10 ways to make the best of your World Cup experience in Qatar

Doha has been transformed into a global cultural festival throughout the tournament

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The Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 is now well under way in Doha and has already offered a number of thrilling moments (Saudi Arabia v Argentina springs immediately to mind).

While all 32 teams, from favourites to minnows, are the stars of the show, it is the fans who are responsible for the carnival-like atmosphere. Authorities expect 1.5 million people to travel to Qatar to attend the competition, and they have put various transport and logistics measures in place to ensure a comfortable stay.

After spending a weekend in Doha to attend various World Cup matches, I offer the following 10 tips to make the best of your fan experience.

1. You need to plan ahead

With the 64 matches taking place in eight stadiums, it is important to plan how you will get around.

The sporting action and entertainment events are spread across the city, from the official fan zone in West Bay on the east coast to the Al Janoub Stadium, one of the official venues and nearly a 45-minute drive from the city centre.

So it's best to plan ahead.

Ensure the digital or physical copy of your Hayya Card (the official entry permit to Qatar) is available at all times as it ensures your entry — with your match ticket — to the stadium and free transport on the Doha Metro, tram and bus links.

Book ahead if you plan to see any attractions such as the Museum of Islamic Art (which offers hour-long time slots for visitors) or have a meal at any of the city's major restaurants, including those in Souq Waqif.

The amount of traffic, footfall and events in Doha right now is unprecedented, according to staff The National spoke to at the weekend. So I cannot stress this point enough: plan ahead.

2. Get the free sim card

Even if you are doing the average World Cup stay of three days, it is worth getting a local sim card when travelling with a group.

Sim cards are available at both Doha International Airport and Hamad International Airport, at the terminal. Some offers are generous, such as the one from provider Ooredo, which includes 2,022 local minutes and more than 2 gigabytes of local data for three days.

3. Know your transport options

This is pertinent for visitors staying in the hotels and fan villages on the outskirts of Doha.

Train transportation is free with your Hayya card, so download the Qatar Rail app and see where your nearest metro station lies within the network's three main lines.

With the service projected to accommodate 30 to 50 per cent of stadium traffic throughout the tournament, authorities have boosted the duration of the service from 6am to 3am on Sunday to Thursday and 9am to 3am on Fridays. Trains arrive in each station at an average of every three minutes.

Local blue-coloured taxis are in high demand, so it is recommended to book a car through ride-sharing apps such as Careem and Uber, in addition to local service Karwa. Be wary of unauthorised drivers who often charge exorbitant prices.

4. Dress comfortably

It’s not only the footballers who require the right shoes during the World Cup. Visitors will have no problem clocking up 10,000 steps a day in Doha.

When visiting the Australia versus Tunisia game on Saturday, we walked nearly a kilometre from the metro station to our seats inside the Al Janoub Stadium.

Adding my post-match walk out of the venue and an evening stroll in Souq Waqif that evening, I registered 18,000 steps spanning 11km.

With the daytime weather averaging in the late 20 degrees, it is also recommended to wear light and loose-fitting clothes. While it’s great to support your country, remember that many football jerseys are made from heat-trapping polyester and nylon fabric that can make you extra sweaty.

Carry a cotton T-shirt with you to wear post-match.

5. Arrive early for the big match

The action begins before kick-off. Get to the stadium two hours before the game and enjoy the on-site festivities such as DJ performances, food and beverage stations, and engage with the various passionate fans on site.

The official pre-match show begins 30 minutes prior and generally includes DJ sets, singer performances and pyrotechnic displays.

6. Carry cash or a Visa card on match day

The World Cup is as much a commercial event as it is a sporting enterprise and services offered on-site often reflect sponsorship agreements. While credit cards are widely accepted around Qatar, the official stadiums only accept Visa cards.

If you don’t use the service, it’s best to withdraw money from an ATM before arrival, as all on-site cash machines are also limited to Visa card holders.

Food and beverage options include hot dogs (25 Qatari riyals, which is about $6.8), veggie rolls (25 riyals) and various cheese, spinach and meat pastries for 15 riyals. Soft drinks are 15 riyals and bottles of water are 10 riyals each.

7. Know where the big games are being screened

The Fifa Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park, with a daily capacity of 40,000 people, is the only large venue where you can watch the matches free with your Hayya Card.

People at the Fifa Fan Festival in Al Bidda Park, Doha. Reuters

That said, Doha is full of options to watch football in a communal setting, such as the Hayya Fan Zone at the Lusail South Promenade for 50 riyals and Fanzone by Inca, a rooftop terrace at The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, for 100 riyals.

The swankiest spot in town is the Fan Arena at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha, where you can see one match within a lavish outdoor garden setting and enjoy a buffet meal for (an admittedly eye-watering) 750 riyals.

For those on a budget, a select number of smaller restaurants are broadcasting the matches. The gourmet Go Home Cafe in the central district of Musheireb and the American-styled diner Public House at The Pearl are showing most games for free with the purchase of any menu item.

8. Enjoy the post-match atmosphere at Souq Waqif

Your day shouldn’t end with the blowing of the final whistle inside the stadium. The popular outdoor leisure district Souq Waqif has become an unofficial fan zone throughout the tournament.

Visitors walk at the Souq Waqif Market. AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko

With a major metro station nearby, thousands of colourful fans — waving flags, blowing horns and sometimes carrying portable speakers blaring songs — descend on the landmark to continue victorious chants, dance and for post-match debrief sessions over dinner.

Popular Levant restaurant Le Gourmet and seafood venue Al Bandar are ideal places to sample the vibes in an al fresco setting.

9. The police are there to help

This is a tip I received from a couple of visitors and taxi drivers.

Qatar police clad in black (stadium security) and light blue (Public Transport Security and Traffic Patrol) are prevalent throughout the city, and have been extremely helpful in assisting international tourists, including providing directions and Arabic translation with Uber and taxi drivers.

10. Smile, you are at the World Cup!

The World Cup is both a sporting event and a global cultural festival.

It is also a rare moment to see many international fans in one city for a limited amount of time. So be open. Step outside your comfort zone and exchange your experiences with others, even if some things are lost in translation.

On my first day in Doha, I saw connections form between rival fans inside and outside the stadium, in addition to nationals flocking from all over the world to celebrate their heritage through song, food and dance.

It is these moments that will stay with you long after the final ball is kicked.

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Updated: November 30, 2022, 1:59 PM