Things to see and do in Iraq
Attractions in Iraq
Admire the Al-Kadhimiya Mosque
Marvel at the elaborate Al-Kadhimiya Mosque in Baghdad – one of the most important religious shrines in Iraq. This spectacular building has four gold-coated minarets and two domes. The current building dates back to the Ottomans in 1515 AD, although the original shrine is dated to the 8th century. Unfortunately, in recent years the site has been the target of numerous terrorist attacks.
Be amazed by the Islamic architecture of Karbala
Join the pilgrims travelling to Karbala, 100 km south of Baghdad. It's the spiritual home of Shi'ia Muslims who make pilgrimages to the impressive mosque housing the shrine of Hussein. The monuments there are amongst some of the finest in the Islamic world.
Be in awe of the ancient city of Ur
The ancient Sumerian city of Ur is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Iraq, with its earliest buildings dating back to around 21st century BC. Archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of the Great Ziggurat, one of the most breath-taking structures of the ancient world.
Cruise through The Marshes
The Marshes are situated along the Shatt El-Arab waterway and are best explored by boat to experience the locals who live on man-made islands in beautiful dwellings woven in latticework from reeds.
Enter the Kurdistan capital of Erbil
Erbil is the capital and seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq. In strolling the city, you will be treading in the footsteps of Alexander the Great who defeated Darius III in the battle of Gaugamela here. The Erbil Museum marks this battle and houses a collection of Sumerian and Abbasid artefacts.
Explore Iraq's past at the National Museum
The Iraq National Museum finally reopened in 2015 after 12 years of not being opened due to a looting during the US invasions. The wealth of archaeological artefacts brings the ancient world of the Babylon to life, and is almost unrivalled in the region.
Explore the pretty canals of Basra
Once called the "Venice of the East", Basra's canals are lined with elegant 19th-century houses. Have a stroll on the lush island across from the Shatt Al-Arab Hotel where families picnic Basra remains the main seaport for large commercial ships and tankers as well as traditional dhows.
Explore the ruins of Babylon
An hour south of Baghdad is the historical site of Babylon and its legendary Hanging Gardens. Dating back to around 2300 BC, Babylon was a political and religious centre over several successive empires, the peak of which was the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. Unfortunately, not much remains of the glorious palaces and temples of ancient Babylon.
Haggle in the Baghdad Bazaars
After being a no-go area for some years, the famous city bazaars have started to come to life again. Head to the colourful bird market Souk al-Ghazal and observe the famed pigeon fanciers buy birds, exchange tips and relax at local cafés.
Marvel at the Arch of Ctesiphon
Sitting east of Baghdad along the Tigris River, the Arch of Ctesiphon is built of mud brick and is probably the most spectacular archaeological remnant of a city that was captured variously through the century by the Romans, Byzantine Empire, Parthians and Sassanians. Erected in the 6th century, it was a remarkable feat of engineering for its time.
Relax in the Kurdish mountains
The foothills and mountains ring every town in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the spring and summer they are cool and beautiful places to escape the heat and dust of the towns. In the new Korek Mountain Resort, it's even possible to go skiing.
Sample Baghdad's glory days at Abbasid Palace
Overlooking the Tigris River, the Abbasid Palace is one of the finest surviving examples of 13th century Baghdad. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, representing a period when Baghdad was a centre of education as well as trade.
See Assyrian bas-reliefs in Ninevah
If Mosul becomes accessible once more, it's essential to visit the bas-reliefs of Ninevah, the third capital of Assyria. Located on the Tigris River in the suburbs of modern Mosul, Nineveh was a centre of worship for the goddess Ishtar, an Assyrian capital and reached its height around 700 BC.
See the golden dome of Najaf
Najaf - air distance is about 146km; driving distance is about 190km - south of Baghdad, is another of the Shi'ia holy cities and famous for the mosque of Al-Haidariya, crowned with a resplendent golden dome made of gold tiles and minarets each made of 40,000 gold tiles. There are few more stunning sights in the Middle East.
See the pre-Islamic wonders of Mosul
At the time of writing, Mosul is under the control of Islamic State, but if the town becomes accessible again, you can visit the ruined city of Nineveh, while many pre-Islamic artefacts can be found in the Mosul Museum. Wander through the old city and explore mosques, churches and castles. The centre of town is famous for narrow streets of beautiful 19th century houses.
Visit The Green Zone
Don't miss visiting the vast fortified zone in the centre of Baghdad. You'll find various Iraqi government ministries in this heavily guarded area, as well as Western embassies and several ostentatious palaces, notably the Republican Palace, built by Saddam and his family.
Wander the early Islamic ruins of Samarra
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007 due to its well-preserved ruins and history, Samarra represented the power of the vast Abbasid Empire. The 9th century Great Mosque and minaret are some of the most impressive early Islamic ruins in Iraq.
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