Places to visit in Islamabad

December 15, 2021

Visiting Islamabad as a tourist? Or moving there permanently? It is difficult to find websites recommending the best places to visit in Islamabad, even though Pakistan’s newly-built capital has some really interesting sites!

I have been living in Islamabad for the past three years, and these are some of the best places to visit in Islamabad that I recommend.

What to see in Islamabad

Faisal Mosque

Faisal Mosque

The Faisal Mosque is the sixth-largest mosque in the world, scenically located at the foot of the Margalla Hills National Park. The mosque was built with Saudi funds, and it is therefore named after Saudi king Faisal. It is shaped like a Bedouin tent. Don’t visit in the early afternoon on a Friday, as the important Friday prayer then takes place. If you feel like a nice hike afterwards: Margalla Hills trail six starts just behind the mosque!

Margalla Hills National Park

Margalla Hills

All trails in the Margalla Hills National Park are enjoyable, and they provide excellent views over Islamabad. Trail three is probably the most popular, and it ends up at the famous Monal Restaurant. Most trails take 2-3 hours to complete, and all of them have parking spots at the start.

The Pakistan Monument

The Pakistan Monument

The Pakistan Monument is a must-see in Islamabad. Built on top of the Shakarparian Hill, it stands over the city and provides good views. But the monument itself, and the stone carvings depicting important events, buildings and persons, is evocative.

Saidpur Village

View over Saidpur Village

Saidpur Village is an old village encapsulated by Islamabad. There is a wonderful restaurant, Des Pardes, and some great art galleries. Do not forget to visit the 16th century Hindu temple dedicated to Rama.

Lok Virsa Heritage Museum

And last but not least of the places to visit in Islamabad, there’s the Lok Virsa Heritage Museum. Here is their website. This museum displays the cultural heritage of the ethnic groups living in Pakistan. Visit during October if you can, when the annual Lok Mela festival takes place: a huge bazar with traditional clothes, handicrafts, and food.

Where to eat in Islamabad

There’s a wide variety of places to eat in Islamabad. Many of these restaurants on the list below also serve both Western and Pakistani food on their menus.

Pakistani

1. Let’s start with the famous Monal Restaurant, located in the Margallah Hills. It’s a 30-minute drive from the city into the hills, but Monal offers superb views over the city and excellent Pakistani food. And there’s often live music! Make sure to reserve a table on the terrace for the best views.

Monal Restaurant

2. Des Pardes in Saidpur village has some of the tastiest Pakistani food in Islamabad. Whether you like a good Karahi, Achari or barbecued meats, Des Pardes is among the best places to eat in the city, with good views of traditional Saidpur village.

3. Pakistani’s are proud of their barbecue and rightly so. Baradari restaurant in the Serena Hotel and the chain BBQ Tonight are among the best places to have some perfectly-grilled chicken tikka’s, chapli kebabs, preferably with some biryani on the side. Yum!

Western/Other

  1. The Kabul Restaurant in sector F7 specializes in Afghan food. If you need a break from spicy curries, this is the place to go. Afghan cuisine focuses more on meat and bread, and this is the best place in the city to experience it!

2. Café Aylanto offers a wide variety of very tasty Western dishes. But the best part is the outside terrace, which is surrounded by beautiful plants and other greenery. And they even have a brick oven for excellent pizza’s.

3. For the refined palate try out Italian Restaurant Fuoco or Gaia in F-6

Fuoco Restaurant

4. You will find some fine restaurants with outside terraces at Koshar Market F-6. We usually eat at Tuscany Courtyard.

Tuscany Courtyard

5. For Brunch, Sandwiches, Salads, Cakes and Drinks and other western food, I recommend Loafology in the Blue Area.

6. Both the Mariott and Serena Hotels have many great restaurants to choose from.

7. Looking for a Coffeeshop? Try Gloria Jeans in Centaurus Mall or any other Gloria Jeans shop. Their coffee is truly excellent. I also recommend Butlers Chocolate Café in F-6.

Gloria Jeans Terrace

8. There are many great restaurants in E7 Markaz. For Burgers try Rustic. Quattro Uno sells really tasty pizza. For Sandwiches and coffee try Bru and there is a great ice cream parlor next door called Sugar Rush.

Places to shop in Islamabad

Leather Goods

Check out Jafferjees for excellent leather products! Their handbags are all beautiful. For custom made leather goods like shoes, belts and bags try Jenza Leather in F6. We had quite a couple of items made there and we were very happy with the outcome.

Markets, shops, supermarkets

Kohsar Market in F-6 is among the favorite places for foreigners to stock up on imported products and have a meal in one of the restaurants. Beverley Centre also has a wide variety of little shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a neighborhood supermarket try Hatim in F-7. Al-Fatah in Centaurus Mall F-8 is a huge supermarket which should cater for nearly all your household needs.

Tailor

For Tailor made clothes try Wazir Tailor in the Blue Area or Ijaz Suiting in the Blue Area.

Books

For books, one goes to Saeed Book Bank in F-7. Consisting of several floors, this is the biggest bookstore in Pakistan. Whatever you could possibly want to read about in South Asia, you’ll find it here. Guaranteed.

Carpets

Just opposite Saeed Book Bank is Art Exposure, our favorite place for carpets and shawls. It seems small, but they have hundreds of pashminas, many made of Kashmir wool. Upstairs is carpet galore, and Yasin and his coworkers are more than happy to show them to you! Turkmen Oriental Carpets in F-6 has a fine selection of carpets as well

Furniture

For wood carvings and wooden furniture, Pak Turk is among our favorite places to shop in Islamabad. Located in a basement in Farooqia Market in F-6, Abdul sells beautifully made lamps, tables, and closets for fixed and very good prices!

Pottery

Multan pottery is famous in Pakistan, and you don’t need to travel all the way there to find it. Klay Craft in F-10 has hundreds of plates, vases, cups, tiles, and anything else, all painted in beautiful Multani patterns (and with fixed prices!).

Clothes and Shoes

Behbud Café in F-6 has a shop on the first floor where you can buy beautiful Pakistani clothes and other handmade things For Pakistani Clothes try Khaadi or Beechtree inside the Centaurus Mall in F-8. For Scarves try Paras in F-6 and for Traditional Khussa Shoes visit the Khussa Centre in F-10

Jewelry and Art

For Jewelry try Ravia in F-8 in or Libra F-6. For Art works visit Gallery 6 in F-6

Places to stay in Islamabad

The Serena Hotel Islamabad is probably the best hotel in the entire country. Located close to Constitution avenue, this marvelous hotel hosts 6 restaurants, 2 swimming pools, a world-class spa, and anything else for a fantastic stay in Islamabad.

Another good option is the Marriott Hotel, which comes close to the Serena in terms of comfort, and surpasses it when it comes to the range and quality of its 6 restaurants. Italian, Thai, Pakistani, Chinese, Japanese, steaks – they have it all!

Hotel 108, located in the Blue Area, recently opened and is an excellent modern and clean place to stay. And what’s best of it – it is located next to the best bakery in Islamabad: Loafology!

The Margallah Hotel is a somewhat more budget-friendly option, yet with many of the luxuries and creature comforts we like. Located close to the Kashmir Highway, the polo fields and the Islamabad Club are just meters away.

Places to visit around Islamabad

Taxila

Taxilla Museum
Ruins around Taxila

The ancient ruins at Taxila are a must-visit, even when you’re only 2 days in Islamabad. It’s a mere 45-minute drive. Start at the museum, and then make your way around the different sites including Buddhist, Greek-Hellenistic, and Persian ruins.

Rohtas Fort

Rohtas Fort

Rohtas Fort is among the most impressive forts in Pakistan, located a 2 hour drive from the city. This UNESCO world heritage site is very well preserved, and the architecture is simply amazing. An absolute must-see!

Nathia Gali

The Murree hill station is famous around Pakistan, but we prefer Nathia Gali, around 20-30 minutes after Murree. Set amongst the hills, there’s some great hiking here for all ages (from the easy pipeline trail to the more difficult Miranjani top). And plenty of accommodation options, mostly bed and breakfasts.

Pipeline track from Ayubia to Dunga Gali

Khanpur Lake

Khanpur Lake is another option, and can easily be combined with nearby Taxila. The lake is beautiful and offers many water sports options, including kayaking and jet-skiing. Why not give it a try? 

Considering to extend you visit? Chitral is only an hour flight from Islamabad and offers a great escape from city life. You can read more about Chitral here.

Sincerely,

Arjen

Arjen aims to visit every country in the world (currently at around 85).  His wife thinks he is a walking GPS! As an avid traveler, Arjen has successfully arranged tours for family and friends around Europe, Morocco, China and Pakistan.  When he’s not wrestling with world affairs he loves diving, traveling and reading in no particular order.

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