes.

With all these activities to do in the airport, time will whizz by in a flash. Besides, this airport wasn’t awarded a 4-star hospitality rating and 6th place in the Skytrax World Airport Award for nothing!

Hunt down the various art installations

Image credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

Resting snugly right smack in the centre of the usually-crowded passenger terminal, there’s no way you will miss Urs Fischer’s Lamp Bear art installation. Slumped on one side of its shoulder, the yellow teddy bear is a popular photo spot for tourists. But can you spot the eight other installations throughout the airport?

The Playground | Image credit: Hamad International Airport gallery

In collaboration with Qatar Museums, the airport curates an immersive cultural experience to seamlessly fit art into its public spaces. Featuring up and coming local artists to add to the ensemble of international sculptors, each eye-catching art piece is well worth admiring. Tom Otterness’ “The Playground” is a play area coated in shiny bronze.

The Flying Man | Image credit: Hamad International Airport gallery

A message of peace to the world | Image credit: Hamad International Airport gallery

“The Flying Man” is inspired by Abu Firnas, a pioneer in the world of aviation, and “A message of peace to the world” symbolises hope for a utopian world without suffering or violence. Not many airports boast such an impressive collection of art, so make it a personal challenge to find all those nine art pieces!

Entertain the children at one of the activity nodes

How do you avoid a cranky kid? You take them to one of the activity nodes. If you thought layovers were tough, imagine how much less comfortable the children will be feeling! They’ll either be tired and grouchy or restless and grumpy. Either way, one of the five designated activity nodes should do the trick because they come complete with televisions, internet browsing Mac stations and family rooms for more personal space. Even if you don’t fancy browsing through the shopping arcade, there’s still plenty to do within the airport.

If you have more time on your hands, however, do venture out of the airport to explore!

Around the Airport – More than 5 hours layover time

Three hours alone is sufficient to catch a glimpse of Doha’s most iconic landmarks, or at least a watered-down version of them. However, I’d ideally recommend at least five hours to really appreciate Qatar’s capital properly. This way, you’d get to peruse the attractions at a more leisurely pace, yet not worry about missing your flight. From the rustic Souq Waqif bazaar along The Corniche to The Pearl’s stylish waterfront, soak in the local culture at the many landmarks dotting downtown Doha. Just arm yourself with a nifty map or guidebook from the duty free store near the baggage claim area to start exploring!

Immerse in Souq Waqif’s raw local scene

Image credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

Qatar’s iconic outdoor bazaar ranks at the top of our to-do list! For any traveller staying in Qatar only for a short duration, a trip down to Souq Waqif is the best way to experience this country. A famous haunt run by the locals for the locals, the Souq is where you’d get to immerse in authentic local culture. Though popular amongst tourists, it still retains its original vibes and remains largely untainted by commercialisation. Here, vendors sell everything from homemade sweets and snacks to falcons. Yes, you heard me right, falcons.

In Qatar, these birds of prey are held in the highest regard. A symbol of wealth and social status, many locals strive to own their own falcons. In one corner of the souq, you’d find various falcon shops, and can even have the opportunity to hold them. Souq Waqif even has an entire hospital dedicated to falcons! Apart from this, be sure to walk through the pet area, taste the delicious food at one of the curry houses and browse through the jewellery stores.

They say that to travel is to learn and experience new cultures. Even if you are in Qatar for those short few hours during your layover, taking an excursion to the Souq will give you insight into the way the locals live, work and interact.

Appreciate Arabian history at the Museum of Islamic Art

Image credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

If you do make the trip down to Doha, then one iconic feature that you cannot miss is the Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, this gorgeous structure has a main five-storey building that connects to the education wing as well as the large central courtyard. It’s not just the museum’s peculiar cream coloured limestone design that resembles various cubes stacked haphazardly atop one another – the interior also wows visitors with remarkably striking patterns and designs. Displaying four floors worth of relics from ancient islamic societies, you’d find intricately patterned rugs from Central Asia, earthenware hailing from Iran and Iraq, carefully preserved Islamic glass and even some of the rarest and oldest manuscripts of the Qur’an in the world! One can easily spend up to five hours admiring the exhibits!

Image credit: Ralf Steinberger

But in case you don’t have enough time during your layover, then you must head straight to the museum’s famous photo spot – past the museum’s entrance, exit from the door to the left and walk beyond the courtyard and the fountains. Here, you’ll find a completely unblocked vista of Doha’s skyline along the horizon of the azure bay.

Revel in Qatari culture at Katara Cultural Village

Image credit: Isabell Schulz

Image credit: Minas Stratigos

Further down from the Museum of Islamic Art, you can also find Katara Cultural Village, Qatar’s largest and most multi-dimensional project. A flourishing cultural space, the village celebrates the region’s heritage. Right from the beginning, you are greeted by the eye-catching Katara Mosque, a masjid with intricate purple-blue patterns on its walls. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire place: magnificently grand yet grounded by culture. Look out for the amphitheatre, where it’s said that your echo can resound around the entire arena if you shout it from the centre of the stage.

Image credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

Al Jazeera, the sixth largest media network in the world, also opened its media cafe here. Customers can tuck into their meal eating on a table that doubles up as a digital touch screen fully equiped with news applications and air hockey games. Across the café, the intriguing Bird Towers make for a great photo opportunity.

Katara Cultural Village regularly hosts a slew of international, regional and local festivals and performances. If you’re lucky, your layover period may even coincide with one!

Live the glamorous life on The Pearl

Image credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

Ever wondered how the world’s richest one percent lived? Well, you can do just that at The Pearl! Think of it like Qatar’s version of Sentosa Cove, but way bigger. It has a shimmering marina lined with endless rows of luxury yachts that seem to be competing to outdo each in terms of grandeur. Behind this, towering condominiums scrape the sky next to designer shopping malls. One corner on The Pearl even resembles a mini Venice, with azure inlets running through quaint communities of beautiful houses. A refreshing stroll by the waterfront promenade is just the perfect icing on the cake for your short Qatar layover.

Drive through downtown Doha

Image credit: Steven Byles

En route back to Hamad International Airport, there’s just one thing left to be done before you can truly call it a day. If there’s anything to remember your short sojourn in Qatar by, then it has to be Doha’s impressive city skyline. Amidst a kaleidoscope of exciting and vibrant neon lights, every building in Qatar boasts impressive designs. From Doha Tower and Tornado Tower to Al Bidda and The Palm Towers, each building looks even more interesting than the next. Some swivel and spiral in conical-like shapes, while others are so bizarre you wonder how on earth their architects thought them up. Wind down your vehicle windows and appreciate the beautiful architecture around you – it’s the perfect end to any layover in Qatar.

Getting Around

Use the public transport

If you prefer free and easy sightseeing, Doha is easily accessible via the local public transport. Taxis can be hitched from the Taxi Pavilion outside the arrival hall while bus rides are available from the Bus Pavilion next to the passenger terminal.

While taxis get you to Doha in under 20 minutes, the meter-run cabbies charge rather costly rates with starting fares from QAR25 (~SGD9). Unless you’re pressed for time, take the bus instead. Two inner city trips within 24 hours only cost QAR10 (~SGD4) and buses come frequently as well.

Find out more information about bus schedules here.

Join a complimentary city tour

If you aren’t confident finding your way around Doha alone, then go on one of Qatar Airways complimentary city tours instead! Just head down to the Doha City Tour Desk at Concourse B in the airport to choose your ideal tour timing. You’d get to visit the city’s most famous landmarks like Katara Cultural Village, The Pearl, Souq Waqif and the Museum of Islamic Art. Sounds pretty awesome if you ask me! Though the downside is that each tour only lasts about 2 hours 45 minutes, so don’t expect it to be too comprehensive.

Image Credit: Qatar Tourism Authority

Still muddled over how on earth to spend your spare time during a layover? You have all that Doha’s shining cityscape can offer served on a silver platter. Layovers can indeed be part of your journey or holiday, you just have to know how.

To top it all off, travellers on Qatar Airways are eligible for a free transit visa for a minimum of 5 hours to 96 hours! Simply apply online here. In addition, with Qatar’s latest visa waiver, citizens of 80 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong will be able to get a visa waiver upon arrival, which will be valid for 30 days! The waiver entitles its holder to spend up to 30 days in Qatar, during either a single trip or on multiple trips. For more information, visit Qatar Tourism Authority’s official website or their Facebook page. Top it all off with this one-stop destination portal for everything you’ll need to plan your trip!

For those who would like to purchase tour packages, the following Qatar Specialists are definitely your best bet! They are:

  1. Chan Brothers Travel (+65 6212 9660)
  2. CTC Holidays (+65 6216 3456)
  3. Country Holidays Travel (+65 6334 6120)
  4. Broadway Travel (+65 6732 0990)
  5. Azza Travel  (+65 6292 7110)
  6. Jetabout Holidays (+65 6734 1818)
  7. Prime Holidays (+65 6291 3322)
  8. Shahidah Travel (+65 6291 4555)

Start planning your trip now – there’s a world of opportunity and excitement out there in Qatar for you to explore!

Brought to you by Qatar Tourism Authority.

About Author

Galen Ng
Galen Ng

Besides being a complete sports fanatic and a massive lover of punk rock music, Galen is an adrenaline junkie who yearns to explore the craziest of adventures. His life goals include exploring and experiencing the most unique and lesser-known cultures of the world as well as playing a game of football with locals in every continent.