Qatar is not a huge stopover destination. The plane from Sydney to Doha was practically full but when we got off 95% of the passengers headed for the transit lane, only a few of us collected our baggage from the carousels. First impressions – it’s super slick and squeaky clean. Thanks to its vast oil and gas deposits, Qatar has the world’s highest per capita GDP, and it shows. Roads are superb and the cars that use them come straight from the book of automotive haute couture.
There are only about 330,000 Qataris, they’re dwarfed by the number of guest workers in the country. About twice that number come from India alone. Qataris make up only about 10% of the total population.
One consideration – flights from Australia arrive very early in the morning. If you want to make Qatar your stopover, make sure your hotel will allow you an early check-in, otherwise you could be hanging around for hours. That doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue at the moment, since tourism to Qatar has taken a plunge as a result of the recent unpleasantness with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states.
There’s an eight-hour difference between Sydney and Melbourne and time in Qatar, seven hours when daylight savings ends. Spend a couple of nights in Qatar and you should be able to make a serious dent in your jetlag if you’re flying on to Europe.
Qatar is more traditional minded and conservative than Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Most Qatari women wear a hijab and for men the long, loose cotton robe is everyday wear, with a keffiyeh covering the head.
Two highlights stand out. One is the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei and the world’s leading museum of its kind, home to a superb collection of jewellery, paintings, ceramics, manuscripts, textiles and weaponry. Don’t miss the necklace that once belonged to Shah Jahan, builder of India’s Taj Mahal, studded with egg-sized diamonds and emeralds. Makes the British crown jewels look kind of, well…..small.
Another must-see is Souq Waqif, where the locals come to buy spices, honey from Yemen and woollen cloaks for the cold winter nights. It’s not especially large compared with the souqs in Marrakech or the Covered Bazaar in Istanbul but it has character, and it’s totally for local consumption, you probably won’t see more than a small handful of non-Islamic tourists. Don’t miss the falcon souq. The ancient sport of falconry is alive and well here. A particularly outstanding falcon might sell for $250,000. Expect to see a dozen or so birds being cossetted by their owners. Go there in the evening, have a stroll around and eat at one of the open-air restaurants, and you might even try a puff on a nargileh, otherwise known as a hookah, or in some parts a shisha.
Take a dhow cruise at sunset to admire the city skyline, and it’s a knockout, fashioned by some of the world’s leading architects and clustered around the shoreline.
Doha is not a pedestrian-friendly city. Getting around is tricky and Uber is a pretty good option.
I flew business class, since this was a trip organised by Qatar Air, and it lives up to its reputation as one of the best around. Note that Qatar Airways took the prize for World’s Best Business Class at the 2017 Skytrax World Airline Awards.
The business seat converts to a lit-flat bed with plenty of variations in between. There’s a reading light, USB port and universal power point and heaps of storage space. The configuration is a roomy 1-2-1. Since this is an overnight flight you get pyjamas and slippers. In terms of cabin hardware, it’s right up there with Emirates. Food and beverage selection is excellent although I really didn’t give the menu a workout, but the mezze plate was good. The bar at the back of business class on the A380 is shaded by the Emirates bar but we’re splitting hairs here. The entertainment screen is big but it’s really hard to get excited about what you get from any airline in the days of Netflix and its kindred providers.
Service is really great. Smiling, attentive, food and drinks on demand. I’d put service in the business class at about the same lever as Singapore Airlines, and that’s world’s best for my money.
On the Qatar Airlines A380, at the back of business class is a small economy class cabin. This is reserved for the airline’s preferred flyers, those with loyalty points, but if you aren’t allocated a seat here it’s worth asking at the check-in desk. The guy on the check-in desk in Sydney told me families are not usually allocated seats here.
Qatar Airlines is currently offering a free overnight hotel stay in Doha, and a discounted stay for the second night. Dates are limited so you need to get your skates on: