Saturday, March 29, 2014

Doha Hotels -- Where to Stay in Doha/Qatar

As an extension to my posts “What to Do in Qatar" and “Where to Eat in Qatar” I figured I'd do a post about trying to figure out a hotel to stay in. If you're not familiar with the city it can be a tough decision as you don't really have a sense of where things are or how close they might be.

Before we begin I will note that I have never actually stayed in almost any of these hotels (why would I stay in any of them -- I live here). These recommendations are based on whether the hotels might be suitable for what you need. Before you book you should also look at a review website like tripadvisor or to see what travelers had to say about their stays at individual hotels.

With that out of the way, let’s begin with a key consideration when choosing a hotel:

Location, location, location.

As the city Doha is pretty spread out, and with no metro or significant public transport system, the traffic can be pretty bad throughout the day. If you're coming to Doha on business it could save you a lot of hassle to book a hotel that would be close to your meetings. If your meetings are in the West Bay neighborhood stay at a hotel in West Bay, if they’re elsewhere in the city then book a hotel close to there. It can save you a lot of grief in the long run. Otherwise you could be looking at up to an hour or more commuting to your meetings depending on how far away you are.

And don't think you can just step out of the hotel onto the street and flag down a taxi, if it's rush hour you’re really taking your chances that you'll get one quickly. It could take more than an hour depending on where you are, no I’m not kidding. Both the morning and afternoon rush hours are the busiest time for taxis and I've known some people to book them two days in advance. Thus you'll be stuck having to use a hotel car at an exorbitant price. You may want to consider renting a car when you arrive at the airport, a small car could cost as little as 130-170 QAR a day, at some five-star hotels you could be charged that much for just one trip from their “limousine” services.

During the months of May to October the weather will likely be incredibly hot and humid, making even a 10-minute walk outside an ordeal. Having transportation lined up during these months will be especially crucial.

Another solution would be before you arrive in Doha to ask the company(-ies) that you are meeting if they have a driver who could pick you up from your hotel. Most companies do so maybe you could get transportation to your meetings that way.

By the way, not every hotel has alcohol

Only some of the hotels are licensed to serve alcohol, mostly five-star hotels. If having a drink is important to you then do some research in advance to see if the hotel is licensed to serve alcohol. There are a few four-star hotels with a license (but not many) and not all five-star hotels are licensed, so don't assume a five-star hotel will automatically have alcohol.

By law all hotel bars must scan your passport for you to be allowed entry (or Qatar ID if you live here). No passport, no entry, even if you are staying at the hotel. Picture ID like a driver’s license is not good enough, it has to be your passport. Some hotels might be stricter about this than others but that's the law.

So it turns out my meetings are in an area called West Bay, any recommendations?

There are plenty of hotels in that neighborhood, mostly five-star. The Four-Seasons, Hilton, Intercontinental (the City), W, Moevenpick, and Mariott Marquis are just some of them. You shouldn't have trouble finding something. Just a word of caution there are two Intercontinentals, two Mariotts and two Moevenpicks in Doha so just make sure you've got the right one.

What about if my meetings are in an area called Lusail / the Pearl / Katara?

Those are a bit north of West Bay and while staying in West Bay might be all right you could also stay at some hotels closer to the area: Ritz-Carleton, Intercontinental (the other one), St. Regis or the Grand Hyatt are all closer.

What about if my meetings are in an area called Aspire / Education City?

I think there's only two realistic options for hotels near those areas: the Torch or the Grand Heritage.

What about if my meetings are in an area called Ras Laffan / Al Khor / Wakra / Mesaieed?

Those places are not in Doha. Get hotel recommendations from whomever you are meeting with and ask if they can pick you up from the hotel. You still might be staying in a hotel in Doha, just with a bit more of a commute to your meetings.

I'm going to be in Doha on business for more than a week so I wouldn't mind staying somewhere with some variety for dining.

First see above about “location, location, location”

Otherwise a good hotel would be the Radisson Blu, which has something like nine different restaurants and five bars, and is on a busy intersection by what many here call “Cholesterol Alley” where there are tons of nearby fast food places, cafés and other restaurants.

Staying at the hotels in or near Souq Waqif would also provide you with dozens of dining options, but there are no bars in the Souq and I think only a couple of hotels nearby have them.

West Bay hotels might also be an option if they are close to City Centre Mall as there are plenty of places to eat there. The W is close and the Mariott Marquis is attached to the mall.

Also consider the Torch hotel as it is attached to Villagio Mall, but it also has no options for bars.

The Grand Hyatt has, I think, four restaurants and is across the street from a moderate sized mall called Lagoona where you can go for cheaper options.

I'm traveling with my spouse/family and they prefer sitting by a pool and/or beach.

Only the resort hotels on the shore have beaches but there are many to choose from: Ritz, Grand Hyatt, St. Regis, Intercontinental, Hilton, Four Seasons, the Sharq and the Marriot resort. They tend to also have the best pools (but it varies, view pictures from their websites before booking).

Be warned, chances are you will not be served alcohol at the pool or beach:

I'm traveling with my spouse/family and they prefer exploring.

A hotel in or near Souq Waqif would be my choice. The Souq has a number of boutique hotels that you can book through a shared website.

If those are too expensive there is also a small hotel (I think 9 rooms) in the Souq most people don't know about called Hotel Khariss but I think you’ll need to Google a travel website to make a booking as it doesn’t have its own site.

Otherwise there are a lot of three and four-star hotels about a 10 minute walk from the Souq, such as Kingsgate, Mercure, Best Western, Horizon Manor, and others.

I'm traveling with my spouse/family and they prefer shopping.

Souq Waqif is an option if they want something more traditional (see above for recommendations near the Souq) otherwise a hotel close to or attached to a mall would be best. The two largest malls are City Centre and Villagio. For City Centre the W is close and the Mariott Marquis is attached to the mall. For Villagio the Torch is attached to the mall.

I'm traveling in the summer.

See the above sections “Location, location, location” and “I'm traveling with my spouse/family and they prefer shopping.” In the summer you will either need to drive everywhere or be in a hotel that is very close to amenities. Malls are where everyone goes in the summer as it is generally too hot for outside activities, being close to a mall will make it easy for you to get out and about without going through the hassle of getting taxis or driving. Some people even find lounging by a pool in July or August to be a chore (unless the hotel chills the pool, ask in advance) and in those months the water in the Gulf is too hot for a comfortable swim.

I've never been to the Middle East before so wouldn't mind staying in a hotel that has a lot of Arabic character.

Souq Waqif boutique hotels are a good bet, as would the Sharq Resort. Honorable mentions -- the Grand Hyatt and the Four Seasons.

I think that's about it, if I can think of any other categories I'll update the post.


Nathan Townsend said...

Hi Glen,
Are you still living around the Mushareib area? I'm likely to be relocating to Doha around late July. I'm more interested in living somewhere that you can walk to cafes and restaurants and has life on the streets but also somewhere where expats tend to socialise. I will be working at Aspire zone. Got any recommendations? ps: science geek here too ;-)

Glen McKay said...

Hi Nathan. Where to live is a tough decision and some factors play a role:

1) house/villa or apartment?
2) do you have school-aged children?
3) what's your price range?

If you have school-aged children then finding a school is a top priority. If you don't live close to either the school or work it can be a real grind for both to have a long commute. I always recommend to new colleagues to stay in a temp monthly rental until the school is sorted then figure out where to live.

Nathan Townsend said...

Hi Glen,
Nice to hear from you. We have no kids so finding a school is not a concern and thus we only need 1 or 2 bdrm. I will try to cap the price at around 11-12k and not fussy about type of dwelling (although somewhere with a pool would be nice!). I will definitely purchase a car to commute to Aspire zone, but its nice to live somewhere that you can walk to cafes/restaurants after work in the evenings when it cools down etc. I've read that Al Sadd is good for singles and couples without kids along those lines. It's not too far from the corniche and the souqs either. We don't want to be trapped in a compound so far away that we always have to drive to do anything esp. for my wife until she finds a job, however we don't want to be isolated socially from like minded people. I'm Australian (my wife is from Argentina) and we're more interested in art/music/culture/ society/history/science etc rather than materialism and the status quo.

Glen McKay said...

Okay, thanks for the info. Based on what you're saying then yes, Al Saad is the area that will probably have the best balance of cost/restaurants/proximity to work. Al Saad is a big neighborhood (some split it up as Al Saad and Al Nasr) but you should be able to find an apartment in a building with a small pool and gym and for definitely less than 11-12k. I figure 7.5-9k should get you something good. You’ll be looking at 20 minutes or so to get to Aspire. Al Saad is not close enough to walk to Souq Waqif or the Corniche but at least it wouldn't be a marathon drive if you wanted to head out that way. Reasonable drive to places like Villagio Mall and watering holes like the Rugby Club as well.

There's a neighborhood across Suhaim bin Hamad/C-ring road called Bin Mahmoud. You’ll probably hear about it as an option but I think you would be better off in Al Saad as it’s closer to work, overall a bit nicer, and better access to lots of cafés and restaurants. Suhaim bin Hamad/C-ring road is a real pain to get across during rush hours so you'd be adding at least 10 minutes to your commute.

Building quality can vary and Al Saad is full of small apartment towers that range from cheap and dreadful to new and nice. As buildings range from cheap to luxury the neighbourhood has expats from all over the world and all income groups, it’s a nice blend. Always view potential apartments as well as the building before signing the lease, don’t rely on what people tell you. Try the A/Cs to see if they are annoyingly noisy as you'll have them on for months. A parking space can be important as well.

By the way in July/August/September there's pretty much no such thing as “evenings when it cools down”. Hot, all the time.

And as your wife is Argentinian she may want to consider starting off social life with the Spanish-speaking Ladies Group (

Nathan Townsend said...

Hi Glen,
Great feedback. It's the little things like knowing which roads are busy that can make the difference when looking for accommodation. When I arrive we'll have to catch up for a coffee (I'm keen to try to this kahwa drink!). Cheers Nathan

mo said...

Hi. I'm in Doha in 3 weeks for 4 nights. I'm travelling with my brother and finding it difficult to find a suitable place to stay. I'm looking to explore the city but also do some water based activities. We can take the heat so can explore by foot as go to Dubai every year in July and prefer to explore at our own leisure. Where is the best place area to be looking a hotel at?

Regards Mohammed

Glen McKay said...

Hi Mo. I'm not sure what you mean by water-based activities. If you want something with large pools then expensive places by the water (Ritz, Four Seasons, Sheraton, Grand Hyatt etc) are the best option. The hotels near Souq Waqif and the Islamic Museum might have pools but they will not be large.

For just stepping out and exploring I recommend being in or close to Souq Waqif, if a Souq Waqif hotel is too pricey there are other options about a 10-minute walk away, like Kingsgate, Horizon Manor, Fraser Suites ...etc. I think there's a dozen hotels in that area. None of the malls are close to there though and you'll need to take a taxi.

Trizzy said...

Hi Glen!

What's considered Downtown Doha? What street borders Doha?
I don't have any preference for activities to do in Doha. I just want to be in an area where I can do as much as I can without having to commute much. Thanks!

Glen McKay said...

Hi Trizzy. Doha is a fairly spread out city and the traffic can be bad, which is why I note the importance of having a hotel located near where you need to be. For a tourist it depends on whether you prefer exploring or if you prefer a nice beach resort. For exploring I'd recommend a hotel in or near Souq Waqif as the Souq is a great place to visit and the Museum of Islamic Art and adjacent park are nearby, as is an Islamic Cultural Centre. From there to get to a mall or a fancy neighbourhood like the Pearl you'd need to take a taxi. If you stay at one of the resorts then you might be close to a mall but will need to take a taxi to get to Souq Waqif. Nothing to close to everything.

Reena Patel said...

Hi Glen,

The info is brilliant. Thanks. We are thinking of relocating to Doha soonish. We are thinking of a pre-trip next week to check it out. I have a 4yr old who will be schooling there too, so we will try and check them out as well. We would like to stay central and may hire a car too, any recommendations?

Glen McKay said...

Hi Reena. There really isn't a "central" area, instead there are a few popular areas spread out along the coast. West Bay is the neighbourhood with all the skyscrapers that you see in photos. Traffic can be a pain during rush hour but otherwise it's reasonably central to other areas of the city and has a huge mall (City Centre) so there's options for doing things without having to drive around or deal with parking. (btw the evening weather was reasonably pleasant, it's possible we're now past the worst of the heat and humidity)

The Souq Waqif area is closer to the older part of the city, is great for wandering around in the evening, but I'm not sure about parking (check with the hotel if you're thinking of this area) and the traffic in the evenings, especially weekends, can be heavy as lots of people drive in this area and the Corniche.

Ask the potential employer about housing, is it provided or is there a housing allowance? If it's provided which neighbourhood is it in? If the employer is providing a villa chances are it'll be out in the suburbs, so to speak, and not be anywhere near West Bay or the Souq. If they are providing something in a neighbourhood called "The Pearl" then that's a 10-15 minute drive from West Bay with decent traffic.

Friday mornings are the best time to drive around to get your bearings as the traffic will be at its lightest. Weekday mornings are a great time to see just how potentially brutal the commute to work or school could be. Be careful about sleeping in on Friday mornings, restaurants have to close from 11:15-12:30am, except I think for the hotels.

As for car rentals I don't have any particular recommendation, there's plenty of rental places at the airport and throughout the city.