Nestled in the Valley of Peshawar in the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northern Pakistan is the city of Peshawar. This historical city is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges and lies just east of the Khyber Pass. This famous mountain pass lies on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and was once part of the ancient Silk Road. Though it’s an important historical city, the top things to do in Peshawar are quite varied.
The city dates back to the year 100 CE as the ancient Indian city Purushpura. However, its recorded history goes back even further, to 539 BCE. That makes it Pakistan’s oldest city and one of the oldest cities in all of South Asia.
Peshawar’s long history and prime location often made it the target of growing empires. The Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, invaded and took over the valley during the winter of 327-326 BCE. In the millennia that followed, the Mauryans, Kushans, White Huns, Ghaznavids, Mughals, Persians, Durranis, Maratha, Sikhs, and British Raj all claimed the valley as their own.
Today, Peshawar is the largest Pashtun-majority city in Pakistan. The Afghan influences can be found in the city’s culture, especially its food. The people were unbelievably kind to me, often inviting me to try their food for free and offering warmth, friendship, and hospitality.
My time there was short—just a couple of days—but I will never forget how amazing this city was to me. I toured the city with my friends at Manaky, a travel marketplace dedicated to creating memorable travel experiences in Pakistan. They took great care of me and gave me experiences I will hold dear for the rest of my life! These are the top 5 things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
In many ways, Qissa Kwani Bazaar is the beating heart of Peshawar. A huge, lively, bustling area of the city, brimming with activity, it’s the best place to go to people-watch. From clothing and food vendors to pottery makers to brass vendors, you can find just about anything there. And the food is incredible, too!
Qissa Kwani Bazaar is home to one of the most famous eateries in Peshawar, Zaika Chawal Restaurant. This legendary eatery is known for their pulao, a savory rice dish containing chickpeas; raisins; large chunks of beef; and massive, flavor-rich bones filled with marrow. It’s often compared to biryani, another South Asian rice dish, but has several stark differences.
The cooks prepare the pulao right on the street in a massive vat piled to the rim with rice and meat. While pulao typically doesn’t contain many spices, it’s always flavorful. This pulao, in particular, gets its flavor from the meat and the marrow, which the cooks scoop from the cracked bones and add to the rice!
This is, hands down, the best pulao I’ve ever eaten in my life. The meaty, chunky, juicy beef, combined with the nutty chickpeas, sweet raisins, and rich marrow is a flavor combination I will never forget. It’s no wonder eating this pulao is considered one of the top things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
Zaika Chawal Restaurant
Qissa Khawai Rd
Qissa Khwani Bazaar
Pipal Mandi, Peshawar
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
+92 314 5987070
As famous and as remarkable as Zaika Chawal Restaurant’s pulao is, it’s not the only thing to eat in the bazaar. As you make your way down the crowded streets, you’ll come across a number of food vendors. One of my favorites was an older man selling a creamy fruit chaat!
This chaat contained sweet fruit, chunks of paneer, almonds, whipped cream, and almonds. It was flavor-packed and an amazing way to cleanse my palate after the pulao!
Other vendors in the bazaar sell fresh pomegranate juice, walnut juice, bean karahi, corn chapatis, dried fruit, and a dense ice cream called kulfi. There’s a lot to try, and the vendors are so friendly, they’ll invite you over to sample their food!
Qissa Kwani Bazaar is also home to numerous shops. One of the highlights of my time there was my visit to a traditional teahouse. There, you can enjoy a cup of green tea and even lay down afterward!
You’ll also find several jewelry shops and vendors selling gold and silver bracelets. I’m not much of a jewelry guy, but they make great gifts for family and friends. But my favorite shop was a garment shop selling colorful shawls, scarves, and prayer mats.
I loved the vibrant colors of the different scarves so much that my guide bought me one as a gift! The hospitality and friendliness of the Pakistani people in Peshawar blew my mind. I highly advise exploring the market when you visit. It’s one of the best things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
Another must when visiting Peshawar is Saddar Bazaar. This garment market is one of the city’s busiest shopping areas, located along Saddar Road. The street is lined with shops selling hats and clothing, including traditional Peshwari hats made from wool.
These hats, known as Pakols or Chitrali caps, are quite warm and fit a little snug. They may be a bit too warm if you visit Peshawar in the summer. That said, they are a perfect, locally-made souvenir! Buying one is one of my favorite things you should do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
Along the street, you can also find tons of vendors selling everything from toys to garments for children to coconuts. There are also street food vendors selling treats like pani puri and dahi bhalla, a chaat containing chana, yogurt, potatoes, cucumbers, and mint and tamarind chutneys.
The dahi bhalla isn’t the only chaat available at the bazaar, as you’ll find another made from fried dough, potatoes, chilies, spices, and a crunchy noodle called sev. You can also try chapatis, pizza parathas baked inside a tandoor, sugarcane juice, a sweet and syrupy fried dough called jalebi, and chicken charga.
But the highlight of my street food adventure at Saddar Bazaar was the chapli kebab. This kebab consists of a beef patty that is fried on a massive grill with eggs, onions, vegetables, and spices. They come out crispy on the outside and soft and moist inside. You have to try them to believe them!
Another spot foodies cannot afford to miss is Jalil Restaurant Bar-B-Que Inn. Another well-known local haunt, this restaurant is known for its legendary kebab cook. He’s a Pakistani icon and has been working there for 22 years!
He mixes eggs, chilies, tomatoes, and spices into ground beef by hand and fries them on his grill. My guide, Rashid, had been teasing these kebabs all day, and I must say, the hype was real. They look so simple, but the flavors inside are anything but.
The kebabs are lightly fried but still have a nice, crisp outer layer. They’re juicy on the inside, and the meat has a soft texture and falls apart in your mouth. The chilies add a nice pop of heat, and the addition of the tomatoes adds a nice, acidic zing.
Best of all, they come with a yogurt dip called raita. This raita contained a bit of mint and added an incredible burst of flavor to the already mouthwatering dish. If you’re a foodie and a carnivore, this may just be one of the best things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan. I’m convinced it’s the best burger patty on Earth!
Jalil Bar-B-Que Inn
Phase 3 chowk near Bab-e-Peshawar flyover
University Road, Peshawar
Shaheen Town, Peshawar
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 25000
+92 91 5704112
Of course, you cannot visit the city of Peshawar without driving to the nearby town of Jamrud in the world-famous Khyber Pass. As I mentioned earlier, this mountain pass is very close to the Afghan border—roughly 30 minutes or so. Many explorers and invaders have come through the pass, including Alexander the Great, as well as less-violent merchants and traders.
The main symbol of the pass is the town’s main gate, Baab-e-Khyber. Inside the gates, you’ll find friendly street food vendors selling chana, beef stew, chicken, roasted corn, chaat ingredients, samosas, sugarcane juice, kheer, and parathas. One of my favorites was a man selling bannu pulao, a unique version that only contains rice and huge chunks of beef.
Another street food dish I absolutely loved was the roghni paratha. This thinner, crispier paratha is brushed with ghee midway through the baking process and served with chana, chilies, cucumbers, and onions.
You can also try a fantastic, cornbread-like chapati. It’s mouthwateringly delicious and goes well with the oily chana and yogurt served on the side. But best of all, the vendors are all insanely warm and friendly.
Don’t be surprised if your presence attracts attention—the locals love seeing foreigners enjoying the local cuisine! The way they embrace foreigners is something truly beautiful. It wasn’t something I expected, but they made me feel so welcome in their midst. Coming to Jamrud is easily one of the best things to do when you visit Peshawar, Pakistan!
For the ultimate shopping and food experience in Peshawar, you must head to Karkhano Market. Established in 1985 and home to over 4,500 shops and vendors, this market is downright massive. I highly recommend hiring a local guide to help you navigate it, as it can be pretty overwhelming!
The market was once a famous smugglers’ market, as goods from Afghanistan were often funneled through the bazaar. But now it’s known as a great all-around shopping spot where you can buy goods like clothing, fresh produce, and electronics.
The market has areas that are electric, while other mall-like areas are quieter. On the second level of one of the buildings, my guide Rashid took me to a cologne and perfume shop where they served us some tasty doodh patti!
Outside, you’ll find tons of street food vendors offering everything from chicken stew to lassi to a rice pudding called kheer. You can also find batteries, wallets, and some gorgeous Afghan blankets and bedding!
The best place to grab a bite to eat in the bazaar is BaBa Wali Hotel, which is known for their amazing kabli pulao. This fragrant dish is made up of rice piled high with carrots, raisins, and a mountain of juicy beef.
The beef is almost comically tender. It practically disintegrates the moment it touches your tongue. The sweetness of the carrots and raisins balance out the salty, savory flavors of the meat. It had my mouth watering so much, we could have water skiied out of there!
Best of all, it’s served family-style on a mat along the wall, so you and your party get to dig in in a comfortable, traditional setting. I loved this experience. By the time I left, I had learned why this pulao is considered Peshawar’s best pulao. Definitely one of my favorite things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
BaBa Wali Kabli Pulao Hotel
Khalid Shoping Plaza
Main Jamrud Road, Karkhano Market
Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Just a few minutes from the bazaar, near the city center, is a spot called Dumpo Khorak. If you haven’t filled up on pulao yet, I recommend stopping by and trying their dumpo pulao. Like the kabli pulao, it contains carrots and raisins, but you can also add chicken, quail, and fish to it.
Like at BaBa Wali, you remove your shoes to eat and have the opportunity to lie down as you enjoy your dumpo. The dumpo is moist and tasty with a bit of sweetness. I added chicken to mine and had some deliciously crispy and juicy grilled thighs and drumsticks. The chicken is cooked separately from the pulao and is piled on top afterward. And while I liked the kabli pulao a bit better, the dumpo is still incredible. It’s definitely more than worth a try!
If you’re a history and culture buff like me, one of the best things you can do in Peshawar, Pakistan, is walk the Peshawar Heritage Trail. Completed in 2018, it’s the first cultural heritage trail in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Built by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, it connects some of Peshawar’s most well-known historical landmarks in a walking trail aimed at preserving the city’s architectural heritage. The trail takes visitors through the Old City, from the Ghanta Ghar area, through Bazaar-e-Kalan, and past the palatial homes of Sethian Mohallah.
Some of the buildings there date back over 500 years! The bazaar is particularly interesting, as you can see several vendors and shop owners making intricate bridal and ceremonial dresses by hand. I was fascinated by the amount of time it takes to create one—up to a week, at 10-12 hours per day!
Of course, the stunning architecture of the homes is a major highlight. These expansive homes rise high above the street and are some of the most beautiful in the city. As an architecture buff, I couldn’t help but marvel at them!
One of my favorite sites along the trail was a two-century-old former guest house that is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its unassuming exterior belies the wonders underground, which include a dining hall and conference room, all immaculately built from brick.
Upstairs, you’ll find servants’ quarters and ventilation shafts, as well as gorgeous terraces that offer bird’s-eye views over Peshawar! Visiting is one of the things you must do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
Of course, the heritage walk would not be complete without stopping at a street food vendor. I met a very nice man making aloo kebabs on the street. These deep-fried potato patties come in spicy and non-spicy varieties and are extremely tasty.
The vendor was so hospitable, he gave me a taste of some delicious, sweet sauce that went well with the kebabs before I left! Elsewhere are vendors selling orange slices with black salt. It’s an interesting combination, and the vendor was so nice, he gave it to me for free!
One of the most popular restaurants in the city is Nisar Charsi Tikka. When you pull up, you get an immediate spectacle from the butcher, who dismembers chickens outside and hangs them above his station. The entire kitchen is outside, so you get to see them cook before you head inside!
As I learned is customary, my guide Rashid and I removed our shoes and enjoyed our dinner on mats on the floor. I highly suggest trying their chicken tikka and chicken karahi, both of which are out of this world. Trying both is one of the top things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan!
The chicken is seasoned with only salt, and yet it’s some of the tastiest chicken I had in Peshawar. The nice char on the outside added a bit of smokiness, but it still retained its juices. But the chicken karahi with naan was a game-changer. This saucy, pan-fried dish has a grilled, smoky flavor that blew me away.
Using the naan to soak up the sauce was my favorite part of the entire meal. I was speechless at how great the food was. And even though I have a deep love for spicy food, it’s worth mentioning that Peshawari cuisine is very mild, so it’s enjoyable for people who aren’t spice fiends like me!
After you finish eating and are feeling content and sleepy, the best thing to do is lay down and relax for a bit! The mat is pretty comfortable and they have lots of cushions, so kick back, take a load off, and enjoy your evening!
Nisar Charsi Tikka
Shop No 40
Shah Qabool Colony
Namak Mandi, Peshawar
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 25000
+92 335 1904905
I had been told beforehand that the people of Peshawar were kind, open, and friendly, but what I experienced there blew me away. The world has always been generally kind to me when I travel, but the hospitality and generosity on display in Peshawar is some of the greatest I’ve ever experienced in over two decades of exploring the world. The food in Peshawar is unbelievable and the sites are gorgeous, but the people who treated me like a king are the things I’ll remember the most. Book a trip today to experience the top 5 things to do in Peshawar, Pakistan, as soon as possible!
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