Baghdad is the capital of Iraq. It is here that the majority of travellers land before exploring the rest of the country, if they are not arriving by land from Iraqi Kurdistan or from neighbouring countries such as Iran, Jordan or Kuwait.
In this guide, you will find all the information you need to visit Baghdad, including: safety – places to see and must-sees in the city – things to do – how to get to other destinations in Iraq – where to sleep (…)
The cities shouldn’t be compared but, having been to Cairo in Egypt many times, I have to admit that I sometimes had the impression of being there (in certain areas) as the two cities have some similarities. I mentioned this to a friend from Baghdad who had visited the Egyptian capital himself, and in his words, it felt “just like home”. If you’ve already visited Cairo, this should already give you a brief idea of your future visit to Iraq’s capital.
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Is Baghdad safe to visit?
Baghdad can be visited independently, but bear in mind that the situation remains volatile and the city is sometimes the victim of random attacks. Attacks can occur anywhere at any time, even in the most secure areas, as was the case recently in the Green Zone, threatened by rocket fire. There was also the recent deadly incident in 2021, when a suicide bomber attacked a market in the heart of the capital. It should be noted, however, that most attacks remain targeted and well-localised. [check latest news]
Baghdad is generally easy to visit. Make sure you remain vigilant during your stay, as you would anywhere else in Iraq. You should be aware that there is still a strong military and police presence in much of the city, which is reassuring. Just avoid going out in the evenings to dodgy, unfrequented places and you’ll be very fine, don’t worry!
My experience in Baghdad
From a personal point of view, I’ve never felt unsafe in Baghdad, apart from the times I’ve tried to cross certain roads! You’ll understand…
Joking aside, I’ve never had any problems walking around the streets of the capital and believe me, I’ve walked many kilometres and visited some “off the beaten track” and seemingly inhospitable places without any problem.
Places to visit and things to do in Baghdad
At least two days are needed to visit all the must-see places of Baghdad.
1. National Museum of Iraq
Entry fee: 25 000 IQD
In practical terms, it’s a bit like the Cairo Museum, but for Iraq… Is it a must-see in Baghdad? It certainly is. Two enormous statues of Lamassu (a deity of Mesopotamian origin) from the Achaemenid Empire are on display. I had already seen a gigantic Lamassu in Iran on the site of Persepolis, but these are in a perfect state of preservation, which is rare in Iraq’s historical heritage. Honestly, this is a goldmine where you could spend hours, so don’t miss it.
2. Martyr’s Memorial (Al-Shaheed Monument)
Entry fee: 3 000 IQD
The Martyrs Memorial is a work of art designed in 1983 under the reign of Saddam Hussein to commemorate the deaths of soldiers during the fighting in the Iran-Iraq war. It’s an unusual and highly photogenic place to discover, not far from the city centre.
3. Al-Mutanabbi Street, a must-see place in Baghdad
Al Mutanabbi is Baghdad’s most popular street, home to many ancient bookshops and a century-old café, Shabandar (a must-see), but having explored most of the area, I can assure you that there is a mind-boggling concentration of important and historic monuments all around. In fact, I quickly visited Mutanabbi and spent hours wandering around this street, where I saw hardly anyone. Mutanabbi is a historic place where once there were libraries of great importance, but unfortunately almost nothing remains of them since the American invasion. It’s a pleasant, lively place to spend time during the day and also in the evening.
In its surrounding area you will find :
Al-Rasheed historic quarter and its many souks – Al Mustansiriya Madrasa – the Abbasid Palace – a Christian quarter with many churches – the statue of Abu Tayyeb, the man whose street bears his nickname (read about Abu Tayyeb) – Al-Mustansiriya Madrasa – many ancient mosques.
4. Haydar-Khana district and Al-Rasheed street
Haydar-Khana is a historic district of Baghdad where you can admire ancient Iraqi architecture. Its main street, Al-Rasheed Street, is a bustling place from morning until mid-afternoon, full of workers. In the same street, a mosque dating back to the end of the Abbasid Empire, i.e. at least 8 centuries, stands out from all the other buildings around it (Haydar-Khana Mosque). There is an important library on the same site, as well as the mausoleum (“Mazar/Dargah”) of an important Sufi man.
5. Al-Mustansiriya Madrasa
Al-Mustansiriya Madrasa is a must-see monument in Baghdad. The Madrasa is an 8-century-old Islamic university built by the Abbasids, and is one of the oldest in the world. It is just a few steps from the famous Mutanabbi street. The Madrasa is located on the banks of the Tigris river and is bordered by large bazaars that are not to be missed.
6. Abbassid Palace of Baghdad
Entry fee: 25 000 IQD
The Abbasid Palace is one of the most notable historic buildings in the city of Baghdad and, more generally, part of Iraq’s historical heritage. This 12th-century building is located near the Rue Al Mutanabbi. There are also two other important Abbasid monuments in this area: the Al-Mustansiriya Madrasa and the Al-Khulafa Mosque, both of which are a must-see.
7. Liberation Square (Tahrir)
Tahrir Square is the most central location in the whole of Baghdad. It is known for its emblematic monument depicting the important events in Iraq that led to the establishment of a republic.
8. Al-Rahman Mosque
Built under the orders of Saddam Hussein, Al-Rahman should have been one of the largest mosques in Iraq and even in the world. However, the American invasion in 2003 meant that construction work never got off the ground. The religious building is located in the Mansour district. Mosul Grand Mosque is another mosque in Mosul that was halted for the same reasons.
9. Al-Kazimiyya Mosque
Located in the Al-Kadhimiya district, the Al-Kazimiyya mosque is one of the most important mosques in Baghdad for Shia Muslims. It contains a shrine where two of the 12 Imams of Islam are buried, making it an important place of pilgrimage. There are other tombs of imams in Iraq: two in Samarra, one in Najaf and one in Karbala. The mosque was one of the first buildings to be found in the original city of Baghdad, which was initially circular in shape, a little like Erbil and its citadel, but more elaborate and structured. This round city was built by the Abbasid dynasty and is the historic core of Baghdad [see image].
The Al-Khadhimiya district, where the mosque is located, is lively and a good place to stay in the capital. What’s more, you can easily find a wide range of hotels to stay in.
10. Shabandar Cafe
The historic Shabandar Cafe is one of the most popular places for locals and the rare tourists who visit Baghdad. This typical and very popular spot in the city has been in existence since 1917. It’s a must-visit place where you should come at least once for a cup of tea or a shisha. The café is located in the rue Al Mutanabbi.
11. Al-Turat, the Jewish Area of Baghdad
Al-Turat is one of the historic quarters of Baghdad’s Jewish community, which lived mainly between Al-Rasheed and Al-Bataween. Here you will find old synagogues and magnificent traditional flats. The Jews left the area and deserted Iraq in the 1940s. However, there is still an active synagogue in the town, on the Bataween side. These old buildings are now all abandoned or squatted. Some history-loving Iraqis would like to see them converted into museums.
12. Al-Ghazal Souq
I discovered this souk completely by chance on my way to visit the Jewish quarter mentioned above. The streets were bustling with people and merchants selling chickens, vegetables, clothes, etc. I was quietly browsing the stalls when I spotted a guy with a strange bird under his arm… It was a huge buzzard! I asked him where he’d found such a bird and that’s how he led me to Al-Ghazal, a souk of all kinds of animals where even falcons, vultures, pink flamingos, monkeys and sometimes even real wild beasts can be found. It was quite mind-boggling. In fact, Iraq has had other fish to fry in recent years when it comes to legislation concerning wild animals on its territory, which is why everything is allowed on this subject. The most important souk, Al-Ghazal, takes place every Friday morning. There is almost nothing after midday.
While you’re in Al Ghazal, take the opportunity to visit the Al-Khulafa mosque, as it’s on the same spot (you can see it on my belowing photo)
13. Al-Khulafa Mosque
The Khulafa Mosque is one of the most notable in Baghdad and also one of the oldest, erected by the Abbasid dynasty in the 9th century. At the same time, you could also discover the beautiful Chaldean cathedral of Saint Mary, located just opposite the mosque, on the other side of the road.
14. Taq-e Kasra
31 km from Baghdad
Taq Kasra is an ancient monument not to be missed if you’re travelling near Baghdad, which is just 35 km away. These ruins are the only survivors of a Sassanid Persian city that once stood here.
15. Dur Kurigalzu Ziggurat
25 km from Baghdad
Located on the archaeological site of Aqar Qūf in the vicinity of Baghdad, are the ruins of a ziggurat, Dur Kurigalzu, as well as numerous Mesopotamian temples that you can easily visit in less than half a day from the Iraqi capital.
Watch my visit of Baghdad
Follow me on Instagram to see all the stages of my itinerary in Iraq and discover the city of Baghdad through my highlight stories.
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Where to stay in Baghdad
There’s no shortage of hotels in Baghdad. In my opinion, the best places to stay when visiting the Iraqi capital are the Al-Sa’adon and Al-Bataween districts, as they are close to the centre of the city and close to the vast majority of the major tourist attractions. This is where I stayed and from my hotel, I was able to reach most of the places mentioned in this guide on foot, which are on average an hour’s walk or even less for some.
Find cheap hotels in Baghdad
Doing my own research on the net before leaving for Baghdad, I realised that cheap accommodation was non-existent on accommodation platforms such as Booking.com, Agoda, Expedia and on Google Maps. As for the forums and travel groups, they all said the same thing: there are no cheap hotels in Baghdad.
So I opted for the cheapest one I could find via Booking.com, which was $50, as having an initial reservation is recommended during the visa process. This establishment (Italian House Hotel) was located in the Karrada district, a very quiet area but very far from the main places of interest.
Many travellers mention the “Royal Garden” hotel, which used to offer prices of around $20. It was the only one at that price on online platforms but, victim of its success and virality with tourists, its prices have literally quadrupled. So I went to the area around this hotel, near Sadoun Street and the Al-Bataween district, and looked around for establishments that I could find on Google Maps but that weren’t on the platforms, and I can tell you that there’s a large number of comfortable and secure accommodation for around twenty euros. (~ 25,000 / 30,000 IQD). It took me fifteen minutes to find a room at that price. If you look hard enough, you can even find hotels for less than 15,000 IQD. In this neighbourhood, you’ll be close to many of Baghdad’s must-see places.
On foot, it will take you an hour to reach the Martyrs’ Monument, the National Museum and Al Mutanabbi Street, and 20 minutes to reach Liberation Square (Tahrir).
⚠️ If you are a woman: Al-Bataween is an area that is known for its nightlife and where there are many liquor shops. Late at night, many of the men are drunk and the vast majority of the women walking around this area are in fact prostitutes who are sometimes even here after dark. I’ve seen these areas at these times and they’re not very nice. I’ve also heard from two foreign travellers who have walked through Al-Bataween at night to get back to their hotel and, in their words, it was a very unpleasant experience. Perhaps wearing a veil can help in this case, but in practical terms you should avoid hanging around here at late hours. On the other hand, everything is normal during the day.
The Al-Kadhimiya district is home to the Al-Kazimiyya mosque and shrine. This is the area where you can find all the cheapest hotels in Baghdad. You might want to stay here if you’re a budget traveller, or even on a very tight budget.
There are many hotels ranging from $6 to $25. However, if you opt for the cheaper options, make sure they are secure enough. Stay away from the main streets to find this price range, and ask shopkeepers to point them out if you can’t find them. The disadvantage of this location is that it’s far from all the other places of interest and you’ll spend money on transport to get around. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re better off travelling by minibus.
How to get around
Getting around Baghdad is very simple. The city is literally full of yellow taxis that are easy to spot. If you’re familiar with how Uber works, you should know that there’s an equivalent application for Iraq called “Careem”. When I’m out and about in the capital, I simulate a journey using the app to find out the fare and then hail a taxi straight away. This way, I already know the fare. If it’s too high, I negotiate down to the real price. However, I rarely have to haggle. Drivers sometimes increase the fare by just IQD 1,000, which is always reasonable.
Rickshaws (called tuktuk in Baghdad) are everywhere, but there are few of them. The fare is cheaper than a traditional taxi. For example, a journey from Tahrir Square to Al-Mutanabbi Street costs 1000 IQD per person.
Minibuses are everywhere in Baghdad and are a cheap way to get around, generally costing around 500 dinars per journey. However, make sure you know the names of the neighbourhoods around you, because if you stop them on the way, it should be a quick stop. That way, you’ll know whether their destination is close to your own, and whether or not you should jump in! You can also find these vans parked in strategic locations, such as on major boulevards.
How to get out of Baghdad Airport
Taxis at the airport are very expensive compared with those in the city. A journey from the terminal to the city centre costs around 50,000 IQD, which is at least 5 times more expensive than a normal journey. This is the price set by the companies, so it’s hard to find cheaper and impossible to negotiate. Perhaps I arrived at the wrong time, but having asked a number of drivers, they all told me the same price. This was in the evening around 11pm.
Another option is to wait for a shuttle that will take you through the security zone and then, once outside, you can use Careem to get to the centre for around 11,000 IQD. I don’t know if it’s possible to cross this zone on foot.
How to get out of Baghdad
In Iraq, bus stations are called “garages”. They are home to minibuses and shared taxis.
1. How to get to Taq Kasra
The historic site of Taq Kasra in the town of Madain is very close to Baghdad. The best option is to hire a private taxi to take you there.
2. How to get to Samarra
To get to Samarra from Baghdad, go to the bus station “Garage Alawi”.
3. How to get to Mosul
To get to Mosul from Baghdad, go to the bus station “Garage Alawi”.
4. How to get to Najaf
To get to Najaf from Baghdad, go to the Alawi “Garage Alawi” bus station. You can also use the “City to city” function on the Careem application to get to Najaf by private taxi.
5. How to get to the South (Bassorah, Nasiriyah…)
Al-Nahda bus station is the best way to get to Basra, Nassiriya and other southern cities from Baghdad. “Al-Nahda Garage”. You can also use the “City to city” feature of the Careem app to get to Basra by private taxi.
6. How to get to Kirkuk or somewhere else in Iraqi Kurdistan
To get to Kirkuk or Iraqi Kurdistan from Baghdad, go to the “Garage Al-Nahda” bus station.
Where to withdraw money in Baghdad
There aren’t many ATMs in the capital. I tried several in rue Saadoun without success, but one of them was functional and I went there twice, three weeks apart, without any problem:
How to travel to Federal Iraq
Find a complete travel guide for visiting Iraq on your own. You’ll find all the information you need to make your stay in the country as easy as possible:
Must see places – formalities – visas – safety – getting around – where to stay (…)
Visit other places in Iraq