Things to see and do in Afghanistan
Attractions in Afghanistan
Admire the resilient capital, Kabul
Since the US invasion it is estimated that one-third of Afghanistan's public buildings and roughly 40% of its houses have been destroyed. Miraculously Kabul has survived much of the carnage and there's still plenty to admire in the ancient Afghan capital. There are beautiful parks, the ancient walls of the citadel, Bala Hissar, and several newly restored museums.
Explore the recovering Kabul Museum
Though the museum's contents have been dramatically depleted over the years, the beleaguered Kabul Museum still has a good amount of artefacts on display, including Greco-Bactrian Buddha statues, and a marble basin from Kandahar often referred to as Buddha's Begging Bowl.
Gawp at the “Red City” of Shahr-i-Zohak
Take in Shahr-i-Zahak, also known as the "Red City", about 17km (11 miles) from Bamiyan. Here lies one of Afghanistan's most breath-taking ancient citadels, situated atop a cliff overlooking the intersection of the Bamiyan and Kalu rivers. The mud-brick towers rise eerily from the rock face, as though natural formations.
Hike through the Valley of Paghman
If the security situation permits it, head to the rugged Valley of Paghman, which is about 90 minutes by road from the capital. Here many of Kabul's wealthiest residents once kept second houses and you can see why – the landscape is spectacular. Today, alas, the area is somewhat quiet.
Marvel at the Hindu Kush
Take some time to explore the Hindu Kush, a wild and remote region consisting of two huge mountain ranges. Although travelling by car is possible, the steepness of the routes makes vehicles prone to breakdowns. For those who make the journey, the mountains, valleys and lakes provide stunning scenery.
Scale the Bibi Mahru Hill
It was at the top of Bibi Mahru Hill that Moghul ruler Babur first looked over Kabul. This is a popular spot for walking and for the views of the lands around. There's also an Olympic-size swimming pool atop it, but problems with pumping water up hill mean that it's rarely full.
See Afghan art in the National Gallery
Displaying a range of historic artwork and more contemporary pieces, the National Gallery in Kabul has, like the Kabul Museum, seen its fair share of destruction. However, many pieces have been salvaged, and the staff offer guided tours around the exhibitions.
Take a trip to Jalalabad
If the security situation permits, visit Jalalabad, the capital of the Nangarhar Province, which used to be a pretty winter resort, before decades of war saw it become a no-go area. Today, it is awash with cypress trees and flowering shrubs.
Visit Ka Faroshi bird market
In a little street tucked behind the Pul-e Khishti Mosque in Kabul, you'll find this market selling birds of all shapes and sizes, including kowk (fighting partridge), which are made to fight on Friday mornings with bystanders betting on the winner. Some visitors may find the kowk fights disturbing, but it remains a much-loved tradition here.
Wander around Babur's Gardens (Bagh-e Babur)
This striking and historic garden in Kabul was created under the first Mughal ruler Babur in the 1500s. Inside the high walls, visitors can explore 11 hectares (27 acres) of greenery, assorted flora, a pavilion, a marble mosque and Babur's tomb, which reads the inscription: "If there is a paradise on Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!"
Wonder at the unique Sultani Museum
Neighbouring the National Gallery in Kabul, the Sultani Museum hosts an extraordinary collection of Afghan artefacts put together by gold trader and arts dealer Ahmad Shah Sultani, who assembled most of these items while in exile in London. His museum hosts an array of early-Islamic manuscripts, precious coins, ancient pottery, woodcarvings and much more.