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Book a flight to Erbil and you’ll be visiting a city that is set to become the one of the most popular tourist hotspots in the Middle East. However, Erbil is only just coming onto the radar, so booking now will give you the chance to explore the city before it’s flooded with visitors. The city is a vibrant fusion of ancient tradition and rapid redevelopment.
Set against a dramatic, mountainous backdrop you’ll find a city blossoming with ancient, sweeping minarets and tall, pristine, contemporary buildings. You can catch flights to Erbil with Qatar Airways, allowing you to soak up authentic Kurdish tradition and enjoy the best of a city that is looking firmly forward.
The Erbil Citadel is reason enough on its own to take a trip to Erbil. It’s a living, breathing archaeological wonder that is thought to date back at least 8,000 years. Inside, you’ll find a complex system of tight alleyways and buildings fronted with rows of rolling arches. Beautiful wooden doors and staggering statues add an air of magic to the whole, high-walled sight. UNESCO is currently restoring this evocative fortress-style maze to make it a World Heritage Site.
You’ll find the Choly Minaret in the west of Erbil, close to the Minare Park. More than 22metres high, this is Erbil’s most famous landmark, having been built somewhere between 1190 and 1232. Its unique appearance is largely down to the baked bricks that were used in its construction, but it still bears much of its original, intricate detail, with beautiful examples of Kufi calligraphy etched into the walls.
Korek Mountain is one of the most beautiful natural sights in the region and although it’s a couple of hours from the city, is well worth a visit. Before you get to the mountain itself, you’ll travel through Gully Abi Beg, a huge, yawning canyon, and beautiful cascading waterfalls. You’ll get some of your best views from the cable-car journey to the top, but the summit of the mountain offers a panorama that has to be seen to be believed.
If you want to enjoy some leisure time on your trip to Erbil, then make sure you pay a visit to Sami Abdulrahman Park – a stunning oasis of greenery, flecked with roses, beautiful trees and pocked with sublime, tranquil lakes. It’s a popular place with the locals who come here to exercise or picnic with their families.
A great way to get to grips with any culture is to explore its artistic scene. The Shanidar Art Gallery is the city’s oldest exhibition space and impressive enough in itself. The art gives a great insight into local perspective and there are often a few truly breath-taking pieces to be found in the collections. There are also opportunities to meet local artists and discuss their works.
If you really want to take in Erbil and its surroundings, take a visit to the Shinglbana. This is a fifty-carriage railway that follows a sweeping, curving path through the Bradost, Korak, Zozak and Hendren mountains, giving you spectacular views of the region, including Bekhal and the Rawaduz Valley.
Park Minara is located at Halabja Street opposite the Central Bank of the Region in Erbil, and was named after the archaeological lighthouse of Erbil (“Minara” means “lighthouse), which now occupies one corner of the park. Situated almost at the heart of the city, the park contains a theatre on the west side of the park, with a capacity of five thousand, making it an important entertainment venue. The park also contains a cafeteria and plenty of places to simply sit and relax, while the world goes by!
Further out, Korek Telerific is located near the town of Soran, north of Erbil. It is 8 kilometres long and 75 meters high. Korek Mountain already has a huge tourist complex, which stretches for 110 kilometres and contains restaurants, cafés, and motels, as well as an amusement park.
The food you’ll experience on your trip to Erbil is best described as traditional Kurdish cuisine. Sweet, black tea and strong, earthy coffee are the drinks of choice, although it’s well worth trying mastow – a traditional drink of yoghurt, salt and water.
When it comes to food, there are plenty of street vendors filling the air with the pungent aromas of grilling meats and toasting spices. This is the best way to sample the local fare and you’ll find yourself enjoying meals such as meat and vegetable kuki pies, spiced spinach served with eggs and tashreeb, a meal of flatbread in a sauce of onions, green peppers, tomatoes and chillies. While there’s plenty for vegetarians, there’s also more than enough for meat-eaters, such as birinç, a meal of lamb cooked with fresh herbs and served with rice.
Travel to Erbil and you’ll find impressive, modern malls springing up all over the place. If you’re after branded goods, these are the places to go. However, no trip to Erbil would be complete without a visit to the Central Souk. Narrow shops bristle with buyers and the air practically bubbles with the cries of traders looking to attract custom.
Although you won’t find designer goods here, you will find shimmering cloths, hand-woven carpets and plenty of jewellery. This souk has an alley dedicated to cheese and the smell is only just dampened by those from the spices and incense that are so popular. The most popular buy from this souk has to be Manna bread, which is served in flat, dough-like rounds, dusted with flour and neither sweet nor savoury.
Following a few simple guidelines and customs will ensure your trip is problem-free. Erbil is a mainly Muslim city and has specific observances that pertain to the religion.
Women can dress in modern clothes, but it is advised to avoid anything to tight or revealing, and to dress modestly, especially when visiting holy sites.
Flights to Erbil will take you to Erbil International Airport, where there are plenty of taxis available and good car-hire facilities.
Visa restrictions for entry into the country will depend on your country of origin, length of stay and whether your trip is for business or pleasure. So before you fly to Erbil please check the visa and passport requirements.
Currency: Iraqi Dinar (IQD)
Voltage: 230 V 50 Hz
Plugs: Type C / D/ G
Language: Arabic / Kurdish
International dialing code: +964