I lived in the 'best airport in the world' for 48 hours and saw why its lounges, shops, and swimming pool make it perfect for travelers

·12 min read
Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar was just voted the "best airport in the world" by Skytrax.

  • I spent 48 hours in the airport on a recent trip to Doha and got to explore nearly every crevice.

  • The airport is incredibly traveler-friendly with amenities for every type of flyer, including families.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Aviation rating company Skytrax has crowned Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar as the "best airport in the world" for 2021, with the airport beating out rivals in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and more.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Home to fellow Skytrax favorite Qatar Airways, the Middle Eastern mega-hub serves both as Qatar's gateway to the world and an intercontinental transit point for global travelers. From Doha, travelers can fly as far as Auckland, New Zealand; São Paulo, Brazil; and San Francisco.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And in 2022, the FIFA World Cup will bring even more travelers through Hamad International's doors. Qatar is scheduled to host the games and stadiums are popping up around the country as a result.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

On a recent trip to Doha to see the new Gulfstream G700 private jet, I was forced to stay at the airport for around 48 hours and got to see just what makes it the world's best. Here's what it was like.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: Gulfstream just debuted its new $75 million ultra-long-range plane that's also the world's largest purpose-built private jet: Meet the G700

I landed at Hamad International expecting to enter Qatar and go straight to my hotel after a 16-hour journey from New York. Qatar Airways invited Insider to the G700's unveiling and had arranged a visa for us to enter the country, as well as given us instructions on what we'd need to do to comply with pandemic travel regulations.

Flying Qatar Airways during the pandemic - Qatar Airways Flight 2021
Flying on Qatar Airways from Madrid, Spain to Doha, Qatar. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We landed at a remote gate where passengers were shuttled to the main terminal on busses. As I walked into the terminal, I never expected it to be my last time breathing fresh outdoor air for the next two days.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I flew on Qatar Airways and saw why it's one of the best airlines in the world even in economy

Instead of going through Qatar passport control, I was brought to the Oryx Airport Hotel and discovered that it was to be my new home from Saturday to Monday. For the second time this year, I was virtually trapped in an airport.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I was stranded in Bogotá airport for 10 hours and it taught me the true value of credit card perks and not taking no for an answer

Qatar Airways is providing Insider with a discounted rate for the hotel stay given the last-minute change of plans

The airport hotel is located in the transit area of the terminal and is intended to house travelers and flight crews visiting on long layovers. Case in point, an Air Canada flight crew was checking in at the same time as I was.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Wanting to get some rest after the long journey, I made my way to my room for a sleep and a shower. The hotel is arranged in a horseshoe pattern around the main atrium and all the rooms are on one floor.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Many airports have airport hotels in the terminal but this was my first time having a room actually overlooking the terminal. The blinding lights of the massive LED screens in the terminal made it impossible to keep the shades open, almost like staying above Times Square.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But the room itself was quite nice and came was a king-size bed, TV, desk, and all the other standard hotel amenities. I could even order room service if I wanted.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Once rested, I got dressed up for my big Saturday night out on the terminal and headed out. I also made sure to be cognizant of the window overlooking the entire terminal when getting dressed.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

This was my second time at Hamad International but I never stopped to really look around on my last visit. Little did I know that I'd get more than my fill on this trip.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There's only one terminal at the airport and it's divided into five concourses -A, B, C, D, and E. I found it surprisingly walkable for a 600,000-square-meter building. Moving walkways are in no short supply and I was able to get from top to bottom in around five minutes by using them.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

A total of 37 jetway-equipped gates can be found in the airport and an expansion plan is currently underway. The airport will soon double its capacity to more than 60 million annual passengers.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Hamad International Airport

I started in the main atrium, home to the famous 23-foot tall "Untitled Lamp Bear" sculpture, which the airport describes as "a playful piece that humanizes the space around it and reminds travelers of childhood or precious objects from home."

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Hamad International Airport

Lamp Bear is a natural attraction in the terminal and countless visitors were having their photos taken with it, including me.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Flanking the atrium was the airport's next great attraction, the duty-free shops. Qatar Duty-Free is the largest retailer at the airport with nearly 100 duty-free shops and boutiques, in addition to more than 30 restaurants and cafes.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It felt like I was walking through a shopping mall rather than an airport and nearly every luxury brand was represented. Brands like Bulgari, Gucci, and Hublot all had storefronts, among many others.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even Qatar Airways had its own store, selling airline-branded merchandise. It was hard to resist not buying some model airplanes for my collection.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The airport truly comes alive at night with the evening bank of passengers. I was walking around well past midnight and the terminal was still buzzing.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

After a few hours of my night out on the town, jet lag set in and hit me pretty hard so I headed back to the hotel. One cool feature of the airport's elevators is that they are touchless and buttons can be selected by waving a hand over them.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But of course, I only ended up sleeping for a few hours before being up at the ripe hour of 4 a.m. In just a few hours, the morning rush would bring travelers from around the world to the airport.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

My airport tour later that day began in the exclusive Al Safwa First Lounge, intended for Qatar Airways' top clients include those flying first class and the airline's Privilege Club Platinum members flying in business class.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I could immediately see why this is the most exclusive lounge at the airport. It felt as if we were walking into a museum rather than an airport lounge. In fact, the lounge has artwork and artifacts on loan from the Islamic Museum of Art in Doha.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There are four main aspects of the lounge including shopping, working, relaxing, and eating. Armchairs dot the lounge for those that want to sit and relax in privacy as they await their flights.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And for even more relaxation, the lounge has its own spa with treatments including massages, facials, and more. Unlike other premium airport lounges, the treatments are not free and start at around $40.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Treatment rooms are specific to the type of service being provided. And attached are shower rooms where guests can get changed into their robes and freshen up afterward.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I was surprised to see a spa open during the pandemic, especially one with working showers. Most airport lounges in the US still keep their showers closed.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Lounge patrons looking to eat before their flights have two dining areas from which to chose. The larger dining room offers sit-down a-la-carte dining from an expansive menu with local and international dishes.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Alcohol is also served in the lounge, with a selection of wines and spirits available from the bar. Mocktails are also available for non-drinkers.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We had a chance to try some of the food and it lived up to Qatar Airways standards, right up to the presentation and quality.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The other dining area in the lounge is geared towards more casual dining.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Smaller items such as salads, sandwiches, and sushi were primarily on offer. And in both dining areas, QR codes replaced paper menus.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Those looking to get work done before a flight could make use of the business center, with Apple iMac desktop computers and printers available in private offices.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And finally, Qatar Duty Free has a private location in the lounge, taking the best of what's for sale in the terminal below.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The selection wasn't as vast as the shops below but it was carefully curated.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Al Safwa is one of nine airport lounges at Hamad International. Others include the Al Mourjan Business Lounge for business class customers, Mariner Lounge for traveling seafarers, and the Oryx Lounge for any customers that want to buy access to a lounge.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But the airport is more than its lounges. The Oryx Airport Hotel, for example, actually has a spa and fitness center of its own.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Located on the top floor of the hotel, the centerpiece of the facility is a 25-meter pool ideal for lap swimming or just idle floating. I wanted to go for a dip but didn't bring my swimsuit.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Other notable features include a full gym...

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar Thomas Pallini/Insider

Squash court...

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Spa...

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And golf simulator.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

All facilities except the spa, golf simulator, and squash court are complimentary for hotel guests; though, non-guests can pay to use the facilities.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar Thomas Pallini/Insider

Back in the terminal. the artwork continues in the concourses where towering sculptures double as children's play areas. Though tempting, I did not get to go down the slides.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Smaller playground-style children's areas can also be found in parts of the terminal.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Entertainment and connectivity are also surprisingly big themes. Private television areas allow travelers to sit down on a living room-style couch and watch content on a high-definition TV.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Apple computers are also stationed throughout the terminal, offering complimentary web browsing. Using the computers felt like I was in the Apple Store.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

For those without access to a lounge, the terminal has a variety of food options ranging from high-end restaurants like Harrods Tea Room to a food court with Burger King and Red Mango.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

In terms of pandemic safety features, masks are required in the airport and social distancing messaging is prominently displayed. Seats are still blocked off for distancing in the gate areas.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But the smoking areas are still open, in which groups of people blow clouds of smoke into the air.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar.
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

After the tour, I wandered towards the back of the terminal to see how the new expansion was coming along. The construction didn't seem to impact the operation too much and I couldn't see too much from inside.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There was only so much that could be seen from inside the airport. Luckily, I got a better look the next day on a demonstration flight with Qatar Executive onboard a Gulfstream G650ER.

Flying on a Gulfstream G650ER - Gulfstream G650ER Demonstration Flight
Flying on a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I flew on a $65 million Gulfstream G650ER private jet and saw why it's a favorite of tech billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos

Concourses D and E will be extended and linked by a connector concourse to add more gate capacity.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar Thomas Pallini/Insider

The centerpiece will be a 10,000-square-meter tropical garden with a 268-square-meter water feature to rival Singapore Changi Airport's "Jewel."

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar expansion
A rendering of the expansion at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. Qatar Airways/Hamad International Airport

Read More: Look inside the new $1.3 billion complex at Singapore's Changi Airport, with a 130-foot indoor waterfall

More shops, restaurants, and lounges will also be added.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar expansion
A rendering of the expansion at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. Qatar Airways/Hamad International Airport

Freedom finally came on Monday night at around 7 p.m. With the stamp of a passport, I was officially allowed to enter Qatar.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar Thomas Pallini/Insider

Just a few hours later, I found myself back at Hamad International for my flight home to New York through London. As the saying goes, who says you can't go home (to the airport)?

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar Thomas Pallini/Insider

It could've been worse. I could've been stuck at the old LaGuardia Airport.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar - Doha, Qatar Trip 2021
Doha, Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I flew out of the new LaGuardia Airport terminal 2 weeks after it opened and couldn't believe it was the same airport I hated. Here's what it was like.

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