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Book a flight to Basra with Qatar Airways and you’ll find yourself stepping into a city steeped in myth and mystery According to the stories, Basra is where the famous sailor, Sinbad, was born and where his epic adventures began. 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 very much a 21st-century city, it still retains much of its ancient charm, through its old-style houses with small balconies and wooden façades. Prepare to get pleasantly lost in the smells of brewing coffee, herbs and spices.
The canals are a major draw for visitors and are still used to transport small shipments of spice. You can hire canoes, boats and dhows to gain a view of the city from its waterways, but it’s often best to charter a piloted vessel. The canals can get busy, and may prove too stressful a challenge for the nautical novice.
The University of Basra is worth your time, if only for its eye-watering grounds. Outside, you will see vast, four-legged arches capped with minaret-like domes.
Basra itself is surrounded by what appear to be lush, green forests. But take a closer look and you’ll see that the trees are bearing fruit: dates. There are plenty of guides to take you through the date forests and you can sample this tasty treat straight from the tree. There are several types of date to be found, each one as delicious as the last.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants in the city, from fast-food outlets to fine dining experiences. But for an eminently rewarding experience, why not eat like the locals do? Amid 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 coffees and sweet, black teas, and you will often see Basra’s residents chewing on dates outside cafés as they drink and chat. Also, try the local cold drink: a mix of buttermilk, salt and water.
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 malls, your trip to Basra just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of its bazaars, which offers a 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 oil-based perfumes.
Essential facts about Basra
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip