Islamabad is a green, spacious and surprisingly pleasant city nestled 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 The new purpose-built capital superseded Karachi in the 1960s and boasts wide tree-lined streets and postmodern architecture.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 traveler hangout!
GUEST POST BY SARAH CRAKE
BLOG: Peacock Eye Images
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.
One day in Islamabad itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Islamabad.
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 represents 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.
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.
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.
Visit a truck painting workshop
Another highlight is a visit to a truck painting workshop – there are lots around the city limits.
Pakistan’s psychedelic trucks are one of the country’s most iconic sights and a big attraction for western travelers. Each truck is lovingly and carefully decorated with hand cut fluorescent stickers, painted murals, huge tassels and reflectors.
The driver’s cab is built tall like an enormous turban, which, although ruins its streamlining and makes it less fuel-efficient, it is intended to bring much-needed good luck to the driver to cope with long grueling journeys.
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.
The minarets emulate space rockets and the roof is designed to look like a Bedouin desert tent in honor of the donor, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who gave (in today’s money) USD 120 million 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/
M-2 islamabad near convention centre, 44000 Islamabad
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.
Hotel One Super
Main Aga Khan Road House # 36F-6/4, F-6 Sector
Hotel One in Pakistan is a reliable business chain of hotels offering more affordable accommodation than its sister hotel the Pearl Continental. Definitely recommended.
Islamabad Marriott Hotel
Aga Khan Road, Shalimar 5, Pakistan , 46000 Islamabad
The Marriott is always a good base in a capital city, with reliable standards, as is Best Western.
Extra tips for visiting Islamabad
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.
PIN FOR LATER!
If you have any other propositions for this One day in Islamabad Itinerary feel free to share it in the comments below!
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Sarah Crake is based in the UK and has worked in publishing, PR, and higher education. She is an experienced solo traveler and passionate about all things Asian and Middle Eastern. Sarah has spent extended periods in Asia, including two years in Sri Lanka. She loves traveling with a camera and is particularly inspired by vivid colors in photography, as well as art, culture and eastern religions.
While your article provides some good insight to foreigners travelling to Pakistan and all that they can do in Islamabad, I strongly disagree with your opening statement. Pakistan does not have ‘almost zero tourism and currently no real ability to build any’. The number of inbound tourists has steadily increased over the past few years, and over 3 million people have already visited this year (and that is before the skiing resorts have opened up for the season which brings tens of thousands of people each year). Sure, the world perceives Pakistan as this ridiculously dangerous place to visit, but I am yet to meet a foreign traveller here whose opinion didn’t change after visiting the country (a few rare cases aside, they happen everywhere, all over the world, even UK, USA, Australia, or other ‘developed’ countries).
As far as development goes, the private and government sector are both working towards improving the state of affairs, with better facilities, infrastructure, and protocols in place. There is a very real ability to build a great deal and I assure you that we are doing more than you can imagine. Also, the visa requires a letter of invitation and any government registered travel agency (there are thousands of them) can provide you with one.
One more thing, it is always in poor taste when your recommendation for travelling to another country begins by dissing it.
Thank you very much for your comment and your insight! This was a guest post and author probably put into words her own impression.
Locations arent reflecting the city properly I live in Finland and visit Islamabad sometimes but these are certainly not the places I ever visit.
My recommendations for a day would be:
– Peer Sohawa & Daman e Qoh
– Faisal Mosque
– Pak China Friendship Center or Art and Craft Village ShakarParian
– Local Markets and Malls
Furthermore – Trip to Murree Hills
Thanks Faheem for your comment and suggestions! Everyone experiences traveling in different way and this post is reflection of just one person 🙂
nice post.. nice information about islamabad.
These are some of the best things to do in Islamabad. Apart from this park, there are some other parks in the capital as well that are equally well such as:
Japanese Children’s Park.
Fatima Jinnah Park.