The oil-rich Gulf countries aren’t exactly renowned as havens for budget travel. But while tiny Qatar is estimated to be the world’s wealthiest nation per capita, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive country you ever set foot in.
So is Qatar cheap to visit? While a lack of hostels and notoriously pricey drinks can quickly bump up travel costs, you’ll find plenty of ways to make your riyals stretch further. Qatar’s public transport is blessedly inexpensive, affordable eats abound, and even booze can be a bargain if you know where (and when) to look.
Keep an eye out for epic stopover deals
Qatar Airways offers wildly cheap stopover deals in partnership with Discover Qatar from as little as US$14 for one night, including four-star accommodation. With a standard four-night stopover starting at just US$69, it’s a brilliant opportunity to get a taste of Qatar for a pittance.
Consider couch surfing
If you’re not visiting Qatar on a stopover deal, accommodations are likely to be your biggest expense. With a hostel scene yet to take off in this corner of the Arabian Peninsula, couch surfing is worth considering if you’re on a particularly tight budget. With more than 18,000 registered hosts on the Couchsurfing platform in Qatar (most of them expats), you’ll find plenty of options.
Privately rented rooms and apartments are also sometimes cheaper than hotels.
Note Qatar’s peak periods and avoid them
Accommodations and regional flight prices tend to increase during Qatar’s busy cooler months (November to February), during the two Eid holiday weeks, and on weekends, which in Qatar means Friday and Saturday.
Embrace the cheap and efficient Doha Metro
Uber is surprisingly cheap in Qatar, but it can’t compete cost-wise with the gleaming new Doha Metro, with rides costing just QR2 per trip (even to and from the airport) and capped at QR6 per day. Simply purchase a standard Qatar Railcard for QR10, top it up in increments of QR5, and zip around the capital Doha and sister city Lusail for peanuts.
Use public buses to explore beyond Doha
Attractions beyond the Doha Metro, such as Unesco-listed Al Zubarah Fort, are cheaper to visit by public Karwa bus than on an organized tour, but it can be slow going because of reduced speed limits for buses on major highways. With few opportunities to purchase food and drinks at remote attractions, it’s worth grabbing snacks at a grocery store before setting off.
Save alcohol for happy hour
With a standard glass of wine costing the equivalent of around US$15, travel budgets can be blown quickly in the hotel bars and restaurants of Qatar, which are currently the only venues where visitors can purchase alcohol. But unless it’s Ramadan, when bars are closed, it’s still possible to drink on a budget.
Just about every bar in the country hosts a generous happy hour from around 5pm to 8pm daily, when drinks and food are typically discounted by 30%. Some venues also offer special deals such as ladies’ nights, when women drink for free.
Drink tap water and save plastic and money
Qatar’s obsession with single-use plastic bottles isn’t only costly for the environment, with some restaurants charging upwards of QR25 for a bottle of water. Yet Qatar’s tap water, produced by desalinating seawater and groundwater, is safe to drink in accordance with World Health Organization standards. And it tastes like…water. Pack a reusable drink bottle and fill it up in your hotel room to save a few extra riyals – and the planet.
Feast on Qatar’s abundance of cheap eats
Don’t let expensive hotel restaurant menus scare you into two-minute noodle territory. The streets of Doha offer a huge variety of cuisines at wallet-friendly prices, from authentic South Indian thalis to Korean fried chicken.
The sprawling Souq Waqif is a convenient place to get a taste. Begin your day with an authentic Qatari breakfast at Shay Al Shoomos, a female-owned restaurant known for its regag, a crepe-like bread stuffed with egg, cheese, and other goodies. Head to Al Adhamiyah Iraqi Restaurant to try affordable Mesopotamian fare, while Bandar Aden is a top spot to sample a good-value Yemeni mandi (meat and rice cooked with spices in an underground pit).
In the evenings, women set up stalls in a small plaza off Al Souk Street to sell home-cooked regional dishes and French-style crepes at bargain prices.
Seek out Qatar’s free cultural attractions
While it’s well worth paying the entry fees to visit Qatar’s top museums and galleries, the nation is also home to an ever-expanding array of public art that doesn’t cost a cent to enjoy. Take the metro to Katara Cultural Village to uncover two striking local wildlife-themed works by Argentinian street artist Martin Ron as you explore the precinct, and head to MIA Park to find public art pieces including 7 by US artist Richard Serra, a soaring sculpture that pays homage to the spiritual significance of the number seven in Islamic culture.
Spread across four historic houses in downtown Doha, the Msheireb Museums are also free for all to enjoy.
Use discount apps and websites to save big on restaurants and attractions
Consider purchasing the My Book or Entertainer apps, both of which offer a huge range of buy-one-get-one-free deals in Qatar spanning everything from restaurant meals to desert safari tours, bicycle rental to spa treatments. Discount website QGrabs also advertises deals on a range of local products and services.
Make the most of Qatar’s parks and promenades
Soak up city and Doha Bay views with a stroll along the 7km (4-mile) seafront Corniche or in the surprisingly lush adjacent Al Bidda Park, which has several children’s play areas. Head down to the Corniche in the evening – the best time of the day to be outside during the scorching summer months – and you might also be able to snap up a good deal on a dhow cruise.
Daily costs in Qatar
- Basic hotel room for two: QR200–300
- Self-catering apartment: QR400–500
- Metro ticket: QR2
- Karak chai (cardamom tea) at a stall: QR2
- Espresso coffee at an international cafe: QR20
- Takeaway shawarma wrap: QR15
- Dinner for two in Souq Waqif: QR100–200
- Pint of beer: QR35