24 Hours in Doha

by Stephen

A Week in the Gulf: QR J, EK J, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE

  1. Introduction, Planning, and Booking
  2. Qatar Airways JFK Check-in and British Airways Galleries Lounge Review
  3. Qatar Airways A350 Business Class JFK-DOH
  4. 24 Hours in Doha
  5. DOH oneworld Business Class Lounge and Qatar Airways Economy Class DOH-MCT
  6. Grand Hyatt Muscat Review
  7. MCT Priority Pass Lounge and Emirates Business Class MCT-DXB
  8. Aloft Abu Dhabi
  9. Abu Dhabi Observation Deck at 300 and Cyacle Bikeshare
  10. Le Méridien Fairway Dubai
  11. Emirates Business Class Lounge, DXB Concourse A
  12. The Electronics Ban
  13. Emirates A380 Business Class DXB-JFK

By 7:20 AM local time, I had my luggage in hand and proceeded to the arrivals pickup area to call an Uber. Within 45 minutes, I was unpacked at my Airbnb. As I mentioned in the planning post for this trip report, I split my accommodations during this trip between hotels and Airbnbs. I had only stayed at hotels on my previous trips to Doha, and though that was nice, I wanted to hang out with some locals on this trip. While I find it easy to be able to walk into a bar in Europe or Asia and quickly make new friends, it’s a bit more difficult (and considerably more expensive) in the Middle East, where in many countries Muslims are not allowed to drink and bars are largely limited to Western hotels. So I booked an Airbnb for Doha and specifically chose a rental with two young, down-to-earth hosts.

Given that it was Ramadan (and summer), I knew that the city would be fairly quiet during the day. Having been to Doha before, I wasn’t dying to go out and explore in the heat and the sandstorms that were blanketing the city that morning. I spent some time working and getting caught up on emails, then decided to nap a bit to recover from the poor sleep I got on my flight from New York. I woke up a few hours later and, after hanging out for a bit with one of my Airbnb hosts, set out to go see the city.

I first went to the Corniche, which is my favorite in the Gulf. In contrast to, say, Muscat’s Mutrah Corniche area, the park on the water in Doha is very well-maintained and serene. I’ve always loved seeing the very traditional-looking dhows moored against the decidedly modern backdrop of downtown Doha, and the scene made for some great photos.

boats in the watera city skyline in the distanceDespite the heat, a good number of people were out, most walking with friends and family, but some braver than I who were running along the waterfront. After walking around/getting pummeled by the wind for a while, I set off for Katara Cultural Village.

Katara is a recently constructed “cultural village” located in the northern part of Doha, near West Bay. All of Katara’s buildings feature traditional Qatari architecture, and the complex has various restaurants, a souq, and a few entertainment venues, among other attractions. During Ramadan, the Village had some festivities each evening as well as a Ramadan market, which was just gearing up as I was there. I walked around the Village for a while, stopping in the amphitheater and at the gorgeous Katara Mosque. When I was done, I hopped in an Uber to meet my Airbnb hosts for dinner.

A unique tradition in Doha during Ramadan is the nightly car parade that takes place on Al Corniche Street right on the water. Car enthusiasts and lookers-on gather near the Corniche as those with exotic and expensive cars parade them down the road. I was able to catch the beginning of the revelry in my Uber on my way to dinner; it looked a bit like something out of 2 Fast 2 Furious, but seemed pretty fun.

Because I had never been in the Middle East during Ramadan, I wanted to be able to have some “unique”, Ramadan-specific experiences. The most accessible of those was to have an Iftar meal. Iftar, which translated literally means “breaking of the fast”, is the evening meal that occurs after sunset and the evening Maghrib prayers during Ramadan. Iftar is notable for its highly social nature, and large groups of family and friends often gather to enjoy each others’ company and break bread together. Because those who are fasting have by the time of sunset not eaten for 12-14 hours, Iftar meals often involve large amounts of high-quality food. Hotels and restaurants in the Middle East have added a modern twist by holding large Iftar banquets and buffets, many of which can be quite lavish. For our Iftar dinner, we chose a local hotel with a more low-key Iftar buffet that my hosts had been to previously and enjoyed. As sort of a personal challenge to myself, I had actually fasted the entire day, having last eaten a few hours before I landed that morning. By the time the evening prayer was over, I felt like I could eat an entire lamb — and it may have looked to some of the other diners that I was actively trying to do just that.

I’m not really a foodie-type person so I won’t waste anyone’s time trying to give flowery, in-depth descriptions of the food, and will simply say that it was fantastic. I stuffed my face with mounds of hummus, tabbouleh, moussaka, lamb, chicken, beef, and rice, among other things. I imagine that unleashing your inner glutton isn’t quite what Iftar is about, but I was hungry and wanted to get my $50 worth.

a bowl of food on a table

Lamb ouzi

a bowl of food in a cooker

More lamb

a bowl of food on a tray

Shish tawook (kebab chicken with vegetables)

a bowl of rice with brown rice

Machboos (i.e., Arabic biryani)

a plate of food on a table

Plate 1 of several

After dinner, we went to Souq Waqif, where we enjoyed some Turkish coffee, shisha, people-watching, and great conversation. While Souq Waqif is always pretty bustling at night, it seemed to be particularly lively during Ramadan.

a group of people sitting at a table

Souq Waqif, Doha

My hosts went home after this, while I spent some more time around the Souq and Corniche, before making a quick trip to the Museum of Islamic Art. I’ve always wanted to go, but have never had the time to squeeze it in; fortunately the museum was operating on Ramadan hours and open late.

a building with a large square tower

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

After the museum, I returned to my Airbnb, where my two hosts were waiting with cold beers and shots of tequila. One of my hosts was observing Ramadan and didn’t drink, but was content to sip tea while I and the other host got progressively more rowdy. We picked up the conversation from dinner and stayed up drinking late enough that we shared Suhoor (the pre-dawn Ramadan meal) together. Among other things, we talked about life in Qatar, my hosts’ delightfully irreverent views on the current global political climate (“We have money, nobody here gives a f*ck about Trump.”), and how plenty of people in the Gulf (Muslim and non-Muslim) still manage to drink during Ramadan. I had a fantastic time and, though I hadn’t anticipated it, found hanging out with my Airbnb hosts to be one of the highlights of my trip.

Overall, I had a great time in Doha and made friends with two awesome people. While it was a new experience for me being there during Ramadan, I was able to squeeze quite a bit out of my ~24 hours and still got to sneak in a couple drinks. I was in Qatar just a few days before the still ongoing diplomatic row occurred, and was serendipitously (though I wasn’t flying directly to the UAE), able to get out of the country before all of the travel restrictions were placed. The next morning, I bid adieu to my hosts and hopped in an Uber to get to the airport.

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