Following the fall of ISIS in 2017, YPT conducted our first research trip to Baghdad in April of 2018. The trip proved to be not only safe but incredibly informative and fascinating. This particular region has an abundance of ancient and modern historical sites completely unspoilt by tourism and ready for you to explore it with us.
The whole Iraq ultimate tour starts in Baghdad – the capital city of Iraq, where you’ll visit some of the world’s most unique monuments including Firdos Square – the very square where the Coalition forces toppled Saddam’s statue in 2003, and visit the former Camp Al-Adala – where the execution of Saddam Hussein took place in 2006, now known as Camp Justice.
You’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 and taking us on the safest route. You’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.
We will also be lucky enough to be in the country to take in all the festivities surrounding the Newroz holiday, which celebrates the beginning of spring, represents new beginnings and is considered the most important Kurdish Festival on the calendar every year. The atmosphere in Iraqi Kurdistan during this holiday is fantastic with special local delicacies on sample, fireworks performances, live music, dance, and for good luck, the locals smash pottery
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.
Please note: For a tour of this nature, security is the most important factor and the itinerary is subject to change depending on the situation on the ground and the information we receive from our local partners. The local guide and YPT guide’s decision on eventual itinerary changes is final and taken with your safety in mind.
Arrive at your convenience into Baghdad – the capital city of Iraq which is well connected from many countries within the Middle East and most of Europe.
Transfer to Baghdad Hotel using registered Airport taxis that can be arranged at the airport.
The group will meet at the lobby of Baghdad hotel to discuss tour itinerary and to meet your fellow travellers and YPT guide.
We begin the tour by visiting Al-Mutanabbi street located near the old quarter – this particular street is well known for bookselling and has often been referred to as the very heart of the Baghdad literacy and intellectual community.
Visit Tahir Square which translates to Liberation Square – it’s Baghdad’s largest and most central square which commemorates the 1958 establishment of the Republic of Iraq.
Lunch break in town to try local popular Iraqi dishes such as Kubba and Manti
Explore Firdos Square – named after the Persian word “paradise”, this was the very square where the Coalition forces toppled Saddam’s statue in 2003.
Visit the Former Camp Al-Adala – where the execution of Saddam Hussein took place in 2006, and the execution of his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, most famously known as Chemical Ali. The camp is known these days as Camp Justice.
We finish off today’s tour by seeing the Victory Arch – also known as the Hands of Victory or the Crossed Swords. Built to commemorate the Iran–Iraq War and approved by Saddam himself, this monument stands 40 meters high and is located on the very edge of the green zone.
Dinner in town and overnight at the high security “Baghdad Hotel” – complete with a swimming pool, gym and bar.
Friday 11th March – Baghdad – Ctesiphon – Baghdad
Breakfast at hotel
Visit the Iraq Museum which contains precious relics from the Mesopotamian, Persian and Islamic civilization. The museum was looted during and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq but despite international efforts, only some of the stolen artefacts have been returned.
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
Lunch break in town – we recommend falafels as it’s quite popular amongst the locals
Begin an hour drive outside of Baghdad to the ancient city of Ctesiphon. 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 stopping for dinner in a local restaurant on the way
Overnight and drinks at Baghdad Hotel
Saturday 12th March – Samarra – Agargouf Ziggurat – Karbala
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 the way to the top for the 360 degree view. Not for the faint hearted!
Continue 100km southwest of Baghdad to Iraq’s holiest city of Karbala – the shrines of Imam Husayn and Al Abbas are considered incredibly holy for Shi’ite Muslims, the same way as Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
Before arriving at Karbala we’ll stop at Abu Ghraib – not to be mistaken as the prison which is long gone, but it’s abandoned and ancient site of Agargouf Ziggurat.
Dinner and overnight at Karbala.
Sunday 13th March – Karbala – Babylon – Najaf
Breakfast at hotel and begin our day by visiting the Al Abbas mosque and Iman Husayn shrine – rens of millions of Shi’ite Muslims visit this sacred site twice a year, rivalling Mecca and Mashhad by the number of pilgrims annually.
Drive further east to Babylon – once the largest and most important city in the world. Here we’ll tour the ancient ruins with our local expert and explore what’s left of the hanging gardens.
Lunch break on the way
Explore Saddam Hussain’s Palace – Perched right on top of Babylon, the dictator made sure he had the best view of the site. Here you’ll be able to walk through the abandoned palace and discover the looted remains of one of his many former palaces.
Continue driving to Najaf – the third holiest city in Shia Islam. We’ll take in its most important site – the Imam Ali shrine.
Dinner and overnight in Najaf
Monday 14th March – Najaf – Ur – Marshes – Basra
Breakfast at hotel and begin 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.
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.
Visit to the Mesopotamian Marshes – we’ll take a bout trip through the maze of marshes stopping by local villages for lunch and tea. The marshes once engulfed the whole swathe of Southern Iraq with numerous floating villages. Today the receding waters have led most families to change their livelihoods but we’ll still see and experience the few that remain.
Continue driving onto Iraq’s southernmost city of Basra – most famous for its port.
Dinner and overnight in Basra
Tuesday 15th March – Basra – Baghdad
Breakfast at hotel
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 1980s.
Here we’ll also have another opportunity to explore yet another Saddam Hussain’s palace in Basra.
After lunch in town we’ll begin our longest drive of the tour back north to Baghdad with plenty of rest stops along the way for refreshments, toilet breaks and photos.
Before arriving in Baghdad, we’ll visit the vast Basra British War Memorial – the memorial commemorates over 40,000 Commonwealth forces members who died during the Mesopotamian Campaign, from 1914 to 1921.
Arrive in Baghdad and check into your hotel room
Farewell dinner and overnight at Baghdad Hotel
Wednesday 16th March – Baghdad – Erbil
Breakfast at hotel
Al Shaheed Monument – an imposing structure commemorating the first Gulf War.
Visit to the Unknown Soldier Monument in Baghdad, an impressive spot to visit.
Head to Baghdad International Airport and depart on our flight to Erbil International Airport, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Welcome meal and drinks in Erbil and meet up with those joining us in Erbil for the Kurdistan adventure.
Overnight in Erbil.
Thursday 17th March – 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
Friday 18th March – 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!
Saturday 19th March – 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.
Sunday 20th March – 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.
Monday 21st March – Sulaymaniyah – Erbil: Newroz Festival
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 nonoperational 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.
Newroz is the most important holiday of the year for Kurds and we will be joining in celebrations where possible and appropriate
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.
Tuesday 22nd March – Erbil
Breakfast at hotel
Tour concludes with airport drop-off arranged according to your flight details – YPT is also able to arrange post-tour accommodation or advice for flights.
• Iraqi Visa LOA support
• Accommodation on twin share basis
• Domestic flight from Baghdad to Erbil
• 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
• Lunches, dinners and personal spending
• Tips for the local guide and drivers
We have expert guides ready to help answer any questions you may have.