Things to do in Iraq

i recently returned from leading a tour in iraq with lupine travel, so thought i would post a quick blog on things to do in iraq.

martyrs monumnent, baghdad


i arrived early to wander around on my own and do some research on potential sights. 

boat ride along the tigris

my first stop was visiting one of the unfinished mosques from saddam hussein’s era.  it was supposed to be one of the largest mosques in the world and built in the style of the taj mahal, but construction halted at the start of the 2003 invasion.

saddam hussein's abandoned mosque, baghdad

it now sites in limbo since they are unable to complete it due to the cost and association with saddam.  and since it is a mosque it cannot be torn down.

save iraqi culture monument, baghdad

above is the save iraqi culture monument built in 2010 which is quite an interesting sculpture.  and below i found a random double-decker bus near the baghdad railway station. a few of the other sights i tried to get to were closed off to visitors unfortunately.  

things to do in iraq

it is no surprise that the highlight of baghdad is the iraqi national museum.  it is famous for being looted during the 2003 invasion, but it is slowly being rebuilt.  many artefacts are being shipped back to the museum for display.

iraq national museum

for a food/market vibe, head over to al-mutanabbi and al-rasheed streets for kubbah or tea at the shabander cafe.  for dessert i went to al faqma which was yum.

i love how guilt free ice cream is when you are travelling tehehe…

tahrir square

tahrir square (liberation square) is a focal point of the city and a key site for protests and celebrations over the years.

everytime i visited it had a different personality to it. sometimes it was heavily guarded to prevent protests. another time there were a series of small local groups protesting. and on friday evening after prayer it was filled with families enjoying the fountains.

baghdad cafe

i really loved the vibe in baghdad. i managed to find an irish pub called… yep… you guessed it… “irish pub”.

and a local nightclub which was an odd experience… i would describe it more as a “cabaret” than a dance club… i wasn’t allowed to take pics so i’ll leave you with this nice pic of someone making falafels.

baghdad day trips

around baghdad there are a lot of great day trips. first up was the persian era arc of ctesiphon (taq qasra). it was built between the 3rd and 6th centuries and was the largest single span brick arch at one time.

arch of ctesiphon

nearby was the modern ruins of an old hotel and museum that was also looted in 2003.  we were able to climb the tower which had great views of the area.

abandoned museum, iraq

also just outside of baghdad is the dur-kurigalzu (known locally as aqar quf).

the ziggurat of aqar quf

it is an ancient mesopotamian city from the kassite/babylonian era highlighted by the famous ziggurat.

ancient city of dur-kurigalzu

samara is a full day trip away from baghdad but worth it to see the spiral minarets.

samara is controlled by the peace brigade – an armed militia which now manages security in the area.

spiral minaret of samarra

there are (unsurprisingly) endless checkpoints, but as everywhere in iraq, there is always time to make tea.

tea time, samarra
things to do in iraq

we were not able to climb the main malwiya minaret, but we were able to climb the slightly smaller spiral minaret, abu dulaf.

spiral minaret, samarra

incredible views.

but this was honestly unconfortably terrifying. slanty stairs, wind, no rails, my poor balance… i did not enjoy it at all.

things to do in iraq


leaving baghdad we headed south to babylon.

the fake ishtar gate, babylon

the ancient city of babylon, the mythical hanging gardens, the tower of babel, the rebuilt ishtar gate… wow.

ancient babylon

the are plenty of dedicated historical websites out there, so i won’t bore you with more another one…

but it goes without saying that this area is one of the most important historic sights in the world. this was a truly epic travel day and a real highlight for me.

hanging gardens of babylon

saddam hussein’s abandoned palace

here are some pics of saddam hussein’s abandoned palace.

saddam hussein's abandoned palace

because you can never have too many pics of abandoned places

saddam hussein's abandoned palace


saddam hussein's abandoned palace
babylon palace
saddam hussein's abandoned palace

almost done…

things to do in iraq

one more…

things to do in iraq

good. that was fun. and now for something completely different.

karbala and najaf

after mecca and medina, karbala and najaf contain 2 of the holiest sites in the shia religion.

karbala, iraq

the battle of karbala is where the grandson of the prophet and his family were killed and has become an important annual pilgrimage for shia muslims.

najaf, iraq

the imam ali shrine in najaf contains the tomb of ali ibn ali talib, who was the prophets companion, cousin and son-in-law.

najaf, iraq
najaf, iraq

millions of pilgrims visit these sites each year and also seek to be buried close to the imam ali shrine, making the wadi al-salam cemetery in najaf the biggest in the world.

world's largest cemetery, iraq

leaving the area and heading south we quickly stopped in nearby nasiriyah and visited the ziggurat of ur – a famous sumerian archaeological site.

ziggurat of ur, iraq

the marshes

and now for the marshes.

lunch time in the marshes

there are so many tragic stories in iraq’s history. the marshes are no exception.

martyrs monument, the marshes

the mesopotamian marshes covered an area of 20,000 square kilometers on a flood plain between the tigris and euphrates rivers.

the marshes, iraq

this area had been occupied for over 5000 years, but in the 1950’s this was gradually reduced to make way for agricultural land and oil exploration.

the marshes, iraq

it gets worse. in the 1990’s, saddam hussein started systematically draining this unesco site as retaliation for marsh arabs uprising against him. marsh levels were reduced to less than 90% of their former levels.

the marshes, iraq

thanfully, since the end of the iraq war, the marshes have slowly started to come back. although climate change and drought the past few years have caused more issues.

the marshes, iraq

no trip to iraq should be without a visit here.


heading towards basra, you can see where the tigris and euphrates rivers meet. really cool. and nearby is the supposed tree of knowledge from the garden of eden. um ok. sure it is.

the tigris and euphrates rivers

i’m not gonna lie… i’m running out of steam here… almost done.

basra museum

in basra was a cool museum housed in saddam hussein’s palace that has been nicely renovated.

basra museum

and the newly unesco-ified basra old town is also being rebuilt.

unesco old town, basra

saddam’s abandoned yacht

and last but definitely not least…

saddam's abandoned yacht

exploring saddam hussein’s abandoned yacht…

basrah breeze
saddam's abandoned yacht

i can’t believe we made it on board. wow. what a way to end an amazing trip.

things to do in iraq
saddam's abandoned yacht
saddam's abandoned yacht

and because you made it this far… one more random bonus photo that i couldn’t leave out, but i didn’t know where to put…


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