The bustling city of Doha nestled against the Persian Gulf

Russia and Qatar won bids to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup football tournaments respectively amid much controversy. World Travel Guide investigates what these largely unknown host nations have to offer.

Both countries face massive hurdles in hosting the upcoming World Cup games. Russia’s vast size presents a challenge for travelling fans but organisers have said matches will mainly be played in cities located in the west. Plans to upgrade airports, build hotels and improve rail links will certainly help to quash some concerns, while the promise of free public transportation and crucially, the scrapping of visa fees, are intended to lure fans.

Qatar will also be under a lot of pressure as the first-ever Middle Eastern country to host a World Cup tournament. With the games due to be scheduled during the two hottest months of the year when temperatures can soar to 50°C (122°F), the emphasis is on building nine new climate-controlled stadia. The oil-rich Gulf state will also splash out on a new metro system linking all 12 venues and more hotels. However, how the country’s conservative roots will sit with the inevitable demand for alcohol among spectators may not be as easily resolved.

World Travel Guide rounds up some of the key World Cup host cities in Russia and Qatar:

Moscow: Cartoon BuildingMoscow: Red Square

Russia World Cup: Moscow

The most well-known of Russia’s 13 host cities, Moscow is the country’s capital and the centre of its history, culture and politics. Luxurious, creative, sophisticated and contemporary are all words that can be applied to Moscow as more and more abandoned factories and warehouses are converted into art galleries or underground clubs. Culture vultures will relish attractions such as The Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, the Kremlin, Annunciation Cathedral and St Basil Cathedral. Its cosmopolitan nightlife enshrines everything from wine and coffee bars to upmarket clubs. But all this comes at a price; Moscow is one of the world’s most expensive cities.

St Petersburg Canal ViewView from St Petersburg canal
Creative Commons / ezioman

Russia World Cup: St Petersburg

Russia’s imperial city is a beguiling visual feast. Dubbed the ‘Venice of the North’, thanks to its palace-lined waterways, St Petersburg is as rich in heritage as it is in beauty; it boasts UNESCO World Heritage status. The Grand Palace of Peterhof and St Isaac’s Cathedral are two of the most architecturally impressive sights, while the world-famous Hermitage is a must for art buffs. If you’re in search of the great outdoors, head north to the Kirovsky Islands where picnics in the park, walks along leafy avenues and boating on the lakes are available.

Yekaterinburg Iset RiverMake the trip to Yekaterinburg at the base of the Ural Mountains
Creative Commons / andrijbulba

Russia World Cup: Yekaterinburg

Straddling Europe and Asia and at the foot of the Ural Mountains, Yekaterinburg is well off the beaten track. However, the city is endowed with museums, theatres and dance companies, making it something of a cultural gem. Two attractions include the Yekaterinburg War Memorial, which commemorates the Afghanistan and First Chechen War, and the city’s geology museum which charts the extensive mineral wealth of the nearby Urals. The mountains themselves are a boon for adrenaline-seekers offering opportunities to trek, raft and horseback ride.

Kaliningrad Cathedral Kaliningrad's architecture impresses, despite its history of destruction
Creative Commons / vitalyzator

Russia World Cup: Kaliningrad

The Russian Baltic seaport of Kaliningrad has a long history of destruction since it was founded in the 13th century, but its rebuilding efforts have made it one of Europe’s most intriguing cities. Blessed with beaches and a thriving amber industry, it is a well-established tourist destination. Be sure to visit the Curonian Spit, a 98km-long (61 miles) sand dune peninsula and a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to prehistoric times. In the city itself, King’s Gate, one of six former gates that were built as defensive barriers in the 19th century, and Kaliningrad’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, are dominant landmarks.

Qatar World Cup: Doha

Doha suffers from the unenviable reputation as one of the world’s most boring capitals. However gargantuan, flashy building projects in recent years are helping to overcome this image, while the city’s attractions - encompassing museums, beaches, buzzing markets and diverse restaurants – cannot be ignored. Fans should check out the Qatar National Museum to learn about the country’s history; explore Souk Waqif, a market offering everything from jewellery to spices; take to the water for a fishing expedition or head into the desert for a 4-wheel drive adventure.

Al-Khor beach The picturesque village of Al-Khor
Creative Commons / currybet

Qatar World Cup: Al-Khor

Picturesque Al Khor is around 50km (30 miles) from Doha on the northeast coast. Attractions are thin on the ground but there’s a fish market where you can see boats bring in the daily catch, a museum where you can learn about the area’s history and culture, beaches and mangrove swamps, popular with birdwatchers. These swamps offer opportunities to see jewelled kingfishers and pink flamingoes.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.