My Qsuites flight from Doha to Montreal would be departing at 8:10am, but I headed to the airport at the very early hour of 5am.
The reason? I wanted to spend some quality time in the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge, which is widely considered one of the world’s best First Class lounges.
Qatar Airways has done a seriously good job with the premium check-in experience at their home base of Hamad International Airport.
A large slate-shaped wall welcomes you to the premium check-in zone, directing business class passengers to the left-hand side and First Class passengers to the right.
Even as a business class passenger, you’re made to feel warmly welcomed by the individualized check-in desks and the open-concept seating area. Since I was so early, I was the only passenger at the check-in queue, and received my boarding pass for Montreal within a few moments.
From there, my passage continued smoothly through Qatar exit immigration, followed by the security queue, before I found myself in the airside departures hall – face-to-face with the famous giant teddy bear installation here at Hamad International Airport.
Singapore Changi has the Jewel, Seoul Incheon has the indoor gardens, and Doha has… this. A giant teddy bear worth $6.8 million.
Take a look at it, acknowledge its existence, and move on with your life – there are two exciting lounges that premium passengers can visit here in Doha: the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge and the Al Safwa First Class Lounge.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha – Entry & Access
From the main departures hall, the Al Safwa Lounge is accessible after a long escalator ride to an elevated level.
As a business class passenger, I was entitled to access the Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge free of charge, but could also pay a fee of 600 QAR (US$165) to enter the Al Safwa First Class Lounge for up to six hours instead.
In an ideal world, I’d try to review both lounges, but since I was short on time for this morning departure, I chose to spend all of it in the highly-acclaimed Al Safwa Lounge instead, and will have to save the Al Mourjan Lounge for another time.
In addition to paying for access as a business class passenger, you can also access the Al Safwa Lounge as a Qatar Airways Privilege Club Platinum member travelling in any class of service, or with a valid same-day departure on Qatar Airways First Class – including their long-haul First Class on the Airbus A380, as well as their short-haul First Class on flights to other places in the Gulf.
(Indeed, redeeming Avios for a short-haul Qatar Airways First Class ticket from Doha to Muscat or Kuwait can be a great way to sample the Al Safwa Lounge for a very affordable outlay.)
Finally, the option of paying the US$165 surcharge for accessing the Al Safwa Lounge is available to business class passengers. You are technically limited to a six-hour stay, but by all accounts the limit seems to be loosely enforced, and in the meantime you enjoy the same full access to all of the lounge’s facilities as a First Class or elite passenger.
The payment is taken at the front desk upon presentation of your business class boarding pass. It’s a direct charge from Qatar Airways, so make sure to pay with a credit card that earns bonus points for a travel purchase. Once payment is taken, you’ll be directed into the lounge.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha – Interior & Seating
Let’s take a walk around the Al Safwa First Class Lounge’s main public areas, and then we’ll delve into all of the separate amenities and facilities that it offers.
The Al Safwa Lounge is arranged in the shape of a long and thin hallway with extremely high ceilings, and all of the lounge’s features are dotted evenly around the space.
The lounge has two entrances: one that’s accessible from the departures hall (where I entered from), and another that’s accessible directly from the landside First Class check-in desks. The latter is ostensibly the “true” entrance to the lounge, as it’s where you’d enter from as a First Class or elite passenger originating in Doha, so that’s where we’ll begin our tour.
Guests are welcomed to the lounge at a beautifully designed check-in desk, set against a minimalistic stone backdrop and precipitously high ceilings.
From there, an illuminated arrow on the wall guides you down the vast hallway, its expansive walls and ceiling decorated with a single piece of artwork, the occasional decorative plant, and very little else. As soon as you arrive, it’s clear that this lounge conveys a sense of luxury through simplicity and minimalism rather than ostentatiousness of any kind, and I must say I took an instant liking to it.
Together with the fact that there are rarely more than a dozen or so guests in the lounge at any given time, there’s a true sense of peace and quiet here in the Al Safwa Lounge that you might not find at many other First Class lounges around the world.
It’s an absolutely breathtaking feeling to walk down the hallway in the midst of that quiet ambience. But hold on – what’s that trickling noise ahead?
Well, it’s none other than an entire section of the left-side wall serving as a slow-moving water display!
Opposite this wall is yet another unorthodox feature. The Al Safwa Lounge is often described as “more of a fine art museum than an airport lounge”, so it’s fitting that a portion of the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is displayed along the wall here.
Between the vases, ceramics, and textiles, there are plenty of intricate items to pore over as you indulge your scholarly side.
Then we’ll continue down the hallway, past the second entrance that leads to the departures hall, until we reach the central feature for which the Al Safwa Lounge is quite famous: a giant circular water display, in which water drips down from a cylinder all the way up from the ceiling, falling into a large metal dish and forming a mirror-like surface.
It’s quite a mesmerizing fixture to say the least, and one can easily lose track of time standing by the water’s edge and watching the water descend.
While seating areas are a key component to most airport lounges, they almost feels like an afterthought compared to the interior decoration here at Al Safwa.
A few different types of seating, both communal and individual, are scattered around the central fountain; otherwise, there are relatively few dedicated seating zones to be found throughout the lounge.
That’s not a problem, however, because there are never that many guests using this lounge anyway, and most guests occupy themselves with all of the other lounge facilities (dining room, private nap room, spa, media room, business centre, etc.) instead of simply sitting down in the public areas.
Overall, the interior of Al Safwa can be described in a single word: stunning. Simply stunning.
It won’t be everyone’s preferred style, as I know some guests complain that the lounge is overly sterile, but I must say that the minimalist luxury decor was exactly to my taste, and I thoroughly relished every second of my stay.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha – Dining
The Al Safwa Lounge offers an à la carte dining room with a fully-staffed bar. After booking myself a private room (which we’ll get to later), I headed to the dining room to have breakfast. The dining tables are mostly designed for two-person seating, although there are a few larger tables with up to four seats as well.
As the first guest of the morning, I was greeted warmly by one of the servers and offered a breakfast menu to browse. I began with an order of a cappuccino and a glass of mango juice to get my morning off to the ideal start.
The breakfast menu had a solid coverage of Western and Arabic items, and you could order as many items as you wished – although perhaps there could be a greater variety of “premium” items in a First Class lounge. Nevertheless, I was more than happy with my order of baked shakshouka and Belgian waffles; after all, I still had to eat on the plane later!
I was told to expect a preparation time of at least 15 minutes, and sure enough, my baked shakshouka arrived 15 minutes later, with the waffles 10 minutes after that. Both items were prepared to a very high standard; while the variety of food here at Al Safwa was perhaps less impressive than the First Class Lounges of Lufthansa, Swiss, or Emirates, the quality certainly could not be faulted.
A handful of other guests were starting to sit down for breakfast, just as I polished off my second cappuccino and headed off to explore other parts of the lounge.
Later on, shortly before I left the lounge, I stopped by the bar to scope out the drinks menu as well.
There was a wide selection of hard and soft drinks, but similar to the food menu, the premium factor perhaps left a little to be desired.
Even as a whiskey neophyte, for example, I’ve observed that many airlines tend to offer Johnnie Walker Black Label in business class lounges and Blue Label in First Class; the fact that Qatar Airways sticks with Black Label in the First Class ground experience is therefore telling.
I ordered another glass of mango juice, which is technically an off-menu item but quite delicious indeed, before retreating from the bar and departing the lounge.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha – Private Rooms
One of the Al Safwa Lounge’s most sought-after features is its private nap rooms in its “Quiet Area”, which are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. By all accounts, it seems relatively unlikely that the private rooms will be fully booked when you visit, and most people seem to be able to secure one for themselves without much waiting time at all.
The entrance to both the Quiet Area and the Spa are located roughly midway along the lounge’s central hallway, and there’s a dedicated check-in desk where you’d register your intent to use these facilities.
There are a total of 12 private rooms arranged throughout this hallway. I was assigned Quiet Space 10, a single-person room, although there are also at least a handful of two-person rooms (which have two single beds inside) should you be travelling as a couple.
Each occupant is given an electronic keycard, which provides access to their Quiet Space throughout the duration of their stay in the lounge.
My Quiet Space consisted of a twin bed, adorned with that gorgeous Qatar Airways shade of redcurrant (can you tell it’s my favourite colour?)
Then there was a small desk and a television, with a tissue box and bottled water as additional amenities.
The rooms also contain a full private bathroom, with a sink, toilet, and shower. Even though I didn’t need to take a shower, I went for a quick rinse anyway, just for the full Al Safwa Lounge experience.
A pack of toiletries is provided for your use, as is a bathrobe and some closet space for hanging up your street clothes, should you choose to do so.
Overall, the Quiet Spaces give you a great deal of privacy in your own little space (as if you really needed more peace and quiet from the rest of the Al Safwa Lounge itself). Each Quiet Space is equipped with virtually everything you need to rest and freshen up, and it’s truly akin to having your very own hotel room inside an airport lounge.
(Is this the best in-lounge hotel room in the world? Not quite – I’d rank it as a close second to the Swiss First Class Lounge Zurich, if only for its sweeping tarmac views!)
Even though you’ve booked a private room, you’re under no obligation to stay there, and may simply leave your belongings inside and wander throughout the rest of the lounge instead. And after briefly lying down on the bed to test out its comfort (it was fine for a nap or a quick overnight sleep, but nothing too special), that’s exactly what I did.
Nevertheless, with Qatar Airways’s round-the-clock flight schedule, I could definitely see the Al Safwa Lounge being a suitable place to sleep during an overnight layover before catching your next flight in the morning.
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha – Spa
Qatar Airways offers its most valued customers a luxurious spa and wellness centre in the Al Safwa Lounge, known as the Qspa.
Spa treatments are not complimentary, as can be seen in the spa menu below:
As someone who isn’t a big fan of spa treatments, I simply asked if I could take a look around the spa facilities instead – and you guessed it, they are very impressive indeed.
Once you enter the spa, you first proceed down one of two long and calming corridors depending on gender, with water displays trickling by your feet on either side.
The corridor leads to a small relaxation nook at the end, where you can sit face-to-face with another full-length wall of slow-moving water.
On the opposite side is a variety of different treatment rooms, including massage chairs and heat therapy.
But hold on, what’s this? The sound of rumbling water piqued my curiosity just around the corner, and it turns out that it’s a dedicated Jacuzzi room!
I went back to the spa counter and asked if I could go use the Jacuzzi even though I wasn’t getting a spa treatment. And while it would normally be reserved for spa patrons to relax after their treatment, there was no one using the spa right now, so I was free to go for a nice long soak!
I’ve wined and dined, bathed, and slept in an airport lounge before, but this was my first time soaking in a hot tub. It’s safe to say that I was grinning ear to ear as I immersed myself in the jets, only realizing too late that I should’ve brought over a glass of Laurent Perrier rosé from the bar to enjoy with this moment.
Nevertheless, it was an incredibly satisfying experience to dip in the Jacuzzi during my stay in the Al Safwa Lounge, and as I trudged back to my Quiet Space in my bathrobe for another cleansing shower, I could scarcely believe that I was in an airport lounge at all!
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge Doha – Other Facilities
On the off-chance that you happen to grow bored of the stunning architecture, à la carte dining, private nap rooms, and luxury spa, the Al Safwa Lounge has plenty more to keep you occupied.
Let’s begin with the business centre. The lounge offers an absolutely gorgeous set of brightly-lit office spaces, partitioned from each other with a series of partially frosted glass panes.
Some desks came with a dedicated iMac, while others were more geared towards holding meetings. Either way, as I looked around the office space, I almost wished that my flight would be cancelled and I could spend the whole day working here in the lounge instead.
Then, an entire partitioned-off section of the lounge is dedicated to families with young children. There is a well-appointed Games Room to keep the kids occupied, as well as a communal family space with chairs, couches, and a television if you want to hang out together as a family without bothering the other guests in the lounge.
Interestingly, there was also a “Nanny Room”, which was basically a very bare-bones kitchenette. Perhaps this speaks to the type of clientele that frequently passes through the Al Safwa Lounge, although if the Qatari upper crust is accustomed to flying as a family with their nanny in tow, then I’m certainly in the wrong industry.
A Media Room was available for guests who wished to watch television. Unlike the rest of the lounge, though, it was a small and dark space, which made it seem like a less attractive place to spend your time (not to mention that you could also watch television in the privacy of your Quiet Space as well).
Finally, the Al Safwa Lounge also treats its guests to an in-lounge duty free boutique, saving you the trouble of doing duty-free shopping among the riff-raff in the rest of the airport terminal.
If there was one thing I disliked about my visit to the Al Safwa Lounge, it was that the duration was far too short – indeed, after only a two-hour stay, I had to bid farewell to the lounge and head for the boarding gate for my flight back to Montreal.
Qatar Airways offers a ground experience of tremendous quality for their most esteemed passengers in the form of the Al Safwa First Class Lounge in Doha. For me, it’s certainly up there alongside Lufthansa’s and Swiss’s offerings as one of the best First Class lounges in the world.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and from my perspective, the Al Safwa Lounge’s minimalistic interior aesthetic was an instant favourite. Meanwhile, the private nap rooms fulfill every need you might have for an extended stay, while the spa provided me with an unforgettable maiden experience of a soaking in a hot tub in an airport lounge.
One criticism of the Al Safwa Lounge may be that the food and beverage offerings do have some room to improve, especially when compared to its peers. But that certainly does not subtract from what is an outstanding First Class ground experience overall.
Everyone can decide for themselves whether it’s worth paying the US$165 surcharge to access Al Safwa as a business class passenger, but if it’s your first time passing through Doha and you’d like to kill a few hours in some serious luxurious surroundings, I’d highly recommend it.
I can’t wait to return to the Al Safwa Lounge one day, perhaps along my generously rebooked Qatar Airways fares later this year – although I’ll be sure to also review the Al Mourjan business class lounge this time as well.