Despite being a major commercial flight hub in the Middle East, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport is home to quite a few long layovers. To make these long waits more palatable for passengers, the Doha transportation hub recently undertook a $16 billion renovation that includes an updated luxury shopping terminal and a new business-class lounge with large personal showers, power outlets, and free Wi-Fi. But what if you don’t feel like shopping and snacking for eight hours? What if you want to hit the town? What if you want to take a nap? Leaving the airport is a bit complicated, but it’s doable if your layover is longer than eight hours. Here’s what you need to know.
How to score a free hotel
Upon arrival, head straight to the Transfers Desk. (Do not pass immigration, or you’ll wind up in the maze of the departure gates). The transfer desk attendant will determine if you are eligible for a complimentary hotel room to pass the time between flights. If so, you’ll receive documentation allowing you to leave the airport and information on which hotel you’ll be staying at. You’ll be assigned a complimentary shuttle van for both drop-off and pickup. You’ll need to go through immigration on your way out.
Even if you aren’t looking for a room, you’ll get one anyway, so utilize it to keep your bags safe while you check out the neighborhood. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to get back, because you’ll need to go through security checks again as a brand-new passenger.
Traveling with a mate? Male/female pairs will need to present a marriage certificate to book a room together, as determined by a somewhat inconsistent Qatari law. A study found that Western brand hotels and luxury hotel chains did not ask for proof. If you are asked for a marriage certificate and can’t provide one, you’ll be booking two rooms.
How to get around
If your flight isn’t long enough to qualify for a layover perk, you’ll need to leave the airport by heading toward the arrivals gate (not transfers, even if you are transferring later). Go to immigration first and have cash on hand for the visa process. Once you are through immigration, make your way down to the ground transportation exit and find the queue for the Karwa transportation service or the blue cabs.
You may be tempted to hire a private cab instead of waiting in the long Karwa lines, but remember that private taxis play by their own rules, and there are enough reported incidents of price gouging and of drivers bullying female passengers that you should play it safe. Your Karwa should take you around Doha for no more than 30 riyals (or a little over $8 U.S.).
Where to go
Hamad International is roughly 30 minutes from the city center of Doha, Qatar’s capital, and the Corniche is a great place to enjoy a few quick hours. Corniche Street is home to several large hotel chains (Four Seasons, Sheraton), the gorgeous Museum of Islamic Art, and the Souq Waqif. Walk along the Corniche, where you’ll see runners, bikers, tourists, and families enjoying the sun, the water, and stunning views of the glittering Doha cityscape. Stop in to the Museum of Islamic Art; the gift shop alone is worth it.
The Souq Waqif will be your one-stop souvenir shop: jewelry and bangles, copper and gold, minicarpets, ornate tea sets, and mosaic lanterns. It’s also an important town square and meeting place, offering street food of all kinds. Before heading back to the airport, enjoy one of the many cafes at the Souq, or grab a street snack like grilled meat or corn.
How to behave
You should always be respectful to the locals. Doha is an advanced, modern city, but leave the shorts and crop tops in your bag, and remember that drinking alcohol in public is a no-no here. Women don’t need to cover their heads in public, but feel free to bring a scarf in your carry-on bag in case you feel out of place among those who do.
If you’re traveling during the holy month of Ramadan, check ahead to see what will be open during your selected dates and times.
What to do back at the airport
There is a wealth of amazing shops, so if you don’t feel like carrying souvenirs through your layover excursion, take a gander at the copper bowls and plates, coffee sets, jewelry, and even gifts from the museums, all within the terminal. Whatever you do, don’t forget to take a photo with the famous big bear art installation.
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