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Book a flight to Basra with Qatar Airways and you’ll find yourself stepping into a city that has fathered legends. According to the stories, Basra is where the famous sailor, Sinbad was born and the starting point for his epic adventures. It also bears the nickname ‘the Venice of the Middle East’, thanks to the network of canals that weave between and under the busy streets.
Although Basra is perfect for 21st Century visitors, it still retains much of its ancient charm, evident in the old-style houses with small balconies and wooden facades. You’ll also be embraced by the smells of brewing coffee and the pungent aromas of herbs and spices that make this city a feast for the senses. Take a flight to Basra with Qatar Airways and explore a city that is threaded with myth and mystery.
The canals are a major draw for anyone making a trip to Basra. They are still used to transport small shipments of spice and you can hire canoes, boats and dhows to gain a view of the city from the water. It’s often best to charter a piloted boat, as the waterways can get busy and you don’t want to get into any difficult nautical situations!
The University of Basra is well worth a visit – if only for the grounds themselves. Outside, you’ll see some astonishing structures: huge, four-legged arches capped with minaret-like domes. The university itself is strangely reminiscent of old, English buildings, such as the main buildings of Eton College.
Basra itself is surrounded by what appear to be lush, green forests. However, take a closer look and you’ll find that the trees are bearing fruit: dates. There are plenty of guides to take you through the date forests and you can sample this delicious fruit straight from the tree! There are many different varieties to be found, each one a treat for your taste buds.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants in the city, ranging from fast food diners to fine dining experiences. However, the best way to get a handle on the local culture is to eat like the locals do. Amidst the warren-like streets, you’ll find cafés and street vendors cooking up a storm and filling the air with the scents of grilling meats, bubbling stews and freshly-ground spices.
The most popular drinks are strong, earthy coffee and sweet, black tea and you’ll see locals chewing on dates outside cafés as they drink and chat. However, it’s worth trying the local cold drink: a mix of buttermilk, salt and water.
When it comes to food, keep an eye out for al-kaoub, a mix of eggs and onions, served with a radish-like herb native to the area, which has a pleasingly potato-like taste to it. Kefta is another popular dish, incorporating meat into both the pastry and the filling. The pastry is made from ground borghul rice and mashed with meat until a dough forms. The filling is typically made from lamb, cooked with garlic, almonds raisins and a herb-infused tomato sauce. Iraqis have a notoriously sweet tooth and it would be a shame to travel to Basra and not try sojok – a sweet made from nut pulp and molasses.
While there are plenty of shopping malls, your trip to Basra just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a bazaar. The bazaars here are like covered markets, but cover houses and shops, as well as providing a space for traders and stall-holders.
Stepping into one of Basra’s bazaars is to step into its past. You’ll hear the calls of traders trying to drum up custom and the babble of buyers looking to nail a bargain. Basra’s bazaars are famous for their roses and, beneath the pungent aromas of spice and coffee, you’ll smell a light, floral perfume. Roses are sold by the dozen here and the petals are used to make the purest rosewater or add scent to the oil-based perfumes on sale here.
Following a few simple guidelines will ensure your trip runs smoothly.
Women are encouraged to keep their legs, arms and chest covered.
It’s also important to keep the head covered as a sign of respect.
Flights to Basra will take you to Basra International Airport. 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 Basra please check the visa and passport requirements.
Currency: Iraqi Dinar (IQD)
Voltage: 230 V 50 Hz
Plugs: Type C / D / G
International dialing code: +964