Upgrade your adventure: Best ways to spend a layover in Doha

A modern skyscraper metropolis, the world’s largest collection of Islamic art and the chance to spot an Arabian oryx are just some of the reasons to explore Doha on a layover.

Now that both Australia’s national carriers, Qantas and Virgin Australia partner with Qatar Airways, we can expect more stopovers at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Move over Singapore Changi.

Built in 2014, this efficient airport is an attraction in itself. However, with many compelling city sights just a 20-minute drive away, why not explore a little further afield?

This guide covers all things whirlwind Doha adventure. From leaving the airport, to the best ways to maximise every minute of a short Doha trip and where to spend a night on almost any budget, we’ve got you sorted.

doha skyline seen in a layover in doha

Five things to do with a day layover in Doha

The eternal optimist in me has always thought of layovers as an opportunity to enrich a holiday before reaching my destination. Whether you travel for a city’s delicious food, artisan goods, museums, or night lights, a quick stop in Doha promises to add value to your trip. Chances are these six attractions will have you wishing your layover was longer.

1. Eat your way through the Souq Waqif

Eat your way through the Souq Waqif

Eat your way through the Souq Waqif and experience the taste of culture and history dancing around your tastebuds. Once an ancient Bedouin trading market, the Souq Waqif eventually burned down and was rebuilt just over two decades ago. Doha’s prime place to shop for unique souvenirs, the Souq Waqif is like a museum in itself. Colourful spices and textiles adorn every alley, but if you are pressed for room in your hand luggage, then a selection of Qatari, Yemeni, Iranian and Moroccan cuisines will have you wishing you had more space in your stomach too.

Cost: Free

Time needed: How much can you eat? We’d recommend a minimum of 2-3 hours to truly immerse yourself. However, 1-2 hours could be enough for those on a tight schedule.

Getting there

Souq Waqif is accessible by car or taxi, but there is underground parking if you have hired your own vehicle. Parking here will get you easy walking distance from the Museum of Islamic Arts, Corniche, and Al Loot.

Alternatively, the east to west Gold Line commences at Ras Bu Aboud has a stop at Souq Waqif station.

2. Walk through history at the Museum of Islamic Arts

Museum of Islamic Arts

This must-see attraction holds the largest collection of Islamic art in the world, so it’s not a surprise that a visit here can be a little overwhelming, especially for those on a ticking layover clock. However, that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing this specialised collection of Islamic manuscripts and vibrant textiles that tell tales of life from Spain to Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Central Asia. Thankfully, the museum’s curators have organised short self-guided tours – tailored to your specific interests – that ensure you experience the highlights. A visit to the Museum of Islamic Arts is sure to deliver for those who seek to soak up Qatar’s rich culture and history during their quick visit.

Cost: Adult entry costs QAR 50 (around $50 AUD), student entry is QAR 25 (approximately $10 AUD) and children under 16 years get in for free.

Time needed: History buffs could easily lose a day at the Museum of Islamic Arts, but the self-guided tours can be enjoyed in 1-3 hours. Consider the museum’s opening hours when planning your trip into Doha.

Getting there

Located by the Corniche, this attraction is a stone’s throw away from the Souq Waqif and can be accessed in the same ways. We suggest grabbing an Uber, Careem or Karwa taxi straight from the airport – more on this further down.

3. Travel back to 19th Century Qatar at Al Koot (Doha Fort)

19th Century Qatar at Al Koot (Doha Fort)

Located in the heart of the Souf Waif, the Al Koot is a good option for a quick visit to Doha. Once a police station, this military fort has now been converted into a museum that is on most visitors’ lists. Wander through the gunshot-lined Moorish fort walls to get a feel of the architecture that existed when Qatar was under Turkish rule in the late 1800s.

Cost: Free

Time needed: You shouldn’t need more than an hour to explore the museum. However, snapping a quick obligatory tourist photo of the picturesque façade while you’re at Souf Waqif will only require a few seconds.

Getting there 

The Al Koot Fort is located in the pulsing heart of the must-experience Souq Waqif, just a convenient hop, step and jump from the Doha Corniche.

The fort is open every day from 9am to 12pm and from 4pm to 7pm (but closed Friday and Saturday afternoons).

4. Enjoy spectacular views of the Corniche on a dhow cruise

views of the Corniche on a dhow cruise

Cruising along the Corniche on a traditional wooden dhow is a fabulous way to marvel at what is arguably one of the world’s most impressive city landscapes from afar. There’s nothing quite like appreciating a vista from a distance, and the Doha skyline is a view that does not disappoint. This waterfront promenade extends for seven kilometers along Doha Bay. Did you know the lifespan of a dhow can be 120 years? Cotton mixed with coconut oil is lovingly stuffed between the timbers to prevent leaks!

Cost: Typically starts at QAR 20 (around $8 AUD), but prices vary (weekends are slightly more expensive). Evening cruises that include dinner will cost more too.

Pro tip: If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, we suggest engaging in some good old-fashioned haggling to negotiate the price – It’s encouraged!

Time needed: Most cruises last two hours, but we’d recommend allowing three to account for embarking. Dinner cruises with entertainment and dinner usually take around 4 hours.

Getting there

Dhow cruises embark from the Corniche, which is an easy 20-minute taxi ride from the airport.

5. Got more time in Doha?

Doha’s outskirts call visitors with a little more time to explore a unique desert oasis. Contrary to the often-barren nature of a desert, the dune-filled landscapes of Khor Al Udaid host an abundance of highlight-worthy experiences.

Khor Al Udaid

Most visitors venture here in a hope that they will spot the endangered Arabian oryx. Do those elegantly curved horns look familiar? This small antelope is simply stunning – there’s no wonder it is considered the national symbol of Qatar, including the national airline, Qatar Airways. A visit to the Al Maha Sanctuary – also known as the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary – offers a rare chance to see this endangered animal in the wild.

Cost: Those who only wish to see the oryxes won’t require a booking, however, you’ll need to book through a tour company to explore the wider grounds. Costs vary and start at QAR 100 (approximately $40 AUD).

Time needed: At least 2-3 hours (excluding travel time).

Getting there

Like most wilderness sanctuaries, Al Maha Sanctuary is located outside of town. Al Maha is on the Dukhan Highway about half-hour drive west of Doha.

6. Get your desert dune bashing thrills

dune bashing on quads in doha

Booking a dune-bashing tour is a sure way to get your thrills while experiencing the sheer magnificence of the golden dunes that comprise the Arabian desert. Not a speed demon? An evening sunset desert safari tour is another holiday-making way to farewell a day well spent in Qatar.

Cost: Booking a tour is essential. While prices vary extensively depending on group size, tour length and inclusions, we found a private half day desert safari including meals, dune bash, camel ride, sandboarding and Inland Sea visit from $145AUD.

Time needed: This varies, but you will need about 4 hours for the abovementioned tour (including pickup and drop off).

Getting there: After picking you up from your designated Doha location, your tour will transport you to the rolling expanse of dunes at Khor Al Udaid, which is located 80 kilometres south-east of the city centre.

Staying the night? Top Doha hotel recommendations

Central hotels around the West Bay business district of Doha offer visitors a prime location from which to conveniently explore the city’s many appealing attractions and travel back to the airport with ease.

Members of the IHG One Rewards and Accor Live Limitless programs can benefit from exclusive member’s rates and other benefits at a selection of popular chain brands, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Pullman and Mövenpick.

We’ve highlighted the following properties across varying price points for their central location.

Mövenpick Doha

Mövenpick Doha can be found opposite the Corniche Prominade and is an ideal base for exploring the city’s attractions during a whirlwind stay. This affordable option doesn’t sacrifice cost for location. Enjoying the spacious rooms, outdoor pool and jazz bar are just some ways to kick back after a jam-packed day of exploring. An onsite airport shuttle bus makes this a layover-friendly option.

Accor Live Limitless members can book a Superior King room for the night of 17 January 2023 from $106.58 AUD (at the time of writing).

superior king movenpick doha

Holiday Inn Doha

Located in the Business Park just 15 minutes from the airport and a few minutes from Souq Waqif and the Museum of Islamic Art, Holiday Inn Doha is another good hotel for IHG One Rewards members enjoying a quick visit to Doha. This is also a great family friendly option with a Kids Stay and Eat Free program.

IHG One Rewards Members can secure a King Bed Standard Room with city view for QAR 312 ($125.39 AUD at the time of writing).

king bed standard city view holiday inn doha

Crowne Plaza West Bay

The West Bay area of Doha is the prestigious business district that places you within easy striking distance. If nightlife is on your layover radar, then Crowne Plaza West Bay has you covered with a boutique nightclub and evening entertainment. At the time of writing IHG One Rewards members can enjoy a member discount to book a room for QAR 494 ($197.73AUD) on the night of 4 January 2023.

king bed standard city view crowne plaza west bay

InterContinental Doha The City

If luxury and unparalleled views are important to you, then the InterContinental Doha The City could be perfect for a quick Doha stop. Also lining Doha’s West Bay business district, this is one of the tallest buildings in Qatar.

 As an IHG One Rewards member I can secure a King Bed Classic room with QAR 542 ($217.83 AUD at the time of writing) for the night of 4 January 2023.

king bed classic intercontinental doha the city

Pullman Doha West Bay

This 5-star hotel is one of the modern high rises that cuts a striking figure in Doha’s landscape. Enjoy a central location with spectacular views over the city. Local delicacies are on offer in the Avenue restaurant, while the bar is the perfect place to admire the city lights over a nightcap.

Accor Live Limitless members can book a spacious Superior Room with copious amounts of natural light at an exclusive member’s rate of $259.58 AUD for the night of 4 January 2023 (at the time of writing).

superior room pullman doha west bay

W Hotel

Are you a Marriott Bonvoy member looking to splash out on a luxurious Doha layover? Look no further than Qatar’s first lifestyle hotel, W Doha. Host to Michelin star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, this vibrant property is conveniently located in the West Bay district and features an indoor lounge, Sisley Paris Spa, stylish design tech-savvy amenities.

You will need to prepay in full to secure a rate of QAR 1,032 ($414.76 AUD at the time of writing) for a Junior Suite on the night of 4 January 2023.

cool corner suite city W hotel

Bear in mind that these properties are all around 20 kilometres from the airport. Taking advantage of airport accommodation can be a safe way to ensure you make your connecting flight.

Oryx Airport Hotel

Located within Hamad International Airport’s passenger terminal, Oryx Airport Hotel is a convenient, albeit slightly pricey, option to end a Doha layover. Ideal for recharging before a long flight, this hotel is equipped with facilities and amenities such as a gym, swimming pool, virtual golf, dining, and free Wi-Fi.

At the time of writing, I can book a Superior Room King Bed for QAR 1090 (approximately $441 AUD) for the night of 4 January 2023. Note these rooms are for departing passengers only and an onward flight boarding pass will be required upon booking.

deluxe twin room oryx airport hotel

Doha layover: Important things to know

A longer stopover offers a compelling opportunity to explore the enchanting Arabian paradise that is Doha. Here are some worthwhile things to consider when planning to venture beyond the airport.

Language Arabic (English is widely spoken)
CurrencyQatari Rial (QAR)
Best time to visitNovember-February
doha on the map

Time management

First things first, the key to any layover is ensuring that all runs as smoothly as possible. There is often little (if any) room for error with connecting flights, so this may not be the kind of trip you want to spontaneously wing.

When organising a layover, it is important to not only have a plan but to ensure that your plan aligns with the amount of time you have to play with.

Every minute counts, so we’ve taken the liberty of preparing a rough time guide for a quick Doha visit.

Go through immigration and customs1 hour (during the current unprecedented travel delays, this may vary)
Find transportation30 minutes
Hiring a car1 hour
Transit to Doha city (depending on traffic and mode of transport)15-30 minutes
Explore Doha3 hours minimum (6 – 10 hours is ideal)
Return to the airport15-30 minutes
Returning a hire car 30 minutes
Go through airport security, find your gate and board1.5-2 hours

Please note that these time estimations are based on smooth experiences and do not take into consideration any unforeseen circumstances such as traffic or immigration delays.

Visas on arrival

While nationals of more than 95 countries are eligible for visa-free entry into Qatar, this is worth checking as the logistics of exiting the airport can be more time-consuming and expensive if your home country is not on the visa-exemption list.

A quick search on Qatar’s government website shows that citizens of Australia travelling for leisure can spend up to 90 days in Qatar without a visa. However, your passport must have a minimum validity of six months. You must also hold a valid hotel booking for the duration of your stay.


Quick and seamless transport is a crucial part of getting a layover right. If you have under 10 hours to play with, it may be worthwhile pre-booking a tour or taxi from the airport.

Karwa taxis are metered with a starting fare of QAR 25 (about $10AUD) from Hamad International Airport (located to the left of the arrivals hall). From there, they cost QAR 1.20 (around 50 cents) per kilometre between 5pm and 9pm and QAR 1.80 (approximately 73 cents) between 9pm and 5am.

The city is a 14 kilometre drive from the airport, which usually takes around 15-20 minutes. Drivers only accept Qatari Riyals, so be sure to withdraw cash before leaving the airport.

Careem and Uber are a slightly more expensive, but usually easier way to get around. Careem is a popular ride hailing app in the Middle East and can be a good way to ensure you reach your destination in a timely manner.

Car hire is available at Hamad International Airport. Points collectors could benefit from a range of car rental service providers including Europcar, Avis and Hertz.

Buses are located outside the arrival terminal (to the right). Fares can only be paid for with a Karwa Smartcard, which can be purchased from QAR 10 (around $4 AUD).

We suggest going for a Karwa Smartcard 24 Unlimited. For QAR 20 (around $8 AUD) you can take unlimited bus trips across Qatar in a 24 hour-period (valid from first use). While this is the most cost-effective option, public transport may not be ideal if time is particularly of the essence.

Alternatively, if staying in Doha overnight, check with your hotel, as they may offer complimentary airport transfers.

Doha weather

Weather can make or break a trip, which is why it’s especially important to consider for a short layover.

While Doha is a fantastic option for those who don’t like the cold, bear in mind that this desert oasis can get unmanageably hot during summer, with temperatures averaging 42 degrees (Celsius) and sometimes reaching close to 50 degrees.

Autumn in November is when temperatures drop to around 30 degrees, with averages sitting just under 25 degrees during what is a far more pleasant winter throughout January and February.

Alcohol in Doha

Though alcohol is mostly banned in Doha, tourist hotels are legally permitted to serve alcoholic beverages. Nightlife can be found well into the early hours at The Club at St. Regis or Harp at Sheraton Doha Resort.


Extracting every second of a layover can be tiring, but I always find it proves so worth it when I’m back on the plane tired enough to enjoy some quality shuteye.

Not only that, but I have found incorporating cultural travel into a stopover to be far more rewarding than hopping from one duty-free shop to the next. Of course, the ultimate goal is both, plus some airport lounge time. Props to anyone who can fit in all three.

Still hesitant to book an international trip? Here’s three reasons why domestic travel is here to stay.

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