One day in Islamabad itinerary – Top things to do in Islamabad, Pakistan

One day in Islamabad ItineraryIslamabad is a green, spacious and surprisingly pleasant city nestling in the Margalla Hills, the foothills of the western Himalayas. The new purpose-built capital superseded Karachi in the 1960s, and boasts wide tree-lined streets and postmodern architecture. Islamabad is not, though, on the cusp of being revealed as some under-the-radar traveller hangout!

 

The country has almost zero tourism and currently no real ability to build any, given the convoluted process for tourist visas and worldwide assumptions regarding safety. But if you do manage to organise a trip to Pakistan, despite negative perceptions, Islamabad is generally calm and peaceful and if you like places with no tourists, it’s undeniably authentic.

 

Guest post by Sarah Crake

 

One day in Islamabad itinerary

Top things to do in Islamabad, Pakistan

 

Visit the Pakistan Monument

First stop is a visit to the Pakistan Monument on the edge of Shakarparian National Park, an interesting piece of architecture dedicated to national unity and designed to resemble a lotus flower. The petals represent the five states of Pakistan and the central black triangle, Islamabad, as the capital. Outside the monument, there are stalls selling snacks, candyfloss and even camel rides. There are also some strange clowns wandering around! It’s a good people watching spot, especially in the evening.

Pakistan Monument, Shakarparian National Park
Pakistan Monument, Author: Sarah Crake

 

Discover Rawalpindi

Rawalpindi is Islamabad’s older twin city. Despite being only 20km down the Kashmiri Highway, if traffic is bad, it can take over an hour to reach from Islamabad’s Blue Area. Famous for its historical bazaars, there is also evidence of some ancient Buddhist settlements here. Rawalpindi has some beautiful old wooden buildings: those from the Sikh era have distinctive Indian looking cupolas and latticed windows. Rawalpindi’s streets are narrow and crowded, with stalls selling everything from copper kitchenware and decorated furniture to henna, rose petals, pomegranates, rugs and Kashmiri textiles.

Islamabad Pomegranates
Islamabad Pomegranates, Author: Sarah Crake

Somewhere in the middle of Rajah Bazaar (you’ll need a guide) is an amazing mosque (Jamia Masjid) with a beautiful patterned archway. Stop by the entrance as it’s great for photographs.

Mosque Jamia Masjid Islamabad
Mosque Jamia Masjid, Author: Sarah Crake

 

Visit a truck painting workshop

Another highlight is a visit to a truck painting workshop – there are lots around the city limits.

Truck Decorations in Islamabad
Truck Decorations in Islamabad, Author: Sarah Crake

Pakistan’s psychedelic trucks are one of the country’s most iconic sights and a big attraction for western travellers. Each truck is lovingly and carefully decorated with hand cut fluorescent stickers, painted murals, huge tassels and reflectors.

Truck Decorations
Truck Decorations, Author: Sarah Crake

The driver’s cab is built tall like an enormous turban, which although ruins its streamlining and makes its less fuel efficient, it is intended to bring much-needed good luck to the driver to cope with long gruelling journeys.

Colorful Trucks in Islamabad
Colorful Trucks in Islamabad, Author: Sarah Crake

 

Explore Saidpur

Heading out of Islamabad is a restored traditional village called Saidpur in the foothills of the Margalla Mountains.  Stop by the small black and white vintage photo exhibition which shows the construction of Islamabad. Then head up through the village to walking trails, which lead to a lookout with a bird’s eye view over the city.

 

Visit the Shah Faisal Mosque

To the right is the magnificent landmark Shah Faisal Mosque. Make sure you visit the mosque in person to appreciate the unique architecture – it’s particularly captivating at sunset against the backdrop of the dusky mountains.

Shah Faisal Mosque Islamabad
Shah Faisal Mosque, Author: Sarah Crake

The minarets emulate space rockets and the roof is designed to look like a Bedouin desert tent in honour of the donor, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia,  who gave (in today’s money) USD120million for its construction. The mosque is one of the largest in the world and can accommodate 15,000 people.

Shah Faisal Mosque is on the other side of the Blue Area, where you’ll find most hotels, malls and restaurants and more than likely where you’ll stay if you’re in Islamabad. Going out for an evening meal is a big thing and so places get very busy. Most restaurants have western international menus, so ask around for recommendations for Pakistani food – there are also Afghan, Persian and Central Asian restaurants too, as well as lots of modern patisseries and cafes.

 

Where to stay in Islamabad?

This can be tricky, because not all hotels can have foreigners as guests. Check on the official tourism website http://www.tourism.gov.pk/

Hotel Margala is a casual mid-range business hotel with spacious rooms and super king beds. There’s a good breakfast buffet. You’ll definitely need a car as it’s out by Rawal Lake, just off the M2.

Book here
Hotel Margala
Hotel Margala

Hotel One in Pakistan is a reliable business chain of hotels offering more affordable accommodation than its sister hotel the Pearl Continental. Definitely recommended.

Book here
Hotel One Super
Hotel One Super

The Marriott is always a good base in a capital city, with reliable standards, as is Best Western.

Book here
Islamabad Marriott Hotel
Islamabad Marriott Hotel

 

Extra tips for visiting Islamabad:

 

Visa note

Unless you have a Pakistani sponsor which in my case was my Pakistani tour company (based in Gilgit), I’m not sure getting a Tourist Visa is that easy for the first time independent travellers. My agent and I created an itinerary and he organised the hotels/driver. He also provided documentation for the visa application process. There aren’t many hostels or cheap hotels available and in any case all hotels need to be booked in advance and booking confirmations (not reservations) presented to the Visa office run by Gerry’s.

I would highly recommend my tour operator Active Tours. Mr Karim is super-professional, gives great advice and is honest and reliable.

 

Guest post by Sarah Crake

 

Find the Best Hotel Deals in Islamabad

 

In case you have more than just One Day in Islamabad check out Tripadvisor for detailed list of all the top things to do in Islamabad.

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Islamabad Pakistan Top things to doIslamabad Pakistan One day itinerary

 

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Sarah Crake
Sarah Crake
Travel Photographer at

Sarah Crake is based in the UK and has worked in publishing, PR, and higher education. She is an experienced solo traveller and passionate about all things Asian and Middle Eastern. Sarah has spent extended periods in Asia, including two years in Sri Lanka. She loves travelling with a camera and is particularly inspired by vivid colours in photography, as well as art, culture and eastern religions.
For more photo libraries please visit Shutterstock, Alamy and 500px

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