The ideal one day in Doha itinerary for an extended stopover in Qatar. Sample local cuisine, shop the souq, stroll along the Corniche, visit the Islamic Arts Museum – and more.
When I lived in Hanoi’s diplomatic quarter, I walked past the Qatari Embassy on almost a daily basis. The state crest emblazoned on the front gate – a dhow boat and pair of palm trees intertwined atop two crossed Arab swords – fascinated me.
From the first time I saw that symbol, I’ve wanted to travel to Qatar. To be honest, I didn’t do much research – just the idea of Doha fascinated me. When the opportunity finally came up to take advantage of the extended stopover with Qatar Airways, we jumped at the chance to spend a few nights in the capital.
Much like Oman, I found Qatar to be one of the safest, most budget-friendly and easy-to-navigate destinations in the Gulf. If you’re considering a Doha stopover, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.
This post pulls together the highlights of our visit for a recommended 24-hour itinerary. If you only have one day in Doha, this will give you a good overview of the highlights.
For advice about money, dress code, etiquette and more, make sure you read up on my Qatar travel tips.
Check out my short Doha travel video!
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Doha cheat sheet
Find cheap flights to Doha: Use Kiwi to find the best price on Doha flights (they’ll even give you a refund if you miss your connection). Remember you may have to book direct through Qatar Airways if you want to take advantage of the free stopover.
Do you need a visa for Qatar? Qatar offers visa-free entry for citizens of more than 80 countries Check to see if you need a Qatar visa on iVisa.
On a short layover? This Doha transit tour starting and ending at the airport is a great way to see the city when you have limited time.
Travel insurance for Qatar: Click here to get a quote from SafetyWing, my preferred insurance provider for long-term travel.
How to get from Doha Airport to the city: Take the newly constructed metro or organise a private hotel transfer (recommended if you’re arriving late at night or early in the morning).
Doha car hire: Keen to explore more of Qatar? Use Discover Cars to find the best price on a rental car in Doha.
5 essentials to pack for Doha: Universal travel adapter;an insulated water bottle and LifeStraw (Qatar is one place you definitely want to stay hydrated!); a travel scarf with hidden pocket (handy for visiting mosques or covering up in the sun); sun protection gear – including a wide-brim hat and sunglasses at a minimum; a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Qatar.
Where to stay in Doha
One of the best things about doing an extended layover in Doha is being able to stay in a 4 or 5 star hotel at a heavily discounted price. This deal is only available when you book your flights with Qatar Airways.
We stopped in Doha on our way from Sydney to Tbilisi and decided to stay at Saraya Corniche for 2 nights. Our room was comfortable but a little dated – however, we really loved the central location walking distance from the waterfront and souq.
If we had our time again, we would choose either the InterContinental or Souq Waqif Boutique Hotel. The latter is set right in the heart of the souq and features roomier, more luxe suites than Saraya.
If you’re on a shorter layover and you prefer to stay near the airport, Oryx Transit Hotel is the top choice. Certain fares are eligible for a discounted stay at Oryx so be sure to check with Qatar Airways at the time of booking.
Getting around Doha
Doha is surprisingly easy to navigate using a combination of public transport and taxis. The city’s newly opened, ultra-modern underground metro system has three lines (red, green and gold) that run between the airport, the Corniche, and Katara Cultural Centre in the north of the city.
There are stops for Souq Waqif, the National Museum, and Katara, making it very convenient for tourists. Single fares cost just 2 riyal (55 cents) and tickets can be purchased from the easy-to-use machines located inside the stations.
If you happen to be visiting on a Friday, note that the metro doesn’t start running until 2pm. Uber is widespread in Doha and an affordable alternative if you prefer to travel by taxi.
How to spend one day in Doha: Recommended Doha itinerary
This is the 24 hour Doha itinerary we followed on our recent layover in Qatar. Overall, we felt the day was well-paced and gave us a good feel for the city.
It’s worth noting that we travelled in February, one of the coolest months. If you’re planning your Doha layover for summer, you might want to pare back a little so you can take a break during the hottest part of the day.
At the end, you’ll find my suggestions for a shorter or longer stay in Doha.
Breakfast at Halul Cafe
If your flight into Doha arrives late at night like ours did, your first meal will be breakfast the following morning. There are two kinds of Qatari breakfasts you can try – either a huge spread of bread, yogurt, cheese and olives (not unlike a Turkish breakfast), or something more simple. If you want to save room for lunch and dinner, I recommend the latter.
Halul is a workers’ cafe and the perfect place for an easy, affordable morning meal. There’s outdoor seating with views of the water, and the kitchen opens nice and early at 6am. If you get there early enough, you can watch the sunrise from your table.
The best thing to order for breakfast here is chapati. There are several varieties on the menu – our favourite was the very thin egg omelette version rolled up in a crisp, flaky chapati bread. The cheese chapati was also pretty good. The rolls are quite small so I recommend ordering at least 2 per person.
You should also try a glass of karak tea or crepe tea. Like a lot of Qatari food and drink, the milky tea has Indian and Pakistani roots. It’s spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, cloves, ginger, and depending where you go, a heaping of sugar.
Karak tea is traditionally only served in the morning (although some tea houses are open 24 hours).
Corniche Fish Market & docks
While we were eating breakfast at Halul, we noticed people had started congregating on the waterfront nearby. We walked over for a closer look and realised it was a small undercover fish market.
Boats dock at a tiny harbour here and unload their catch – fish, crabs, prawns and other seafood – straight into the market stalls. Everything is sold fresh – there’s not an ice cube in sight – and weighed out for customers using old-fashion scales. The quality must be pretty good, because there were dozens of men and women doing their shopping.
Do a quick walk along the market to see the different offerings then wander out onto the pier, where groups of fishermen sit on the boardwalk repairing holes in their turquoise-coloured nets.
Museum of Islamic Art
With only one day in Doha, we decided to pick just one museum to visit. We chose the Museum of Islamic Art over the National Museum of Qatar, mainly because we enjoyed the IAMM in Kuala Lumpur and wanted to see how this one compared.
With a little bit more time, you could comfortably do both. A dual pass costs 100 QAR, otherwise entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art alone costs 50 QAR. (Note that both museums open late at 1.30pm on Fridays.)
Just a short walk via the Corniche from the Fish Market, the palm tree-lined entrance to the Museum of Islamic Art is very impressive. Inside, exhibits are sparse but beautifully curated. The collection spans 1,400 years and features objects from throughout the Islamic world. Highlights include a full set of Ottoman stallion armor and a jewel-encrusted falcon.
I especially enjoyed the Iranian ceramics and tiles, the manuscripts, and the Syrian wood inlay. It took us about 90 minutes to go through the museum, but you could easily spend longer here.
Even if you aren’t interested in the exhibits, I still recommend taking a walk around the museum’s exterior. The spliced cube-like building is a work of art itself – apparently the architect, I. M. Pei, spent six months travelling throughout the Muslim world looking for design inspiration (impressive, given that he was 91 years old when the museum was completed).
The interior architecture is equally beautiful, especially the atrium with its five-story window. An open courtyard on one side of the building offers sublime views of the Doha skyline framed by stone arches.
Note that you need to buy a ticket for the museum to access the atrium and the courtyard.
East Mound, Al Corniche & Old Dhow Harbour
After the museum, take a walk through the adjoining IAM park that hugs Doha Port. The gardens are quite beautiful – we saw dozens of people sweeping, scrubbing the pavement and manicuring the hedges.
To the west, you’ll see the Old Dhow Harbour crowded with wooden boats. They look picture-perfect contrasted against the skyscrapers in the distance. Continue walking north to the West and East Mound Skyline Viewpoints, both of which afford impressive vistas (we thought the view from the East Mound was slightly better).
Once you’ve taken a few photos, you can cut through the park back to Al Corniche and walk a section of the long promenade that runs for 7km along the seafront.
Lunch at Shay Al Shoomos
Shay Al Shoomos (AKA Shai Shamoos) is one of few restaurants in Doha that’s owned by a woman. Shams, the matriarch, is a Qatari mother of five who gets rave reviews for her traditional recipes.
Conveniently located on the edge of Souq Waqif, just one block back from the Corniche, the restaurant is simple with ample outdoor seating for people-watching. The menu is extensive and features most must-try Qatari dishes including baid o tomat (eggs with tomato), aseeda (wheat porridge), macboush (rice with crisp hicken, lamb or goat), and balaleet, a sweet omelet made with vermicelli noodles and turmeric.
We took our cues from the Qatari families seated around us and ordered a couple of dishes to share – khobiz regag (a thin crepe-like bread) and a sweet crepe with honey.
Souq Waqif, Qatar’s largest outdoor market, was the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Doha. It didn’t disappoint.
A maze of double-story shops and houses constructed from bamboo, mud and palm fronds, the souq has been in use for well over 100 years. If you’re wondering why it looks so new, a large part of the area was lost to fire in the early 2000s and it was almost entirely reconstructed in 2008. The undercover part of the market feels a lot like the Muttrah Souq in Muscat or a much smaller version of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
Officially, the market is divided into different specialty sections (gold, spices, carpets, and the famous Falcon Souq), but in reality it all kind of blends together. The souq was traditionally a gathering place for nomadic Bedouin tribes to trade livestock and other goods. You can still see horse stables out the back.
Souq Waqif is open every day except Friday from 10am until midday, then again from 4pm until around 10pm. I suggest visiting twice – once after lunch when everything is closed, then again in the evening.
It may seem strange to visit when everything is shut, but we discovered that most shopkeepers leave their stores set up while they take their siesta. Essentially, you can see everything without the crowds. You’re not likely to get hassled in the market, but it’s nice to have the place to yourself and not have to worry about getting in anyone’s way while you’re taking photos.
The lights will be off in the interior part of the souq, so save this (and the Falcon Souq) for later in the evening.
Carpets, antiques, sweets and spices seem to be the most popular products on sale. You’ll also find small repair shops and lots of cafes and tea houses.
During the busy period, porters (known as hamali) weave wheelbarrows loaded up with shopping cautiously through the crowds. As you can see, they make for a great armchair substitute come nap time!
I should also mention that pets (rabbits, puppies, cats) are sold at the souq. I really detest seeing animals kept in cages so I tried to steer clear of this area. If you find this sort of thing distressing, avoid the section marked ‘Birds Market’ on Google Maps.
Katara Cultural Centre
Once you’ve walked through the market, duck into the metro station under Souq Waqif and grab a high-speed train north to Katara Cultural Centre.
Katara is an arts precinct that houses creative studios, offices and public performance spaces. It first opened in 2010 for the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival and now hosts a slate of events throughout the year.
Entrance is free. If there’s nothing on, the only thing to do is wander around the complex. It looks like a bit like a Hollywood film set and feels quite surreal – a vibe reinforced by the swarms of golf carts that ferry people around.
The main attraction at Katara (apart from the huge outdoor stadium) are two pieces of traditional Qatari architecture that have been recreated on the grounds: A mosque decorated with painted tiles, and a set of Pigeon Towers (pictured above left).
The latter are tall sandy mounds punctuated with holes and wooden perches. In times gone by, farmers used the towers to collect pigeon droppings for fertilizer. They still do a good job of luring birds.
When you’ve seen enough of Katara, there’s an option to exit straight onto the seafront and walk along Katara Beach.
Grand Mosque & Al Koot Fort
The souq becomes re-energised at dusk, so I recommend heading back to this area before sundown. Doha’s Grand Mosque and Al Koot Fort are both located adjacent to the souq, so you can do a walk-by to see the architecture while you’re there.
The square-shaped fort is relatively new, having being built as a police station in the 1920s. It’s currently closed to visitors, but you can visit the mosque outside of prayer times.
Another option is to visit the nearby Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center where visitors (even non-Muslims) are welcome to observe daily prayers.
Dinner at Bandar Aden
Yemeni cuisine is hugely popular in Doha and Bandar Aden is one of the go-tos for authentic dishes. I highly recommend the mandi, a Biryani-style dish of chicken or lamb served on a bed of fragrant rice. You should also order a serve of oven-baked Yemeni bread or karse bread with butter and black bean.
Note that portions here are absolutely huge – one serving is plenty enough to share between two people.
Qatar is one of the few countries where falconry is still commonplace. Birds of prey are absolutely revered here – as evidenced by the fact that there’s an entire marketplace in Doha dedicated to them.
The famous Falcon Souq, part of Souq Waqif, consists of a dozen or so shops that face onto an open-air parade ground. Each of the shops has a large open floorspace covered with sand and lined with elevated perches. Falcons dressed in hand-stitched leather hoods sit on the perches, tethered down for safety and waiting to be appraised by potential buyers.
Shops also sell a range of falcon accoutrements. We walked past a few camping supply stores advertising inflatable falcon perches.
A falcon can fetch up to a-quarter-of-a-million US dollars in Doha. Apart from sport hunting, they serve a deeper purpose – in Qatari culture, parents employ falcons to teach children values of patience, courage and self-discipline. Up to 80 percent of Qatari men will own a falcon at some point in their lives.
As we wandered the Falcon Souq, we noticed a group of teenage friends, one with a falcon perched on his wrist like a Rolex. His two buddies were absolutely enamoured with the bird.
(Given what I said above regarding the pet market, I want to point out that this is another place where living creatures and bought and traded.)
If you do decide to go to the Falcon Souq, the best to visit is in the early evening when shoppers are out and handlers are feeding their birds. You should also drop by the Falcon Hospital, a government-subsidised medical facility purely for falcons (x-ray department and all).
There’s a small anatomical museum at the front of the hospital, and in the waiting room, you can find vending machines that dispense various falcon vitamins and salves.
Finish your day in Doha by walking back along the Corniche. As you can imagine, the city skyline looks all the more spectacular when illuminated. The spiral-shaped minaret of the Islamic Cultural Centre is particularly pretty at night.
One day in Doha map
Less time in Doha?
If you have less than one day in Doha, I recommend sticking to the top half of this itinerary. Head straight for the souq, grab lunch, walk the Corniche, then finish up at the Islamic Arts Museum.
If you’re really on a time crunch, consider signing up for this four-hour Doha transit tour. It includes airport pickup and drop off.
More time in Doha?
With another day or two in Doha, you could visit the National Museum of Qatar, spend some time at The Pearl – the man-made island in the city’s north – or ideally take a day trip to explore the desert landscape outside of the city.
For first-time visitors who want to get a taste of Qatar, one day in Doha is plenty of time to see the highlights. I hope this itinerary comes in handy for planning your own Qatar stopover.