Imagine a world of ancient souks and desert safaris; a place where you can sleep under the Arabian sky, shop till you drop, take in awe-inspiring views of the ocean and marvel at the latest art exhibition.
For many people, the first time they heard of the country Qatar was when it was awarded the 2022 Fifa World Cup seven years ago – and it’s been in the news recently because of its diplomatic crisis. Qatar has come out swinging, however, upping its tourism offering by increasing its visa-on-entry options for travellers visiting Doha, the capital city. This now also applies to South Africans.
Qatar Airways has become a go-to option for people flying to various destinations around the globe, so making use of the four-day transit visa is simply a must when using the airline.
And this transit visa includes accommodation at some of the country’s four- and five-star hotels. Using this stop-over is the perfect way to get to know the dynamic city of Doha, which offers something for each of the senses.
SEE: Qatar Airways offers SA passengers new Visa Checkout service
Katara Cultural Village
This village is a place you can lose yourself in. Highlighting Arabian history and culture, it’s a perfect place for a snap for the ‘gram. Explore its all-white marble amphitheatre, wander down mysterious alleyways, marvel at its mosque or take a stroll on its beach. Take a load off with an aromatic shisha (flavoured tobacco) and snack at one of the many restaurants dotted throughout the village.
Walk along the Corniche
Start by taking a walk along the Corniche, which offers sprawling views of the city and overlooks the bright turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf. Then make your way to the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA), where you can enjoy the latest exhibitions, from tapestries to images.
Alternatively, walk up the famous MIA staircase and enjoy the views of east and west, with skyscrapers that defy gravity in the background and fishermen’s boats in the foreground.
Visit the souks
After marvelling at the view from the Corniche, hop across the road to Souk Waqif, where you can shop for trinkets and spices, and sip on a karak tea. Karak is the traditional drink of Qatar, brewed all day and served piping hot with condensed milk for sweetness and cardamom for flavour. Delicious!
While there, be sure to visit the Gold and Falcon souks, which are within walking distance of each other.
Dine at Damasca One
To round off the day’s festivities, make sure you stop for a bite at Damasca One, a Syrian restaurant offering traditional cuisine in one of the prettiest settings in Doha. Try the hummus with meat. (Don’t worry, it also sounded weird to me at first, until I tasted the stuff!) Opt for a table upstairs on the veranda – perfect for watching the world go by.
Do the desert
For anyone travelling to the Middle East, a desert safari is a must, and you won’t be short of options in Qatar. Whether you’re a petrolhead and want to see some of the most souped-up cars drag racing and feel as if you are on the set of The Fast and the Furious; or you’re looking for something quieter, such as visiting Sealine Beach Resort, where the ocean and the desert meet; or you want something more foodie in the desert with a sunrise thrown in, you can choose a package that best suits you.
Visit The Pearl-Qatar
If it’s great cuisine you’re after, The Pearl-Qatar artificial island would be it. It can best be described as a Monte Casino by the ocean. Italian-style villas surround the beach area, where you can stroll along the bay and marvel at the yachts. Yes, the yachts. Qatar didn’t become the richest country per capita for nothing, you know. Visit Shakespeare and Co for a truly scrumptious meal.
You simply have not experienced the Middle East unless you’ve had brunch there. Friday mornings are dedicated to the holy Jumu’ah prayers so, until about 12pm, activity halts. Once prayers end, you will find expats and Qataris alike flocking to brunch. Offered at hotels and restaurants, a smorgasbord of traditional cuisine and international gastronomic flavours is served either as a buffet or à la carte. Friday brunch has become a bit of an institution in the Middle East.
IF YOU GO:
Fly Qatar Airways and opt for the free four-day transit visa, or fly any airline and apply for an online tourist visa at qatarvisaservice.com
Where to stay
For luxury, any of the big brand hotels are available in Doha, including The St Regis Doha. Alternatively, book at the Warwick Doha, which offers a roof-top pool and relaxing spa treatments.
Use Uber or hail a blue cab, known as Karwa and Mowasalat. Avoid the “limousine” service, which consists of privately owned taxis and is very expensive. Alternatively, download Careem, a much better version of Uber in the Middle East.
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