One of the perks of traveling long haul are some of the interesting layover locations that you end up in, especially if you have the time to leave the airport and explore the city. What’s even better is when an airline picks up the tab on the entry visa, as well as the tour!
Qatar Airways 708 (IAD-DOH)
In 2014, Qatar Airways launched a free Doha city tour for passengers who transiting through Doha. This joint effort between Qatar Airways and the Qatar Tourism Authority provides travelers with a free city tour of Doha, as well as paying for your entry visa into Qatar (100 QAR = approximately $25-30 USD). The minimum layover duration in Doha to take advantage of the free city tour is 5 hours. If you have the time, the tour includes visits to some of the key landmarks around Doha:
Visit four key landmarks including: The Pearl-Qatar, for the finest quality shops and restaurants; Katara Cultural Village, a centre dedicated to celebrating arts and heritage; Souq Waqif, for traditional jewellery, spices and handicrafts; and the Museum of Islamic Art, for its stunning architecture and beautiful seaside park.
Unfortunately for most Qatar Airways travelers, the free city tour is not well advertised (outside of a very basic webpage) and presents a challenge in order to locate once at the Doha Airport. It took some effort on our part to figure out the process, especially when we were groggy after a 10+ hour flight from Washington DC.
The steps involved in securing a spot on the Qatar Airways free city tour are:
Step 1: Deplane Into Qatar Airport
1. Once you deplane, follow the airport signs towards Transfers. The airport signage is very clear, and it should be fairly easy for you (even if you are sleepy!) to be able to end up at a security checkpoint.
2. Continue following the signs until you reach the Transfer Screening. You will need to pass your bags through a security screening. Unless you are taking advantage of the Qatar Airways’ other transit programs, you do not want to go to the Transfer Desk.
Do Not Head To The Transfer Desk For The City Tour
3. Please do not line up at the Transfer Desk. Again, head towards security checkpoint lineups.
Inside Qatar Airport
4. Once you have cleared security, head down an escalator and you will wind up in the main concourse of the airport. You’ll recognize it by the giant teddy bear.
Qatar Airways City Tour Lineup
5. Walk towards the WHSmith convenience store, which is where you will see a queue for the tour. As you can tell from the photograph above, there is very minimal signage identifying this location. It really was just a desk with a sign on the front.
Qatar Airways City Tour Schedule
6. As you can see, the city tour (valid as of October 2015) happens 4 times per day, with the last tour departing at 7:30PM. However, the last tour of the day is often sold out because of an accumulation of travelers who may miss out on earlier tour times. When we arrived at 5:30PM, there was no one at the desk (contrary to the sign above). A staff member arrived at 6:00PM to process everyone’s check-in.
Pro tip: DO NOT leave the immediate area if you are able to secure a spot on the tour. At 6:20PM (not 6:20PM as designated), the Qatar Airways staff member returned to give everyone their ticket. Anyone who was not present to check in had their spot given away to passengers on the wait list.
Dates In Souq Waqif
We loved our time in Doha. The people were friendly, and the dates in the Souq Waqif were the most delicious I have ever had! If you are able to, it may be worth your while to consider exploring the city on your own so that you have a little more flexibility. Regardless of how you see Doha, I highly encourage you to try to do so during your travels!