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Take a flight to Sulaymaniyah and you’ll be visiting a city that, by Iraqi standards, is considered to be very young. Having said that, it is almost 300 years old, which gives you an idea of the history and heritage to be unearthed in the region. It is considered to be Iraq’s cultural capital and among the narrow streets you’ll find plenty of evidence from gatherings of poets and writers to public philosophical events.
The city itself is a peculiar mish-mash of older and more modern buildings, which gives it a slightly rag-tag, yet utterly charming appearance. The other thing you’ll notice is that Sulaymaniyah always seems to be incredibly busy. Whether it’s crowds of hagglers in the souks or families enjoying some time together, there always seems to be something going on. Take a Flight to Sulaymaniyah and explore one of the hidden gems of the Middle East.
The Slemani Museum is well worth a visit, if you really want to get a taste of this city’s cultural heritage. From the outside, the building could easily be mistaken for a large shop but, once inside, you’ll uncover a wealth of treasures that date back far longer than the city itself. It boasts the second-largest collection of historical artefacts to be found in Iraq, some of them from the Palaeolithic era.
The Great Mosque is another must-see for any trip to Sulaymaniyah. Again, appearances can be deceptive. From the outside it doesn’t look particularly spectacular or even that old, but once inside you’ll be greeted with ornate tiling, powerful pillars and stunning friezes on the wall. Bear in mind that this is a functioning religious centre and one that non-Muslims are rarely, if ever, permitted to enter.
The thing that tends to bypass most reviews about the city is the number of huge parks here – perfect for relaxing in on your trip to Sulaymaniyah. Azadi Park is Iraq’s answer to New York’s Central Park, a rolling sea of lush greenery, speckled with fragrant roses and swaying palm trees. The park is divided into beautifully maintained gardens and there are even play areas for children, along with cafes and restaurants. A small lake in the middle is a perfect spot for a picnic.
Sarchnar Park is another beautiful spot to relax with your family and there more here for families who travel to Sulaymaniyah with children in tow. Although it’s not a theme park, you will find a Ferris wheel offering spectacular views of this surprising oasis, a small amusement park and a mini-zoo with plenty of animals for children to look at, with opportunities to pet the goats!If you prefer to simply relax in some tranquil surroundings then Dukan Lake is one of the most popular picnic sites in the area, particularly during spring and summer. It is the largest lake in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Alternatively, head for Chafi Land, one of the largest tourist attractions in the Sulaymaniyah and Kurdistan Region. This city was built on the heights of Mount Koizh area, and covers approximately 750,000 square metres.
Iraqi cuisine is astonishingly healthy, with vegetables and grains playing a huge part in the diet. Wander the streets and your senses will be seduced by the smells of grilling meat, bubbling stews and baking bread. The drinks of choice are sweet, black tea or strong, rich coffee, which is often served with a bowl of dates to cut through the bitterness.
However, you can’t take a trip to Sulaymaniyah and not sample the local fare. Look out for street vendors selling sweet carrot fritters, sautéed potatoes served with a red pepper sauce and lamb stews served with thyme-infused dumplings to soak up the juices.
While there might not appear to be an awful lot of recreational activities on offer, there is one pastime that will sharpen your senses and get your blood pumping: shopping.
There are plenty of impressive malls springing up within the city wall but, for the best shopping experience and the opportunity to pick up something unique, head on down to the Central Souk. It’s not hard to find, as practically every road seems to arrive there!
Inside, you’ll experience narrow, bustling alleyways that are bursting with sights, sounds and smells. The Central Souk is a haven for hagglers, whether you’re after a beautifully embroidered rug, an ornate prayer mat or samples of hand-crafted jewellery. There are perfumes on sale which use oil instead of alcohol as their base and local herbs and flowers instead of chemicals. The whole experience is wonderfully noisy, exciting and perfumed by the smells of spices, coffee and baking bread.
Essential facts about Sulaymaniyah
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip