Doha, Qatar with Kids
Last year I flew to Doha with Qatar Airways and did absolutely as much as possible in Doha and out in the desert over three days. It was a great trip and I was impressed with Qatar and its people, but I wished that I had been able to bring one of my kids.
Fast forward to December when my 12-year-old son and I received an invitation from FIFA to fly to Doha and attend the FIFA Club World Cup. Perfect! My son is a huge football (soccer) fan, and he already knew the teams that were going to be competing. He usually doesn’t like to miss school, but he jumped at the chance to come to Qatar.
We once again flew Qatar Airways from LA to Doha non-stop, and once again Business Class was amazing. My son and I were in suites across from each other, and I didn’t really see him during the flight. We both slept well.
Arrival in Doha
I’ve still never gone through normal passport control in Doha. My first time at the airport I was simply connecting from Copenhagen to the Seychelles. My second visit, in February, I got to experience the Business Class arrival lounge, which was quiet and amazing. This time was even better, as airport staff whisked us through the airport to the VIP arrival lounge. We relaxed with refreshments while our suitcase was retrieved from baggage claim (a first for me!), and then we got our passports stamped in the lounge and met up with our driver for the ride to our hotel.
Where to Stay in Doha: The Marsa Malaz Kempinski at The Pearl
FIFA booked us at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel. It was my third Kempinski stay of the year and I’ve been impressed with the brand. As before, the hotel, our room, the staff and breakfast were excellent. Loved the Amorino gelato in the lobby!
Not sure about the location though? The Pearl is a man-made island northeast of the rest of Doha, and not that Doha is large, but I feel like a central hotel, or one near the souq and museums, would be a better base for a multi-day layover, since you would need less time in a car. Basing at The Pearl we were able to walk to a faux-Venetian mall that had a few dining options, and it was a short drive to Katara Cultural Village, but that’s about it. My last trip I stayed at the Shangri-La, which no longer exists and has been rebranded as the JW Marriott Doha, and was nicely central – 12 minutes closer to the museums and the football matches we went to.
Having said that, the Marsa Malaz Kempinski does have a beach, which no central hotel is going to have, so with kids that may be worth a longer drive?
Things to Do in Doha
Like I said, Doha isn’t large. It’s interesting and definitely worth visiting, but not really a vacation destination – more a layover city for 2-3 days. My previous trip I hit all of the highlights, including the Museum of Islamic Art, Souq Waqif, dune bashing, a visit to Legacy Pavilion, the royal stables, Katara Cultural Village and a camel race. This trip was mostly about football, which is highly relevant for visitors coming to Doha for the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2022 World Cup, but we also had plenty of time to explore between matches, so I chose my favorite places from before to show my son. Plus things are constantly opening, so we had more options. This is what we did over our five days:
The National Museum of Qatar
The National Museum of Qatar wasn’t open when I first visited, and it was on the top of my list this time. The museum is amazing architecturally, and nicely interactive for kids and adults. We spent almost two hours walking through all of the museum’s exhibits including Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani’s palace and having donuts and karak chai at the cafe. Highly recommended. Kids under 17 are free.
The Museum of Islamic Art
You don’t need to spend a long time at the Museum of Islamic Art, but definitely visit – the collection, setting and architecture are all amazing. My son made a game of trying to find the oldest item in the museum, which wasn’t easy given all of the antiquities! We took an Uber from the National Museum to the Museum of Islamic Art, but if it’s not too hot it’s an easy 20-minute walk.
A friend connected me to Dr. Hafiz Ali Abdulla, the Director of Msheireb Museums, and he took us through the museum’s four sections. This wouldn’t have otherwise been on our list, but we really enjoyed the museums, showing how Qatar evolved from a poor, slave-driven desert settlement to its modern iteration. I particularly appreciated the exhibits dedicated to slavery in Qatar and elsewhere.
Qatar National Day
Qatar National Day is December 18th. There are parades down the Corniche, but we didn’t attempt to see them. Instead we had a fairly relaxing day. The Kempinski had one of the largest cakes I’ve ever seen in the lobby, as well as falcons and a traditional hospitality tent. And all day, and throughout the night, Qataris drove around honking and celebrating – very similar to when they won the Asian Cup in February.
My first visit I went dune bashing – essentially driving really fast over dunes an hour from Doha – and loved it. We had a small group in only two vehicles, had the desert largely to ourselves, and enjoyed a great mostly-private lunch at Regency Seaside Camp. This time we had a lot of vehicles, so things like letting the air out of tires and then pumping them back up at the end took far longer, and there were A LOT of land cruisers in the desert because of all of the people in Doha for the Club World Cup. And lunch at Qatar International Adventures Camp wasn’t quite as enjoyable. It felt more touristy.
My son was indifferent on the whole day. I think if there wasn’t so much waiting around at rest stops, at the air pressure changes and at the lunch camp, he would have enjoyed it more. Dune bashing is worth doing if you have the better part of a day in Qatar free, but go with a small group during a non-busy time!
Souq Waqif is still my favorite place in Doha. We’re not shoppers when we travel, but I love spending time in souks. And Souq Waqif has the added benefit of having very good restaurants and street food, so it’s not only about getting lost in alleys of lanterns, carpets and traditional dress.
Katara Cultural Village
Head to Katara for lunch, and walk around a little as well. I love the pigeon houses and Mosque.
Qatar Live was taking place while we were in Doha, with concerts by Katy Perry, Cheb Khaled, Maroon 5 and others. I attended Maroon 5 solo, after my jet-lagged son fell asleep early in our room, and it was…ok. They kind of (pay)phoned it in. The concert was fairly short and there was little interaction with the audience. It’s always fun seeing concerts at foreign venues, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch Maroon 5 again.
Football and the Club World Cup
But the trip wasn’t about Maroon 5. It was about football! Qatar has been on a building spree since being awarded the 2022 World Cup, with eight stadiums either completed or in construction and a new metro that connects almost all of the stadiums. I’m excited for this World Cup since it will be possible to base in one hotel for the entire tournament and reach any of the games within an hour. Contrast that to any previous World Cup, where you had to fly around to attend multiple games.
We once again visited Legacy Pavilion, which details Qatar’s World Cup bid and its infrastructure plans, we were among the first people on the field at the 99% completed Education City Stadium, we spent two afternoons at the FIFA Fan Zone, and we attended a Generation Amazing event that brings together football legends (my son knew who most of them were!) and local kids, and works throughout the world to expand’s football’s reach and improve facilities where children are growing up with very little.
And we attended three FIFA Club World Cup matches at Khalifa International Stadium – both semi-finals and the final. The Club World Cup brings together seven of the best teams in the world, and we were privileged to see the world’s current best team, Liverpool, play twice. The matches were a definite highlight of the trip and well worth flying from California for! And they made us excited for the 2022 World Cup. My son and I attended a second round World Cup game in St. Petersburg two years ago and loved the experience.
Qatar will be hosting the FIFA Club World Cup again in December 2020 – one more chance to get ready for the World Cup. Overall Qatar seems to be ahead of schedule and had everything in place for these matches, although at all three games the crowd control and crowd flow were frustrating – the security/VIP perimeter around the stadium meant that we had to walk well out of our way to enter and exit, in sharp contrast to the stadium models at Legacy Pavilion that show people simply walking into the stadium from the parking lots on all sides. Hopefully they’ll fix the issues before the 2020 Club World Cup and the 2022 World Cup.
Take your kids to Qatar! It’s a great layover for two or three days, and the World Cup’s going to be amazing!