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Iraq Travel: Everything You Need to Know in 2024

Updated: Jul 5

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I guess the first question is "WHY" Iraq? Yes, it’s not the most obvious travel destination…. with the security situation improving all over the country, there is no better time to visit one of the most historical countries in the world. Iraq is home to thousands of historic monuments, each with its own fascinating story to tell.

A bustling marketplace in Baghdad, Iraq.

While the country is still recovering from years of conflict, it's crucial to conduct thorough research and take necessary precautions for a safe visit. With proper planning, a trip to Iraq can be an incredibly memorable experience. Our personal experience was overwhelmingly positive, and we never felt unsafe or unwelcome during our journey.

Iraq is considered to be the birthplace of many of the Earth’s oldest civilizations, including the Babylonians and the Assyrians. It is home to five UNESCO world heritage sites, and tens of thousands of archaeological sites are spread all over the country. That is what this blog post will focus on, not the media rhetoric.

	Exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon
ITINERARY FOR IRAQ TRAVEL

Baghdad Babylon

Najaf

Samarra & Hatra

Mosul

Kurdistan

TABLE OF CONTENTS
FLIGHTS + VISA

We flew directly from Dubai to Baghdad, on the way back we flew from Erbil.

If you hold an Indian passport, the visa process takes three to four weeks, you need a local to assist you with the process either way. You don’t need an embassy stamp, with a pre-approval, you can get the visa issued in Baghdad when you land. It costs $350 per pax - our most expensive visa to date.


NOTE: as an Indian passport holder, you cannot directly fly into Erbil Kurdistan with this visa. You will have to enter via mainland Iraq, i.e., Baghdad, and then proceed to Kurdistan by road. However, once you’re in mainland Iraq, you are free to exit via Erbil.


LANGUAGE

The official language is Arabic, very few people speak English once you leave the city. Google translate works best.


BEST TIME TO VISIT

Similar to other Middle Eastern countries, Iraq is most enjoyable to visit during the winter months of November through March.

CURRENCY

During the trip, I primarily used dollars, but you can also exchange them for the local currency to buy small souvenirs.

GUIDE + COSTS

Traveling to Iraq can be costly, which is a fact, but the experience will definitely justify the expenses. Additionally, it is mandatory to have a guide when visiting the country with an Indian passport. Fortunately, I managed to find an excellent guide.

SOLO TRAVEL + SAFETY

One of the more pressing questions asked is: is Iraq safe for tourists in 2024? Just like in Syria, the answer is yes, for the most part, especially if you’re doing a trip through the more tourist spots. Use your best judgment. We visited both Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan, which was quite simply the highlight of our incredible trip.


WHERE WE STAYED

Most of the places we stayed at where 4* hotels and in great condition.

VEGAN + VEGETARIAN FOOD.

Finding vegetarian Iraqi food can be challenging, but you can enjoy dishes such as salads, falafel, dips, fries, and bread. Don't miss the famous prune juice.

HIGHLIGHTS
Baghdad

A really long time ago, this city was called Madinat al Salam i.e. meaning city of peace. The history of the area surrounding this city dates back to 3000 BC hosting civilizations like Akkadians, Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians. In recent times, this country has come to be known as “dangerous” - is it though? As tourists, we had no security issues during our trip and we were treated with respect, the cops often going “Hind?” “Ah Amitabh Bachchan” I would have been happier if they said Rajinikanth but oh well.

Colorful traditional Iraqi streets

Must see places:

Iraq Museum: The Iraq Museum is a cultural treasure trove that houses a vast collection of artifacts spanning thousands of years of history. Established in 1926, this museum is renowned for its rich archaeological heritage, showcasing artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of civilization.


Al Mutanabi Street: Lined with bookstores, cafes, and stalls selling a wide range of books, manuscripts, and artworks, Al Mutanabi Street is a paradise for those seeking knowledge and inspiration.


The Mustansiriyah Madrasa: a renowned educational institution known for its rich history and architectural grandeur.


Al Rashid Street: a busy street right in the middle of the city, famous for its lively vibe and wide variety of stores and restaurants.

Tahrir and Firdous Square: these are significant locations. They have been the focal points of protests, demonstrations, and movements that have shaped the course of nations. Firdous Square in Iraq witnessed the fall of a statue that symbolized a regime, marking a turning point in the country's history.

Martyrs Monument in Iraq: it stands tall as a symbol of sacrifice and remembrance in Iraq.


I fell in love with every inch of Damascus, Syria - that didn’t happen here, even though it as historic. Nevertheless, this is where you are likely to start your journey so it’s well worth a visit, and it is chock full of things to do.

Babylon

Arguably one of the most renowned locations in Iraq, Babylon, also known as the “gate of gods,” was once among the biggest cities globally. Established by the Amorites tribe, who established their own urban centers in Mesopotamia, it remains a remarkable ancient marvel of the contemporary era. Whether admiring the Ishtar gates, the tower of Babel, or witnessing the Lion of Babel, history enthusiasts will undoubtedly be captivated by this site.

Opposite the Babylon stands one of Saddam's summer palaces. Featuring interiors crafted from Lebanese Cedar wood, the main attraction is the exquisitely painted ceiling in his conference room. Envision the discussions that once took place in this space - now it remains empty and neglected, much like a deserted wilderness.


Najaf

A major center for Shiaites, Najaf is home to the Imam Ali Mosque, one of the holiest sites in the country. The city has a long history dating back to ancient times, with archaeological evidence suggesting that it has been inhabited for over 6,000 years. This is the only place in Iraq where I had to wear a burqa.


Samarra & Hatra

Two remarkable and historically important locations in Iraq. The Malwiya Minaret, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stands out as one of the most iconic landmarks in the country, providing visitors with panoramic views of the city from its top. Samarra, a former influential capital, housed one of the world's tallest minarets at 52 meters during its prime. Its architecture is believed to have drawn inspiration from the nearby Mesopotamian ziggurats, featuring a spiral walkway leading to the summit.

Hatra, located in present-day Iraq, showcases a fascinating blend of architectural styles influenced by Greco-Roman and Middle Eastern traditions. The grand temple at Hatra is a testament to the architectural prowess of ancient civilizations, characterized by its massive size and intricate details. Despite facing destruction during conflicts, similar to what occurred in Palmyra, Syria, the resilient walls of Hatra still proudly stand, serving as silent witnesses to the ancient stories and legends that these majestic pillars once echoed. This enduring resilience of Hatra's structures underscores the idea that while physical monuments may be damaged or destroyed, the spirit and legacy they embody remain unshaken, immortalizing the rich history and cultural heritage of the region.


Mosul

The city's rich history and cultural significance are highlighted through its diverse population, including Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. The city's strategic location has made it a center for trade and commerce for centuries. However, recent conflicts have left Mosul in a state of devastation, with many of its historical sites and buildings destroyed. Despite these challenges, efforts are being made to rebuild and restore Mosul's heritage


Kurdistan

Contrary to expectations, Iraqi Kurdistan is not characterized by the narratives of terror and fanatics often portrayed in the media. It stands in stark contrast to the deserts of South Iraq.

In this little slice of heaven, wildflowers bloom, quaint villages function in silence, authentic food, culture and language thrive, people live in harmony and incredible landscapes exist in abundance!

Finding serenity in a picturesque Kurdish village

Here are some of the must-see places:

Rabban Hormizd Monastery: this hillside church offers breathtaking views of the entire valley


Lalish: the holiest place of the Yazidi community, some of the friendliest people we have met!


Erbil: the capital city of Kurdistan, start at the old citadel and stroll through the bustling souqs

Rawanduz & Akre: magical mountain views, beautiful waterfalls and picturesque little towns!

Shanidar Cave: if you saw the Neanderthals show on Netflix, you will recognize this historic location!

When in Iraq, make sure to explore this wonderful destination. It's not only beautiful but also rich in history and full of unexpected delights. This is the type of place that I truly love!

Hikers trekking through the beautiful Kurdish countryside
FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite Iraq's association with war, it also holds a lesser-known reputation as the cradle of civilization. The country boasts unparalleled historical significance as the birthplace of the first laws, written language, and civilizations. You don't need to be a historian to appreciate Iraq's rich history and archaeological sites.

Creating unforgettable memories on an Iraqi adventure

Exploring Iraq is like embarking on a journey through time and diverse landscapes. From yellow sands to expansive deserts to lush green mountains, this country offers a variety of breathtaking views. Traveling through Iraq, you will encounter dramatic landscapes, charming mountain villages, and an astonishingly beautiful road trip experience. Whether it's farmlands, arid deserts, or snow-covered mountains in the north, each destination is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

I hope my words have sparked a little travel bug in you, urging you to ditch the same old boring travel spots and add this awesome destination to your must-visit list.

Leave your questions and comments below. Lots of love,

Anki

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