July 06, 2023

Top Spots To Visit On A Five-Hour Layover in Qatar?

Vast numbers of flights stop at Qatar's Hamad International Airport (HIA) every year, with many carrying customers transiting between destinations. And while HIA has plenty to keep visitors occupied - passenger lounges, spas, fitness centres, hotels, play areas, public art, over 100 retail outlets and over 50 cafes, restaurants and eateries - too much time in any airport can be a drag if you're on a layover. Fortunately, Qatar, with its ever-expanded tourism offering, now offers a Transit Visa to enable transiting guests to leave the airport and explore the country. Good for the local economy and great for travellers keen to see and do more and experience Qatari culture.

So, if you have between 5 and 96 hours of stopover time in Qatar, by all means, explore the airport, but if you fancy an adventure, book yourself a transit visa.

Five Hours in Qatar

Some might think that ducking out of the airport with only five hours to spare isn't worth the effort. However, there are some fantastic attractions just 15 to 20 km from the airport doors. A quick taxi or Metro ride can transport you to a host of museums, malls, souqs, parks, beaches and more within a very short space of time, and all of the nearby sights and attractions are well worth the effort.

So, what can you do in five hours in Qatar?

Ring-fencing travel time to and from the airport and for getting back through security to the transfer area, and you're left with approximately three hours. We recommend heading to one of the following venues:

The National Museum of Qatar

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The National Museum of Qatar, located on Doha's Corniche, is an extraordinary place to visit, especially if you want to learn more about Qatar's history or love amazing architecture. 

Designed to look like the Desert Rose, a rose-like cluster of crystals that forms in the desert, the museum building is awe-inspiring and invites guests to spend just as much time outside as inside. However, the museum itself is just as much of a wonder. Spread over eleven galleries, the artefacts and displays, brought to life by interactive technologies, sensory elements and innovative audio-visuals, take each visitor on a journey through Qatari history from more than 700 million years ago to the present day and beyond. Six educational pods and three play areas outside, specifically designed for families and kids, also allow youngsters to explore the museum in a hands-on, interactive way through games and activities in digital and physical formats.

The museum grounds, with a lake, public art pieces, picnic areas, gardens, the restored palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, one of modern Qatar's early rulers, and the kids' playgrounds, are all worth a wander too. And, if you're hungry, there are four eateries across the museum grounds to choose from.

The museum is located on Museum Park Street, just off Doha Corniche and is easy to reach via car or Metro. The nearest Metro Station is the National Museum Metro Station on the Gold Line - from HIA you need to take the Red Line and change at Msheireb. The museum is open from Saturday to Thursday, 9 am - 7 pm, and Friday, 1:30 pm - 7 pm. Residents of Qatar and other GCC countries, One Pass holders* and kids under 16 may enter the museum for free; for non-resident adults, the cost is QAR 50, and non-resident students QAR 25. Find out more at the National Museum of Qatar website.

Museum of Islamic Art

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The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) is another exceptional building along Doha's Corniche. It is a haven for art lovers or anyone who wants to take in some of the city's most incredible sea and cityscapes.

The museum sits on a purpose-built peninsula that juts out from Doha's central Corniche and is surrounded by the grounds of MIA Park and the Gulf Sea. The park, which curls away from the museum, around a small bay into the ocean, is a great place to relax and unwind, with plenty of lawns and grassy knolls to sit and watch the world go by. The park also features kids' play parks, public art pieces, several cafes and some delightful views across the ocean to skyscraper-filled West Bay. The museum is also a sight to behold. It is the epitome of modern architecture mixed with ancient Islamic design. And with five floors of ascending geometric blocks that culminate in a central tower, a host of arched walkways, courtyards and water features, and two minaret-like structures that stand proud on the museum's jetty, it dominates the skyline. 

Inside, the museum's galleries, which surround the domed central atrium and are connected via floating bridges, play host to Islamic Art from over fourteen centuries, with collections from the 7th century to more recent eras. The displays, which include glassware, woodwork, ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, textiles and manuscripts, stem from three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and cover calligraphy, writing, figures, patterns and science in Islamic art, amongst other things. Visitors can also enjoy refreshments at the museum cafe or restaurant overlooking the Gulf.

The museum is located on Al Corniche Street, just off Doha Corniche and is easy to reach via car or Metro. The nearest Metro Station is the Souq Waqif Metro Station on the Gold Line - from HIA, you need to take the Red Line and change at Msheireb. The museum is open from Saturday to Thursday, 9 am - 7 pm, and Friday, 1:30 pm - 7 pm. Residents of Qatar and other GCC countries, One Pass holders* and kids under 16 may enter the museum for free; for non-resident adults, the cost is QAR 50, and non-resident students QAR 25. Find out more at the Museum of Islamic Art website.

Msheireb Museums

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Msheireb Museums celebrate Qatar's national history, culture and social development through four restored heritage buildings. Each house tells the story of the occupations or people who originally lived there. They chart Qatar's history through slavery and its abolition (Bin Jalmood House), the discovery of oil (Company House), domestic life in the 20th century (Radwani House), and the past and present of the Msheireb area (Mohamed Bin Jassim House). 

The past stories are brought to life through original architecture, objects and artefacts, life-sized models and sculptures, films and documentaries, projected visual media, as well as state-of-the-art interactive digital screens, displays and tables, and hands-on educational activities and games. The venue also incorporates a DNA exhibition that reflects Qatar's diversity throughout history.

The museum, located in the oldest part of the city, captures the massive changes wrought across Qatar in the last century and, alongside numerous peaceful outdoor spaces and courtyards, a restaurant, cafe and gift shop, is well worth exploring.

The museum is located on Mohammed Bin Jassim Street in Msheireb Downtown Doha and is easy to reach via car or Metro. The nearest Metro Station is the Msheireb Metro Station on the Red Line from HIA. The museum is open from Monday to Thursday and Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm; Friday, 3 pm – 9 pm; Saturday, 9 am – 5 pm; closed on Sunday. Admission to the museum is free. Find out more at the Msheireb Museums website.

Souq Waqif

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To experience Middle Eastern culture, Souq Waqif, a traditional open-air bazaar, is the place to visit. Though the souq is a recent addition to Doha in its current format, the venue is in keeping with the style of traditional Arabian markets. Also, it is located on the site of Doha's original souq - whose roots can be traced back to the 17th century. Since its construction in 2002, Souq Waqif has become one of the most popular places in the city for locals and guests to visit.

Low traditional mud-clad buildings dominate the market, with alleyways running like a maze throughout. Shops on either side of the narrow passageways sell and offer a multitude of wares and services, from bright-coloured clothing, fabric shops and tailors to shops selling antiques, trinkets and souvenirs with traditional Persian designs. In the hidden alleyways, there is a Gold Souq, a spice market, a Falcon Souq, oil and perfume shops, art galleries, a theatre and small cafes where Qatari gentlemen play Dama, a traditional Qatari board game. Along the main strip through the souq, where the streets are wider, an array of cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops and boutique hotels can be found. Camel and horse stables, a play park for children, shops selling local dates and honey, and an underground Novo cinema decked out in traditional Qatari style sit along the edges of the market. There is also a central square for cultural events and activities - which often involve traditional singing, dancing and music. 

You could easily spend three hours at the souq, exploring the small passageways and shops and taking photographs of the beautiful architecture, public art installations, colourful fabrics and wares, and the melee of people. And there are plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by - benches line the main strip, and outdoor seating from cafes and restaurants spills out onto the streets and the square. 

The souq, which sits adjacent to the Amiri Diwan on Abdullah Bin Jassim Street, is easily accessible by car or Metro. The nearest Metro Station is the Souq Waqif Metro Station on the Gold Line - from HIA, you need to take the Red Line and change at Msheireb. The souq is usually open Saturday to Thursday, 8 am – 12:30 pm, 3 – 10 pm and 3 – 10 pm on Fridays. During the World Cup, establishments throughout the market can stay open for up to 24 hours daily.

The Corniche

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Doha's Corniche is the perfect destination to spend a few hours doing what the locals do. The 7 km waterfront promenade, built in the mid to late 20th century, is a hub for city dwellers and visitors to the metropolis. People gather along the wide walkway to walk and jog, sit and relax on the grassy, palm-lined lawns, fish in the bay, or picnic and socialise in stunning surroundings. Indeed, against a backdrop of clear blue skies and the glistening waters of the Gulf, dotted with traditional wooden boats, the Corniche is a picture-perfect place to spend time.

The promenade is also full of iconic landmarks, activities, and sights, including a multitude of parks and museums, such as the Museum of Islamic Art and the National Museum of Qatar, the beautiful Fanar mosque, the traditional market of Souq Waqif, Dhow Harbour, the national theatre, the Amiri Diwan (seat of the Government), and the towering skyscrapers of West Bay. Numerous public art installations can also be found along its length.

If there is one activity we'd recommend, it would be to take a Dhow ride. Dhows, traditional Qatari wooden boats, are a remnant of the country's days as a maritime nation when fishermen and pearl divers traded along the coast in such wooden vessels. Though modern times, since the discovery of oil and gas, have seen a decline in sea trade and so the need for working Dhows, Qatar has restored many old boats to preserve the country's culture and tradition, and many of those boats now offer sea cruises to visitors and residents. Most Dhow cruises depart from the pier in front of the Museum of Islamic Art. You can rent passage on a Dhow around the bay and view the city from the water. Some Dhow rides even offer food, traditional music and entertainment. 

The Corniche can be reached easily from HIA via car or Metro on the Red Line - there are a variety of stations along its length. However, jump out at the Corniche Metro Station, and you'll have the bonus of walking through Umbrella Park - a colourful explosion of umbrellas adorning floral archways that lead visitors to the Corniche.

Al Bidda Park

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Al Bidda Park is one of nine parks located along the length of Doha's Corniche and is its largest. Its green lawns span almost 200 hectares, which run alongside the city's oceanfront from the Amiri Diwan to within spitting distance of West Bay, making for spectacular views. The green panorama of the park contrasts with the blue sky, the glimmering sea and the impressive skyscraper cityscape. In terms of getting out to stretch your legs in between flights, as well as enjoying some exceptional and very Instagrammable scenery, Al Bidda is an excellent choice.

The park, intersected by two of the city's main roadways to create three distinct areas linked by garden bridges, is packed with walking, running and cycling tracks, open-air gymnasiums, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, and seven kids' playgrounds. Kids can also use freestyle skateboarding parks and bike and go-karting areas. In addition, the park boasts various water features, including a waterfall plaza, a green maze, monuments, heritage sites and an amphitheatre.

The park is also home to various cafes, restaurants and food kiosks. In particular, to the north of the park on a hill overlooking Doha Bay and West Bay sits the Fire Station - Doha's premier art gallery and artists' residence - which offers amazing views, healthy, wholesome food and the opportunity to admire some local art. You can also find barbequing stations, set into grassy mounds like Hobbit houses, across the park, which is cool to see even if you don't have time to use them. And finally, seating, shaded areas and pathways, and evening lighting are provided too. 

Al Bidda can be reached via car or Metro, alighting at either Al Bidda Metro Station on the Green or Red Lines or the Corniche Metro Station on the Red Line.

*For information on the One pass, check out the Qatar Creates website.

If you have a longer layover, why not check out our Doha in 24 Hours For Families, Foodies and Culture Vultures article?

Main image: SvenHersche/Shutterstock.com

Published: December 07, 2022
Last updated: July 06, 2023
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