Doha, Qatar was my first stop in 36.5 (!) total hours of travel to Nairobi, Kenya.
My friend Alexis and I purchased a $797.85 RT flight to Nairobi from LAX, and embraced the lengthy layover as an opportunity to see someplace new!
As Americans, we did not require a visa for our transit stay. Check the requirements though, if you’re coming with a different passport.
Through Qatar Airways’ Discover Qatar promotion, flights with a layover of at least 12 hours qualify for a $23 (for 4-star) or $28 (for 5-star) per night stay in a number of Doha’s hotels.
We had fun looking them all up and deciding where to stay for the night, eventually landing on the Intercontinental – Doha, The City.
Yes, we “splurged” for 5-star. 😉
While we were mostly looking forward to a good night’s rest and a chance to stretch our limbs, I poked around ahead of time for someplace interesting to eat. I came across the Parisa Souq Waqif restaurant and knew it was a must.
(But because it was affiliated with the Ritz, I did look thoroughly for pricing information before making a reservation lolol. Tripadvisor has some helpful menu photos.)
The prices were high by local standards, but reasonable by American standards. The bill came out to 223 QAR, or about $60, for both our dinners (which included starter salads and pita bread) and fresh juices. I highly recommend the mint lemonade! So yummy.
Heading into Kenya and Zanzibar, where the exchange rate from USD is much more favorable, this turned out to be our most expensive meal on the trip! #BudgetQueens
Note: Getting to this restaurant might be a doozy. There are apparently multiple “Souq Waqifs”, and though it’s affiliated with the Ritz Carlton Sharq Village, this restaurant is not on (or anywhere near, really) the Sharq Village grounds. We ran all around town in two different cabs, because first the hotel concierge and later the taxi driver didn’t know for sure where the place was lol.
Luckily, cabs were dirt cheap: our taxi back from the restaurant to the hotel was 10 QAR, or $2.75. So it turned out to be a great way to see more of the city. 🙂
We found the place eventually: it’s in the busy Souq Waqif marketplace, next to an outdoor hookah lounge.
The entrance is stunning:
The interior is to die for:
And, if you’re nice, they may offer to take you into the special room behind the painted doors…
The Parisa Souq Waqif was such a treat. Absolutely the most ornate place I’ve ever eaten.
After dinner, we took a cab back to the Intercontinental and wound down for a good night’s sleep. I woke up bright and early to the most beautiful colors in the sky.
By 5:30am it was already 83 degrees, and the sun was high in the sky…so I think I’m just fine with having spent only the night in Doha lol. We headed back to the airport (for 60 QAR, or $16.50), and boarded our last leg into Nairobi!
Tips for a layover in Qatar:
- Pack a carry-on! You can go into town, but your baggage won’t be made available to you until your final destination. Take a carry-on on board and pack whatever you’ll need for an overnight stay.
- Ideally, have cash to exchange already on you. They do have ATMs (and one of them will give you USD if needed), but they are upstairs in Departures. $100 should be plenty for 1 person, unless you plan to shop.
- Dress light, but cover up. You’ll have to get creative with that, obviously, but the cultural norms of dress here are very conservative. I never felt uncomfortable showing a little leg or shoulder as a tourist, but I was aware that it was not the norm, and did usually keep a sweater cloaked around my shoulders. It’s really hot at all times though, so light materials are your friend. Alexis had a light scarf that worked nicely to wrap around the shoulders.
- Take it all in! One thing about Qatar is, very few people I know have been. This allowed me to go into the experience with no expectations!One thing I immediately noticed was that there were more Black people (Africans) than I expected to see. A staff member at the hotel told us he was Sudanese, and that many Africans come to the Middle East for better-paying job opportunities.I also observed very few women out and about as we drove around town. We would often come across groups of men sitting in circles, apparently playing a game or having a lively discussion. Not women though!Also, although we had a late dinner, I was surprised to see the marketplace buzzing at even 11:30pm on our way out.
Overall, Doha appeared to be a mix of modern infrastructure and traditional Middle Eastern life. The city is hosting the 2019 World Championships in Athletics and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and is still very much under-construction…so it does come off as a city trying hard to visually impress. I think it succeeds though!
I felt satisfied with what I got to see in an overnight layover, but if I ever went back, I’d try to spend more time exploring more authentic local recommendations.
Maybe a longer layover next time? 🙂
(photos by me)