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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.
Fly to Erbiland soak up authentic Kurdish culture, while enjoying a city that is looking firmly forward.
The Citadel is the ideal first stop on your trip to Erbil. . This archaeological marvel is thought to date back more than 7,000 years and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2014. Within, you will navigate a complex system of tight alleyways and buildings fronted with rows of rolling arches. Beautiful wooden doors and staggeringly beautiful statues add an air of legend.
In the west of Erbil, close to Minare Park, stands the Choly Minaret. More than 22 metres tall, this is Erbil’s most famous landmark, and was built somewhere between 1190 and 1232. Its striking appearance is due to the baked bricks that were used in its construction, but it retains much of its original, intricate detail, with exquisite examples of Kufi calligraphy etched into its walls.
Korek Mountain is one the region’s most beautiful natural formations and although it lies a couple of hours from the city, it is well worth a visit. Before you get to the mountain itself, you will travel through the yawning canyon of Gully Abi Beg, and some beautiful waterfalls. You will get some of your best views from the cable-car journey to the top, but the summit of the mountain offers a panorama that defies poetry.
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, gorgeous trees, and sublime, tranquil lakes. It’s a popular place with Erbil’s inhabitants who come here to exercise or picnic with their families.
If you are an admirer of art, Shanidar Art Gallery, the city’s oldest exhibition space, is to be recommended. Its exhibited works give subtle insight into regional life and some breathtaking pieces are on display. There are also opportunities to meet local artists, who are only too happy to discuss their work.
For a spectacular perspective on the region, pay a visit to Rawanduz, 90 minutes’ drive from Erbil, for a journey on the Shinglbana. This is a 50-carriage train that follows a sweeping, curving path through the Bradost, Korek, Zozig and Hendren mountains, giving you spectacular views of the region, including Bekhal Waterfall and the Rawanduz Valley.
Back in Erbil, visit Park Minara, named after the city’s archaeological lighthouse (“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 its west side, with a capacity of 5,000, making it an important entertainment venue. The park also contains a cafeteria and plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by.
Further out, Korek Teleferic is located near the town of Soran, north of Erbil. It is an 8km long, 75m high cable car system that will transport you around Korek Mountain. The mountain is home to a vast tourist complex, stretching for 110km and containing restaurants, cafés, motels and an amusement park.
The food you’ll experience on your trip to Erbil’s cuisine takes its lead from traditional Kurdish refreshments. Sweet, black tea and strong, earthy coffee are the drinks of choice, but be sure to try mastow – a traditional drink of yoghurt, salt and water.
You will see plenty of street vendors filling the air with the mouth-watering aromas of grilling meats and toasting spices. This is the best way to sample the local fare, and you can enjoy such dishes 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, which is lamb cooked with fresh herbs and served with rice.
Modern malls are springing up across Erbil. If you are after branded goods, these are the places to go. However, a trip to Erbil without a visit to the Central Souq would be a visit wasted. Narrow shops bristle with buyers and the air reverberates with the cries of traders hungry for business.
Although you won’t find designer goods here, there are shimmering cloths, hand-woven carpets and plenty of jewellery. This souq has an alley dedicated to cheese, and its smell is only just dampened by those from spices and incense. The most popular buy from this souq has to be manna bread, which is served in flat, dough-like rounds, dusted with flour.
Essential facts about Erbil
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip