If you are planning to travel to Pakistan, there is a likely chance that you will be passing through Islamabad especially if you are planning to travel to the north where adventure awaits. A city like Islamabad may not be as exciting as the northern part of Pakistan but with my ultimate guide to Islamabad in hand, you will surely enjoy your time there, all the while seeing a different perspective of a country you otherwise wouldn't see from visiting touristy cities or the mountains. Without further ado, here is a guide on amazing things to do in Islamabad.
Looking for a complete Pakistan itinerary? One Month Travel Itinerary for Pakistan.
Islamabad Itinerary Map
Islamabad is the model of what a modern Pakistani city should look like. Clusters of buildings are divided into zones, laid out as a grid with a vast network of roads connecting them all together like a spider web. In between the buildings, green vegetations are sprinkled all over the city, making it the greenest city in the country. Rickshaws are banned due to loud noises and the streets are as clean as day. It is what the government envisioned a capital city should be and they went all in with it.
Islamabad also has an ugly twin sister city called Rawalpindi which is situated next to it. You may also have noticed traveling from Lahore that buses coming to Islamabad is labeled Rawalpindi instead of Islamabad (yes, I was confused at first too) so do not be alarmed.
Rawalpindi is an old city that is the polar opposite of Islamabad. It's loud, dirty, terrible traffic and unorganized. If you want a calmer experience, I would recommend avoiding accommodation in Rawalpindi. Also, be sure that an accommodation you booked is really in Islamabad and not Rawalpindi because that makes a big difference.
When to Go to Islamabad
The best time to go to Islamabad is from September to October as the weather becomes much cooler around the city especially at night when the weather is most comfortable. September and October is also a good time if you are planning to go to the north and do some hiking as the weather is mostly calm and the colors of the autumn are in full swing.
Where to Stay in Islamabad
Jasmine Inn - 25.00 USD/Night (Double Room)
Since Islamabad is a new city, budget options are pretty limiting. I have both stayed in Rawalpindi (not worth it as you will have to deal with the traffic to get to and from Islamabad and that might cost you more in the long run) and Islamabad and I found that Jasmine Inn offers the best for the value. They have great facilities and is well-located in the G-8 sector which is considered to be in the city center area. Everything mentioned in this guide is only a short Uber ride away.
This place is cheaper than most countries but not dirt cheap. Expect to pay around 30 - 50 USD per day per person including accommodation and food.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Reliable wifi is not easy to come by so I would recommend you get a sim card instead. In order to get a sim card in Islamabad, you will need to find a franchise office of a carrier you want that will issue a sim card to foreigners. DO NOT get a sim card at the airport. They are all scams!. I personally used Zong when I was there and I have signals most of the time in the north except Fairy Meadows.
In order to get the Zong sim card as a foreigner, you will have to go to Zong Customer Experience Center located on Jinnah Avenue in between G-7/3 and F-7/4 sectors. Make sure you have your passport with you. Once you are there, you can choose whether you want a data sim card only (1,500 PKR for 12 GB) or the one with calls (~2500 PKR). I would recommend the one with calls if you are planning to go up north as the data connection becomes unreliable up there and you might need to call some places to book. The entire process took me less than 5 minutes.
The location of the Zong Customer Experience Center is shown below:
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Pakistan, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
How to Get to Islamabad
You can fly straight to Islamabad new airport from the US via middle eastern airlines like Etihad, Qatar or Turkish airlines or if you are coming from the east, Thai and Air China are also great options. I often use Momondo or Skyscanner to find the fastest and cheapest flight for my trip around the world so feel free to browse through some of the deals they have there.
If you are coming from Lahore as I did, you can get a Daewoo Express bus from Lahore to Rawalpindi which will take around 4 hours and it will drop you off at the Daewoo Express bus terminal near Motorway Chowk, just outside of Rawalpindi. From there, you can call an Uber (again, rickshaws are banned from the Islamabad so don't bother trying to find one) to take you to your accommodation in Islamabad.
How to Get Around Islamabad
Use Uber all the way. It is cheaper, less headaches and it takes you where you want to go. I took Uber to all the places I listed here so you will have no problem with it.
One caveat with using Uber to go to Daman-e-Koh and Pir Sohawa viewpoints is that there is no connection on that hill and Uber might continue to bill you until your connection is restored so it would be best to negotiate with your driver to wait for you and take you down as well so there is no surprise charge to your credit card.
6 Best Places You Must Visit When in Islamabad
1. Admire the symmetry of Pakistan Monument
First thing in the morning, take an Uber and visit Pakistan Monument. The monument is built on top of a hill in a spacious park and by being there early in the morning, you will have the whole place to yourself so you can walk around at your own leisure.
I was there at 9:30 AM and there were only 2 people walking around the park. By the time I left around 10:30 AM, there were several vans dropping local tourists off. This place gets packed fast so be sure to arrive early.
2. Visit the Lok Virsa Museum
Only a few minutes walk away from the Pakistan Monument, you will find the Lok Virsa Heritage Museum, a great modern museum of history, art and culture of Pakistan and other Central Asian countries. The museum consists of both outdoor and indoor exhibitions ranging from a collection of displays showcasing the vibrant and diverse cultures of Pakistan from different areas to allowing you to listen to recordings of traditional music and watch several locally-produced cultural documentaries. There is no better place to learn about Pakistan than at the Lok Virsa Museum.
3. Eat your way through Centaurus Mall's Food Court
I know, I know, you are probably wondering why visiting a mall is on this list but hear me out. Pakistan, from the outside, is a very conservative country and when you walk around a city like Lahore or Rawalpindi, you might forget that there is also a modern side to this country and it is best seen in a place like the Centaurus Mall. Also, they have a food court full of both local and western food chains that will indulge you for days. I had the best naan sandwich here.
This is also the best place to stock up food and snack before you start heading up north in the mountains of Pakistan.
4. Check out the Daman-e-Koh Viewpoint
At around 3 PM, where the light is just perfect, take an Uber up to the Daman-e-Koh viewpoint where you will be able to see why they call Islamabad the greenest city in the country. There is no better view of the city than this.
If you are there on a Sunday, you will also be greeted with a small carnival-like market full of snacks and small amusement rides (bouncing castles and the spinning teacups) and lots and lots of locals enjoying themselves, having fun with their families. It is one of the best time to go mingle with the locals in Islamabad. They are very welcoming, especially when they are happy!
5. Dine with a View at Monal Restaurant, Pir Sohawa
Further up the hill from the Daman-e-Koh viewpoint, you will find a nice restaurant called Monal where you can dine both local and western food with a high vantage point of Islamabad surrounded by the hills of Margalla Hills. The food is quite expensive and may not be the most delicious but you can't beat the view of Islamabad from above at sunset.
6. Visit the Faisal Mosque during Sunset
Faisal Mosque is one of the most well-known landmarks in Islamabad and a for good reason. It is the largest mosque in the country that can hold 100,000 worshippers at once and 200,000 more in the courtyard area. The design of the mosque is very unique with the structure shaped as a Bedouin tent instead of the typical dome-shaped exterior that you find in most mosques around the world.
The structure is impressive, but even more so right after sunset as the natural light subsided and the artificial light takes over, illuminating the structure with an orange hue. I was there around 6:00 PM and waited as the sky turned purple, the structure turned orange and the prayer call echoed throughout the city. It was one of the most spiritual moments in Pakistan. If you can make it to the mosque, make sure you are there at sunset. You will not regret it.
There you have it, the 6 best places to go when you are in Islamabad. Is there something missing on the list or do you have any personal suggestion? If so, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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