When it comes to travelling to Pakistan, visiting Islamabad is almost unavoidable, especially if you are flying into Pakistan. Some people might want to skip the city and jump into their adventure trips to explore the northern part of Pakistan or other parts of the country, but I would recommend you not to do so.
I already wrote about what you need to know before travelling to Pakistan and answered the most frequently asked question: “Is Pakistan safe to visit?”. For this reason, in this article, I will mainly focus on Islamabad.
Islamabad is not just like any other capital cities in the world. The city is unique and it is very different from other cities in Pakistan.
There are a lot of things to do and beautiful places to visit in and around Islamabad. It is worth spending at least 2 or 3 days in Islamabad to explore the city and its surroundings. This is our guide to Islamabad and things you should know before you visit.
When is the best time to travel to Islamabad?
Islamabad can be very warm during the summers and humidity makes it feel even warmer. Mid-July is considered the hottest time of the year when the temperature can fluctuate around 40°C. It is best to avoid travelling to Pakistan during the hot seasons, especially if you are planning to go to the centre of the country or the southern areas.
Many tourists prefer to travel to Islamabad between September and October or between March and April when the weather cools down and it is more comfortable to be outside. Moreover, these months are considered the best months to travel to the mountains in the northern parts of the country.
Islamabad can get cold and frosty during the winters, but the temperature will not be unbearable. If you plan to visit Pakistan in the winter, you can fly to Islamabad and then travel to the south to visit Karachi and Balochistan to enjoy the milder weather.
Where to stay in Islamabad
Islamabad is a lush green city with a population just below 1.9 million people. This city doesn’t have a single city centre. You will find a variety of shops and restaurants in various areas, but the Blue Area is considered one of the main central locations in the city.
It is good to book your accommodation not too far from the Blue Area. If you book anywhere in the sectors G6-G8 or the sectors F6-F8, you will have to walk 20 to 30 minutes or get a taxi to get to the main shopping malls and restaurants in the Blue Area.
There are a variety of options for different budgets. Keep in mind that accommodation is quite cheap in Pakistan compared to the other parts of the world, and you should be able to book a decent room in a good hotel for less than £50 per night.
How to get around Islamabad
Islamabad is a safe place to walk around, but you might not be able to find pavements next to every street and crossing some roads could be dangerous. Taking a taxi or an Uber is the most convenient way to travel around Islamabad.
Taxis in Islamabad don’t have taximeters readers or a fixed price. When you arrive at your destination, the taxi driver might ask you to pay as much as you like, and it can be a little confusing for tourists. If your ride is around 10 to 20 minutes, you should pay roughly 150 to 200 Rs.
If you would rather avoid the headache and the confusion, take an Uber. Uber is widely used in Islamabad, and it is also very cheap.
Let me share our experience. We took a 10-minute taxi ride on our first night in Islamabad and we were clueless about the prices. When the taxi driver asked us to pay as much as we wanted, we were honest and told him we just arrived in the city and we had no idea what was fair. He ended up charging us 1000 Rs. Later on, we found out that 150 to 200 Rs was a fairer price for the ride. Once we got back to Islamabad from our travels around the country, we only used Uber in the city.
Internet and How To Buy SIM Cards in Islamabad
Most of the hotels in Islamabad offer free WiFi, but it is not as easy to find reliable WiFi networks in the city. I would recommend you to buy a SIM card with a data plan.
Keep in mind that as a foreigner you can’t buy a SIM card at the airport. In general, buying a SIM card as a foreigner in Pakistan is not as easy as in most other countries. You can only get a prepaid SIM Card at Franchise. You must have your passport with you to be able to purchase one. You have two options, a data-only SIM card or one that includes calls. If you need to be in touch with your local guide or call hotels to book rooms while travelling around the country, you should probably opt for a SIM card that allows you to make calls as well.
Places To Visit in Islamabad and Things To Do
Visit the Shah Faisal Mosque
The Shah Faisal Mosque, situated at the foot of the Margalla Hills, is the largest mosque in Pakistan and it holds a special place in the country’s Muslim community.
The mosque has been named after Saudi King Faisal, who granted $120 million to Pakistan to build this unique mosque. It can accommodate more than 100,000 worshippers in its main hall and its vast courtyard.
You should visit this impressive landmark during the sunset to be blown away by its outstanding beauty.
The Pakistan Monument
The Pakistan Monument, located on the western Shakarparian Hills in Islamabad, is considered a national museum in Pakistan and part of its heritage. This amazing monument was built as a symbol of unity between people in the country.
If you want to have the whole monument to yourself, you should visit it in the early morning, before the local tourists arrive. I would recommend you to go there during the sunrise or sunset for taking some amazing photos.
I usually don’t add visiting malls to my top things-to-do list, but here in Islamabad, you should visit the Centaurus Mall, the biggest mall in Pakistan. The mall is not that huge but it will let you experience the modern side of Pakistan. In addition, if you need to buy anything, it is the best place to shop.
This mall can be a great place to eat because it hosts some international restaurants and a large food court. I always recommend eating local dishes when you travel to a destination, but here is a little different. We enjoyed eating in La Terrazza (on the 3rd floor), an Italian restaurant, where we had an amazing view of Islamabad and tried some Italian dishes with a Pakistani twist.
Hiking in Margalla Hills
Margalla Hills is a lush green hill range in the north of Islamabad on the foothills of the Himalaya mountains.
There are various walking and hiking trails you can take. You might see some wildlife such as wild boars, Asian paradise flycatchers and monkeys. You can find the trails map in major bookstores in Islamabad. Some of the trails are good for a short walk, but some of them can take up to three days.
Daman-E-Koh is a combination of two Persian words and means foothill. This park is located in Margalla Hills, easily reachable by taxi or Uber. Here you can have a great view overlooking the whole city of Islamabad. Daman-E-Koh Viewpoint is where you can have a better look at how green and beautiful Islamabad is.
This place is popular amongst local families and it can get busy in the evening. You should keep an eye on your belongings, especially your phone and your food, because there are many wild monkeys around the park. They are a little aggressive and they tend to collect anything they can. I got close to one of them to take a photo when it suddenly jumped at me trying to take my phone from my hands. Luckily, I was faster and managed to keep it to myself.
Where to eat in Islamabad
If you never tried Pakistani food, get ready to gain some weight, because Pakistani dishes are tasty. The food can be spicy, and if your stomach doesn’t tolerate chilli food make sure to let the restaurant know before ordering.
There are a lot of good restaurants and here I listed some of the best places to eat in Islamabad.
Kabul Restaurant: Kabul restaurant is located in the sector F7, close to the Safa Gold Mall. This place is famous for its grilled meat and it serves Afghan food. It is popular amongst locals and suitable for both lunch and dinner.
Monal Restaurant: If you go further up the hill from Daman-e-Koh, you will find a very nice restaurant with a great view: Monal Restaurant. You might find this restaurant a bit pricey but one meal or even just a drink (a soft drink, of course) is worth it for the view.
Rawalpindi Food Street: Rawalpindi is one of the busiest street food markets in Pakistan. You will need to take a taxi to get there. It usually takes less than 20 minutes to drive there from Islamabad. It is worth a visit as you will find a lot of good restaurants in one single street.
Islamabad is the most modern city in Pakistan where most tourists start their trips before going on exploring the country. We really enjoyed our time in this city and I hope you have a great time there, too.
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