Many international travelers do not see the potential of having fun layovers while traveling. In fact, some of my best adventures have been spent during a long layover in an unplanned city. One of this tales is true from when I flew from Madrid to Johannesburg via Doha on Qatar Airlines. Given that the flight to Johannesburg is so far south, it is quite nice to break up the flight and visiting Doha was an unsuspected and entertaining choice.
Upon arriving at Doha’s airport a Westerner is truly amazed at the luxurious nature of the Middle East. From the moment you land, you are greeted with five-star service. Upon taking a taxi into Doha, it is incredible to see the development that is taking place in that city due to the World Cup that is approaching. Additionally, you see traditional sights that are mixed in with modern skyscrapers that contain luxury hotels. This is quite a unique contrast of architecture to witness from the beginning.
To someone who had never been to an Arab country, I was enthralled by the Shuk. The Shuk is the central marketplace at Doha’s center that has incredible souvenirs and restaurants. What is incredible about this place is that you can buy hookahs, teapots, camel souvenirs, and many more! You are exposed to the local food and you are also exposed to a divine mixture of Arab culture. My friend was pointing out to me the difference between how the Arabs were dressed and where they were from. What makes the Shuk so unique in Doha is that Doha is a mixture of the Arab world and thus, you can witness many different cultures interacting at once.
What my visit so special to Doha is that I was there during Ramadan, which is one of the holiest times in Islam. The shopkeepers were extra traditional during this time and I was able to witness a unique holy period during Muslim culture that was unique to what I had seen in other parts of the world. Not too far from the Shuk, one can experience traditional restaurants that are especially neat to visit during Ramadan. Many different Arabs from a wide mixture of cultural backgrounds will dine at Lebanese restaurants that line the outer walls of the Shuk. The youth will smoke hookah with the elders and enjoy their Arab coffee. Dining at these places is quite the culinary experience and the people watching is enthralling.
Another great aspect of Doha is that you are quite close to the deserts for sand dune driving. If your layover is under twenty-four hours, you can still absolutely book one of these tours and go for it. The companies are reputable and you will see some breathtaking scenery while stretching your legs as you wait for your flight. Doha has a great deal to offer the short-term layover visitor. The airlines usually keep your bags for you and it is absolutely worth it to check out this fascinating city. The next time you have a layover that is longer than five hours, consider exploring a new city as you wait for your connecting flight and you will likely have a rewarding experience in the process.