As the capital city of Pakistan, Islamabad is the go-to tourist destination for both foreign as well as local travellers, particularly since the country was declared to be the top tourist destination for 2020. Located in the northern part of the country, the city is also an ideal starting point for any journey that is being planned to explore the areas further up north, such as Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir or even a little south towards Murree Hills. As such, if you’re planning to visit Islamabad any time soon, you need to know just where to go, what to see, and what to do once you arrive. We’ve rounded up some of the top attractions in Islamabad that should not be missed by any tourist visiting the city.
We’ve divided the tourist attractions in Islamabad into categories so you can choose which ones you want to visit based on your interest.
Cultural and Historic Locations
Islamabad is a fairly new city in comparison to the ancient settlement of Lahore or another old fellow, Karachi. However, as it is the country’s capital, there are several cultural and historic places to visit in Islamabad, each with their own stories to tell:
1. Pakistan Monument
The Pakistan Monument is a national monument located on the western side of Shakarparian Hills. The monument, whose construction began in 2004 and was completed in 2007, symbolises the unity of the people with four granite flower petals rising from the ground and converging together to depict the four provinces (Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) standing in unity. Three smaller petals inside the larger ones represent the smaller territories of Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). The monument stands atop a marble base and is at a height that gives you a scenic view of Islamabad. The monument is located close to another attraction, a wax museum, showcasing the events that ignited the Pakistan Movement in 1940.
2. Lok Virsa Museum
Built in 1974, the Lok Virsa Museum is located quite close to the Pakistan Monument. It is one of the largest museums in Pakistan with several exhibit halls as well as an outdoor museum, exhibiting the heritage of Pakistan. The name literally translates to ‘Museum of People’s Heritage’ and it surely does justice to the name by detailing the history of the people of Pakistan amidst its halls. There is also a library and a research centre built inside the premises.
3. Shah Faisal Mosque
Named after the Saudi King Faisal who granted monetary aid for the completion of its construction, Shah Faisal Mosque is the largest mosque in Pakistan. It was also the largest mosque in the world between the late 1980s and the early 1990s. What’s truly unique about this mosque is the lack of a domed structure that is typical of mosques all over the world. Built in 1986 by a Turkish architect, Vedat Dalokay, the mosque looks like a tent pitched in a dessert, with four spires towering up from each of its corners. The mosque can hold nearly 70,000 worshippers, with space to accommodate about 10,000 people in the central prayer hall.
4. Saidpur Village
The revived town of Saidpur lies at the foothills of the mountains that surround the capital and provide a welcome break from modern life. Visiting this part of Islamabad is like taking a trip through history, where you can experience life in an authentic village even in the 21st century. While modern life has found its way into the settlements here, it has been incorporated in a manner that blends all the modern eateries into the ancient surroundings. The village itself is more than 500 years old, but it was renovated by the CDA (Capital Development Authority) in 2006.
Natural and Scenic Attractions
Islamabad’s location and close proximity to the Margalla Hills offers plenty of opportunities for recreation and exploration among the wilderness. The most scenic tourist attractions in Islamabad are:
5. Margalla Hills
It goes without saying that if you live near the mountains, you’ll probably want to spend some time exploring them. The feeling is no different for tourists visiting Islamabad, and for those who want to see the wilderness up close. Hiking trails are marked throughout the hills and enthusiasts often backpack through them at their leisure. The hills are ideal for bird watchers as well since many species call the hills their home. Exploring Margalla Hills is a unique experience and offers panoramic views of Islamabad once you make it to the top.
While many might argue that they are the same, Daman-e-Koh, translated into ‘foothills’, is actually a viewing point on Margalla Hills, from where you can get a fabulous bird’s eye view of the entire city spread out in front of you. The beautiful Faisal Mosque is also visible from here. You can choose to visit the point while you hike through Margalla Hills or drive up here by road.
7. Rawal Lake
Streams flowing down from Margalla Hills collect at a reservoir which forms Rawal Lake. Paddle and motor boats are available here for a fun-filled afternoon. Having a picnic at Lake View Park is also an option when you are considering things to do in Islamabad. However, visiting the lake at sunset will give you the best views of the scenic beauty that awaits you.
Eating and Shopping Destinations
If you are heading to Islamabad as a tourist, there are certain eating and shopping destinations that you should not miss. Every visitor to the city should, at least once, enjoy dinner at the famous Monal Restaurant and visit the following shopping destinations:
8. Monal Restaurant
Located at a short hike upwards from Daman-e-Koh, Monal restaurant is the best restaurant in Islamabad, offering not just delicious food but also amazing views of the city spread out in front of the hills. While the menu offers everything from fast food, pizza, and pasta, to continental and oriental cuisine, Monal is best known for its Pakistani cuisine. Their must-try food items include Handi, Biryani, and a range of barbeque dishes.
9. Jinnah Super Market
While Centaurus Mall is the best mall to visit in Islamabad during your trip, the best market for high-end brands is Jinnah Super Market in Sector F-7 Markaz. It has a unique circular shape with shops lining both the inner and outer sides of the circle. From branded clothing to fancy restaurants and jewellery stores, this is the place to go for shopping in Islamabad if you want to skip the malls.
10. Sunday Bazaar
Called Sunday or Itwar Bazaar, this market is open on other days of the week as well. Although the most popular of these is the one in Sector G-11, smaller bazaars are set up in different sectors across Islamabad. These markets are often open on Tuesdays or Fridays as well, and offer everything from fresh produce to clothing, tech accessories, and more. As a foreign tourist who is eager to explore Islamabad and its bazaars, you should know that haggling is a common practice in Pakistani street markets and while some easy bargaining tips can help you secure a good deal, it is advised that you let a trustworthy local accompany you on your shopping spree.
These are some of the top tourist attractions in Islamabad to visit on your next trip. If you are planning to move to the capital, make sure you know the best areas with houses for sale in Islamabad before you make an investment. For more posts on travel and tourism, keep following Zameen Blog, best tourism blog in Pakistan.