Qatar Airways is consistently named one of the world’s top airlines. And it offers tons of connections between Europe/North America and Africa/Asia, for pretty reasonable prices. Often, these connections involve a long layover in Doha — 8 hours or more is not uncommon.
Luckily, you don’t have to spend your layover sitting in the airport the whole time. Qatar Airways offers an affordable, enjoyable Doha city tour for folks with at least five-hour layovers. It’s a great way to explore the top things to do in Doha with limited time.
I booked an evening city tour on my recent long layover in Doha on my trip to Nepal and had a great time. So in this post, I’ll walk you through how to book the tour, which attractions you’ll get to see, and some practicalities to make the most of your experience.
How to book a Doha city tour
If you’re considering taking a city tour during your long layover in Doha, the first thing to check on is if you can enter Qatar visa-free or get a visa on arrival. All North Americans, most Europeans, and many others can enter visa-free, but check this list of eligible countries to be sure.
You can book your Doha city tour in advance or when you arrive at the airport. I’d recommend waiting until you arrive, just in case your flight to Qatar is delayed. But if you’re on a tighter schedule it may be worth booking in advance.
The tours depart at 8 am, 10 am, 3 pm, 6 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm. Choose a departure time at least an hour after your flight to Doha is scheduled to arrive — preferably more like 2-3 hours after. (It takes awhile to get off the plane and find the tour desk.)
If you book in advance
If your long layover in Doha is at least 48 hours away, you can book your city tour online. Simply select your date and time, enter the number of passengers, and fill out the form. You will have to pay the 40 riyal tour fee (roughly $11 USD) online in advance.
When you arrive in Doha, stop by the Discover Qatar desk at least an hour before your tour is scheduled to depart to confirm your booking.
If you’re making plans last-minute, you won’t be able to book a Doha city tour online.
Booking when you arrive
Not sure you want to take a city tour? Worried about flight delays? That’s totally fine — you generally won’t have a problem joining a tour once you arrive in Doha, provided you arrive at least two hours before a tour departs.
All you have to do is go to the Discover Qatar tour desk and sign up. The process takes 15 minutes — they’ll need to take down your passport information and process payment (in cash or by credit card). Then, the staff will instruct you to come back to the desk to meet your tour when it’s ready to depart.
How to find the Discover Qatar tour desk
It’s not super easy to find the tour desk that the city tours depart from. This can make joining a tour at the last minute pretty stressful — you don’t want to miss it!
The first step is to go to to the Duty-Free Plaza — otherwise known as “the room with the giant creepy teddy bear.” If you’ve just arrived at the Doha airport, you’ll first pass through transit security — go down the escalators and you’ll be in the right place.
If you’re facing the teddy bear and standing near its feet, turn around and walk toward the large flight schedule screens to the left of the information desk. Walk between the information desk and the Mont Blanc store/duty free shop to your left. Pass behind the series of escalators, on the side of the currency exchange. You’ll see some restrooms, a prayer room, and a WH Smith shop along the back wall.
Look closely and you’ll see a small, barely-noticeable desk as you walk toward the B gates — just randomly in the hallway. This is the tour desk you’re looking for. If you reach the Harrods store, you’ve gone too far.
What to expect on the Doha city tour
Since you’ll be on very limited time during a long layover in Doha, the city tour can feel a little bit rushed. To be clear, this is a bus tour with a guide, and you will have limited time to explore independently. You will have more freedom to wander around at the last tour stop.
You’ll have to arrive at the tour desk about an hour before you’re scheduled to depart. You’ll meet a Discover Qatar representative, who will brief you on the customs process. Additionally, you’ll meet your travel buddies — usually about 30 people. Then, you’ll head toward customs.
The customs lines in Doha can be pretty long. It takes an hour or more to get the entire group through. You’ll get a special slip of paper indicating that you’re on the city tour — hand this to the customs official and he’ll stamp your passport with no hassle.
Once your whole group has made it through customs, the guide will direct you to your bus. Grab a seat — a bottle of water is provided in the seat pockets — and enjoy the drive into the city center.
Throughout your tour, your guide will talk through the bus speaker system about the history and culture of Qatar. Their script is pretty heavy on the propaganda, so if you want to truly learn about Qatar, do some reading in advance and take everything the guide says with a grain of salt. Some of the information is interesting, some of it is much less so.
Also, be forewarned, Doha is kind of a weird place. The oil-money culture is front and center, and it’s extremely consumerist. The architecture is interesting and you’ll get to visit a few authentic local spots, but you’ll also have to tolerate a couple of visits to places where the amount of visible wealth is staggering.
What to see on your long layover in Doha
The Doha city tour bus makes several stops as you drive around the city. You’ll be able to get out, walk around, take a few photos, and even explore more thoroughly at the end.
The tour takes about two and a half hours total, leaving you plenty of time to get back through customs and make your connecting flight.
First stop: Dhow Lookout
After you drive into the center of the city, the bus will stop at a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike — Dhow Lookout.
The “dhow” is a traditional Arab sailboat. They’re still used in Qatar to transport people and goods. You’ll see dozens of these boats scattered around the harbor.
But the main appeal of this stop is to get the classic skyline photo of Doha. You can see the entire city from across the Gulf. You’ll also get great views of the gorgeously designed Museum of Islamic Art (although you won’t have time to enter during the city tour). Meanwhile, rub shoulders with locals who gather here in the evenings to smoke hookah, have picnics, and watch the world go by.
Drive through the modern city center
Next, the bus will head directly into the city center, with all its bizarre, modern buildings. Look out for the building shaped like a bullet, the elaborate shopping complexes, and the face of the Emir plastered on half the structures in the city.
Second stop: Katara
One of the more appealing stops on the Doha city tour is the charming artists’ village of Katara. Here, you can see the traditional Blue Mosque, as well as the iconic “Pigeon Towers.”
Don’t be mistaken — this is a modern, high-end shopping and entertainment complex. But it’s a place where Qatari tradition has heavily influenced the design, and locals do hang out here.
The Blue Mosque is an elaborate work of art in and of itself. It was constructed and decorated with gorgeous tile work. The design is similar to Iranian and Central Asian mosques. You’ll see locals coming to pray. You can get a good look inside from the front, but non-Muslims can’t enter.
Right behind the mosque are the Pigeon Towers. These surprisingly beautiful structures are designed to mimic the traditional constructs in the Persian Gulf, where pigeons are bred for food. The best time to see them is in the late afternoon or just after the sun goes down.
Third stop: The Pearl
The least-interesting part of the Doha city tour is the super-swanky neighborhood known as “The Pearl.” This is where Doha’s wealthiest residents live. In other words, it’s almost entirely rich foreigners who made their cash in the oil industry, along with Qatari royalty.
High-end yachts fill the harbor here, and the main attraction is the designer shops. The bus stops for about ten minutes so you can get out and observe the opulence up close.
Final stop: Souq Waqif
The most interesting thing to see during long layovers in Doha is the traditional market in the heart of the city. Souq Waqif is a bustling, fascinating, atmospheric traditional Arab market.
The bus drops you off outside the Souq, and you get half an hour to explore independently. Bring a little bit of cash in Qatari riyals so you can sample tea at one of the traditional tea houses, or buy a Turkish ice cream, or try one of the meat- or cheese-filled pastries available on the street.
The souq contains traditional craft shops targeting tourists, but it also contains a good number of stores with more of a local vibe. Folks come here to purchase fabric, leather, jewelry, and more. If you’re looking for gifts to bring home, you can surely find them here.
Even if you take one of the later Doha city tours, the souq will still be lively. The shops stay open until around 10 pm, and the tea houses stay open even later.
As you wander through the market, take note of the traditional architecture as well. The overall structure resembles a fort, and individual shops have traditional wooden doors and windows.
After you explore the market, you’ll get back on the bus for your ride to the airport to pick up your connecting flight before your long layover in Doha comes to an end.
Should you take a Doha city tour during your long layover in Doha?
Doha is not the world’s most interesting city, and if you didn’t have a long layover here, you’d probably never visit. But in my book, the city tours are well worth it. After all, they’re cheap, they get you out of the airport, and the visit to Souq Waqif at the end makes them worthwhile.
If you have more than a 5-hour layover during the day, you may want to explore on your own instead. You can take a public bus from the airport to the city center for a couple dollars, or arrange a taxi. This will allow you to experience some of the best things to do in Doha that the city tour doesn’t leave time for: visit the Museum of Islamic Art, maybe catch a cultural show at Katara, and spend more time enjoying Souq Waqif. This option doesn’t make sense for evening or overnight layovers though.
Qatar Airways also offers the option of a longer stopover in Doha for no additional cost. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you really want to break up your journey. Doha barely has enough to keep you occupied for a quick day trip, so it’s not worth spending longer here. (Plus, it’s really expensive.)
If you’re passing through Doha on a long layover, you might as well get out and see the city a bit. The Doha city tour through Discover Qatar is a great way to do it efficiently and on a budget!
Have you spent a long layover in Doha taking a city tour? What did you think? Leave a comment!
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