If you have had long haul flights, chances are you’ve had to deal with one of every traveler’s worst airport nightmares: the long-ass layover. And honestly, if you aren’t filthy rich, endorsed, expensing your business trip or just plain crazy, chances are they are not that easy to really enjoy. Maybe you pay up and lounge it out, but options are slim if you aren’t looking to spend a whole lot of money.
Upon returning to London from Bangkok last week Joel and I had the longest layover ever (without accommodation). FOURTEEN HOURS at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. And with a visa-less South African passport that’s quite an amount of time.
I mean, that’s a short lifetime right there.
So when we heard about Qatar Airways’ FREE Doha City Tour, we were ALL OVER IT.
Basically, Qatar Airways are able to take up to 22 of their transit passengers on a complimentary tour of the city’s capital four times a day – it’s as easy as checking in at the city tour booth, and then gathering back there an hour before the tour’s departure time. They organise free visas, an air-conditioned bus (this is essential), an english-speaking tour guide (again, essential) – and all you have to do is show up.
Where they take you depends on the time of day and the traffic, but after we all got through border security and into the bus we were taken to Dhow Harbour, where we stopped for 5 minutes to get out and look at New Doha’s skyline from across the bay and I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Arts on the other side.
After that we were walked through the heart of the Katara Cultural Village, which is a recent development that is a centre for cultural production with theatres, exhibition centres, public sculptures, gardens, beautiful mosques and some traditional Arabian bird houses.
Taking the 4pm tour had its pros and cons. One of the cons was that we had to drive through the city during rush hour, but a major pro was being out in the city during sunset, when all the lights come on and the uniqueness of this glowing desert city hugging the Persian Gulf really becomes apparent.
So when we finally got to the Souq Waqif, a traditional Arabian market, and the sun gently started setting behind the stone-coloured world, it really beat coming up with something to do on your tenth hour during a layover at Hamad International Airport. We strolled around, trying some Arabian sweets, taking in this new landscape that we got to explore. I even got to have one of my favourite desserts – dondurma, a Turkish speciality that also happens to be the best kind of ice cream in the world – which was a welcome treat in 38°C weather (although I’ve been known to eat dondurma outside while it’s snowing).
We drove back to the airport having been able to discover a whole new, vastly different landscape that is Doha, Qatar. What better way to spend your layover getting to explore a new city…for free?
P.S. We are not getting paid to say this – we just genuinely thought it was so awesome of Qatar Airways to offer this tour.