Choosing the best vacation destination has become increasingly accessible in recent years, since there are more and more airlines, and more flight offers. However, for some, having that many options makes it more difficult to priorities and decide where they’d like to travel next.
Well, if you’re a serious traveler, and do it for the experience of getting to know different cultures and expanding your view of the world, you should be open to completely new destinations. And my money for the next popular attraction is on Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
Why, you ask?
Don’t worry, I have the answers for it, and the reasons to back it up. And I’ll take another little bet, that most of them will not only surprise you, but delight you as well. I’m going to make like you don’t know all that much about Islamabad, and tell you all you need to know to make up your mind. To visit it, that is.
For instance, did you know that Islamabad is a relatively young city? It was projected and built during the 1960s, and it is the political hub of Pakistan. These traits give Islamabad an eclectic personality where the traditional meets the modern, where a Western approach to infrastructure meets the rich Oriental culture and its wonders.
What’s more, if you plan ahead, and plan carefully, you now have access to cheap flights to Pakistan that would fit into your budget even if you’re coming in from a different continent. But enough chit-chat, let’s move to the facts. Here’s what I think you’ll love about Islamabad:
Monuments, History and Culture
Asian culture is as ancient as it is rich. Countries from this continent, including Pakistan, hava a vast history that spans thousands of years, and whose cultures have been preserved through deep-set traditions and customs, but also through the arts: writings, paintings, sculptures, idols and religion. All that is still visible and very much alive today, which is why they can be so attractive for tourists who come from younger countries, such as North America or European countries.
So Pakistan is one of the best countries where you can make contact with an ancient culture that has evolved and is continually adapting to the times, while still maintaining its core tradition and identity. Now many of you may be thinking that Pakistan is too far away, and traveling to another continent is not only tiresome, but expensive as well.
And that’s basically a myth. First of all, taking a trip to another continent is something you have to plan well ahead, because there are many logistic aspects you need to deal with, and many things you need to learn about the country you’re visiting. So the sooner you make up your mind, the easier it will be to find a cheap ticket to Pakistan.
Here’s just a few samples of Pakistan’s great culture that might show you what this amazing country has to offer:
1.The Faisal Mosque
This religious monument is the largest mosque in not only Islamabad, but the entire Pakistan. It is a part of the initial developments of Islamabad, which makes it part of both its history and religious culture, which is predominantly Muslim.
The Faisal Mosque was designed by a Turkish architect, Vedat Dalokay, and made to resemble a Bedouin’s tent. It was completed in 1968, and has since stood as a landmark of Pakistan throughout the world. Until 1993, it held the record as the largest mosque in the world, when it was dethroned by the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. However, it still remains one of the most beautiful and impressive monuments in modern times, and a marvel of architecture.
2. Pakistan Monument & Museum
If you take a trip to the Shakarparian Hills, you can visit the Pakistan Monument, shaped like a blooming flower, and which was built as a symbol of unity. The monument is made from marble and is continued by a wide terrace which offers a view of Islamabad. It is a rather recent construction, having been completed in 2007, and it’s one of the most important attractions in Pakistan, receiving some 1,500 visitors every day.
Since you’ll most easily find flights to Islamabad, it’s worth it to explore everything that this capital has to offer. The Pakistan Monument is one of them, and you can pair it with a visit to the next-door Pakistan Museum, which holds a wax exhibition depicting landmark events in Pakistan’s recent history.
3. Lok Virsa Museum
If you get a cheap ticket to Pakistan and really want to learn as much as possible about this unique culture, you have to visit the Lok Virsa Museum in Islamabad. The museum makes a comprehensive display of Pakistan’s culture and traditions, and it contains art exhibitions of paintings, statues, textiles, pottery, and music. It’s considered the most complete and representative exhibition of Pakistani culture.
The building itself represents Pakistani traditional architecture, featuring frescoes, marbling and mirror decorations. Inside it, you can admire traditional costumes and jewelry, ivory and bone sculptures, metal and woodwork, and others. Next to the Museum you find the Lok Virsa Heritage Reference Library, where researchers, or just the curious, can find resources on Pakistan’s art and crafts, literature, ethnography, folk music, and more.
4. Pakistan Railways Heritage Museum
Better known as the Golra Sharif Railway Museum, it is located in one of Islamabad’s sectors, near Margalla Hills. It contains railway elements dating back to the British Raj, and the first railway developments in Pakistan. It is an increasingly popular attraction for railway aficionados, but also attracts tourists from Pakistan and abroad.
You can admire the wonderful Golra Sharif Junction railway station, established by the British in 1882, and upgraded to junction in 1912. Its architecture is inspired from Victorian architecture, with some Pakistani elements incorporated, and very unique yellow stone facade.
Next to it, you can visit the Railway Heritage Museum and it contains relics and artifacts spanning over 150 years of railway history including mechanical models, steam and electric locomotives, coaches, trolleys, communication tools, and various other interesting objects.
Arts and Entertainment
Pakistani culture and traditions can be very lively and colorful. Their traditional costumes, customs and dances are vibrant and transcendental. If you visit during one of their big holidays, or have the chance to attend a private party, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy all these.
But Pakistan (with Islamabad at the top of its cities) combines all this perfectly with the 21st century. So if you’re a nightlife kind of person, you have plenty of bars and clubs to choose from, with all types of music, with dancing, DJs, and a party atmosphere. They have plenty of cinemas that roll both Pakistani and Western movies, and you definitely shouldn’t miss a theatre play while you’re there. Sometimes, there are open air performances near the Pakistan Monument on the Shakarparian Hills.
Entertainment can be both affordable and high-end in Islamabad, and it’s the same with hotels. You can make your trip there just as you like it to be, and within your own budget, as long as you plan every detail with care. And if you buy your flight tickets at least half a year in advance, you can really cheap flights to Pakistan.
That leaves you with plenty of time to plan all the other details and make this the most incredible vacation you’ve ever had. And even on a budget, you can still enjoy all that Islamabad has to offer, and maybe get a little shopping done too. Here’s a few of my recommendations:
5.Safa Gold Mall
You’ll definitely want to spend a few hours at the Safa Gold Mall, and eight-story building with over 150 shops and brand representatives. As any mall, it contains other attractions and entertainment venues like cinemas, and it’s the perfect spot for a shopping session, going to the movies, to a salon or spa.
Otherwise, it’s an interesting mix of Western and Oriental brands, and you shouldn’t skip the opportunity for some unique gifts and souvenirs. It’s also a good place for people watching and getting a feel of what life is like in this city.
6.The Covered Market
The Covered Market, located in Islamabad’s G6 sector, is one of the largest indoor markets in the world. It is a great place to capture the life and soul of Islamabad, and of Pakistan itself, and mingle with the locals. It is highly frequented by both for its fruits and vegetables, but you’ll find merchants selling other kinds of foods and items around here, and you can serve some traditional foods too.
Markets are perhaps the liveliest places in every city or country you go to, and they allow you a real glimpse into people’s lives, into their culture and behavior.
Pakistan is also home to a diverse flora and fauna, and you get to admire a significant portion of it at the famous Islamabad Zoo, which also has quite an interesting story. It was first opened in 1978 as a refuge for wild animals like leopards, Indian gazelles, and spotted deer.
As it gained popularity, it expanded and became a zoo. Today, it spans over 82 acres, and houses hundreds of species, including swans, eagles, pelicans, brown bears, lions, wolves, zebras, monkeys, Sri Lankan elephants, turtles, and many more. The zoo is a great place to visit with the family and kids, and is very educative on Pakistan’s animal variety.
Landscapes and Vistas
You’re right next to the Himalaya and Hindu Kush ranges in Islamabad, which hold the records for the highest peaks in Pakistan. Other than that, Islamabad incorporates a part of what is known as the Margalla Hills National Park, a protected area spanning over 17,000 hectares.
This is an amazing natural area where you can go trekking, hiking, or just sight-seeing. And there are many specific things to do, and visit here and in the Shakarparian Hills, some of which I wanted to point down below, just so you can get an idea of what it’s like to take a trip out there.
If you’re the type to prefer outdoor-type holidays, Islamabad can be a great starting point on your way towards the Himalayas. You can find direct flights to Islamabad, and plan your trip with the city as your starting point for acculturation and acclimatization.
Just beyond the Faisal Mosque, you see Margalla Hills, a series of hills that are part of the Himalaya’s foothills, and which offer a spectacular view. Besides providing a stunning backdrop for the mosque, they also offer great opportunities for walks or hikes in nature.
Part of the Margalla Hills National Park, the amazing view of endless green hills and mountains is relaxing and invigorating. The Hills are also tourist favorites for romantic walks, or a meal with a view at one of the many locales. But if you’d like to develop your explorer side, the Margalla Hills are also home to rich flora and fauna. Other activities include mineral study, bird watching, hiking, trekking and rock climbing, or the more exciting paragliding and hang gliding.
9.The Pir Sohawa Resort
If you make it to Islamabad, there’s no reason not to take a short drive to the Pir Sohawa resort. You get to go deeper within Margalla Hills and experience Pakistan’s natural landscape, and get a breathtaking view of Islamabad itself.
Whether Islamabad is your destination or you plan on visiting several of Pakistan’s beauties, you should spend at least one night in Pir Sohawa, which has been rapidly developing as a top tourist destination, and has an increasingly varied offer of hotels and restaurants, as well as other local activities.
Pir Sohawa can be a luxury destination if you’re looking for a heavenly resort of relaxation. The surrounding views are exquisite and unique, overlooking part of the hills, the city Islamabad, as well as lush green hills and canyons that you can take trips to.
This resort is another viewpoint from within Margalla Hills that offers a stupendous scenery. Daman-e-Koh is a hilltop garden with lovely pathways for long walks among nature, with belvedere spots where you can take in the sights, including nearby Islamabad.
You can enjoy a lovely traditional or gourmet meal at the lovely restaurant in the garden, which also offers a great view, and mingle with both residents and tourists from around the world. And if you visit during winter, you might get the chance to spot some monkeys and cheetahs – but don’t worry, they won’t come too close.
Islamabad is truly a city that fully takes advantage of the wonderful landscape it was built in, and so it features many attractions that lead you to the outdoors, and to enjoy its nature. Rawal Lake, which is actually an artificial lake with a dam projected in order to provide the neighboring cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi with the water they need, has also been designed to be enjoyed by visitors.
If you visit Rawal Lake, you can not only admire grand human design and engineering, but also try some sport fishing, take walks, or go on a picnic. You can even rent a boat for a tour of the lake and its surroundings. This is also one of the country’s favorite spots for bird watching, but it’s also home to fauna like foxes, jungle cats, pangolins, porcupines, or wild boar.
Visit Pakistan for its landscape and people, but don’t miss out on the food. Try the specific flavors, and ask locals for recommendations on the best dishes. What I can do is recommend some of the best restaurants you’ll find in Islamabad, but remember that a culture’s best traditional dishes are sometimes found in smaller venues like markets or from street vendors.
It’s a good idea to hire a local guide for these things, as well as other hard-to-discover gems in Islamabad. It shouldn’t be very pricey, and a guide can help you really delve into an aspect of the city or country, that you’re really interested in, such as cuisine might be.
You might be thinking that these keep adding to your limited budget, but that’s not the case. We already established that you can find very cheap flights to Pakistan, and a guide to your holiday can actually help you discover more affordable, and definitely more authentic places, people, and things in the city.
However, you might still like to try one of these restaurants:
12.The Wild Rice Restaurant
Located in the Serena Hotel, the Wild Rice is a luxury restaurant that prepares only gourmet dishes. You can spoil yourself and loved one here by trying traditional Pakistani dishes and desserts, but their menu caters to all tastes, so you’ll find Western, or Japanese dishes as well.
This is the type of restaurant that a lot of tourists or foreign Islamabad residents frequent due to its French menu personality. It’s also on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, but it’s well worth a visit if you want something prepared by top chefs, an excellent ambiance, and a great lunch or dinner experience.
14.The Royal Elephant
If you’re staying at the Mariott Hotel in Islamabad, then you’ll definitely have a meal or two at the Royal Elephant restaurant. It’s got an extremely diverse menu, to suit all types of visitors, and they excel in Thai cuisine. In fact, it is Thai-themed, so the decor and ambiance are inspired from this culture as well.
For another Pakistani cuisine treat, reserve at least one meal for the Savor Foods restaurant, where they specialize in the famous rice dish called Pulao. The rice dish comes in many variants, but they have other things on the menu as well. You’ll find it’s often crowded, and its popularity is given both by the delicious Pulao, and by the very affordable prices. You definitely don’t want to miss it if you’re in Islamabad!
Now your turn!
I hope my tips have allowed you to get a better glimpse of Islamabad and why I think it’s going to become one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. This is a city that is constantly developing on all fronts, from economical to cultural and even political and social. It combines the modern with the traditional, which adds to its special and unique charm, and it’s the perfect location for urbanites to get in touch with nature again while still maintaining contact with technology.
Have you ever been to Islamabad? If not, what would you most like to see there? Let me know what you think about this destination!
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