Kurdistan Sights & Activities

The following is an extensive list of the destinations, sights and activities that travelers to Iraqi Kurdistan may find interesting. The list covers the three directorates in the region – Erbil, Sulamaniyah and Dohuk.

Erbil & Region

  • Erbil Citadel: Considered to quite possibly be the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (dating back at least 6,000 years), this hilltop citadel in the center of current day Erbil marks the original boundaries of this community. All but one family was evicted in 2007 in order for the government to carry out extensive restoration work, yet visitors can enter the settlement and wander through the eerily deserted neighborhoods and even climb to the rooftops of many of the empty homes.
  • Kurdish Textile Museum: Located inside the citadel, this museum is worth a visit for a glimpse into the local culture.
  • Minaret Park: The main focus of this park near the center of the city is the Mudhafaria Minaret (aka Choly Minaret), 36m high minaret that is over 800 years old.
  • Erbil Bazaar: This covered (Qaysari) market is one of the largest traditional markets in Iraqi Kurdistan, located just below the citadel and consisting of a significant maze of alleys full of shopkeepers and vendors.
  • Ainkawa: The Christian Quarter of the city, and located on the outskirts of the city center, Ainkawa offers a different look at life in Iraqi Kurdistan. Walking down these streets one will find a variety of restaurants, bars and of course, churches.
  • Khanzad Castle: Less than 20km north of Erbil lies this hilltop stone castle that was built during the Soran period of 1816-1835.
  • Shaqlawa: This Christian-majority town is a popular tourist destination for Iraqis who want to get away from the summer heat (it is 1000m above sea level). Located at the foot of Safeen Mountain, it is surrounded by beautiful green scenery.
  • Salahaddin’s Fortress (Dwen Qalat): Located near the town of Shaqlawa, this site is home to the ruins of a 1000 year old castle believed to be associated with Salahaddin, a Kurdish Muslim who led the opposition against European Crusaders during the 12th century.
  • Rabban Beya Monastery: An approximately 1 hour hike from Shaqlawa leads to this 4th Century monastery that were built into a rock crevice close to the top of a mountain. The somewhat difficult hike is also rewarded with incredible views over Shaqlawa and the valley below.
  • Hamilton Road / Gali Ali Beg: A journey along the Hamilton Road passes through some dramatic limestone landscapes as you travel within the Gali Ali Beg canyon. In the middle of the canyon lies Iraqi Kurdistan’s most well-known waterfall, the Gali Ali Beg waterfall.
  • Bekhal Waterfall: Another waterfall located within the Gali Ali Beg canyon.
  • Choman: The town of Choman offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in all of Iraqi Kurdistan. In addition, the mountains in this region offer several hiking opportunities for travelers. If you do plan to hike, it is recommended that you have a local guide or that you follow the advice of locals. Several of the mountains are heavily mined as a result of the Iraq-Iran War.

Sulamaniyah & Region

  • Suleimaniah Museum: This museum can be found on Salim Street and is home to a collection of Kurdish artifacts from around the region, many of which are several thousand years old. It is the second largest museum in Iraq after the National Museum in Baghdad.
  • Amna Suraka Museum: Offering a glimpse in the horrendous treatment of Kurds by Saddam’s Ba’ath regime, a visit to this museum also includes a tour of actual prisons and interrogation rooms that were used to detain the local people.
  • Jewlakan: This is the old Jewish quarter of Sulamaniyah (a city whose once large Jewish population mostly emigrated to Israel en masse in 1951) and can be found on the outskirts of town. The neighborhood consists of narrow alleys and mud-walled homes, with a few synagogues that have been recently renovated by the government.
  • Zamoa Gallery: This gallery, run by a famous Kurdish artist (Rostam Aghala), has on display the artwork of local artists from around the city of Sulamaniyah.
  • Lake Dokan: The largest man-made lake in Iraq, and located at 900m above sea level, this is the site of a popular local resort town, with several hotels and restaurants set up to accommodate visitors. You can swim in the lake and even go boating.
  • Ahmad Awa: Another ‘resort’ that centers around nearby springs and waterfalls that travelers are able to visit.
  • Chami Rezan: A hike through this valley takes you to the caves that are considered to be the first human ceremonial burial site in the world. It is naturally a well-protected site but visitors are allowed.
  • Raniya: Surrounded by three mountain ranges, Raniya is a town and district with sites of interest that include a traditional bazaar, several springs and villages in the Dola Raqa valley.
  • Halabja: The site of the 1988 poison gas attack by Saddam Hussein against the Kurdish people, there is now a memorial/museum on the outskirts of town. The images inside are very graphic but they provide an opportunity to see first hand the devastation caused.
  • Qaladze: This small town, surrounded by mountains and near the Iranian border, was destroyed during the Iraq-Iran War. The town’s inhabitants were moved elsewhere but they returned in 1991 to participate in the Kurdish revolution against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Dohuk & Region

  • Saint Ith Llaha Church: The oldest church in the Dohuk region, Saint Ith Llaha is believed to have been built around 500AD. It can be found a short distance to the west of Dohuk town.
  • Main Bazaar: Maze-like and full of interesting vendors, shops and eateries down every lane, this is the kind of market that one can easily get lost in for several hours.
  • Central Mosque: In the center of the bazaar stands an ancient mosque that’s worth a visit.
  • Folklore Museum: Located next to the Hotel Bircin (see above), this small museum doesn’t keep consistent opening hours but if you happen to be passing by, there is a small collection of interesting cultural items from around the region.
  • Amediyah: This 4,000 year old town dating back to the Assyrian period is impressively located atop a mountain, offering grand views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
  • Sulav: Only 5km away from Amediyah, Sulav is wedged between the mountains with impressive views of the surrounding region. More of a restaurant/hotel community than an actual village, there are excellent photographic opportunities from here and you can also hike from Sulav to Amediyah following a route that takes you through a valley and across a canyon.
  • Mar Odisu: Small Christian monastery located in the mountains above the small village of Kani.
  • Barzan: Small town along the banks of the Great Zab river and birthplace of Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani.
  • Akre: A mountainside community with an interesting old town and mosque. This town is not too far from Amediyah and lies between Dohuk and Erbil.
  • Ain Sifni: A Yazidi community that some believe to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark.
  • Kani: Tiny Christian village close to Amediyah that is home to the Mar Odisu Monastery.
  • Gondik: The engravings and cave paintings found in the cave (located at the top of a hill behind the village itself) include various scenes that supposedly date back to the 3rd Century B.C.
  • Lalish: Located in this valley is the tomb of Sex Adi, the central figure of the faith known as Yazidi. It is an important pilgrimmage site for the Yazidis who are expected to make the trek to the tomb and temple in Lalish at least one time during their life.
  • Delal Bridge: Located in the town of Zakho (along the border of Turkey, near the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing) this unique stone bridge (built from large stones and without machinery) is considered to be the oldest bridge of it’s kind in the Middle East.
  • Parastaga Zardasht: This site is home to an ancient Zoroastrian/Mithradate temple that was only recently discovered and can be reached by a twenty minute walk from the northern edge of Dohuk. There are also waterfalls nearby.