Qatar World Cup fan village review: What the budget-friendly accommodation is really like

The portacabins offer limited options but the area has a great atmosphere

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The eyes of the world are on World Cup host nation Qatar.

With the much-loved tournament under way until December 18, football fans are flying into Doha to check out the sporting action and carnival atmosphere associated with it.

As a result, authorities have created various fan villages to accommodate those travelling on a budget.

I visited one of these sites, the Fan Village Cabins Free Zone, as a paying guest for three nights, to see what's in store.

The welcome

Qatar has been preparing for the World Cup for the best part of a decade, hence the airport arrival is pleasingly streamlined.

With the country expecting 1.5 million visitors throughout the tournament, the decommissioned Doha International Airport is back online to primarily accommodate the arrival of regional carriers.

Fully staffed passport control counters ensure I am on the concourse within 20 minutes and taxis are available outside.

With the fan villages recently built and dotted around the outskirts of the city, don’t expect taxi drivers to immediately recognise the address.

Wi-Fi is available in all taxis, though, so have the hotel’s Google Maps co-ordinates on hand for a hassle-free ride.

My Uber journey to The Fan Village Cabins Free Zone took 25 minutes at a cost of 60 Qatari riyals ($16).

The neighbourhood

The official accommodation document states the village is located in Ras Bu Fontas, an area not officially designated as a suburb or district.

Instead, the reference is to Ras Bu Fontas metro station in Al Wakrah Municipality, south of the city.

The village is strategically built on vast empty land adjacent to the station to facilitate fan journeys to football stadiums.

The elevated silver station is the only recognisable landmark, with the exception of the nearby G Ring Road, which offers a constant hum of traffic throughout the evening.

The fan village is a vast constellation of endless shipping containers separated by single-lane thoroughfares and roundabouts.

While no official numbers are available regarding the size and scope of the site, each section is categorised alphabetically with some portacabins rendered in different colours.

My cabin is located in Area K, a quiet strip of peach-coloured containers that's a seven-minute walk from the reception.

The room

The tight space accommodates two travellers with single beds only on offer. Saeed Saeed / The National

The aim of the game is to watch the World Cup and the room facilitates that goal in a basic fashion.

Designed for two people, the tight space comes with single beds, a small drawer for belongings, two power sockets, USB ports and lamps.

The cupboard is large enough to store shoes and hang half a dozen items. A small study desk is tucked away in a corner.

The bathroom has a toilet (with portable bidet) and a decent-pressure shower spraying lukewarm water.

A kettle and two mugs, plus a coffee sachet and tea stand sit on top of a mini-fridge beside the wall. Two small bottles of water are available upon check-in, and are not replenished.

A weekly room cleaning service is on offer for long-term tenants. All cabins follow the same layout, and no double bed options are available.

The service

According to staff, the first days of the World Cup were chaotic in the The Fan Village Cabins Free Zone, with rooms not available for hours past the 3pm check-in times.

This has been rectified, with staff patrolling the site to ensure visitors vacate the rooms by noon. Check-in counters are spread across the site.

Since I arrived early I was ushered into a huge tent functioning as a storage facility. It is immediately apparent that staff numbers are inadequate for such a large site.

While the check-in procedure is straightforward, I had to take a photo of a map in order to find my accommodation on foot.

Free internet is available, but barely functioning during the peak breakfast and evening period. There are no phones in the room and no numbers available to contact reception.

While scarce and often harried, the multilingual staff are friendly and courteous at all times.

The food

The breakfast buffet items are particularly limited. Saeed Saeed / The National

Various options are available during different parts of the day.

The village has several mess halls around the site serving a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, the simple selections on offer don't match the steep price of 85 Qatari riyals.

Breakfast, for example, features made-to-order omelettes and pancakes, baked beans, sausages and a small salad bar.

While coffee machines are available, no juices or fresh milk is on offer and bottled water is at room temperature.

A selection of curries and pastas are the only main additions to lunch and dinner.

The culinary offering is much better at the centre of the village, where more than a dozen food trucks are available from lunchtime into the late evening, offering everything from pizza slices to burgers, shawarmas and falafel sandwiches, ranging from 25 to 45 Qatari riyals.

A 24-hour supermarket on site also has baked goods including zaatar pastries and croissants.

The scene

The Fan Village really comes to life in the evenings with food trucks lining the paths. Saeed Saeed / The National

The village can seem rudimental and isolating in the harsh light of day with the total lack of social atmosphere.

However, this completely transforms in the evening when thousands of fans flock into the viewing area to watch the match on a large screen.

The vibe of the thrilling Brazil versus Uruguay game on Monday night was better than the official fan zone located in Al Bidda Park.

Combined with the food and coffee trucks, the picnic spots and the arrival of chanting fans from various football stadiums, the fan village takes on the spirit of a music festival.

With everyone travelling to see the football, the atmosphere is friendly and it is easy to strike up conversations and share your World Cup experience.

It is moments like these when the fan village truly lives up to its name.

Highs and lows

Not even the most basic of accommodation can tarnish the highs of attending the first World Cup in the Middle East and North Africa.

The enthusiasm of the fans and the shared joy and agony of seeing their favourite teams compete on the big screen at the village is a memorable experience.

Try to ignore the obscenely high volume of noise the air conditioner produces in the cabin. If you can’t bear the heat, bring earplugs along with you to Doha.

The insider tip

Train transportation is free with your Hayya Card, the official entry permit for visitors during the World Cup.

Download the Qatar Rail app, consult the timetable and plan your journey well in advance.

It is recommended that you head to your football match about two-and-a-half hours before kick-off due to heavy footfall and road closures.

The verdict

While it doesn't provide the most relaxing of stays, the Fan Village Cabins Free Zone does the job if you plan to experience the Qatar World Cup on a relatively low budget.

However, the lack of staff, amenities and dodgy internet connection makes it suitable for a maximum of three days.

The bottom line

Room rates start from 740 Qatari riyals ($203) per night, excluding meals. Check-in is from 3pm and check-out is at noon. Bookings can only be made with a Hayya card.

More information is available at qatar2022.qa

Scroll through the gallery below to see photos from day nine of the Qatar World Cup

Updated: November 29, 2022, 10:21 AM