Personally, I’m a fan of urban vacations. It is rare for me to crave an escape to the beach; I’m usually drawn to the cities where I can test out the culture, restaurants, museums, nightlife, and hotels. But, I often find myself in search of the best and most unique “sun and sand” destinations for my clients who appreciate the relaxing and rejuvenating experiences that a trip to the beach can provide. So, it was an absolute pleasure to find both on my recent trip to Doha, Qatar.
The trip itself was a whirlwind: 26 hours in the air and 36 hours on the ground. I got a chance to experience Qatar Airways, including their popular business class service, along with two Ritz-Carlton hotels, the Sharq Village and Spa and the Ritz-Carlton, Doha.
For those who crave an urban vacation, Doha has much to offer from traditional markets to unique museums to an incredible display of modern architecture. And, with a warm desert climate and a knack for luxury, this city has quite a bit to offer those seeking a resort experience.
Read on for detailed notes and view all of my pictures on Flickr
While British airways and Lufthansa provide routes to Doha you will most likely find yourselves on a Qatar Airways flight, which has daily direct service from New York, Washington, DC and Houston.
The most challenging part of my trip was getting to Washington Dulles airport right in the middle of rush hour in time for a 9:45 departure. If you’re departing from DC, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to battle the beltway traffic. However, once I was at the check-in counter and in the capable hands of the Qatar Airlines crew, everything was smooth sailing. US routes on Qatar Airways do not offer first class service and your options are economy or business class, which is better than most airline’s first class services. In Dulles, business class passengers are given access to the Virgin Airways lounge and you’ll be very comfortable as you wait for boarding. Once on board…
- Be sure to try on the very comfortable pajamas provided to each biz class customer. Your seat fully reclines and you’ll be able to get a full night’s rest during the red eye flight to Doha.
- For a pre-flight or dinner drink, I highly recommend any of the selections off of the amazing wine list. I sampled the Champagne, Syrah, and Bordeaux on my flights. All were delicious!
- The service from the flight crew is impeccable. You won’t want for any creature comforts during the 12-17 hour journey. Indulge in the delicious meal options; my favorite was the mezze platter. And, for a snack mid-flight, I recommend some buttered popcorn while you enjoy the over 900 entertainment options on your video screen.
If you are flying business class on your return, or if your connecting to another flight via Doha, you’ll be treated to the airlines amazing priority terminal with comfortable check-in seating areas, a smooth security operation, and an amazing lounge with multiple food and drink options all free of charge. First class passengers are provided access to a spa with massage treatments, a sauna and day rooms for longer layovers.
If you are looking for a city experience, head to the Ritz-Carlton Doha near The Pearl with access to shopping and restaurants. For a resort experience, Sharq Village and Spa is the right fit with low-lying 2-story buildings, a private beach and several pools, this hotel almost has a Caribbean feel to it. Both hotels offer features and amenities that are great for families or couples and you might consider combining a stay at each for the best balance during your trip.
Sharq Village and Spa:
Stress will just melt off of your shoulders immediately upon arrival to this unique resort. Enjoy some spiced Turkish coffee or fruit punch and a cool towel while you sit at individual desks for the check-in process. You’ll hear bubbling water fountains and chatter from conversations in the lounge and restaurant, all housed in the main building. Your room will be in one of the smaller buildings designed with traditional middle eastern architecture, most of which are either on the beach or surrounding one of the pools.
The rooms are large and very comfortable with terraces or balconies arranged in small buildings each with 14 rooms and a central courtyard. The individual buildings can be reserved for a villa-style experience that is great for groups and large families. The spa and gym facilities are in their own building, which has a gorgeous interior featuring a 2-story waterfall, exposed beams and organic design. The beach, with views of the new downtown directly across the water, is perfect for a game of volleyball or a stroll along the water. My favorite feature was the large cabana-style lounges at the shisha bar on the roof of the main building.
With a large, stunning lobby that serves as a social hub for the local residents, the Ritz-Carlton Doha is definitely a place to see and be seen. Don’t be surprised if the Amir is a few tables over enjoying a coffee while you are people watching in the lobby!
The look and feel of this hotel is definitely a departure from the resort-style of Sharq and you will feel more connected to the buzz and energy of the city here. But, you will still have access to excellent amenities including indoor and outdoor pools, multiple restaurants and lounges, and a very large spa with sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi tub. Instead of a beach, you’ll have access to the marina with its own bar and great walking paths along the water. The Ritz-Carlton Doha has easy access to The Pearl and Lagoona shopping malls.
Almost all of the rooms here have a water view and are large in size. The suites are perfect for large families and are arranged with large living spaces with access to multiple bedrooms. A limited number of club-level rooms keep the lounge intimate and quiet, a great feature for those seeking privacy.
Touring the City
The city of Doha offers a variety of activities and opportunities to explore the culture. The vibe of the city is very laid back and residents take the time for leisurely pastimes including visiting spas, shopping, watching horse racing and relaxing at a shisha lounge. Soccer is a popular sport here and Doha is preparing to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup. The highlights from my tour of the city include:
- Souq Waqif: the crowds don’t come out till after the sun goes down and the temperatures cool. So, visiting the Souq at night was the perfect time to get a feel for the local nightlife. Of course alcohol is not permitted, so the local families gather at the market for coffee, juice, hooka, live music and shopping. It was a great place to take in the energy of the city and taste the local flavors.
- Katara: this new cultural center of the city features unique art galleries, theatres, restaurants and beaches. While it almost has a feel of Epcot center, I can imagine it will become a very popular place after the nearby artist residents and hotels are completed. The city has big plans for cultural expos leading up to the World Cup.
- The Pearl: a planned city with housing for 40,000 residents, this new city within a city features high-end shopping and dining, marinas and yacht clubs, and more waterfront exploring opportunities. It isn’t quite finished and many buildings are still under construction, but this area is poised to be quite the draw when it is complete. For now, be sure to see the visitors center where they have a large-scale model of the entire planned island.
- Museum of Islamic art: for me, this was the highlight of the trip. I loved the art and the architecture. The lobby alone is worth the visit and the exhibits on patterns and the intersection of islamic art and science are not to be missed!