Doha

The world’s football capital for the next four weeks

Stadiums, tales and tips – a guide to the city

All roads lead to Doha. The smallest and certainly the most surprising city to host the World Cup, Qatar’s capital and nearby satellites on its metro network are where you find seven of the eight host stadiums. Three are officially in Doha itself, two in adjoining Al Rayyan, one in sleepy Al Wakrah to the south and one, the location for the final, in new-build Lusail a few kilometres up the coast to the north.

The odd man out is Al Khor, an oil base 55km north of the capital. Doha is therefore the hub of the greatest football show on Earth.

Not since the first World Cup in Montevideo 92 years ago has a single metropolis staged the tournament. Back then, only one of the 13 teams attracted visiting supporters, Argentines piling over the River Plate on whatever vessels would take them. Three stadiums staged the 18 matches, two of which remain in place today.

Legacy is a buzzword not lost on Doha. This is a city where most gates for the domestic Qatar Stars League are in the hundreds, yet Qatar’s capital has long had a proven record in staging huge sporting events. In balancing these differing requirements for and beyond World Cup, while also keeping the wow factor in mind when it came to stadium design, organisers faced a challenging logistic.

South of town, near Doha’s Hamad International Airport, the Al Thumama Stadium is a case in point, its shape inspired by the traditional men’s skullcap, a taqiyah. Putting on a first World Cup in and for the Arab world, Doha has aimed to chime detail with regional cultural heritage and, that word again, legacy in mind. 

Of the 40,000 seats comprising the Al Thumama, the minimum required for World Cup finals, half will be later donated to a willing recipient. A large public park – all too lacking in this contemporary capital of steel and glass – will be created around the site.

The most central of Doha’s stadiums, near the metro station whose name it once shared, Ras Abu Aboud, the now rebranded 974 stands between the airport’s northern perimeter and the seafront where George Barnes Brucks of the East India Company carried out the first detailed survey of the Gulf coast 200 years ago. 

Its new name neither satisfies the demands of betting-company sponsors nor echoes a date in local sporting lore. 974 is the number of recycled shipping containers lain together, Lego-style, it took to create the stadium. Not coincidentally, it’s also the international dialling code for Qatar.

Effectively a pop-up football ground, Stadium 974 will be packed up after December 5 when the winners of Group G meet the runners-up of Group H. Potentially, this could be Brazil against Uruguay, where these 974 containers will be shipped should the tiny South American nation earn hosting rights in 2030, a century after the inaugural tournament when stadiums were made of concrete, not boxes.

Legacy was therefore a key factor when Doha gained the 2022 vote in 2010. But Doha has its own football legacy, one dating back longer than many in the room that fateful December day of the ballot may have appreciated at the time.

The city saw its first major event in the spring of 1976. Having participated in the inaugural Gulf Cup in 1970, Doha hosted the fourth tournament at the newly built Khalifa Sports City Stadium. All games between the seven competing nations were played at what was a 20,000-capacity ground. 

Its current iteration, the Khalifa International, is now the de facto national stadium where eight World Cup games will be played. These include England’s opening fixture against Iran and Germany’s against Japan.

It sits on the western edge of Doha, beside Al Rayyan, a separate municipality steeped in local lore, where Qataris gained a foothold on independence from the Ottomans in 1893.

The contemporary, all-encompassing metropolis is a modern-day construct, and divided into zones according to their focus. University quarter Education City in Al Rayyan has its own metro station and new-build stadium of the same name, also where eight games will take place. Again, around half the seats will be donated elsewhere. Student teams will then compete in the smaller arena.

Just south, the Aspire Zone has sport at its core, and for good reason. Home of Doha Sports City and the Khalifa International, this extensive complex was developed around the stadium of 1976 vintage for the Asian Games 30 years later. The 300-metre-high Aspire Tower you see glowing in multi-coloured lights beside the Khalifa International acted as a giant torch during the 2006 event, that became a milestone in more ways than one, as we shall see.

The construction of the initial Khalifa Sports City Stadium was inspired by the visit here of one man on Valentine’s Day, 1973: Pelé. Playing his last full season at Santos before his Cosmos adventure, the Brazilian superstar was welcomed by an independent Gulf capital of around 90,000 people, recently free from British protectorate status. 

On yet another lucrative world tour, squeezing in Doha between similar exhibition matches in Kuwait and Bahrain, the iconic Brazilian club earned $40,000 for playing here, a sound investment considering the positive effects that would ripple out for later generations. (For their part, Santos received $100,000 from Kuwait and $75,000 from Bahrain.)

They faced local side Al Ahli with an attack spearheaded by Pelé and another 1970 World Cup star, Edu. Both Brazilian internationals scored early in the game before the visitors took their foot off the gas and eased to a 3-0 win.

Santos sources give the attendance figure at 12,000 but exactly 2,000 spectators would have paid their 30 and 50 riyals that day as that was the capacity surrounding the only grass pitch in Qatar, the Doha Sports Stadium. Tickets had sold out long before Pelé graced the turf and many Qataris still remember scaling the fence to see the great man play.

For the 2022 World Cup, an exhibition celebrating this historic occasion is being planned for the stadium, today close to Souq Waqif metro station. This was once the heart of town, near the market quarter of Al Souq and historic hub of Old Al Ghanim. The sprawl of urban zones and developments gradually, then rapidly, radiated out from here.

This first pitch had been laid a decade before Pelé’s visit, just after the foundation of the Qatari FA in 1960. Before then, a few casual games involving oil workers and sports clubs were played on rough ground. Santos’ opponents, Al Ahli, can trace their roots back to 1950 and the foundation of the Al Najah Sports Club, merged in 1972 to form the side that would share the same turf as Pelé.

Based solely at the Doha Sports Stadium, a local league started up in 1963. Another prominent Doha side, Al Tahrir, set up around the same time as Al Najah, developed a local fan base, one that grew significantly after a name change to Al Arabi in 1972 and the signing of Gabriel Batistuta in 2003.

Al Arabi’s 13,000-capacity Grand Hamad Stadium south-west of town has staged several internationals in recent years as a temporary home for Iraq and Yemen during their World Cup qualifying campaigns. Brazil will use this as their training base in 2022.

As Batistuta was bowing out, scoring more goals than games played in his only full season here, Doha was preparing for the 2006 Asian Games. Equally significantly, the year that Batigol came to the Gulf, Al Jazeera Sport opened its operation. A branch of the satellite service that had supplanted the defunct BBC Arabic channel in 1996, Doha-based Al Jazeera was raising its global profile, having been the go-to resource in the far-reaching aftermath of 9/11.

Though the broadcasting of the 2006 Asian Games, awarded to Doha in 2000, had already been assigned, Al Jazeera Sport won the rights to the Arabian Gulf Cup of 2004, hosted and won by Qatar.

Coached by former Barcelona star Evaristo, whose own international bow-out with Brazil gave way to the teenage Pelé, Qatari teenagers old enough to have scaled the fence to see Santos in 1973 had caused a sensation at the 1981 World Youth Cup, beating Brazil and England to reach the final. Opposing players included Josimar, Danny Wallace and Neil Webb, all to go on to enjoy stellar professional careers. The Qatar squad consisted of players mainly from Al Ahli and Al Arabi, as well as Al Sadd, founded in 1969.

The trophy-laden Doha club that would later attract Raúl and Xavi was the alma mater of the star of ’81, Khalid Salman. A hat-trick hero against Brazil, scorer of a brace in an opening draw against eventual winners France at the 1984 Olympics, this Al Sadd stalwart established a long career as a TV pundit after his retirement in 1998. 

Shortly before the 2022 World Cup, for which he had been selected one of several international ambassadors, he expressed controversial views concerning homosexuality, casting serious doubt on his credibility as a responsible commentator for a global audience.

Apart from the weather, heavy rain in December, it should be noted, and the fatal accident of a South Korean show jumper, the Asian Games of 2006 were a huge success. This was the first time that all 45 nations of the Asian Olympic federation had taken part in their showcase get-together, the first time that it was broadcast beyond the host nation and the first time that Doha proved that it could, more or less, cope with an event of this dimension.

To welcome the 9,520 athletes and 2,000 officials, including Olympic president Jacques Rogge, Doha expanded its airport to the tune of $1 billion, made use of 21 venues, and established an athletes’ village and a media centre. (In an earlier echo of the question marks over 2022, however, three cruise ships had to be brought in to accommodate the 2,000-bed shortfall.)

Also in 2006, Doha set up the Aspire Academy, a centre of sporting excellence based at Khalifa Sports City, featuring the world’s largest indoor multi-sports dome, all beneath the glowing lights of Aspire Tower.

Athletics took place in the Khalifa stadium, completely overhauled to raise its capacity to 50,000. A giant new arch was used for the spectacular fireworks display to open and close the Games.

Most of all, a flame had been lit. The landmark event instructed the powers-that-be in Doha that there was mileage beyond oil and gas in investing in sport and sporting occasions. 

Although two years later, the city failed in its attempt to host the 2016 Olympics, the need to allocate massive resources to produce a credible bid for the World Cup was taken seriously here from the off. Doha will also host the Asian Games in 2030, for which much of the 2022 infrastructure will be put to good use. Of the 44 venues earmarked for 2030, all but eight are already in place.

Football at the 2006 Asian Games took place at a handful of smaller grounds around Doha. These included Al Arabi’s and Al Sadd’s, the venue for the final won by Qatar. Fitted with an air-cooling system, Al Sadd’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium is Doha’s most prominent permanent football ground after Khalifa. A decade after the Asian Games, it welcomed Italy’s top teams for the Supercoppa Italia between the league champions and domestic cup winners.

With Al Jazeera expanding into the international market, Qatar’s growing global influence was not confined to attracting the world’s elite for brief appearances or lucrative limited seasons. Based at the Aspire Dome built for the 2006 Asian Games, the Aspire Academy was seeing its first students and graduates make the national U-19 and U-20 squads by 2010.

Moreover, since 2004, Aspire had been sponsoring the prestigious Toulon Tournament for youth teams – top goalscorers have included Jean-Pierre Papin, Alan Shearer and Rui Costa. The world’s scouts and managers descend on Toulon every May/June, allowing sponsors to network. It’s one big marketplace. In the deep winter of 2010, Sir Alex Ferguson flew his Manchester United team over to Doha to train at the Aspire Academy.

The year it was set up, the Aspire Academy welcomed another important visitor. Since 1996, Barcelona-born Félix Sánchez had been a youth coach at La Masia, the legendary training centre that was then nurturing Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and practically the whole illustrious FCB team of worldbeaters. 

Now working in Doha, Sánchez rose up the ranks to lead Qatar’s U-19 team to the Asian title in 2014 and the seniors to the Asian Cup five years later. Like Stanislav Cherchesov and Luiz Felipe Scolari before him, today he leads the host nation at its own World Cup finals. No-one knows Qatari football better than Félix Sánchez.

His move in 2006 led to a gradual sea change in outside influence here. The Brazilians who for decades had coached Qatar’s international youth teams from Evaristo onwards, gave way to Spain. Through Aspire and the Barcelona connection, Doha created a multi-faceted relationship with the world’s most sought-after and admired football club, just as Barçamania was sweeping the globe. Every other kid kicking a makeshift ball about a dusty terrain in Africa wore a Messi shirt. 

This did not go unnoticed. In 2007, Aspire Football Dreams was established, setting up academies such as the one in Senegal where thousands of young teenage players have been trained and assessed. Each year, the best are picked to form a squad invited to Barcelona to face FCB’s own youth team, as big as football dreams get for any kid anywhere, let alone Africa.

Back in Doha, Al Jazeera had launched its English-language network, opened offices in London and Washington, and had begun to recruit big-name editors and reporters from the English-speaking world. 

In January 2009, it won exclusive rights to broadcast the Gulf Cup. Coverage now featured in-depth analysis and hi-spec camerawork, of the kind seen in Europe for major competitions. For the Gulf, this was completely new. Also for the first time, key figures from FIFA attended the event. This was the same month that five countries threw their hats in the ring to bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Shortly before the vote in 2010, Doha staged a showcase fixture between Brazil and Argentina at the Khalifa International. Lionel Messi duly crowned the occasion with a last-minute wonder goal. 

Soon afterwards, Qatar Sports Investments bought Messi’s later employers, Paris Saint-Germain, making the French club one of the world’s richest. That same year, Al Jazeera Sports entered the European market by acquiring the rights for French Ligue 1 games, usually featuring many players from the Arab world. The channel then rebranded as beIN Sports.

Naturally, beIN’s cameras and reporters were on hand to record the wild celebrations around Doha when FIFA president Sepp Blatter opened that envelope in Zürich. Honking traffic blocked the seafront Corniche while the crowds that had gathered in the many shisha cafés and around the huge screens at the Katara exhibition complex erupted and took to the streets on that late sunny afternoon.

The World Cup won, Doha then got to work. Of the 12 planned stadiums in the original bid, only seven saw the light of day as others were dropped or not adapted for 2022. The Port City Stadium later became the 974 and procurement processes began for the land around new venues, most notably the Lusail Iconic Stadium twice the size of most of the others.

The skyline changed, particularly around the West Bay area, huge luxury hotels shooting up around the City Center Doha mall, its name alone hinting at the shift in topography of Qatar’s booming capital. Long considered Dubai’s younger sister, Doha would see its roads transformed and a swish metro system put in place, stretching south to the Hamad International Airport and Al Wakrah, and north to Lusail.

The change of logistic when the inevitable calendar switch, from a summer World Cup to a winter one, was confirmed in February 2015, did little to lessen the intense programme of construction.

The price for all this new infrastructure has been an estimated $220 billion at least, around 11 times more than Brazil in 2014 – but the cost has been much, much more. The scandal of the conditions and treatment of the migrant workers who built all this infrastructure, a significant number of whom lost their lives labouring in horrendous conditions, has not gone away, nor should it. Qatar has had to defend its record on an almost daily basis to the world’s press and pressure groups, hiring a phalanx of highly experienced PR experts.

For many, and certainly for the families around the Indian sub-continent and the Far East whose husbands, fathers and sons never returned from Doha, the city will forever be tainted. All still await compensation.

With hardly any indigenous working class in Doha – around 90% of Qatar’s population lives in the capital, where around 90% of population are foreign workers of some kind – the city was forced to contract out the labour. Despite calls for a mass boycott, as has happened at the Olympics, the tournament is going ahead. Some teams may indicate their displeasure, a protestor or two, perhaps even a drone, may interrupt a match as a billion people watch in real time. For all that, the stadiums are built and hundreds of thousands will come to Doha.

Others have been persuaded to promote the city in its transformative achievements to stage the (second) greatest show on Earth. David Beckham, for example, is remembered for his emotional speech about his revered and recently deceased football-loving grandfather as he promoted the England World Cup bid on the day of the 2010 vote. 

All in vain, of course, as Russia gained the 2018 finals, also decided that December afternoon. The football star is now an ambassador for Qatar, and the global face of the World Cup, for an estimated £10-£15 million a year over the next decade. Once the circus leaves town, his profile will become a familiar one here as Doha prepares for the 2030 Asian Games.

In many ways, the shock 2010 decision caught Doha on the hop more than anybody. In October 2008, the country had laid out a far-reaching development plan, Qatar National Vision 2030, to create a more advanced, technologically adept, society, one more culturally aware, with sport a cornerstone. Crucially, it advocates for more Qataris to join the workforce and for less reliance on foreign nationals. How this was meant to happen is not crystal clear, but within two years or so of the QNV 2030 announcement, Doha and its surroundings were a morass of construction sites.

2022 was not the only deadline. Almost as dry runs during the World Cup countdown, Doha hosted a string of prestigious sporting events in 2019. In the third week of April, with the temperature already climbing, nearly 600 competitors descended on Doha for the Asian Athletics Championships, all held at the recently re-reconstructed Khalifa International Stadium. The following September and early October came the World Athletics Championships, the third largest sports jamboree in the global calendar after the Olympics and the World Cup. 

The Khalifa International had been tournament-ready since May 2017, installing a unique open-air air-conditioning system that kept the stadium temperature below 25 degrees. (The long-distance road races along the Corniche were timetabled for midnight local time.) Three world records were set, along with 86 national ones. Given the logistic, of some 1,700 athletes representing 200-plus nations, plus all the officials and media, Doha 2019 could be considered another great success.

A few weeks later came the Gulf Cup, played at three venues including the late Zaha Hadid’s stunningly designed Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, inaugurated that year, the first of the new-build arenas to be unveiled. Inspired by the sails of the local dhow boats that would take pearl divers out from the coast to battle the currents of the Persian Gulf in search of treasure, this 40,000-capacity arena was a source of particular pride here, given the regional heritage of the Baghdad-born architect. The so-called Queen of the Curve, one of the world’s most sought-after architects, designed the stadium before her unexpected death in 2016.

Again, half the seats will be removed after December 2022 and donated to a willing beneficiary. Another of Qatar’s traditional clubs, founded back in 1959, Al Wakrah have twice won the Qatar Stars League. Their badge also featuring dhow sails, the Cyan Waves have former Aspire coach, Barcelona-born Tintín Márquez in charge but, like the former fishing and pearling village they represent, are considered rather quaint.

Redeveloped from 2008 to cope with the Doha overflow, Al Wakrah has changed greatly in appearance since but its popular beaches and Heritage Village still attract many visitors from the metropolis. That said, Al Wakrah is now Qatar’s second largest settlement with a population of 80,000. Its metro station is about 3km north of the town centre, Al Wakrah dovetails with Doha’s southern city limits, bisected by the new main road from the capital. The Al Janoub is on the eastern edge of a town that otherwise hugs the coastline.

Australia play all their group games at the Al Janoub. The first is against France, the world champions taking to the pitch to defend the trophy they won in 2018. Zada Hadid’s stadium will play another role too – this will be England’s training base for 2022.

Three days after 2019 Gulf Cup, the Club World Cup kicked off at the Khalifa International and Al Sadd’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, although the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan had been earmarked for that particular final. It was later completed in June 2020.

Packed to its new 45,416 capacity for Liverpool’s two games, the Khalifa International welcomed the FIFA family for an event always designed as a practice run for World Cup hosts. Again, it was glitch-free, Jürgen Klopp’s men adding a new trophy to take back to Anfield.

The final prelude to 2022 took place almost exactly a year before. The 2021 Arab Cup was held at six of the eight World Cup stadiums, including the Ahmad bin Ali, aka the Al Rayyan, as that is where it is located, venue for Wales’ group games against USA, Iran and England. Also used for the 2020 Club World Cup – eventually played in February 2021 and won by Bayern Munich – the Ahmad bin Ali was inaugurated on Qatar’s National Day, December 18, 2020.

Inaugurated for the opening ceremony of the 2021 Arab Cup, the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha and beyond its metro system, witnessed the final and the quarter-final involving Qatar for which a record 63,439 spectators were recorded. The second-largest of the eight 2022 venues, Al Bayt (‘The House’) is inspired in its design by the traditional tents used by local nomadic tribes. It now stages the opening game, England’s clash with the USA and one semi-final. A five-star hotel is slated for its post-2022 conversion in this hub of the local oil industry whose attractions are otherwise pretty functional.

For all Doha’s transformation from Gulf backwater of 2,000-capacity football grounds to major player on the global market, Lusail will take much of the limelight during the World Cup. Still rapidly developing some 25km north of downtown Doha, Lusail stages ten games including a semi-final and the final itself. This is also where you find the biggest and liveliest fan zone, while Doha’s at Al Bidda park will have the standard big screens, and food and drink outlets.

Such is the pace of construction that Doha and Lusail practically fuse into one, at the terminus of the city’s metro system, with West Bay within easy reach. 

After the World Cup, all roads will lead out of Doha, to overspill developments such as Lusail and Al Wakrah, with more surely to follow. Given the policies laid down for Qatar National Vision 2030 and with the upcoming Asian Games pretty much taken care of, in a way Doha has run out of road, with only so many more hotels and stadiums it can still build. It has achieved far more than anyone back in 1973 would have ever thought possible. All this has come at an enormous cost, on many levels. 

Now Doha must deliver a World Cup for the ages.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

The main point of entry in Doha is Hamad International Airport close to town and connected by metro. The Hayya Card you will have needed to enter Qatar in the first place (see Qatar) is valid for free public transport.

Note that for all intents and purposes, Covid restrictions have been lifted around Doha, but people still wear masks on public transport, and drivers may ask you to wear on in a taxi or Uber.

Doha’s metro system consists of three colour-coded lines, red north-south as well as a one-stop spur serving Hamad International Airport, and yellow and green east-west. All stadiums except Al Khor 55km north of Doha are on the network, or close enough for there to be a free shuttle bus service in place to the venue. The red line runs all the way south to Free Zone and Al Wakrah and the Al Thumama and Al Janoub Stadiums, and all the way north to Lusail and the Iconic Stadium there. Two stadiums lie on the green line, two on the yellow.

Doha’s main fan zone is at Al Bidda Park, with its own metro station on both the red and green lines. Further up on the red line, Legtaifiya is a transfer station intersection with the orange line of the new tram that serves Lusail.

Karwa taxis (+974 800 8294) are overseen by the Mowasalat https://mowasalat.com/, also responsible for busesCabs have a fixed rate – the daytime fare from the airport (+974 445 88888) to central Doha is around QR45/€12, QR55/€14.60 at night, including a QR25/€6.60 minimum fare. In town, this is QR7/€1.86, after which they charge QR1.60/€0.43 per km.

Uber operates in Qatar in the same way as everywhere else. Here the minimum fare is QR8/€2.13.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

The fun element of every World Cup is essentially fuelled by booze. Think of the Irish at Italia ’90, the Scots in Paris in 1998 and Australians let loose around Germany in 2006. Paaaaaaaaaaaarty!!!

Not every nation’s fans are as congenially squiffy nor does everyone need lagoons of beer to have a good time. But supporters from Europe and the Anglosphere in particular look forward to football’s four-year jamboree like it was the end of prohibition with balls on. And now this jamboree is being held in Qatar, where the consumption of alcohol is strictly controlled.

This doesn’t mean they can’t drink. What it does mean is that they can only drink in designated places – namely, in fan zones and in hotel bars. You cannot drink on the street or be seen to be drunk outside. Punishments may not be as severe during these four weeks when Qatar is trying to present itself to the world but that’s by no means a given. Enjoy yourself within those specified zones and behave yourself around town, them’s the rules.

The situation around stadiums on match days was unclear, even a few days before the tournament. Long-term World Cup sponsor US Budweiser, which may sell its zero-alcohol version inside the arena, then had to turn off its taps on anything stronger.

Doha’s fan zone at Al Bidda park is where beer will be sold from 7pm to 1am at QR50/€13 a half-litre. Servings are limited to four per person, although how this is to be administered is also unclear. Admission is free, numbers limited to 40,000.

Bars can only operate within hotels and in Doha, this means high-end. Even without a World Cup going on, they’re pricy, so be prepared to hand over QR55-QR70/€15-€18 for your half-litre of standard European lager. During the regular season, many offer early-evening Happy Hours where selected beers go for about two-thirds of this price, but it’s not yet clear if they’ll drop these during the World Cup. 

What is clear is that some are introducing a minimum spend, with time limits of three hours on each – ie just walking into the Champions sports bar at the Marriott Marquis will cost you QR200/€53, for which you receive three drinks and may stay for three hours. And that’s during the group stage. For the knock-out rounds, this increases exponentially.

Some are located several storeys up, so you may get a stunning panoramic view for your €80. Few have strict dress codes, although reasonably smart-casual attire is expected. Note also that the minimum legal drinking age is 21, and staff may ask for ID if need be.

The main cluster of lively hotel bars is around West Bay, the nearest Doha gets to Miami, all seafront skyscrapers. Right on the promontory, the Irish Harp  provides a taste of Dublin in Doha’, with sport shown on 12 HD screens and DJs or live bands afterwards. Standard beers are priced at QR55/€14.60, reduced to QR38/€10 during Happy Hour, 5pm-8pm, if still valid during the World Cup. You’ll find it within the absurdly luxurious Sheraton Grand.

Between Pearl Tower and its own private beach, TV-lined Shots, is the sports bar at the Hilton Doha, a long row of screens over the bar, a pool table and dartboard in a quieter corner. Its regular closing time of 2am should be handy if those late kick-off games go to penalties. In the same hotel complex, overlooking the water, Trader Vic’s is the Doha branch of the Californian chain popular throughout the Gulf, although here in Qatar, the accent is more on food than the Tiki cocktails on which the brand made its name.

Tucked in behind the Hilton, by the Doha Exhibition & Convention Center, the JW Marriott Marquis is where you find The Den, a sleek piano lounge with few links to South Bermondsey but lined with a nice long bar counter to prop up.

In the same sprawling hotel complex but also accessed from the surrounding mall, Champions feels like it has its own identity as a stand-alone sports bar, while still attached to the Marriott, which it needs to be in order to sell alcohol. In any case, it most certainly does sell alcohol, standard lagers, ciders including South African Savanna and top-of-the-range vodkas.

You can’t move for screens, 47 in total, plus two giant projectors, but there’s a price for this wall-to-wall coverage for the World Cup. During the group stage, admission costs QR200/€53 which covers three drinks/three hours, after which you must pay for another three hours. This rises for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and then QR1,000/€265 per person for the final, which includes finger food and drink. ID required, too.

The nearest Doha comes to a Western bar is Brewskis and Grub in the Crowne Plaza, where you can’t move for screens and you pour your own pint (‘Beer Yourself’). This is another place that’s introduced a QR250/€66 minimum-spend policy for the World Cup (for a maximum three-hour stay), and that’s just for the group stages. A shame, because this award-winning bar has worked so hard to get the small details right, from the frozen glasses you take from the freezer to the DJs and the décor, and many will be put off by the initial asking price and the arbitrary time limit.

More pub-like, with screens aplenty including a big pull-down one over the stage where regular live music happens, the Irish-run Shamrock Tavern livens up the Magnum Hotel in the heart of West Bay, an expat favourite for its authentic feel and pub quizzes.

Alongside, the Kempinski  provides stunning views over the city from its sports bar on the 61st floor. Until recently called Skybox 61, this is now LaLiga Twenty-Nine’s, more honed towards football and bar food.

Nearer to West Bay Lagoon, closer to Al Qassar metro station, the Belgian Café in the InterContinental serves standard brands and buckets of mussels in unsurprisingly polished surroundings, but does venture a little further into the genre with its bottled range, Maredsous, Chimay Bleue and Floris fruit varieties included.

Further north by West Best Lagoon, so far north it’s practically in Lusail, the excellent Hudson Tavern in the stylish Mondrian Doha is usually quite reasonable with its prices despite the lavish design (is this London W1?). For the World Cup, however, the QR40/€10.60 price tags on bottles of Peroni and Corona are out the window, and customers must opt for a QR275/€73 package of main, snacks and soft drinks or QR475-QR550/€126-€146 with booze thrown in – for a maximum three-hour stay.

Moving into Doha city centre, the Irish Pub on the 14th floor of the Best Western ticks all the right boxes, its back bar lined with TVs, while upstairs on the top floor, the Krossroads Klub is where to go for live music and DJs.

Where to stay

Accommodation for the stadiums and city centre

Gone are the World Cups when you could just rock up, kip somewhere cheap and scoot around looking for tickets. This difference has never been made more acute than for Qatar 2022.

First, you cannot enter the country without a Hayya Card, issued to ticket holders only, through which you book accommodation, use free local transport and synchronise your match ticket in order to enter the stadium. You’re not duty-bound to book your lodgings through Hayya but given the dearth of hotels, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Prices are unsurprisingly steep for what you’re getting. The Hayya system divides its accommodation possibilities between a handful of fan villages, two cruise ships, apartments and hotels in the QR1,000-2,000/€265-€530 range.

Still requiring a Hayya Card for reservations during the tournament, Doha’s high-end hotels will mainly be used for those working in and around the event, but they also contain the city’s only bars and pubs, open to the general public. The chances of rooms being available at these establishments during the group stages are low and during the knock-out stages, minimal, but there may be cancellations if a big team drops out. 

It’s always worth checking generic hotel-booking sites such as lastminute.com to see what might have become available. Of course, rates will be through the roof but considering how much you’ll be paying for a cramped cabin in a fan village, an extra couple of hundred dollars might just get you cossetted comfort.

Fan Villages

Note that a minimum stay, usually two nights, operates at fan villages. Although most places will be booked solid during the group stages, many fans will be trooping home after December 2. The standard rate for a cabin in a fan village is QR740/€200 a night.

There’s one cheaper, the basic Caravan City (QR404/108), by the main Doha Expressway that divides the city from Al Rayyan. It’s also a 500-metre walk from the metro station of Joaan, on the same line as Sport City (for the Khalifa International Stadium) and Ras Bu Abboud (for Stadium 974).

Standard cabin complexes at the regular price include the Free Zone close to the Free Zone metro station and around 4-5km from the Al Thumama Stadium, Rawdat Al Jahhaniya near Ahmad bin Ali Stadium and the Al Riffa mall and metro station, and Zafaran close to Lusail’s Grand Prix circuit but a good 6-7km from the Lusail Iconic Stadium. The Fan Village at Qetaifan Island North charges the same QR740/€200 price but its 1,800 tents are ranged around the most (only?) party-centric fan zone in Qatar, so fun-seekers should choose this option if available, plus there’s a beach and water sports by day. The main snag is that it’s isolated at the far end of a faux archipelago of man-made islands off the coast of Lusail, even a fair trek to the Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Even more remote, seriously remote, is the Sarab Camp, described as being in Mesaieed, an industrial zone and tanking centre way south of Al Wakrah, itself due south of Doha. Except that it’s not, thankfully, it’s 10-12km south of Mesaieed, exactly where the only road from Al Wakrah runs out of road, campsites dotting the shore. Inland is the desert wilderness of Ash Shaqra in which, according to the most recent census, there were 17 dwellings in an area of 500 square kilometres. The camp, closer to the unmarked Saudi border than Doha, with its beach, indoor children’s play area and games room, charges a nightly rate of QR1,212/€322 per head.

The most expensive of the fan village camps is at Al Khor, only about 5-6km from the furthest outpost of Qatar’s World Cup venues, Al Bayt, where the opening game will take place. Also scheduled up here, around 55km north of Doha, is England’s game with the USA, a quarter-final and a semi-final. The going rate here is QR1,512/€400 a night, but this is at least somewhat more lavish, with a pool, sports courts and a beach location.

Cruise ships

If you manage to book a berth, easily the best option for accommodation is a cruise ship, moored in the main terminal, a man-made F-shaped spit of land handy for downtown Doha and facing the Stadium 974. For one thing, you’re literally surrounded by amenities, for another there are bars, without the draconian rules of engagement around town and thirdly – hey, you’re on holiday, enjoy it!

The two ships differ greatly in price, the MSC World Europa at QR1,240/€330 twice as expensive as the MSC Poesia at QR640/€170 docked nearby. If chugging back the pints at the Masters of the Sea pub is your kind of World Cup, pay the extra and you’ll also get the use of six pools, 14 whirlpools, a spa and a slide, plus 13 food outlets.

If you’re just after the basic fun of a cruise ship but fancy exploring Doha nearby – the World Cup flag display for selfies, the picturesque Corniche promenade and the National Museum – then choose this cheaper alternative. With its three pool, four whirlpools, waterside cinema, tennis courts, spa, gym, restaurants and wine bar, the MSC Poesia is not exactly shabby, either.

Hotels

Doha is a city built for business travellers. Major global sporting events, such as the Grand Prix and two editions of the Club World Cup, have been very recent arrivals. Visitors otherwise come here to convene, trade and talk shop, staying at company expense. Hotels, high-end branches of the world’s major chains, also cater to the significant expat community as these are the only establishments legally entitled to sell alcohol to foreigners. Doha’s best restaurants are also located here.

West Bay is Doha’s recently transformed hotel hub. Its distinctive ziggurat shape defining the coastline, the Sheraton sits in spacious grounds where a pool, whirlpool, private beach and children’s playground encourage relaxation and seven restaurants include an Indian, a steakhouse and a faux pub, the Irish Harp (see Where to drink). 

Further round the headland, the Four Seasons comprises six terrace restaurants including a Nobu, set around a private beach, six pools and marina. Towering alongside, the Hilton Doha has its own private beach, spa and outdoor pool. This is where you also find sports bar Shots and Tiki-themed Trader Vic’s (see Where to drink).

Tucked in behind these waterfront lodgings stands the Marriott Marquis, which merges with the city’s main convention centre and whose outdoor pool takes in panoramic views from its lofty setting on level seven. There’s a spa and gym, too. Guests and delegates may convene at one of seven restaurants, South-American, souq-themed or lounge-like, as in the case of cocktail-centric The Den (see Where to drink). Also accessed from the adjoining mall, Champions touts itself as Doha’s prime sports bar (see Where to drink).

Nearby, another landmark lodging, the Kempinski, is all about breathtaking views, not least from the restaurants on the 61st floor. Until recently, these included sport-focused Skybox, now converted into LaLiga Twenty-Nine’s, more honed towards football and bar food. 

Alongside, the Magnum Doha has a larger pool than most, a shisha lounge and one of the city’s more authentic pubs, the Shamrock Tavern (see Where to drink). The polished Dusit Doha makes best use of its West Bay location with its floor-to-ceiling windows, rooftop pool, bar and lounge, and exquisite spa.

Further up West Bay towards Katara, the 375-room InterContinental Doha Beach & Spa outQatars Qatar with its 14 restaurants and bars, spa and outdoor pool. Imbibing options include the Belgian Café (see Where to drink) for Benelux brews and dishes in sleek surroundings.

Next door, the twin-towered St Regis complements its Olympic-sized pool with one of the best spas in town, the Guerlain, and challenges the InterContinental with its dozen restaurants including a Hakkasan.

At West Bay Lagoon and handy for Lusail, the Mondrian is far and away Doha’s most original hotel, a riot of lights and inventive design also reflected in its rooftop cocktail bar Rise and best sports bar in town, the Hudson Tavern (see Where to drink).

Back in Doha, conveniently located behind the Corniche and its waterfront attractions, the DoubleTree Doha-Old Town wins out with its rooftop pool, while its CLAW BBQ combines American diner, sports bar and seafood eatery. The Golden Tulip offers plenty of possibilities when it comes to hosting business meetings.

Nearest the seafront, the Saraya Corniche ticks the right boxes and has geared up its Aqua View Sports Lounge for the big event. Next door, the Best Western is where you find the refreshingly unpretentious Irish Pub (see Where to drink), where live sounds and match action await on the 14th floor, and the top-storey Krossroads Club (see Where to drink) for DJs and more entertainment. If you’re staying over, there’s a pool, spa and gym.

Alongside this cluster, the Horizon Manor defies the limited expectations of its low-key website with its rooftop pool and sea-view rooms.

Further into central Doha, near Al Sadd metro station, La Cigale offers that bizarre rarity for a hotel, a French-style traiteur with caviar and foie gras, the 11th-floor rooftop bar Sky View, plus a spa and gym. Nearby, the Westin boasts one of the best spas in town.

Its distinctive façade shining out across the main Salwa Road, the Radisson Blu comprises 583 upscale rooms, two pools, indoor and out, a squash court and 20 (!) cafés, bars and restaurants, including sports bar Shehrazad.

All overseen by long-established Portuguese hotel group Tivoli, boutique lodgings dot the tourist-focused shopping hub, Souq Waqif in the heart of town. Alongside, the metro station of the same name sits on the same yellow line as Sport City for the Khalifa International and Ras Bu Abboud for Stadium 974.

Najd displays an Arabian eye for exotic detail, Al Jomrok fills the market’s historic customs offices with decorative splendor and Al Jasra marries Arabic ambience with contemporary élan in its 28 rooms. 

The 32 at lush Al Bidda have been designed individually and the Arumaila is comfort itself. Set apart, the nearby Al Najada surrounds a picturesque square with 151 tasteful rooms.