If you are wanting to travel to Iraq, you have probably heard many voices warning you against it. However, the more adventurous explorers still wish to see the Cradle of Civilization for themselves. Even while war, corruption, and the social and political landscape in Iraq remain topics in news around the world, travelers are walking the streets of Iraq seeing what the country is really like for themselves.
As always, we are usually forced to paint images in our minds about what a destination is like based on what we see and hear in the news. It can be scary to brave the unknown. It can be scary to dare to put your feet on the ground in a place you are told you should not go.
Unfortunately, like most countries in the world, the negatives of Iraq are spoken about more than the positives. While you still see images of instability on your screen, the people of Iraq are celebrating graduations, marriages, and victories. While you are watching reporters speaking from carefully chosen locations in places like Mosul where you can conveniently only see destruction, Iraqis are dancing, laughing, and of course, welcoming visitors with open arms.
How To Travel To Iraq | Your Exhaustive Iraq Travel Guide
We’ll discuss safety, transportation, money and budget, accommodation, what to wear, what to expect in different cities, and more Iraq travel information in this guide.
It will cover all of the Republic of Iraq, both Iraqi Kurdistan and southern Iraq. This way, you will be equipped with everything you need to know so you can feel like an Iraq travel pro!
Facts About Iraq
Before we go further, here are some facts about Iraq. Some you need to know and some to impress your friends.
Kurdistan Language: Kurdish
Currency: Iraqi Dinar
Bordering Countries of Iraq: Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudia Arabia, and Kuwait
Total Population: Approx. 40.6 million
Kurdistan Capital: Erbil
Historical Name: In ancient times, Iraq was called Mesopotamia, meaning land between the rivers.
Tipping: Not required
Tallest Building: Central Bank of Iraq, 564 feet/171.9 meters
Major Cities: Baghdad, Mosul, Erbil, Nasiriyah, Basrah
GDP Rating: #52
Major Exports: petroleum, gold
Main Industries: petroleum, chemicals, textiles, leather, construction materials
National Day: National Iraqi Day, October 3rd, independence from Britain
Iraqi Kurdistan & Southern Iraq
The Republic of Iraq has an area in the north, Kurdistan, that is an autonomous region. Here, they speak Kurdish and they have their own government, military, borders, and flag. Kurdistan has four major governates, Duhok, Halabja, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah.
The distinction between Kurdistan and Iraq can get tricky, depending on who you are talking to. You will hear it referred to as Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region, and simply Kurdistan. It is recognized by the constitution of Iraq as an autonomous zone, but individuals may feel differently about its legitimacy.
If you travel in both Kurdistan and southern Iraq, you will notice a clear difference between the two areas. The capital city of Kurdistan, Erbil, is much like a western city, while Baghdad is further away in similarity to western cities.
Iraqi Fun Fact #1: The earliest form of writing, cuneiform, began in Iraq by the Sumerians.
- a passport valid for at least six months
- an Iraq visa (for majority of countries)
- a hotel confirmation letter (possibly)
As of March 15 2021, more than 30 countries can receive a visa on arrival. This makes traveling to Iraq all the easier! The visa on arrival for Iraq covers citizens of the United States, France, UK, Germany, Ireland, South Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland, and others.
If you are taking advantage of the visa on arrival, you may be asked to show proof of a hotel reservation. You may not be asked for this, but it’s a good idea to have the confirmation printed and with you when you arrive.
To get your visa on arrival, you simply deboard the plane and walk to the visa desk. You will be required to fill out a simple form. (Shouldn’t take you more than five minutes.) You will turn in the form with your passport and wait for the visa to be processed; you can expect to wait for up to thirty minutes.
Then, when your name is called you will pay for the visa and have your passport returned to you with your fancy new Iraq visa inside. The visa costs around $70-$80 USD and this must be paid in cash.
For Americans looking for further information about entry requirements, click here.
How to get to Iraq
When you travel to Iraq, there are many international airports in the country that you can fly into, but most likely you will be flying in and out of one of these two.
- Baghdad International Airport
- Erbil International Ariport
Both airports have everything you need and are easy to navigate.
Most flights from the U.S. will connect in Istanbul or Doha. There are many flights flying into Baghdad via Turkish Airlines. For cheaper options, Pegasus Airlines is where it’s at.
It’s important to note that if you plan on only visiting Kurdistan, then you can arrive at Erbil International and get your visa there if you are from a country that will need a visa for the region. However, if you plan on traveling outside of Kurdistan as well, it’s best to fly into Baghdad and start your travels in southern Iraq. The visa you get in Baghdad will be accepted for travel in the south of Iraq and in Kurdistan, but it doesn’t work the other way around.
A quick note, if you plan on leaving Iraq from Erbil International Airport, you should expect a unique entry process to the airport. You will first approach a security point outside the airport where you will have to get out of the vehicle.
The doors, hood, and trunk of the vehicle will need to be opened for inspection, and then you will walk into one of the inspection rooms where you will be scanned with a metal detector and patted down.
If you have a purse or backpack on you when you go into the inspection rooms, they will search that as well. It would be best to just leave anything you have in the vehicle so that this process goes as quickly as possible.
Then, you can drive up to the airport building. Once inside, you will go through security and then you can go out the back of the building and wait for the shuttle. The shuttle will take you to the terminal building where you will go through passport control and board your flight.
Is it safe to travel to Iraq from the USA?
If you’re wanting to travel to Iraq from the USA you’re probably wondering if it’s safe. The two countries have had quite a marred history. However, today they consider themselves to be partners. As far as getting into the country as an American, yes it’s safe and the visa on arrival process makes it easy as well.
My experience traveling to Iraq from the USA:
I flew from San Fransisco to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Baghdad all on Turkish Airlines. For my flight from San Fransisco to Istanbul, the process was uneventful.
The only thing that was different was that I was asked where my final destination was and then the airline employee looked up the COVID requirements and restrictions for the final destination. I was going to be arriving in Iraq just one day before they lifted their COVID test requirement so that was something I had to deal with.
Then, for my flight from Istanbul to Baghdad, I only had to show my COVID information. They didn’t require any additional information before arrival in Iraq for any reason. So, again, as far as actually traveling to Iraq from the United States, it is safe and there aren’t any additional requirements or screenings that you have to go through simply because you are an American.
Is it safe to travel in Iraq?
Safety is the first question and concern people have when talking about visiting Iraq. It’s important not to ignore the truth. The truth is, everything from corruption and terrorism to pickpocketing and harassment exists in Iraq.
With this being said, by making smart travel decisions, you can feel very safe in Iraq. You will want to apply all of the general travel rules of not walking alone at night, not having things in your pockets where someone can easily grab them, etc. These guidelines that we have all heard time and time again should be held on to tightly
Now, let’s talk about terrorism. The Pope visited Iraq in March 2021 and it helped to change the way the country was viewed. It sent a message… if it was safe enough for the Pope to visit, then it was safe enough for others to visit.
After his visit, the visa on arrival scheme was introduced further changing the world view on how possible it is to travel to Iraq and making it easier as well.
When it comes to fears about terror attacks, there is truly no way to know when and where a bombing or attack will be, and the probability of you being in the exact location at the exact time of an attack is low. Plus, there are far fewer attacks today than there were 5-20 years ago.
If you Google Is Iraq safe? you will get pages of results where websites, in bright red boxes, say DO NOT TRAVEL. You can see reviews of the country where people talk about how it’s still a war zone and how you will be raped or kidnapped if you visit.
This is soul-crushing. Again, we shouldn’t ignore the reality of the country’s political and social situation, but to tell others not to visit Iraq because they will basically be walking into a situation where they will be kidnapped.. is totally hurtful.
Like in other destinations, you will most likely have to deal with catcalling, children begging, and people giving you a lot of attention when you walk around town. In places outside of Kurdistan, you will receive a lot more attention. People want to take selfies with you, talk to you. etc. If this bothers you, just tell them no and walk away.
If you want to feel safer while traveling in Iraq, you can visit with a tour group. Having someone to translate, help you through checkpoints, and make sure you aren’t getting screwed over with prices or changing currency is a big help. (We will talk more about the benefits of visiting with a tour here in a bit.)
Getting around in a country that doesn’t have a super established transport system can be tricky. There are transport schedules and options that cannot be found online. Nonetheless, you need to know your way around your transport options.
The best way to get around major cities in Iraq is by taxi. In Baghdad, Erbil, Najaf, and Basra, the best way to hail a taxi is through Careem. This is a Middle Eastern ride-hailing app like Uber that operates in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Iraq.
Rides with Careem are super cheap. I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for a cab to get to me when using Careem. It’s nice to know that even if you are in a hurry, you can still use Careem to get to where you need to go.
Using the app to hail a cab is a great way to see the price ahead of time. This way, you know exactly what you are going to pay, you can easily declare your final destination, it helps you avoid anyone who may try to screw you over with the cost of the cab, and it allows you to avoid any issues that a language barrier could cause when trying to explain where you need to go and when negotiating the price. Of course, you can also go out onto the street and grab a taxi the old-fashioned way.
Some cab drivers are willing to go longer distances. However, if you plan on traveling between cities and going long distances, you may want to consider other transportation options.
Shared Taxis and Mini Buses in Kurdistan
If you want to find a shared taxi or minibus in Kurdistan, you can find your way to the nearest taxi terminal or taxi garage on your own and ask about shared taxis there. Or you can hail a taxi and ask them to go to the nearest garage/terminal.
If you are in Erbil, head to the Erbil International General Terminal which is next to the Family Mall and you will be able to find minibusses and shared taxis there. It’s wise to arrive at the terminal in the morning as you may be charged more at night.
Shared taxis and minibusses are great for meeting new people and saving money on transportation costs. Two things that you should keep in mind if you plan on using a shared taxi or a minibus,1) expect to pay more if you want the front seat, and 2) shared taxis and buses won’t leave until they are full of passengers, which is another reason to arrive at the terminal in the morning.
If you plan on covering significant ground, renting a car may be the way to go. Or if you plan on being in a certain area for an extended period of time, you may want to rent a vehicle as opposed to taking multiple taxis every day for the duration of your stay.
You can find car rental agencies in every major city in Iraq. Just like most car rental agencies in the world, you can find compact cars, mid-size, and all the way up to full-size SUVs with six seats.
Car Rental in Baghdad
There’s a Hertz Rental Car located in the 5-star hotel called the Babylon Rotana. You can expect to pay around $30-$40 USD/day with a Hertz rental. If you want to rent a super nice vehicle, Taj Car Rental is just a few minutes away from the Hertz Rental Car and they offer nicer vehicles. They also offer pick-up and drop-off services!
Car Rental in Erbil
There are several rental agencies at the Erbil International Airport. Hertz Rental Car, Europcar Erbil, Advantage Car Rental, and Avis Rent A Car. This is obviously much more convenient as you don’t have to arrange transportation from the airport as well as rent a car, you can do both of these things all at once. There is also an Avis Rent A Car at the Divan Hotel. You can expect to pay around $45-$50 USD/day for a rental in Erbil.
If you’re traveling between Basra and Baghdad, consider taking the train! Iraq Railways runs between Baghdad and Basra a few times a week. There’s also an overnight train between the two cities. The times of departure and the number of trains running per week are always changing and the only way to be sure about departure times and dates is to go to the train station in person.
You cannot buy a ticket for the train online, it must be done in person. The train that runs between Basra and Baghdad is China-made and was built in 2015. It has 1st class or 2nd class seats, a buffet car, and, luckily, air conditioner!
If you want to do the overnight journey, you can choose between a 2-bed sleeper or a 4-bed sleeper. As of right now, first-class tickets are 12,000 Iraqi Dinar and second-class tickets are 8,000 Iraqi Dinar. For the sleep train, 4-berth sleepers are 25,000 and 2-berth sleepers are 30,000.
Transport from Baghdad International Airport
How can I get from the Baghdad International Airport to my hotel? When you’re trying to leave the airport to head into town, you have a few options. You can use Careem, make sure to have it downloaded ahead of time. The airport does have WiFi but it’s not great.
You can also check with your hotel to see if they have a shuttle service where someone will meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel. If you want to go the extra mile, you can hire a private driver. This is a nice option, something that you may not be able to afford in other countries, but is super possible in Iraq.
Transport from Erbil International Airport
If you aren’t renting a car at the Erbil International Airport, you can get a taxi from the taxi stand outside of the airport where you can expect to pay around $15 USD to get to the city center. Of course, you can also use Careem! In my opinion, using Careem is the way to go.
Again, your hotel may offer a shuttle service that will save you time and money when arranging your transport from the airport to the hotel.
Iraq Fun Fact #2: Iraq is perched at about the same latitude as the Southern United States
Driving in Iraq
It doesn’t matter if you actually plan on driving yourself in a rental car or not, you should equip yourself with a bit of knowledge about what driving in Iraq is like.
In southern Iraq, traffic laws, if they exist, are more of a suggestion than a law. In some places, you won’t see speed limit signs, in other places where there are speed limit signs, no one seems to care about them.
The same can be said about traffic lights as well. In Baghdad and other cities in the south, there are traffic lights, but vehicles create their own traffic patterns without regard for the lights.
There’s also nearly constant horn honking going on in the streets. Honking and making your own way through the traffic seems to be the way you must act to get to where you need to go. Drivers do seem to obey traffic cops more than the lights.
I had a driver that picked me up from the Baghdad International Airport and dropped me off at my hotel and right away it was obvious to see that even the lines on the road were just suggestions. This is just something to be aware of so you don’t feel shocked when you arrive. Many of the roads in Iraq are quite rough as well. There are a lot of ruts and potholes.
In Kurdistan, there are speed limits basically everywhere and drivers obey them as well as the traffic lights, much more than drivers in southern Iraq.
When you travel to Iraq, you will notice right away that military checkpoints are commonplace. If you plan on traveling between cities, you will encounter military checkpoints. At these points, you should have your passport ready to show the guards. As a rule, when traveling in Iraq, you should just always have your passport on the ready.
These security checkpoints can take less than a minute, or they can take some time to get through. At the checkpoints, you may be asked where you are coming from, where you are going, and why you are going there. You will also need to show them your passport. In situations like this, it definitely helps to have a local with you, either driving the car, riding along with you, or meeting you at the checkpoint.
If you don’t have a driver or a local with you, this is where knowing a little bit of Arabic will come in handy. (We will talk more about that later.) Additionally, having a tour guide or being a part of a group tour would be really beneficial at this point as the tour operator could handle the checkpoints for you.
You will hear all kinds of reports about which checkpoints are the most difficult to get through, which are easy, and which take a long time. I’ve seen multiple accounts of what the checkpoints are like and a lot of them are different from each other, and from my personal experience as well.
So, it’s important to just go with the flow and be prepared at each and every checkpoint.
When planning for the checkpoints, there isn’t a reason to be scared. If the guards decide that they aren’t going to let you through, that’s it, they just aren’t going to let you pass through. As long as you are polite, cooperative, kind, and have your passport ready, there isn’t anything to worry about.
The length of time that you may be held up at the checkpoints is really unknown. You can’t plan your day with extreme accuracy as you could be held up at one checkpoint for an hour or more, you really don’t know. So, just keep this in mind as you are planning your trip to Iraq.
Something else to keep in mind is that it is possible that the guards may hold your passport at the checkpoint. Then, you can get it back when you go back through the checkpoint to leave.
Ultimately, having a local friend, driver, or tour guide with you is what is going to help you get through the checkpoints as easily as possible, and in the least amount of time.
Travel To Iraq With a Tour Guide
Tourism in Iraq isn’t booming. (Not yet, that is!) And navigating the country on your own can be a lot of work. Hiring a tour guide or booking a spot on a group trip has many benefits! When you have a local tour guide they will act as your sponsor and help you every step of the way when traveling in Iraq.
What are the benefits of a guided tour?
- Brainstorm ideas about what locations you want on your itinerary
- Currency exchange help
- Aid in passage trhough military checkpoints
- Get you into certain historical sites that are difficult to see on your own
- Meet new people
Of course, tons of people travel to Iraq solo!
One day in the future, military checkpoints, the lack of a clear public transport system, and the need for having a local with you may not be as much of a challenge, but at the moment they still can be. If you have your sights set on visiting this beautiful country, hiring a local guide may be the way to go.
If you are still unsure about whether you should hire a tour guide or not, try a short stint. Book a tour for a few days and see the ins and outs of travel in Iraq, see what the checkpoints are like, see if you feel like you can get by without knowing Arabic, etc. Then, if you feel comfortable, travel to Iraq on your own!
Two amazing tour companies in Iraq are Bil Weekend and Kurdistan Outdoor. Both companies were wonderful! In fact, The owner of Bil Weekend, Ali Makhzomy was able to get us into certain historical sites that experienced travelers had not been able to get in to see previously.
The owner of Kurdistan Outdoor, Arazu Barawi, who is now a dear friend to me, is beyond wonderful. Her tours are so thoughtfully laid out. She offers cultural tours, hiking and camping adventures, and a mix of the two. The coolest part about Kurdistan Outdoor is that it’s the first licensed tour agency in Kurdistan, since 2013. And Arazu is the first female tour guide!
Wondering where to stay in Iraq? When traveling in Iraq, your main accommodation options are hotels, hostels, and couch surfing. With Iraq being such an affordable country, you can book a stay in nice hotels at very reasonable rates.
Where to stay in Baghdad
The Taj Hotel: If you want a nice option for your first night in Baghdad, this is a beautiful choice with really nice rooms and a wide selection of breakfast items!
Uruk Hotel: This hotel is located on the east side of Baghdad and is about thirty minutes from Baghdad International Airport. It’s a mid-range option, has a nice pool, and free breakfast!
Where to stay in Basra
Castle Hotel: The Castle Hotel in Basra is a great option as it is located on the Shatt al-Arab River where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers connect. There are two universities nearby so the area is lively and you will have many attractions and shops close by, including a clothing store, a museum, and a waterfront park.
Basra International Hotel: For a nicer option in Basra, this five-star hotel is also located on the Shatt al-Arab River. It has an amazing outdoor space, a courtyard, and two pools!
Where to stay in Karbala
Burg Kabala: For a fancier hotel, the Burg Karbala is where you want to be! The rooftop and amenities at the Burg Karbala are so nice, it’s in a perfect location, and they have a large breakfast selection.
Where to stay in Najaf
Melian Hotel: This hotel in the north of Najaf has a super cute lobby and exterior and they have large rooms for you to choose from. If you are going to be staying in town for a while, grabbing one of their larger rooms with a couch, large dresser, and more space is perfect for an extended stay.
Alnahrain Hotel and Restaurant: This hotel in Najaf is less than ten minutes walking from the Imam Ali Holy Shrine which is the biggest point of interest in Najaf!
Where to stay in Nasiriyah
Sumerion Hotel: This hotel has an over-the-top lobby and immaculate interior design. Good rooms, good breakfast, good location. win win win!
Where to stay in Mosul
Modern Palace Hotel: This is a modern international hotel. Most of the staff speaks wonderful English, there’s a great breakfast, and laundry services.
Where to stay in Erbil
Erbil View Hotel: As the name suggests, the views from this Erbil hotel are amazing! Even with the sand storm that rolled in during my stay, the views were still stunning. If you plan on walking the city, the Erbil View Hotel is a great base for your adventures.
Korek Mountain Resort: For a super memorable night near Erbil, check out the Korek Mountain Resort. They have a restaurant on-site, amazing views, and beautiful rooms. The restaurant has some western options as well.
You’ll have to excuse all of the photos from the resort, it was too amazing of an experience not to share!
SIM Cards & WiFi
On your first day of travel in Iraq, you may choose to use an International Day Pass from your service provider or just the hotel WiFi while you settle in. Then, the next day when you venture out and grab yourself a SIM card.
The airport you fly into should have WiFi for you to use to call a cab using Careem if this is the way you plan on getting to your hotel.
I got my SIM card in Baghdad from the Zain Headquarters. You should be able to get a card for around $10 USD. Keep in mind that your phone will need to be unlocked in order to use the SIM card.
When it comes to traveling Wifi, I use the Skyroam Solis Lite. It works in more than 130 countries, including Iraq! This thing can be a serious lifesaver. You can purchase data by the GB, by the day, or by the month.
If you have a Skyroam Hotspot with you, you can use the hotel wifi when you are there, then just use your hotspot when you are out and about. The device will scan and pick up the best signal that it can find.
The prominent service provider in Iraq is Zain.
What To Wear
The dress code in Iraq is not likely as strict as you would expect.
For men, the main rule about what to wear in Iraq is to not show your knees at holy sites. At non-holy sites, shorts are fine, but for religious sites, you will need pants. Of course, you will want to make sure you aren’t in a tank top as well.
For women, the most common question I’ve gotten is Do you have to wear a hijab in Iraq? The answer is no. ( Most of the time. ) Most of the time you only need to dress modestly. Loose pants and tops, no cleavage or shoulders showing, covered chest to below the knee.
In the cities of Najaf and Karbala, you women will need to wear an abaya. The cities are holy and this dress code is the law. Women also must keep their feet covered. So, if you are wearing sandals, you will need to wear socks or pantyhose with them.
Men can wear a short-sleeve shirt, pants, and tennis shoes.
Girls, it’s a good idea to always have a pair of socks and a scarf with you. This way, if you go into a holy site with sandals and need to cover your feet, you’re covered. Plus, the scarf has so many uses.
I used my scarf to make my outfit more modest, protect from the sun, cover my neck and face when there were a lot of gnats, cover-up when it was chilly, and as a pillow on long drives. Having a scarf in your bag every day is a must in my opinion.
Iraqi Fun Fact #3:Iraq is one of the hottest countries in the world. In 2020, it snowed in Baghdad for the first time since 1914.
Basic Arabic & Kurdish Words & Phrases
If you don’t know Arabic or Kurdish, you should at least learn a few phrases to show respect on your travels. Here are a few phrases that you will hear a lot and that you can use while traveling in Iraq. Saying a few words in Arabic in combination with a big smile can make people so so happy!
You will find that many people speak English. Sometimes, you will need to talk to a child. There were several times when I ran into stores and the employee/shop owner wouldn’t know English, but their children would. They would holler for their kids to come out and talk with me.
If you are needing something and no one speaks English, just turn to the trusty ole Google Translate or Yandex.
Arabic Words & Phrases
Below you will find the English pronunciation of common basic Arabic vocabulary.
Greeting (most common): Asalaam aleecoom (peace be upon you)
Thank you: shagrin
Show appreciation: Mashallah (God willed it)
God Willing: Inshallah
Excuse me: afwas
Let’s go: Yalla
My love/dear: Habibi
Bye: Salam, mal salamah
In Southern Iraq, you will hear a lot of people yelling out Welcome! Welcome!, seems to be a well-known word:)
Kurdish Words & Phrases
Below you will find the English pronunciation of common basic Kurdish vocabulary.
How are you: choni
Thank you: spas
Bye: wat legall
Top 10 Cities To Visit in Iraq
The capital city of Iraq has long been a major hub for knowledge, gathering, and commerce. You could spend several days exploring the religious and historical sites, museums, and monuments. Plus, there are loads of cool restaurants and shops!
Nasiriyah is a town on the Euphrates River, southeast of Baghdad, in the province of Dhi Qar. It’s the fourth largest city in Iraq and the majority of the population is made up of Shia Muslims. There’s a city museum, historical sites, and fun nightlife.
One of the holiest cities in Iraq, Karbala is most known for being the location of the Battle of Karbala and being home to the shrine of Imam Husayn. The city is super unique and has a very interesting atmosphere. There are checkpoints all throughout the city where you have your bags checked and get patted down.
Mosul is a major Iraqi city with more than 3.5 million people living there. Once famous for cotton goods, Mosul is now most often known for the destruction caused by the fight against ISIS. Today, the city is being rebuilt with the help of UNESCO. However, the town is more than rubble. You can visit lively cafes, eat delicious food, and even visit a souvenir shop! Seeing these places in Mosul is amazing; it shows the spirit of the people and the effort being made to rebuild after the war.
The capital city of Kurdistan, Erbil is the most populated city in Iraqi Kurdistan and has a very western vibe when compared to other cities in Iraq. There are modern malls, fancy restaurants, and bars in Erbil. You will also find that there are many religions cohabitating in Erbil. There are Sunni Muslims, Catholic Christians, Yazidis, and others! One of the most famous sites in the city is the citadel.
When traveling in Iraqi Kurdistan, you will want to check out the Duhok area! It has the most incredible landscape and natural features, as well as beautiful cobblestone streets and cafes. If you want to do some hiking while you’re traveling in Iraq, there are good areas for it around Duhok!
Basrah is a large city in the south of Iraq, near the Iranian border. There are museums, a family fun park, riverboat rides, and more to explore in Basrah. The city is the main port for the country and is known for being the city where Sinbad set out in the Thousand and One Nights.
Also known as Baniqia, Najaf is a holy city in central Iraq. It’s most well known for being the burial place of Imam Ali, Muhammad’s cousin. Muslims take pilgrimages to Najaf the same way people travel to Karbala. It’s also home to the Wadi Al-Salam Cemetery which is the largest cemetery in the world!
Also known as Qaraqosh and Al-Hamdaniya, Bakhdida is around 30 km southwest of Mosul. It’s surrounded by agricultural lands and is home to a variety of religions and religious buildings. The catholic church in Bakhdida was visited by the pope in 2021!
The mountain valley town of Lalish is one of the most interesting towns in Iraq! While Lalish is actually in the Duhok Governate, it needs a place of its own on this list. It’s home to the holiest Yazidi temple. There are more than one million Yazidis today and still, it is a very unknown religion to most people. The faith has evolved over the years to incorporate more and more practices. Lalish is a super interesting town and definitely something you are going to want to see for yourself!
Top 10 Things To Do in Iraq
By far one of the most memorable things to do in Iraq is to visit the marshes. This area in southern Iraq is home to the Marsh Arabs. They live on islands in the marshes, raise chickens and other birds on their land, and use water buffalo for sustenance and as a source of income.
These Mesopotamian marshes were drained by Saddam Hussein to flush out those who he saw as rebels and to build a road through them to aid his shipping needs. You can still see part of the road in the marshes today! Before Saddam Hussein’s destruction of the marshes, there were around a quarter-million people living in the marshes, after the destruction, there were only around 40,000 remaining.
When you travel to Iraq, you can take a tour of the marshes and meet with one of the families there. They open their home to visitors and are happy to show others their way of life. The Marsh Arabs are also known for their singing.
They normally don’t like to sing in front of others, but one tour guide who has now become quite famous, Abu Haidar, likes to sing for visitors to the marshes.
On your boat ride through the marshes, you’ll need an armed security guard. Bandits use to be a big problem in the marshes, but because of a law requiring an armed security guard on the boats, this isn’t as much of an issue anymore.
The marshes get very hot! I visited in early April and it was over 100F/37C! This is where a scarf to protect you from the sun comes in handy. If you’re still too hot, or you just want to make incredible memories, jump in the Euphrates River!
Of course, there’s nothing like visiting historical sites and touching ground where major historical events occurred. But, you can also see some crazy cool artifacts and learn about Baghdad, and all of Iraq at the museums in Baghdad.
The Baghdadi Museum depicts scenes from ancient times and tells the story of what life was like in a time long gone. The Iraq Museum is newly open as of March 2022 after a three-year closure. The museum was founded in 1923 and was sadly looted during the American Invasion in 2003.
Today, you can see beautiful historical artwork and learn so much about the country’s history.
The Al-Shaheed Monument, also called the Martyrs Monument, in Baghdad stands for the loss and suffering of the Iraqi people during the war. It also is meant to show their creativity as well. Beneath the monument is a museum that shows photos and personal belongings of thousands of Iraqis that lost their lives due to the conflict in the country.
Bash Tapia Castle
One thing that you aren’t going to want to miss when you travel to Iraq is Bash Tapia Castle. Also called the Bashtabiya Castle or Pashtabia Castle, this is a 12th-century castle that is sitting on the edge of the Tigris River. The river begins in the area and you can smell sulfur in the air from this. Unfortunately, in 2015, ISIS inflicted damage to the castle.
It’s a steep climb up to the top of the castle, but the views are remarkable over the river and the city of Mosul.
Imam Husayn Shrine
Located in Karbala, the shrine of Imam Husayn draws Muslim visitors from all over the world. The shrine is one of the most spectacular buildings you will ever lay eyes on. The lights, colors, and details are simply amazing; I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to upkeep the building.
Women must wear abayas and the entire atmosphere is very special. Kids play with spinning toys, people pray, and there’s tons of laughter and smiles in the streets. There’s good food and a lively atmosphere all around. (Especially during Iftar.)
In order to go into the shrine, you have to have your bag searched, take your shoes off, and be patted down. For women, your abaya will be inspected to make sure you are properly dressed. A couple of women in the security line had to flip their abayas around as they were wearing them inside out.
Additionally, your items are likely to be inspected. Someone had their selfie stick taken before being allowed entry, and another had their chapstick taken because it’s like lipstick and you aren’t allowed to do anything that could seem like vanity while in the shrine. Another woman had her tampons popped out and inspected.
If you have the option to leave your belongings outside the shrine, it will save you some time. You will likely have many pat-downs during your time in Iraq. If you’re a woman, be prepared for anything because some are invasive where they feel under your breasts and really make sure you aren’t carrying anything on you. Other times, they hardly run their hands down your body.
Imam Husayn was the grandson of Muhammad, the Islamic Prophet. He died in Karbala in 680 AD. When you are in the shrine, you will see people kissing the walls, praying, crying, reading from the Qur’an, and generally being very emotional as this is such a precious site to them.
Hatra is a historical site that at the time of writing this in early 2022, has been notoriously difficult to get into. Founded around 2 or 3 BC, Hatra had a strategic position along trade routes. The town prospered and eventually became an important religious hub.
Known as the city of the Sun God, Hatra served as a crossroads between the Parthian and Roman Empires. You can see incredible craftsmanship during your visit, including interesting features like mermaids carved into the walls.
You’ll also be able to see newer additions to the city, like the bricks with Sudam Hussein’s signature where he tried to claim Hatra as his own.
ISIS took over Hatra and used it as a base of sorts. They knew that the American troops wouldn’t ruin a historical site, so they felt safe there. One room was used to store their weapons and you can still see pieces of artillery and bullets all around the site.
There’s an ancient winery on site where you can see rounded holes in the ground where they would mash the fruit for the wine. Hatra is such a unique location and walking around in an ancient city that has been around since before the birth of Christ is an amazing experience that you won’t want to miss when you travel to Iraq!
The Yazidi Village in Lallish easily makes the list of top 10 things to do in Iraq. If you visit during the month of April you will get to see a lot of activity. April is a special month to them, no one is allowed to get married during this month, and babies born in April are considered blessed!
April is also the month when the Yazidis celebrate their new year and harvest olives to make olive oil for burning their candles. In the village, you can see rooms where they make the olive oil, pray, and gather. Inside the temple, it’s important not to step on the threshold, step over it instead.
I was told that the Yazidis do not like to let a lot of people into their village as they are often made fun of. So, being able to visit the village, see in the temple, and watch them make olive oil was amazing. The harvest only lasts for a few days. The women sort through them to get rid of any bad ones and the men stomp them.
You may notice the different colors of headscarves on the women. The pretty lavender color signals that a woman is married. The red and white scarves on the men is something new. Before, they wore only white. After ISIS killed many Yazidis and kidnapped thousands of women and children, they switched to red and white scarves. The red symbolizing the bloodshed during that terrible time.
Something else to know about Lallish, no one wears shoes. You will need to take your shoes off before you walk around the village.
Ancient City of Babylon
The ancient city of Babylon is located around 85km south of Baghdad and is open for visitors to explore. It was built in Mesopotamia on the Euphrates River. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was settled around the 3rd millennium BC. It was the capital of Babylonia and served as an important city of commerce.
You can see a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, missing pieces that were stolen during the American Invasion, destruction from the war, and the site of one of the original seven wonders of the world, the hanging gardens of Babylon.
Saddam Hussein’s Abandoned Palace
Sadam Hussein chose the location of this palace for an unusual reason. He had visited Babylon and saw a palm tree that he liked, and decided that that is where his palace should be built. It was built in 1986, is three stories tall, and sits just steps from Babylon.
The tour guide at Babylon and Sadam Hussein’s Palace, Meky Mohamed Farhoud, grew up in the village that once stood where the palace was built. Hearing his story about how his entire village and many loved ones were lost during the destruction of the village, is heartbreaking.
When I was there, he gave me two pieces of one of Sadam’s chandeliers and told me to make earrings out of them!
The views from the palace are shocking. The river, the palm trees, the ancient city of Babylon… the palace certainly was built in a beautiful location.
Today, you will find young people using the ground floor as a roller skating rink, the balcony and grounds used by new college graduates for photoshoots commemorating their achievements, and speakers blaring music through the halls. It’s clear that the Iraqi people have taken the area back for themselves.
Twisted Minaret of Samarra
The minaret of Samarra is a uniquely shaped minaret around 125 km north of Baghdad. It’s a part of the Malaya Mosque that has been around since the 9th century. The minaret is 52 meters high and you can climb to the very top.
The spiral staircase has a handrail, but no siding or rails on the outside. If you are afraid of heights, it can feel pretty sketchy. Then, at the top, it’s a flat circle platform where you can get 360 views of the surrounding area.
In Samarra, there are other sites to see as well including mosques, and mausoleums. One of the most interesting is the Virgin Palace. It’s this round building with a large swimming pool in the middle that’s said to have held dolphins!
Foods To Try
The food in Iraq is pretty meat-heavy. Here, I want to show you some delicious food, share some good restaurants, and tell you about some of the unique dishes and drinks that you can try when you travel to Iraq.
Dates, walnuts, and chai are all super popular in Iraq. After every meal in Iraq, I was offered chai!
A national dish in Iraq, Masgouf, is a delicious fish dish that is usually served with rice and/or bread.
You’ll find many soups and stews in Iraq. One of the best is a chickpea soup called lablabi which tastes both savory and salty.
Kebabs, tika, and other meats can be found on basically every menu in Iraq. (Chicken, beef, and lamb.) Meat served with rice, bread, hummus, or vegetables was my favorite thing to eat in Iraq!
Kahi and Geymar is a sweet breakfast that is eaten on Fridays in Iraq. It’s a sweet bread with sugar syrup on top. It’s served with sweet buffalo cream which you pour on top. The proper way to eat it is by tearing off a piece of the bread and pinching up the buffalo cream like a little sandwich and eating it that way.
If you want to try some for yourself, get to the restaurant/shop early as it goes quickly! And it will be easiest for you to find on Friday.
A quick tip about water in Iraq. You can usually find it for free in cities. There will be boxes of water in the streets and many shops and people in the market will offer you a small container of water for free. Of course, you can buy your own bottles, this is just nice to know if you are needing water and can’t find any.
That’s all I’ll share about food in Iraq as it deserves an article of its own!
You can’t travel to Iraq without doing a fair amount of shopping. Whether you’re wanting to spend time in modern malls or ancient markets, you’re covered! The major cities in Iraq have large shopping malls, specialty shops, and of course small corner stores. So, you should be able to find anything that you might need. In the smaller towns and on long stretches of road, you can still find small shops.
The smaller shops can have everything from candy, snacks, and spices to fresh produce, packs of water, and Always pads. You can also find small stands on the sides of the road where you can get candy bars, water, and produce as well.
Here are a few examples of what shops look like in Iraq!
Money & ATMs
There are currency exchanges in nearly every market in Iraq. If you are arriving in Baghdad, you will find currency exchange places as well. The currency exchange places will accept both small and large bills.
Even shops and restaurants will exchange currency for you a lot of the time, you just need to ask. However, the shops and restaurants will likely only want to accept 50 or 100 U.S. bills. Some places will give you a worse exchange rate if you have small bills.
A lot of places will accept U.S. dollars as well, so if you aren’t able to find a place to exchange currency and you need to buy something, they may take USD! Due to power outages and ATMs not always working, getting Iraqi Dinar out of an ATM isn’t always possible. You would be wise to bring cash with you to exchange on arrival.
Credit cards are not taken in a lot of shops, markets, and small restaurants. In malls and nicer restaurants and hotels, of course, they will accept credit cards. Still, cash is king in Iraq.
Prices & Budget
Traveling in Iraq is very cheap. Here are some prices of things you will buy while there, to help you plan how much you will need to spend during your trip. You will want to check the currency conversion for yourself as it’s always changing. But,
If you are looking for budget hotels in Iraq, you can find them for as little as $10 USD a night. Mid-range hotels will cost you around $25-$50 USD a night. And 4-5 star hotels can go all the way up to over $200 a night. Bottom line, for budget travelers, you can 1000% find hotels for less than $30/night in most places.
When you search for hotels online, you don’t always see the budget options. Contacting the Iraqi Travelers Cafe or other Facebook groups can help you find the best budget-friendly places to stay. (We will talk more about the Iraqi Travelers Cafe later)
Can of Pepsi or Coke: 1000 dinar
Candy bars, snack cakes, small bag of chips: 500-1000 dinar
French fries: 1000-2000 dinar
Basic meal at an inexpensive restaurant: 5000 dinar
Drink at a casual burgers & fries joint: 500 dinar
Meal at a casual burgers & fries joint: 7000-10,000 dinar
Falafel from an inexpensive restaurant: 1500-3000 dinar
A beer in southern Iraq: 11,000 dinar
A beer in Iraqi Kurdistan: 2000 dinar
Short ride with Careem: 1000-3000 dinar
Short ride without Careem: 5000 dinar
I used Careem in Iraq and short rides within the same city were usually around 1000-3000 dinar while my friend who wasn’t using Careem was paying 5,000 dinar or more from just grabbing a taxi on the street.
Here are some examples of entrance fees to some popular sites in Iraq.
Iraq Museum: for locals 3,000 dinar for locals, 25,000 for foreigners
Baghdadi Museum: 1000
Ziggurat of Ur: 3,000 for locals, 25,000 for foreigners
30 minutes boat ride in the marshes: around 30,000 for foreigners
Pre-arranged 3-hour boat ride in the marshes: around 30,000 for foreigners
If you need to buy an abaya while you’re in Iraq, you can expect to pay around 10,000-15,000 dinar for one in a market.
A card with 5GB of data: around 15,000 dinar
Baghdad Copper Market
Items from the copper market in Baghdad mostly fall in the 10,000-60,000 dinar range. I bought this beautiful dish in the copper market for 45,000 dinar. (Which is around $30 USD.)
Nightlife & Alcohol
During Ramadan, there’s amazing nightlife in Iraq. Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul, and Nasiriyah were particularly fun after dark.
Finding alcohol is a bit difficult in southern Iraq as there aren’t many places that sell it. If you do find a place that offers it, it’s going to probably cost more than does for you at home.
One place that sells it in Baghdad is called the Taco Shop. The beer is expensive, but the restaurant is a lot of fun. There’s live music, colorful lights, and the employees wear ponchos and sombreros. Despite it being a lot of fun, the restaurant isn’t very authentic. The Corona came served in a glass with salt around the rim and they call it a Mexican Beer.
Alcohol is easier to find in Iraqi Kurdistan. Since there are Christian villages, you can find shops and restaurants selling alcohol. And it’s much cheaper than in southern Iraq. You can buy a six-pack of Corona for less than the cost of one beer in southern Iraq.
Iraq Itinerary Idea
Wondering how to get the most out of your time spent traveling in Iraq? I want to share an itinerary idea with you so that you can use it as a guide as you are planning to travel to Iraq. This itinerary spans two weeks and covers many major attractions, cities, and activities in the country. It’s jam-packed with activities so that you can really see a lot of the country in the fourteen days you have there.
Hopefully, even if you have less time to spend in Iraq, you can use this as your guide for planning your own amazing Iraq itinerary!
This itinerary has you arriving in Baghdad. Depending on how much time you have when you arrive in Iraq on day 1, you may want to set off on foot to try some street food, see monuments, and generally check out what Baghdad is like.
If you don’t have much time after arriving in Baghdad, you can head to Washiq Square where you can grab a quick dinner from the food trucks there. There are both Iraqi and western food trucks to choose from. I ate at Doctor Burger while I was in Baghdad and it was very good. (I couldn’t even grab a picture before demolishing it!)
Now that you’ve had time to rest a bit after arriving in Iraq, you can spend your first full day exploring Baghdad. Some of the exciting things you can squeeze into a full day in the city:
-Markets in Old Baghdad
-Boat tour on the Tigris River
-Madrasa Mustansiriya University
-Al Shahbender Cafe
-Haj Zbala Juice Shop
-Al-Zawraa Amusement Park and surrounding area
You can spend around an hour at the Martyrs Monument and Museum and another hour at the Iraq Museum. When you’re in Old Baghdad exploring the markets you can see all sorts of stalls selling everything from maps, books, and artwork to snacks, clothes, and handmade copper items.
You will want to be sure to check out the Al Shahbender Cafe. It has been around for a very long time. Tragically, a car bomb went off near the cafe a few years ago and it killed the owner’s four sons. He is still alive and you will often see him in the cafe at his desk near the front door.
The atmosphere in the cafe is amazing. I loved the lemon-lime tea! If you’re a woman, be prepared to be one of few, if not the only woman, in the place. Then, there’s also the Haj Zbala Juice Shop where the walls are full of photos of famous Iraqis and history of Baghdad. The grape juice is really good!
Taq Kasra is a super cool site to see, especially at sunset/night. At night you can see the city lit up from the top. This site is what remains of a Persian Monument dating back to the 3rd-6th century.
If you end your day at the Al-Zawraa Amusement Park, you will be next to several monuments, an ice cream shop, the Baghdad Mall, and many restaurants that you can choose from for dinner.
Today, you can head to Babylon and check out the ancient city for yourself. You can stand where Alexander the Great was killed, see the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, and where Sadam Hussein built a palace nearby. I think the blue Ishtar Gate is one of the most iconic sites that people want to see when they travel to Iraq.
You can explore Babylon and the abandoned castle, before leaving. After these adventures, you can head south towards Karbala. It is around 102 km from Baghdad to Karbala.
In Karbala, you can check out the Memory Islam Museum and the Alkafeel Museum before visiting the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussein.
While you’re in Karbala, be sure to stop and check out all of the tasty drinks and snacks that you can! After grabbing a bite to eat, you can hit the road in the afternoon, towards Najaf where you’ll spend the night.
When you’re in Najaf, you should be sure to check out the Wadi Al-Salam Cemetery which is the largest cemetery in the world with more than eight million people buried there, and more being buried there still.
There’s also the beautiful blue Holy Shrine of Imam Ali and several mosques that you can visit as well. If you’re into natural sites, you can check out the Najaf Sea. A lake that dried up more than a century ago, it has now turned into a sea that is more than half the area of Lake Geneva.
In the afternoon, it’s time to head towards Nasiriyah to grab a hotel room for the night.
Now that you’re in Nasiriyah, you can head to the Great Ziggurat of Ur to spend the morning. This site has been an UNESCO world heritage site since 2016 and is also home to the house of Abraham.
Then, head further south for a boat tour in the Iraqi marshes! After spending a few hours in the marshes, head south to spend the night in Basrah.
Day 7 will be a calm and relaxing day after a week of crazy travel in Iraq. You can sleep in today and relax at your hotel in the morning before venturing out for lunch and new adventures. There are several BBQ restaurants and tons of cool cafes that you can choose from.
When it comes to attractions in Basrah, check out the Basra Cultural Museum and Jannat Al-Furdous Park before making your way to Sinbad Island for a walk along the water. Grab some dinner, then spend a chill night in your hotel. This will be the last night in Basrah.
Today you’ll have a long day spent on the road. Plan to spend around 6+ hours on the road as you drive back up north towards Baghdad. You will be spending a night there before you head even further north in the morning.
Depending on what time you leave in the morning you can get to Baghdad in the afternoon or into the evening. Find yourself a cool place to have dinner in the city and enjoy another relaxing evening in your hotel room as you rest up for another full day spent in Baghdad.
If you have time and you aren’t too tired from a day on the road, there is a cool bakery in southern Baghdad called Bab Al Alagha Bakery where you can get any sweet treat that you could ever want. Definitely make time to visit if you can!
Another option is to take the train to Baghdad. Since the schedule is not set in stone, it can be hard to plan for this. But if you want to go to the train station in Basra and see if there is a train running on the day you will be traveling, that would be a cool addition to your time spent traveling in Iraq!
In the morning in Baghdad, head to the Abbasid Palace before you begin your long road trip north. On your way north to Mosul you can stop at both the twisted minaret of Samarra and the ancient city of Hatra.
Once you arrive in Mosul, have dinner and hit the hay for a day full of exploring the city tomorrow!
In the morning, after breakfast, explore these Mosul sites:
-Bash Tapia Castle
-Old town and the destruction from the war
-Unesco reconstruction of the minaret and other sites
-Bytna Mosul where you can visit snack shops, a souvenir shop, a cafe, etc.
The souvenir shop in Mosul is usually open from around lunchtime to midnight. The square around the shop is super lively at night time and there’s a great cafe as well as an artistic and cultural heritage center that you should see for yourself while you’re in Mosul.
You will be spending another night here in Mosul!
Today will be a travel day with several stops on the way. You’ll be traveling to Duhok to spend the night, making these stops on the way.
-Bakhdida Catholic Church which the Pope visited in 2021
-Walk around the city of Duhok
-Visit the Duhok Dam
The Alqosh Monastery is an important place to the Catholic Church. Christians would go to the caves near the monastery to pray and spend time there during lent. The views from here are amazing!
After exploring the city of Duhok and grabbing dinner, head to your hotel for the night.
Today you will travel to Akre.
In Akre, you can explore the town on foot, hike to the old town where you can see what used to be one of the narrowest city roads in the country, and you’ll want to be sure to check out the Xanedan Cafe & Rest as the views from the balcony are remarkable.
Then, move on towards Rawanduz. On the way, you can go to the Geli Ali Beg Waterfall and the Bekhal Waterfall. Both are worth visiting and while you’re at the Bekhal Waterfall you can eat at the restaurant beneath the falls and check out the shops in the area.
Have dinner, then settle down for the night in Rawanduz.
In the morning, after breakfast, you can take a short hike to one of the most beautiful locations in Iraq. The hike starts at the statue of A.M. Hamilton and takes you down into a stunning gorge.
After your hike, you’ll hit the road and head to Erbil. Once in Erbil, you can see some of the city’s best sites:
-Erbil Citadel & Kurdish Textile Museum
-Syriac Heritage Museum
-Erbil Civilization Museum
You can treat yourself to a nice dinner in the city or head to Ghazali Street. This street is full of life at night and has many cool restaurants, games, and shops to explore. One restaurant, the Plane Cafe has western dishes and great desserts. There’s also the Bee Hive restaurant which has multi-tier seating in the shape of a beehive.
Enjoy your last night in Iraq!
If you have time to do any exploring before your departure from Erbil, check out some of these sites:
-Sami Abdulrahman Park
-Jalil Khayat Mosque
-Aqua Tarin Water Park (Would be such a fun way to say goodbye to the country!)
-Hawler Cable Car ride
Also, if you can, try to get some fresh orange juice while you’re there. That was a random thing I did in Erbil and it was so good!
Traveling During Ramadan
If you happen to be visiting Iraq during Ramadan, things will be a little different. Most restaurants will be closed during the day. This may affect your travel in Iraq a bit, but you can work around it.
You can still find some places that are open. You can recognize the open places because they will have fabric draped over the windows so that you can’t see the food/people eating inside. It’s also a good idea to stop by a shop and grab some snacks to take with you as you travel in case you can’t find a place to eat during the day.
At night, because of Iftar, the cities are more lively. This is super fun and makes your time spent in Iraq all the better. The busy streets, food stalls, and restaurants are jumping after sunset. You can usually hear music and laughter as soon as you step outside. This is a really cool time to be in the country!
Iraqi Fun Fact #5:Iraq is a highly diverse country, one of the most diverse in all of the Middle East.
Travel to Iraq as a Woman
If you are a woman planning to travel to Iraq you probably have some questions about safety. I did experience catcalling in Baghdad, Nasiriyah, and Erbil, but for the most part, everyone was really lovely. I had men stop me in the street to welcome me to Iraq. Some people even went so far as to assure me that as an American I was welcome in their country as well.
The fact that I was with a local guide definitely helped. I think that the hollering in the streets and some of the stuff that was being said to me would have been worse if I was alone because the guide often would tell people to move on. This is just something to be aware of so you know what to suspect when you’re there.
When I was traveling solo in Iraqi Kurdistan, the attention was a lot milder. I was whistled by a man on the street, several bikes drove by and they were all whistling, hollering, and pointing at me as they passed me, and one man walked alongside me for a minute laughing and saying things in Kurdish that I didn’t understand before walking off.
Unfortunatley, probably nothing that you haven’t experienced before. I hope this helps you get an idea of what it’s like so you aren’t surprised by anything.
Travel to Iraq as a Family
As you know, this website is a hub for mothers who travel alone with their kids. Like most traveling moms, after years of traveling with my daughters, I was ready for a solo adventure. If you find yourself in the same position, I highly recommend a trip to Iraq. Experiencing the culture, delicious food, and unique sites for yourself is just what you need to jump back into solo adventures!
Traveling in Iraq with kids could be overwhelming for them. (And you) If you are traveling alone with kids, I think it would be wise to not travel with more kids than you have hands. Walking in crowded markets and crossing busy streets with a bunch of kids would be so overwhelming. I don’t think I would travel to all of the places that I traveled to in Iraq alone with my two young kids.
However, I think it’s an absolute dream to be able to visit Iraq! (With or without kids!)
You will want to make sure to get some good travel insurance before you travel to Iraq. It’s easy to think that you most likely won’t need insurance, but I truly think it would be dumb for you to travel without it. For any procedures or tests that you may need done, the travel insurance will be a must.
My insurance is through Safety Wings. It covers COVID-19 related issues and works in pretty much every country, including Iraq. For two weeks, it only costs around $15 USD!
Before you travel to Iraq, you will want to join the Iraqi Travelers Cafe Facebook Group. This group is an absolute godsend for people traveling in Iraq! The group also holds get-togethers for travelers in the country.
They can help you with any travel-related questions. If you need to find a budget hotel, have questions about getting between cities, if you need a local sponsor or help at checkpoints, and anything else that may come up on your adventure, they have the knowledge to get you where you need to go. Speaking with them is especially crucial if you aren’t going to travel to Iraq with the help of a local guide.
When I was in Iraq I met with members of the group and getting to learn about why the group was founded and the way they view the world was such a great experience. The fact that the members are so willing to help foreigners in their country and share the beauty of Iraq with others is a real blessing.
You can also reach out to people on Instagram who have posts tagged in Iraq. Most adventurous travelers who have traveled there are more than willing to offer guidance to those looking to visit for themselves. Also, there’s a surprising amount of helpful information on TripAdvisor.
As tourism is getting a refresh in Iraq, you have to be adaptable. Public transportation is underdeveloped and tourist attractions aren’t as “official” as in other countries. At many of the historical sites in the country, you will see no fences, no trash cans, no entrance fee, no employees, etc.
If these sites were anywhere else in the world, they would have employees, security, websites, etc. This is more for southern Iraq than Kurdistan. Especially in Erbil, things seem much more “western”, if that makes sense.
It’s important to keep all of this in mind as you prepare to travel to Iraq as things won’t always go as planned. Sometimes you will think you’re going to get let into a site, then the guard denies you access. You’ll have plans to go to one city, but you won’t make it through the checkpoint or maybe you get let through but only after several hours of waiting. It’s very important to be flexible.
Something else to know. Since western tourists are a fairly rare sight in southern Iraq, people will probably want to take pictures with you, walk alongside you, follow you around, talk with you, etc. You won’t experience this much at all in Kurdistan.
Answering Your Random Iraq Travel Questions
I’ve been asked loads of questions about what it’s like traveling in Iraq… everything from questions about the toilet situation to questions about how American tourists are viewed in Iraq. I’m glad everyone has been so comfortable in asking all types of questions and I’m happy to answer all of your questions here!
Is the food in Iraq spicy?
Nope. Black pepper, garlic, cumin, cardamom, coriander, and nutmeg are all common spices in Iraqi cuisine. There weren’t any dishes that I tried that I would consider spicy.
Are all the toilets squatters? Is there toilet paper?
No, they aren’t all squat toilets. All the hotels that I stayed at in both Iraqi Kurdistan and the south of Iraq were all western toilets. All of the hotels had toilet paper as well. Public toilets on the other hand are a different story. The majority of public toilets that I used were squat toilets that did not have toilet paper. There were a couple of restaurants that had western toilets.
There are so many cool things that you can bring home as memories of your time in Iraq! Here are a few of the best items to keep your eyes out for.
-Maps (found in Baghdad for 2000 dinar)
-Copper coffee cups, dishes, plaques in the Copper Market
-Scarves and dresses
-Paintings and other forms of art
-Purses and jewelry from the souvenir shop in Mosul
-Books (I love getting the same book in multiple languages, there are a lot of bookshops and easy-to-find books in the markets in Iraq.)
-Snacks (Bringing home candy bars and snacks from different places is something fun to do so that you and your friends/family can try them together when you get back to wherever you call home.)
Are there camels in Iraq?
Yes! Unfortunately, their numbers are dropping as of recent, but you can still see them today. If you follow along a similar itinerary as the one I listed above, you are likely to see them along one of the long stretches of road that you travel on between cities.
Is the food vegitarian and vegan friendly?
You can find tons of fresh vegetables, bread, hummus, and fruit. Produce stands are all over the place! But, when it comes to dishes that are vegetarian or vegan, there aren’t many. You can definitely get by fine, especially if you are okay with eating raw produce. Realistically though, Iraq is not a super veggie-friendly place as most dishes are centered around meat.
Were people mad that you were there?
Another interesting question I got from those interested to travel to Iraq, people wanted to know if anyone was mad that I was there. If anyone was unhappy with my presence, they didn’t tell me or show it in a noticeable way.
Would you travel to Iraq again?
I think this goes without saying, but absolutely. I will definitely be back to Iraq in the future.
The Iraqi People
One of the reasons that I want to travel back to Iraq is the people. Everyone was so kind and welcoming toward me while I was there. The hospitality was on a level I had never seen before and it was really heartwarming.
If you need help, get lost, or need anything at all, don’t be afraid to reach out. If not to someone in the city, then don’t be afraid to contact the Iraqi Travelers Cafe. They are more than happy to help travelers if anything goes askew during their visit.
You will see for yourself when you arrive, that despite the destruction caused by years of war and conflict, the Iraqi people are beyond resilient. Their spirit and kindness make traveling in Iraq so special.
7 Things To Know Before You Travel To Iraq | Iraq Travel Tips
#1: There are often power cuts throughout the day. If you are in a restaurant, shop, or hotel they will likely have generators so it won’t affect you much. However, you could end up in a situation where you won’t be able to use a credit card or ATM, or where you are in the dark in your hotel room/rental. So bringing along a flashlight is not the worst idea.
#2: There are several different types of outlets in Iraq. So having a universal adapter as opposed to a single type adapter is the way to go. This way, you will be able to adapt to the changing outlets throughout the country. I use this one!
#3: I recommend women keep a scarf on them at all times, you may find yourself in a place that requires your head to be covered, you may need to cover another body part to make an outfit more modest, protection from sun and bugs, or as a towel/blanket while traveling. This is a good addition anywhere, but especially in Iraq.
#4: In busy cities in Iraq, the roads can be super hectic and busy. It can be kind of sketchy crossing the road. My advice is to just start walking. Stick your hand out and speed walk across. You just have to go for it.
#5: Like with anywhere else you travel to, you should have copies of your travel information. I think this is more important in Iraq because there are places where you may be asked to prove where you are going and where you are coming from. So having copies of not only your passport and other forms of identification, it’s a good idea to have copies of hotel reservations as well.
#6: Security in Iraq is taken seriously. So, don’t be surprised if any of the places you visit has a security process that involves dogs sniffing your belongings, pat-downs, bag inspections, x-rays, etc. There was even a security process going into the Iraq Museum where you had to be patted down, bag inspected, then left in the locker room before entering the museum.
#7: Remember that the pharmacy is free in Iraq. If you get food poisoning and need Imodium or Zofran or if your feet are swollen from the flight in and you need compression socks, you can find these things and pretty much anything else for free while you’re there. There’s even a pharmacy inside the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala!
Is Iraq Really Worth The Trip?
The truth is, there isn’t a written article that will ever be able to portray how remarkable Iraq is. The landscape, the beauty, the history… and above all, the people. There’s not a YouTube video or words strong enough that can actually tell you how amazing the country is. My trip to Iraq was simply amazing.
Impromptu song and dance sessions in the most random locations, historical locations that most people don’t even know are still in existence today, an amazing nightlife scene, unbeatable hospitality, welcoming locals who went above and beyond to make sure I was okay and happy while in their country, and the sweet Iraqi people who checked on me days after I left to make sure I got home safe, all made my time in Iraq unbelievably wonderful.
If you are on the fence about whether you want to travel to Iraq or not, let me go ahead and push you over to the other side. The side where you say yes to this beautiful country!
So, after you have read about what it’s like traveling in the Cradle of Civilization, what do you think? Would you travel to Iraq? If you have any questions you can ask me here or on Instagram! (There are also a lot of insights in my Iraq story highlights!)
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