A guide to visiting Doha, Qatar during Ramadan
If you happen to be visiting Doha during Ramadan, there are some important things to consider if you are not familiar with the holiest religious event in the Islamic calendar.
Things to consider:
- Eating and drinking in public are illegal between sunrise and sunset – that includes chewing gum, drinking water and smoking.
- Most restaurants will be closed during the fasting hours in the day but some will be open for takeaway if you wish to take it back to eat in your accommodation. Check the Doha News website for a handy guide on restaurant timings, as well as popular #qatarfoodbloggers and lifestyle bloggers who usually publish their own guides. Some of my faves are Boulangerry, Pinay Flying High and Life on the Wedge who write excellent detailed reviews of their foodie experiences.
It’s a dry period – alcohol is not available and served in any bars and restaurants during Ramadan. The Qatar Distribution Centre which is the only venue allowed to sell alcohol for personal consumption at home, is also closed so licensed residents usually stock up before the closure.
- Most bars and clubs will close during Ramadan – this just means that its a cheaper month for residents that usually go out!
- Museums like Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, MIA, and galleries in Katara Cultural Village will usually have different opening hours during Ramadan so its best to check their respective websites for timings.
Related post: A visit to the Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha, Qatar
- Malls also follow different trading hours – most are open from the morning, close in the afternoon, then open again in the evening until midnight-1am. On Fridays, most malls are only open from the evenings until midnight-1am. Doha News is a great resource that updates an annual guide to Ramadan listing opening times for major malls, supermarkets and restaurants. The guide is usually published close to the commencement of Ramadan so don’t be surprised if there is no information a month out to help you plan your trip.
- Traffic in the evenings are worse than normal– if it can be avoided, try to avoid the roads between 530 – 730 pm when the roads are heavily congested and the driving gets even more erratic.
- Being a religious and holy period, dressing appropriately and conservatively should be observed during this time. Shoulders and knees can sometimes be seen in malls and in public outside of Ramadan, however I highly discourage it during this time as it can offend.
- Ramadan in Qatar usually falls in the Middle Eastern summer. This means that any typical tourist outdoor activities like kayaking, walking the Corniche and doing desert safaris are quite difficult with the intense heat where average temperatures range from 40-50 degrees. As you aren’t allowed to drink water in public during fasting hours, this adds to the difficulties in doing anything outdoors during the day. However, this shouldn’t hinder you in doing any outdoor activities – you can simply save them for the evening when the sun is down and the weather is pleasant (or bearable depending on your heat/humidity threshold!). If you do decide to venture out though, you’ll most likely have the place to yourself.
The high temperatures does have its upsides too – it’s a good excuse to
lazestay by the beach or pool all day and hotel prices are much cheaper!
Admittedly, if you happen to arrive during Ramadan, Doha does become a bit of a ghost town in the day. However, the city comes to life just before sunset as locals flock to hotels, restaurants and friends and families houses for iftar, where they break fast. It’s also the period during or before a lot of expats go back to their home countries to visit families and friends, escape the heat, and when children are on school holidays so it adds to the excitement that people have during the season.
Related post: Things to do in Doha, Qatar
Even though activities are quite limited in the day, there are still plenty of unique things to do in the city once the sun goes down. I’ve listed a few things to keep you occupied and to help you join in the local spirit and festivities during this important time in Qatar.
1. Join in the iftars & suhoors around the city
Even if you’re not fasting, you can still join in one of the many iftar and suhoors around the city. t’s the best way to to see how locals experience and clebarate breaking the fast. Iftar in Doha takes place immediately after sunset so it’s similar timing to regular ‘dinner’ but for those fasting, it is ‘breakfast’. Suhoor takes place later in the evening and mimics the ‘dinner’ time for people fasting.
The majority of restaurants and hotels will have special iftar and suhoor menus alongside their a la carte menus. A 3 course set, with complimentary dates and a drink are common in fine dining establishments, local restaurants and even chains like TGIFridays.
Some hotels will set up extravagant Ramadan tents, furnished with festive and traditional Arabic decor, housing a lavish buffet with different cuisines and cooking stations. My husband and I have tried the Ritz Carlton iftar and Intercontinental suhoor and they are very similar to the weekend brunches without the bubbles. Seating and capacity can get up to the hundreds, but make sure you book ahead as they are quite a popular affair.
2. Firing of cannons
One of the traditions in Qatar is the release of cannons at sunset signalling the end of the fasting day. There are a few cannons stationed around the city where families gather to watch them fire off daily. If you haven’t ever seen or heard one go off, make it a point to go during your visit to Doha.
3. All the rare cars
An hour before sunset, locals will showcase their unique and rare collection of cars by parading them down the Corniche. The unofficial tradition during Ramadan is embraced and appreciated by residents and car lovers who hang out to take photographs of the parade. If you don’t mind the traffic and heat, pick any spot on the Corniche to get a good view.
4. Watch the Garangao festivities
If you happen to be in Doha around the midlde of Ramadan, make sure you check out the Garangao festivities which are usually held in different venues throughout the city (I recommend checking closer to the date to see what venues will be hosting celebrations as they seem to differ yearly). The celebration is held after breaking the fast and mainly centralised on children who wear traditional brightly coloured costume. Children sing traditional Garangao songs, and in a similar fashion to Halloween, carry a cloth bag which is then filled with candies and other treats from neighbours, families and friends. The event is great for families and individuals alike – colourful costumes make for great photos, and it’s hard not to get into the festive spirit when everyone is celebrating all around you.