Site of football’s final showcase on December 18

Stadium, tales and tips – a guide to the local scene

Lusail is Qatar’s new playground. Some 20km or so north of the capital, a skip over from West Bay’s skyscrapers and integral to Doha’s newly extensive metro network and recently introduced tram line, Lusail has been busy with development ever since a plan was announced in 2005 to create a hub of leisure, retail and commerce here.

Before the marina, man-made islands and gaudy Place Vendôme mall came the golf club, then the Lusail International Circuit, a racetrack for motorcycle riders and, since 2021, Formula One drivers. 

This was followed by the Lusail Sports Arena. The golden cherry on the cake, the gleaming Lusail Iconic Stadium, was opened in September 2022.

Ten weeks after the Lusail Super Cup curtain-raiser initiated a spectacular light show and fireworks display before and after the game, Lionel Messi will stride out with his Argentine team-mates for what will be his last World Cup, first facing some of the same Saudi players who triumphed here in the colours of their club, Al Hilal.

A month later, two captains, maybe Messi, perhaps Brazil’s Thiago Silva, will be leading their sides out for the 22nd World Cup final since 1930. The date, December 18, is no coincidence, Qatar National Day also conveniently falling on a Sunday.

Nor is the location for football’s showcase event, Lusail, pure chance. Here, in July 1913, the man considered the founder of the nation, celebrated every December, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, was buried. 

Lusail was then a village, described back then by colonial administrator JG Lorimer as a community of three wells, 50 houses of stone or mud and a fort-like residence where the sheikh lived. A handful of boats used for fishing and pearl hunting, and a few dozen camels and horses completed a sleepy picture.

The collapse of the pearl trade emptied coastal communities like Lusail of bread-winners but Qatar’s post-war, post-oil modernisation saw employment return and diversify. In these boom years after independence in 1971, the population of nearby Doha tripled and adjoining settlements were adapted to deal with the overspill. 

Soaring towers transformed the cityscape of West Bay, site of the Sheraton and Four Seasons hotels. The next step, slightly further north, was the West Bay Lagoon, Hilton Doha The Pearl and the Ritz-Carlton set on a faux archipelago of man-made islands.

This marks the shimmering border between Doha and Lusail, where the Doha Golf Club and marina promenade were the first indications of what was to follow. Beyond, Lusail began to take shape. Qatar’s initial proposal to host the 2022 World Cup boasted of a large-scale arena, here in Lusail, where the final would take place. 

It was no idle boast. Qatar won the vote and then the renowned architects behind the design, the UK’s Foster + Partners of Wembley fame, were granted the commission to come up with something more impressive.

This they did. With bells on. The Lusail Iconic Stadium outshines its seven smaller counterparts co-hosting the 2022 World Cup. How could it not? Glowing gold like the traditional bowls you still see in local markets and in every Arab household, it comprises a criss-cross of triangular motifs through which natural light travels to project juxtaposed patterns of shapes and shadows across the inner walls of the arena.

Again, tradition underscores the design concept, as the stadium’s promotional video illustrates, merging the craftsmen’s bowl with the intersecting casing of the lanterns, fanous, that illuminate façades across the Muslim world during the celebration of Ramadan. Lusail may be awash with rapid development in thrall to globalised foreign influences – the Place Vendôme mall near the new stadium, by way of underwhelming example – but here, centrepiecing what will be a busy community of some 250,000 residents and 200,000 salaried visitors, is a monument to the region’s heritage.

And here it will remain, even though Lusail’s stadium falls in line with Qatar’s vote-winning trend to create an eco-friendly World Cup of minimal waste. After the last of the tickertape has been swept away and the trophy whisked off with the winning team, work will begin de-assembling the arena and converting it into a communal resource for health, education and leisure. 

The venue will still be used for sports events, potentially watched by thousands, but the fact that this magnificent dome isn’t included in the list of locations where events will take place for the 2030 Asian Games, also being held in Doha, indicates its future, more local function.

Lusail, meanwhile, will be transformed. The process has already started. Opening days before Messi’s walk-on part to usher in the first World Cup game here, the Waldorf Astoria Lusail Doha now dominates the nearby (now private) beachfront with its twin-finned, multi-storey façade containing 429 rooms, suites and apartments, two pools, Qatar’s only Espa spa and numerous restaurants also open to non-residents. 

As a hotel, though, it’s fully booked during the tournament, as is the luxurious Le Royal Méridien Doha behind it, attached to the Place Vendôme mall.

Cast your cursor over the map of outlying semi-circle of interconnecting man-made islands and you’ll see a high-end Rixos yet to be unwrapped. This stands on Qetaifan Island North, the first main development taking shape in the form of a waterpark, hotels and improbably expensive sea-facing apartments. 

Before all this happens, the Qetaifan Island Fan Village at the far end will be where the party’s at during the World Cup. Live music and DJs will keep 30,000 ticket holders rocking until 4am.

Back on the mainland, the seafront promenade is dominated by the Katara Towers, curving high-rises symmetrically facing each other like a vast half-pipe for skateboarders. These represent scimitar swords of desert lore and contain two high-end hotels in the Accor group, the all-suite Raffles and the yacht-themed Fairmont

Booked out for officials and dignitaries during the tournament, they are linked by the Katara events space at lower level, a schmooze zone for delegates and sponsors according to event.

Getting Around

Arriving here, local transport and timings

Thanks to its new-found status, Lusail now has not one but two recently opened transport lines. For the stadium, take the red metro direct from central points in Doha to Lusail, close enough to the park surrounding the arena that there’s no need for shuttle buses. It can be a fair stroll though, depending on which area of the huge venue your seat is located. Stewarding was excellent for the only time the stadium has really been tested out, for its grand Super Cup opening in September.

With eight of the ten games finishing around and perhaps well after midnight local time, it may be wise to pay a long-sleeved top of some kind as you will have been in an air-conditioned environment for several hours. The metro will be running until 3am every day.

Operating until the same time, the Lusail tram, the orange line of a network whose other branches will open up as Lusail does, currently consists of seven stops. These are conveniently spread out in a line parallel to the seafront, starting with Legtaifiya that acts as a transfer station onto the red metro line.

The Marina Promenade is closest to the Lusail Fan Zone, the Yacht Club to the late-opening outlets of the Lusail Food Arena and Lusail Central serves the Place Vendôme mall.

Other tram stops nearer to Qetaifan Island on the map are part of the network that isn’t yet complete. For the time being, it’s taxis and Ubers there and back, although you can obviously limit your journey to the 7km-8km to and from Lusail metro station.

Note that Doha’s Hamad International Airport is the other side of the city from Lusail, but its metro station is on its own spur of the red line, so a direct journey of 14 stops to the northern terminus.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Regular cafés and eateries are dotted around the Lusail Food Arena, an open market area between the Yacht Club stop on the city’s new tram line and the waterfront Corniche promenade for strollers and cyclists. 

Whlle hardly pushing the culinary envelope, Abocado, Salt, La Churroria, Bfit, KL Café, Mood, Glitter, Owl, Karak Mqanes, Firefly Burger, Kyoto, The Doner and Miky’s serve burgers, Mexican standards, samosas and kebabs, plus hot and soft drinks.

Alongside to the south, nearer Marina Promenade tram stop, is the other Lusail Fan Zone, this one significantly smaller and more family-oriented than the one on Qetaifan Island. 

For reasons unclear, someone thought it a good idea to stage ice ballet shows – Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty – for a World Cup, but Dutch fans will probably appreciate use of the skating rink.

If what you’re after is a bar and TV screen, the best bet is to head to the hotels at West Bay Lagoon, on the very northern edge of Doha, between Marina and Legtaifiya tram stops. At Legtaifiya, you can also change onto the red metro line – Lusail, near the stadium, is two stops away.

The best option is the Hudson Tavern at the Mondrian Doha, a classic yet contemporary bar with screens aplenty, top-quality craft burgers and Benelux beers on tap. They even include frosty pitchers of lager with spicy chicken wings and other shareable snacks as part of the Hudson Combo. Note that this is one of many bars in Qatar whose policy during the World Cup is to charge guests for every three-hour visit, with drinks included.

In the same building, an exotic range of cocktails complements the platters and appetisers at classy terrace nightspot Patio by Walima. It’s always best to book a table online.

Close by, the Ritz-Carlton Doha has a more exclusive approach to hospitality to go with the marina views, the liveliest option being the b-lounge where the World Cup is bound to attract celebrity mixologists and DJs. On a regular night, your Oriental-inspired cocktail (Smoke over Saigon, I Lost My Bag in Tokyo) will weigh in at around QR50/€13. Again, reserve your table.