Following the fall of ISIS in 2017, YPT conducted our first ever research trip to Baghdad and followed up with our first regular tour. It proved to be not only very safe but incredibly informative & fascinating. The region has world-class heritage in abundance and is completely unspoilt by tourism, meaning we will feel like the only foreign travellers in town. This is now quickly turning into a YPT signature tour and certainly one of our most interesting ones.
There is a huge amount of ancient and modern history waiting to be explored in Iraq. We’ll start our tour in Najaf which is well connected with flights and a good starting point away from high security Baghdad.
We’ll visit the ancient site of Babylon, the Mesopotamian marshes, see the holy city of Karbala and the southern city of Basra. We cover a huge amount of ground with our expert local guide explaining all as we go. We’ll be walking on the street and meeting people who are extremely eager to meet foreigners after their country was off limit for years! Prepare for all your preconceived ideas to be challenged but also to have a lot of fun!
After our time in Baghdad comes to close we will board a flight and head to Iraqi Kurdistan a prospective new nation protected by the Peshmerga which were at the forefront of the fight with ISIS. Despite its significance and proximity to probably the most tense area in the world, Kurdistan offers not only safety, but beautiful scenery, famed in Middle Eastern literature as a paradise on earth, with more than 3500 archaeological sites, and some of the most friendly and welcoming people on earth.
The trip takes us to the world’s only Yazidi shrine at Lalish, before heading north to Duhok, the Saddam palace, Amadiya, and then looping around and heading south to Sulamaniyah, and back to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Erbil, checking out lots of cool sights in between.
The group will meet at New Istanbul Airport at 8:00am and catch our our late morning Iraqi Airlines flight to Najaf (or catch flight QR456 at Doha Airport to Najaf) – the cost of the flight not included in the price of the tour, exact details to be confirmed nearer the time.
Arrival in Najaf and meet up with our local guide who will give an introduction on travelling in Iraq and a breakdown of the itinerary for our stay as well as an update on the security situation.
Najaf is the third holiest city in Shia Islam after Mecca and Medina
After checking into our hotel we will go for a walking tour of Najaf, including Imam Ali’s house, the very spot where Imam Ali was killed, the Kufa Mosque and the UNESCO heritage site of the Wadi-e-salam cemetery.
Dinner in a local restaurant around the Imam Ali Shrine where after dinner you visit the shrine itself, the most important site of Najaf, for the late night ceremony.
Overnight in Najaf
Saturday 15th May – Najaf/Babylon/Karbala/Najaf
Trip highlight – After breakfast we drive to Babylon, once the largest and most important city in the world. We tour the ancient ruins with our local expert and see what’s left of the hanging gardens.
Saddam Hussain Palace – Perched right on top of Babylon, the dictator made sure he had the best view of the site. We spend some time exploring the looted remains of one of his many former palaces.
In the afternoon we have lunch and head to Karbala, considered a holy city by Shi’ite Muslims
We take in the must-see Al Abbas mosque and Iman Husayn shrine, shrine to the grandson of the prophet Muhammad no less. Today is a great day to visit because it’s the Wednesday procession. You can expect a lot of followers marching around the sites!
Drive back to Najaf where we’ll go out to a local restaurant for dinner
Overnight in Najaf
Sunday 16th May – Najaf/Nasriyah/Basra
After breakfast in the hotel we drive south to visit the Moon Ziggurat of Ur, a neo-Sumerian construction first built over in the year 2000 BCE and which has gone through various restorations throughout history
Trip highlight – We continue our drive to the Mesopotamian Marshes. We’ll take a boat trip through the maze of marshes stopping by local villages for tea. The marshes once engulfed a whole swathe of Southern Iraq with numerous floating villages. Today the receding waters have led most families to change their livelihood but we’ll still see the few that remain.
Visit the Adam and Eve tree, AKA the tree of knowledge, in the village of Qurna. Legend has it that Eve ate the apple from this very tree in the Garden of Eden.
Drive on to Iraq’s southernmost city of Basra, economic powerhouse in the region
Dinner at a local restaurant
Overnight in Basra
Monday 17th May – Basra/Baghdad
After an early breakfast we head out to visit the Ashar and Shanashil Al Basra area to catch a glimpse of the old Basra: traditional style merchant houses with balconies leaning over the narrow streets.
Take a cruise across the Shatt Al Arab river and see some shipwrecks from the Iran-Iraq War from the 80s.
Just like most places in Iraq, Saddam Hussain also built a grand palace in Basra. Of course we’ll visit it.
Iraq’s biggest football stadium is in Basra. Iraqi’s love their football and are even more proud of the 60,000 seater Basra sports city stadium!
After lunch in Basra we hit the road again for the long drive north to Baghdad, with plenty of rest stops along the way
Dinner and overnight in our high security Baghdad Hotel
Tuesday 18th May – Baghdad
It’s a Baghdad city tour day and we kick things off with a visit to the National Museum.
Visit the incredible and well renovated Al – Mustansariya School. This is commonly known as the oldest school in the world.
Walk through the adjoining copper market. A wonderful place for souvenirs and photography
Grab a quick lunch
We drive an hour outside of the city to the ancient city of Ctesiphone. These days all that’s left is the palace archway which is the largest single span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world
We head back to Baghdad for dinner in a local restaurant
Overnight in our high security Baghdad Hotel
Wednesday 19th May – Baghdad/Samarra/Baghdad
This morning we head out straight after breakfast for the drive north to Samarra. We pass through multiple checkpoints along the route driving by many villages recently destroyed during fighting against ISIS.
Trip highlight – Samarra is famous for its Minaret (also known as the Great Mosque of Samarra). We will climb the spiralling staircase all l the way to the top for the 360 degree view. Not for the faint hearted!
Drive back to Baghdad and head straight to Abu Ghraib. No not the prison which is long gone but it’s abandoned and ancient site of Agargouf Ziggurat.
See the Liberation Square monument, which commemorates the establishment of the Republic of Iraq.
Drive by the victory over America Palace and see the square where Saddam’s statue was toppled in 2003.
And of course, Baghdad can’t be complete with a visit to the Flying Carpet Monument, Alibi Baba and the 40 thieves’ monument and the Magic Lamp monument.
Overnight in the high security Baghdad Hotel
Thursday 20th May – Baghdad/Erbil
This morning we will see a few places we haven’t managed to already
Visit the incredible Suffi shrine, a welcome escape from the city’s hustle and bustle
The Al Shaheed Monument is the martyr’s memorial spot for people who died during the Iran-Iraq War. These days it’s a highly controversial monument, as it was originally built during the Saddam era.
See the Liberation Square monument which commemorates the establishment of the Republic of Iraq and the square where Saddam’s statue was toppled in 2003
And last but not least, we can’t visit Baghdad without going to the Flying Carpet Monument, the Monument to Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and the Magic Lamp Monument!
Board our evening flight to Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan
Welcome dinner and drinks in Erbil and meet up with those joining us in Erbil for the Kurdistan adventure.
Overnight in Erbil.
Friday 21st May – Duhok
We begin the day nice and early for the two-hour drive to Lalish. This is the most sacred town for the Yazidi people and is extremely interesting as it is now maintained by only a few families, waiting for the Yazidi refugees spread out all over the world to come back
We then head to the Khanis archaeological site, here we can see cuneiform writings in the walls of what was a palace, pre-arabic times!
Our next stop is at one of the world’s oldest churches built into the mountains in Alqosh. Alqosh is technically part of Mosul and Iraq “proper”. From the mountainside church, we will be able to see what used to the Peshmerga front line against ISIS. Inside the caves, we will learn more about the life of the monks who lived here and their self-mutilation practices.
We head for lunch and a few beers in Alqosh, as luckily it is a Christian town!
Following our slow, late lunch, we drive onwards to Duhok, which is a pleasant old town for our overnight stay.
Walking city tour.
Overnight in Duhok
Saturday 22nd May – Rawandas
In the morning, we head to Amadiya, home to one of Saddam Hussein’s former mountaintop palaces and is truly an amazing site. We spend a few hours exploring and admiring the breathtaking views.
We head to a locally famous cave restaurant for a traditional lunch.
Following lunch, we embark on one of our longer journeys: the four-hour drive to Rawandas. Stopping along the way for pictures at the Shamarda cave as well as for refreshments.
Walking tour of Rawandas before we head for dinner and drinks.
Overnight in Rawandas where we stay in our own cottages for a little cottage party!
Sunday 23rd May – Sulaymaniyah
Drive the famously scenic Hamilton road. The road was built by AM Hamilton in the early 1930’s for what he hoped would unify the peoples of the region. Well, in fact, the road has been fought over many times, especially during the war with Iran.
We continue our journey stopping at various waterfalls and mountains for pictures.
Lunch at a countryside restaurant.
We take another scenic drive of around 3.5 hours to the second major city of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the most important regarding tourism, Sulaymaniyah. We will be stopping along the way for refreshments and picture opportunities.
In the evening, we take a walk around this historical city, visiting its parks and bazaar.
Sulaymaniyah has a great street food scene so we go to the bazaar to try some of the local specialities for dinner.
Overnight in Sulaymaniyah.
Monday 24th May – Halabja/Sulaymaniyah
We take the one-hour drive to Halabja. Halabja was the scene of the mass chemical attack on the Kurdish people, perpetrated by the Baathist regime. Here, we will look at the various shrines to the scene of this atrocity, as well as visit a local museum.
Lunch of some of the best kebabs in all Iraqi Kurdistan
We head back to Sulaymaniyah to visit the Red Prison. Here, Saddam’s regime imprisoned and tortured Kurds suspected of being anti-baath. We can visit the prisons and torture cells used at the time. There is also a new part of the museum dedicated to the very recent war against ISIS
Dinner in one of Sulyamaniyah finer restaurants to celebrate the end of our tour!
Overnight in Sulaymaniyah.
Tuesday 25th May – Sulaymaniyah/Erbil
After breakfast, we again hit the road, this time back to Erbil, but instead of taking the short cut, we head via Dukan lake, where, according on time and weather, we’ll have the possibility to go on a short boat ride and checkout the dam. For a long time, this dam was unoperational because the Iraqi army stole the chip monitoring it when they left.
We then complete the scenic two-hour drive back to Erbil, again, stopping for refreshments and photos along the way.
We head to the Citadel for sunset, which, although it has seen better days, is still worth a look. We then head into the bazaar where your local guide will help you find some last minute bargains.
We have a farewell dinner near the bazaar.
It is fair to say you do not know a country until you have done a bar crawl, so we finish our time in Iraqi Kurdistan by seeing it off with a last night celebration
Overnight in Erbil.
Wednesday 26th May – Erbil
End of tour, with YPT either able to arrange additional accommodation or transport to the airport.
• Iraqi Visa LOA support
• Accommodation on twin share basis
• Domestic flight from Baghdad to Erbil
• Breakfast and lunch
• Transport to complete the itinerary
• English speaking local guide and YPT guide at all times
• Entrance fees unless otherwise specified
• Iraqi Visa to be obtained at embassy after LOA secured
• Single Supplement (€600)
• International flights to Najaf and out of Baghdad
• Dinners and personal spending
• Tips for the local guide and drivers
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.