Welcome to Erbil, Iraq! Nestled in the heart of the picturesque Kurdistan region, Erbil is a captivating destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. This vibrant city is often referred to as the ‘Paris of Iraq,’ and it’s not hard to see why.
With its ancient citadel that has stood for centuries, bustling bazaars filled with spices and textiles, and mouthwatering local cuisine, Erbil is a treasure trove for travelers seeking an authentic Middle Eastern experience. Whether you’re wandering through the narrow streets of the old town, exploring the fascinating museums, or venturing into the stunning surrounding landscapes, Erbil has something for everyone.
As you explore Erbil, be prepared to uncover hidden gems and learn about the rich history of the city. From archaeological sites to vibrant markets, this city is a blend of everything curious travelers love.
I visited Erbil in September 2022 with my guides Jafar and Ali from Bil Weekend. With them, not only did I get to experience Erbil, but I also got my first taste of Iraqi Kurdistan. I only got to spend a day in the city, but my time there was still quite eventful. I highly recommend at least two full days there if you want to experience it properly. These are my favorite things I did in Erbil, Iraq!
My first stop in Erbil was a local livestock market. As you might imagine, it’s a raw and fairly smelly experience, as the vendors there sell everything from chickens, goats, and rabbits, to more exotic creatures like ostriches. Other vendors sell feed for the animals. I even found some offering foods and snacks, including a milky and nutty knafeh, a popular Middle Eastern snack made from sweet cheese and crispy vermicelli noodles.
Experiencing the market was a wild ride. One of my favorite things about experiencing any market is the unexpected. You never know what you’re going to see and encounter next. It always helps when the people are friendly, as they were in Erbil. It made the experience quite enjoyable despite the funky smells!
Easily the most notable attraction in Erbil, Iraq is the Citadel of Erbil. Locally known as Qelat, this ancient wonder dates back over 6,000 years and is one of the longest continuously inhabited sites in the world. The imposing structure stands atop a hill formed by generations of people living and rebuilding on it. The citadel played a significant role in the Neo-Assyrian period and was involved in the famous battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III.
In recent years, efforts have been made to preserve and rehabilitate the citadel. It was officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. As a history buff, it pains me that the citadel was closed during my short time in Erbil, but I did get to marvel at it from the outside. When you visit Erbil, just remember that the citadel closes at 7 p.m. every night, so get there before then if you want to explore it!
Although the Citadel of Erbil, Iraq had closed earlier in the evening, the bazaar below it was rife with activity. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to make a beeline to local markets and bazaars when I travel. When I visit a new place, I want to be among the people. I like chatting with them, shaking their hands, and being shoulder-to-shoulder to them with tons of things happening around me. That’s what the Citadel Bazaar is like, and I loved it.
The Citadel Bazaar is alive with food vendors. There are tons of options, so be sure to pace yourself. They sell roasted corn on the cob with a squeeze of lemon, an earthy fava bean dish called bagilla, baklava, dried fruit, and even honey! You can also find vendors selling household goods like mirrors and intricate, colorful rugs. Come with some money—if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably spend a nice amount there!
I tried a lot of food in the Citadel Bazaar, but my favorite, by far, was the kebabs. These were Kurdish kebabs, which included an assortment of grilled meats I hadn’t tried anywhere else in Iraq. Our massive kebab feast included chicken wings, chicken tikka (boneless chicken), lamb meat, and exotic fare like kidney, lamb testicles, and liver!
As much as I love fresh organ meat, the lamb kebabs were my favorite. They were tender and juicy, and practically disintegrated the moment they touched my tongue. The lamb testicle kebabs were unique but surprisingly tasty as well. We also enjoyed some yogurt mixed with ice afterward! Try the Kurdish kebabs when you visit Erbil, Iraq. You won’t regret it!
If you’ve followed my blog or YouTube channel for a while now, you’ll probably know that I love getting haircuts in different countries. It’s a way for me to unwind and relax, as I work almost constantly and rarely get the chance to do anything for myself.
At Bash Turkish Barber in Erbil, Iraq, I enjoyed a wonderful pampering session, starting with a beard trim and lining. Then, my barber also gave me a face waxing and a full head shave. Then, another guy came in to give me a much-needed massage. He released all of the tension from my head, neck, shoulders, and back!
Whether you find yourself in Erbil to explore its history, cuisine, or Kurdish culture, you will have a wonderful time. I was there for barely 24 hours, but I got to experience a bit of each. It made Erbil a wonderful stop on my Iraqi itinerary, and was a great way to wrap up my trip through the country.
Iraq may not have the best image on the world stage, but as someone who recently visited the country, I can positively say it’s one of the kindest and warmest cultures I’ve ever experienced. Everyone made me feel welcomed and at home. The generosity and hospitality were off the charts. It’s very different from what you often hear about the country. So book a trip to Erbil, Iraq today. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.