World Cup travel survival kit: Everything you need to know about Qatar 2022

On the eve of the tournament, Simon Calder reports on the latest state of travel play

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 05 December 2022 14:50 GMT
Football central: the centre of Doha, capital of Qatar
Football central: the centre of Doha, capital of Qatar (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In 2010 a nation with no suitable existing infrastructure, a climate completely unsuited to a summer football tournament and a dismal human rights record was assigned to host one of the world’s greatest sporting competitions.

Four other candidates (Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US) also bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup. But Qatar had one attribute the others lacked: almost limitless cash.

Fifa, the world governing body, has many questions to answer. Several members of the executive committee members who voted on the tournament’s location have since been suspended, prosecuted for corruption or banned from football.

Sepp Blatter, who was president of Fifa at the time the World Cup was awarded in 2010, has admitted the decision was “a mistake”.

It is difficult to conceive of a less appropriate nation to be the sole venue for the tournament. Initially matches were to be played in the usual midsummer spell, when the average daily high is over 40C.

In March 2015, Fifa announced that the tournament would be played in early winter to avoid the intense summer heat, even though it meant ripping the heart out of European football seasons to accommodate the shift.

An unknown number of migrant workers have died during the construction of infrastructure for the tournament. Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, said: “Migrant worker deaths are casting a long shadow over the 2022 World Cup.”

Miguel Delaney, chief football writer for The Independent, wrote: “It is a disgrace that, in 2022, a country can host a World Cup where it has lured millions of people from the poorest countries on earth – often under false pretences – and then forced them into what many call ‘modern slavery’.”

Human Rights Watch says Qatari law “discriminates against women in marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance”. Homosexuality is illegal; before the tournament a Qatari World Cup ambassador, Khalid Salman, described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”.

The traditional multinational camaraderie that every World Cup fosters – most recently in the successful Russia 2018 tournament – will be largely absent. More prosaically, getting a beer became even more difficult just before the first match kicked off.

Yet Qatar 2022 is going ahead. This is the essential survival kit for football fans.

Just remind me about Qatar?

The host of the World Cup 2022 is a thumb of territory barely half the size of Wales protruding from the Arabian peninsula into the Gulf.

Doha, the capital, is on the same latitude as Miami and Hong Kong, and the same longitude as Tehran and Baku. It shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and is close to Bahrain, with Abu Dhabi and Duba in the UAE respectively 200 and 235 miles east.

Flying time from the UK is about seven hours: Manchester is around 3,400 miles away from Doha.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy – the Qatari body organising the tournament – says the “compact nature” of the tournament will have a positive impact on players and fans.

The organisation says: “Not only will fans be able to watch more than one match in a single day, they will also avoid the long journeys to other matches seen in previous Fifa World Cups – where some games were played thousands of miles apart.”

When did the World Cup 2022 start and when does it end?

The opening match – and Qatar’s first-ever World Cup game – was against Ecuador at 7pm local time (4pm GMT) on 20 November 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium in the town of Al Khor, in the northeast of Qatar. The hosts lost 2-0.

The final is at 6pm local time (3pm GMT) on 18 December at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, north of Doha.

How do I get there, and how much will it cost?

Direct flights on Qatar Airways – supplemented by its partner, British Airways – operate from London Heathrow and Gatwick, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester. They touch down at Hamad International Airport in Doha – one of the big Gulf hubs, coded DOH.

During the World Cup, the old Doha International Airport (DIA) is being brought back into use by airlines including Etihad Airways, Flydubai and Pegasus Airlines of Turkey.

Plenty of seats on flights to and from Doha are now on sale.

The cheapest deals are generally available from Manchester via Frankfurt to Doha on Lufthansa, for under £500 on many dates.

From the London area, the cheapest deals are usually Istanbul on Pegasus Airlines or Turkish Airlines – typically for £750-£800 return.

For the first time since the tournament started, nonstop flights on Qatar Airways between London and Doha have fallen close to £1,000 return – including full long-haul service and a 30kg baggage allowance.

Flying out from Manchester on 17 December and back a week later, the return fare is £1,093.

Fares towards the very end of the tournament may increase because of demand from regular tourists – not football fans – flying long-haul via Doha for Christmas.

Any red tape?

Yes. Your passport should be valid for a minimum of six months from the date you arrive. In addition, anyone travelling to Qatar from 1 November 2022 must have an approved “Hayya Card”. Hayya means “let’s go”. You can choose a physical version of this ID card, or just use the online version.

But the standard processing time for a Hayya card appears to be several days, which rules out an impromptu visit. In addition, some fans have reported a repeated failure of online applications – being “declined due to data inconsistency”. You are advised not to book flights and accommodation until they have the permit confirmed.

Qatar is a very different World Cup in many respects. Apart from a couple of cruise ships that are providing accommodation, all cruises are banned – including, at late notice, one that was sold as a World Cup Cruise.

Passengers who paid a small fortune for the voyage as a way to reach Qatar and stay there for a couple of matches are now being flown in from nearby countries instead.

Airport formalities: do I need a Covid test or proof of vaccination?

No, all tests and vaccination requirements were dropped ahead of the World Cup – although the Foreign Office says: “You may be required to pass through thermal screening or temperature checks on arrival into Qatar at air, land or sea ports.”

Neither alcohol nor pork products can be imported into Qatar.

Where will I stay?

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy expects 1.5 million visitors during the World Cup.

Around 100,000 rooms are available. To put the number in context, that will still be fewer than the city of Sochi – just one of the dozen venues for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

But as is typical for global sporting events, at the last minute hotel room availability has increased.

The peak dates for travelling fans were 27 and 28 November, towards the end of the group stage, with 275,000 fans in the country.

The accommodation search function provided by the Supreme Committee allows fans to find rooms in a wide range of hotels.

At the Al Wakra Apartments, a double room costs £174 on Saturday night, 10 December 2022.

At the Doha Airport Premier Inn (confusingly located in the city centre), a one-night stay for two on Saturday 10 December costs £402.

A cabin aboard one of the cruise ships moored in Qatar for the event, MSC’s World Europa, is offering a one-night stay for two for £303 for the same night. Licensed bars are open for the sale of alcohol.

A relatively budget alternative is the “Fan Village Cabins” in the Free Zone near the old airport. They appear to be well-appointed containers, with double or twin en-suite bedrooms.

The organisers say: “Amenities in each cabin include tea and coffee making facilities, two bottles of water per day, a fridge, bed linen and bathroom towels.” There is a Metro station nearby. The nightly rate is a fixed 740 rials (£173).

Some fans are being accommodated in tented camps, though reviews have so far been poor.

How are things looking for later in the tournament?

Accommodation rates are falling further as teams are knocked out. On 13 December a cruise-ship cabin costs £169 for two. By 15 December the four-star Ezdan Hotel and Suites is all yours for £133 double.

Could I stay in a nearby country?

Yes, and this is likely to be an economy option for many. Dubai has by far the highest number of hotel beds elsewhere in the Gulf: around 100,000 – the same as Doha, without any extra building.

Qatar Airways and FlyDubai are running special Match Day Shuttle flights at a fixed fare: US$258 (£221) return in economy class or US$999 (£856) in business class. That includes ground transport to the stadium.

You can take only cabin baggage. The flights operate from Dubai World Central (DWC), not the main airport (DXB), to Doha.

Similar shuttles at the same fares are available from Muscat in Oman (operated by Oman Air but sold by Qatar Airways), which may be a more aesthetically appealing location in which to be based.

Saudi Arabia, which has a land frontier with Doha, is a lower-cost option. But accommodation options anywhere near the border are limited, and the kingdom’s human rights record is widely deplored.

How do I get a match ticket?

After months of all 64 matches being shown as sold out, Fifa has now put a number of games on sale. But online queues are long and tickets scarce.

Sites such as Stubhub and Viagogo are also selling tickets.

How will I get around?

The maximum distance between any of the eight stadiums is 45 miles (75km). All public transport will be free to fans on match days.

Doha has a new and formidably good Metro system. Travelling from the airport into the capital and onwards to Lusail Iconic Stadium – at the end of the line, and venue for the final – is easy.

The hub of the three-line network is Msheireb (sometimes spelt, and always pronounced, Musheireb) in the heart of Doha. All three lines – red, green and gold – meet. Some say it is a palatial take on the grandiose mid-20th century Soviet Metro stations.

Buy a travelcard on arrival at the airport for 10 rials (about £2) and load it as you go along: each journey is 2 rials (40p) but daily use is capped at 6 rials (£1.40).

Sophisticated travellers might choose to go for Gold Club on the Metro, for which the travelcard costs 100 rials (£20) and each journey is 10 rials (£2.40). You can expect a feast of subterranean bling – including white leather seats – and, with fares five times higher than standard, a near-empty carriage.

Another carriage is reserved for families, in which men are allowed only if they are travelling with a woman.

The same travelcard works on the Lusail tram system.

Qatar has a good bus network. No cash or direct payment is allowed; you must buy a “Karwa” stored value card. The “Classic Card”, price of 30 rials (£7.20) includes 20 rials (£4.80) worth of journeys, which is more than enough for a return trip between Doha and the northern town of Al Khor, home to one of the key stadiums.

Buses have video screens that show exactly where you are, the next stop and the expected time at the terminus – and even the name of the driver and the speed at which he is driving.

The Hayya Card acts as a pass for free public transport on the day of matches.

Uber has an excellent network of drivers and cars, with very low rates: a ride from Doha to Al Khor is about 50 rials (£12).

There is also an open-sided, battery-powered tram that runs anticlockwise on a circuit through the Msheireb district of central Doha, providing a shady and refreshing 15-minute adventure.

What will I eat?

Qatar has superb restaurants, ranging from classic Middle Eastern cuisine to options from the Indian sub-continent. There are also some outstanding venues catering for Westerners, such as Boho Social – just north of Katara Cultural Village, itself north of Doha.

And drink?

A wide range of soft drinks are available. Drinking alcohol is carefully controlled, and is available in hotels (including their restaurants).

It is illegal to drink alcohol – or be drunk – in public, with the Foreign Office warning that drunkenness “could result in a prison sentence of up to six months and/or a fine up to QAR3,000 (over £600).

The Supreme Committee says: “Alcohol is not part of Qatari culture, and may not be available everywhere, but it will be available in designated areas.”

On 14 November Fifa said beer (Budweiser only) would be available at “stadium perimeters” three hours before a game and for an hour afterwards.

But on the eve of the tournament, Fifa said in a statement: “Following discussions between host country authorities and Fifa, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Fifa Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s Fifa World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.

“There is no impact to the sale of Bud Zero which will remain available at all Qatar’s World Cup stadiums.”

One fan commented: “If you have to do without a beer, Budweiser is a good one to go without.”

In the higher priced “hospitality” area at each stadium, drink will flow freely. Fifa says: “Guests will be able to access both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in the hospitality areas of the stadium.”

Anyone staying in Saudi Arabia will not be able to drink while in the kingdom.

What about behaviour?

The tourism body says: “Showing overt affection and intimacy in public is frowned upon.

“Qatari ladies will not shake hands with men, and many men will not shake a lady’s hand as a gesture of respect.”

The Foreign Office warns: “Homosexual behaviour is illegal in Qatar.” Article 296 of the Qatari legal code stipulates imprisonment of between one and three years for “leading, instigating or seducing a male by in any way to commit sodomy”.

It adds: “Private life in Qatar is largely respected but any intimacy between persons in public can lead to offence, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or intent.

“Host authorities have stated that ‘everyone is welcome’ at the World Cup. They have publicly confirmed that there will be no restrictions on non-married friends or couples (including LGBT) staying in the same room.”

But the gay MP Luke Pollard said: “As an England-supporting homosexual it is not safe for someone like me to watch the World Cup in Qatar.

“Because of the human rights abuses of migrant workers and Qatar’s LGBT population I personally don’t think Qatar should ever have been awarded a major sporting competition.”

Is there a dress code?

Yes. The Qatar Tourism Authority says: “Visitors (men as well as women) are expected to show respect for local culture by avoiding excessively revealing clothing in public.

“It is generally recommended for men and women to ensure their shoulders and knees are covered.

What are the tourism highlights?

The main cultural attraction is the stunning new National Museum, telling the Qatar story from pre-history to untold wealth from oil. A key exhibit is the vast 18th-century Baroda Carpet, embroidered with gems.

The Museum of Islamic Art is also spectacular and well worth a visit.

Both are spectacular structures close to the waterfront, with engrossing exhibits.

Doha’s approximation to a historic centre, based around the Waqif souk, is atmospheric and walkable, and comes to life each evening. But it is rather more modern than the markets in other Arabian locations such as Muscat, Bahrain and Dubai.

As with other Gulf states, shopping is extremely popular, and there are plenty of malls in and around Doha and the towns beyond.

In the far southeast of Qatar, close to the Saudi border, the Khor Al-Adaid area – also known as the “Inland Sea” – comprises the nation’s biggest nature reserve.

It is connected to the Gulf by a narrow, deep channel about six miles (10km) long. Wildlife includes turtles, ospreys and Arabian gazelles

Unesco says it has “exceptional, undeveloped natural beauty”. The UN body asserts: “There is no comparable lagoonal system of this type known elsewhere in the world.

“Furthermore there are several valuable archaeological sites and a diversity of cultural heritage sites to be found in the area.

“The rocky desert of the Al-Adaid area clearly supported bedouins and their grazing stock. Pre-historical use of the small islands in the khor has also been revealed.”

Elsewhere in Qatar, the northern town of Al Khor – venue for the opening match – is a relatively normal Arab fishing port, with a handsome collection of dhows and a lively fish market.

Listen to Simon Calder’s report from Qatar for the travel podcast You Should Have Been There here.

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