How to visit Mosul: Travel guide

How to Visit Mosul Travel Guide

DestinationsIraq
 

A complete travel guide to Mosul

Mosul is a must-see city. In fact, a trip to Iraq without this visit would be incomplete and I’ll explain why in this article. You’ll also find information on how to get to Mosul, where to find cheap hotels and all the places to see and things to do while you’re there.

This travel guide, which is the fruit of my very interested research into Mosul and its history, will give you a better understanding of the city and its culture, and will make your visit easier through my clear and simplified explanations.
 

 

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Why you should visit Mosul

With a view to discovering the country in its entirety, I strongly encourage you to include Mosul in your Iraq travel itinerary. In fact, this city is unique in that it is the meeting point of Kurdish and Arab culture, which is a complete change of scenery from Federal Iraq or Kurdistan.
 

Visit Mosul
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / The city of Mosul, in Nothern Iraq
 

1. For its history

Mosul is also known as the location of mighty Nineveh, which was the largest city not only in Mesopotamia but also in the world when it was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire over 3,000 years ago. But the history of these lands is even older: according to UNESCO, the first traces of the establishment of a civilisation date back to more than 6,000 years BC.
 

2. For its cultural mix

Mosul is without doubt the city that has seen (and still sees today) the greatest cultural mix in the history of Iraq. The city derives its diverse cultural traits from its rich history, including when it was part of Sassanid territory, when the Ottoman dynasty made it its administrative headquarters, and when it became the episcopal see of the Assyrian Church of the East. It was also a strategic point linking China to the Mediterranean and Anatolia to Mesopotamia. Mosul has been shaped by a variety of cultures, whose essences and influences it has retained throughout its history.

Mosul has been a place where Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Armenians have coexisted, and also where many religions have been present: Sunni/Shiite/Sufi Islam, Judaism, Catholic/Orthodox Christianity, Yezidism, and other minorities such as Shabakism, Yarsanism and Mandaeism.

This cultural diversity declined rapidly with the conflicts of the 21st century and even more recently with the invasion of Daesh (ISIS). Today, Mosul is predominantly inhabited by Sunni Muslims, followed by minority Christians and Yezidis, mainly scattered in adjacent towns and beyond.

A few recent key dates for understanding the situation in Mosul today:

  • 2003 : US invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 : Bomb attacks (Iraqi insurgency)
  • 2004 : Battle of Mosul
  • 2007 : Massacre of Mosul
  • 2008 : Nineveh campaign
  • 2014 – 2017 : Capture of Mosul by Daesh (ISIS)
    > All Daesh crimes of Daesh here
  • 2017 : Liberation of Mosul
     

Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Mosul
 
 

Old city of Mosul
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / The old town of Mosul, victim of clashes between Daesh and the Iraqi army
 

3. For its hospitality

I found the people of Mosul very friendly and clearly enthusiastic about meeting foreign visitors. When I arrived at the newly found hotel, the receptionist gave me a handshake and a peck on the cheek (a common form of greeting in Iraq). I put my things down and went straight to a tea room, where I was offered a free drink. That quickly set the tone for my stay in Mosul…

Places to visit in Mosul

1. Mosul’s Old City

Visit Mosul in Iraq
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / The old town has been severely damaged, but as you can see, some houses are rising from the ashes.

The old town is a must-see. Some will call it “dark tourism”, but it is in fact the historic core of Mosul where all the architectural influences of the various cultures can be seen. For good reason, this is the area that was most destroyed during the clashes between Daesh and the Iraqi army, and you have to have your heart set on the damage, the extent of which you won’t even know until you see it with your own eyes. However, the people of Mosul are working hard to rebuild it, and we can look forward to great changes in the years to come.

📍 Location
 

Visit Information

  • Photos are permitted, but please remain discreet in front of the premises. You should avoid “invasing” vlogging.
  • I know that many tourists do it, but in my opinion, it’s not right to go into the dwellings, even if they’ve been abandoned. What’s more, it’s dangerous because some places threaten to collapse at any moment. If you’re going to do it anyway, make sure you check that the rooms you visit have a “SAFE” sign at the entrance. This means that they have been cleaned/examined and that any mines, bombs or other dangerous weapons have been removed.
     

2. The Niniveh’s Walls

Niniveh Gate, Mosul
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / North Niniveh Wall

Condition : partially destroyed

The fortifications that protected mighty Nineveh can be visited. Unfortunately, the best-preserved ruins have been destroyed by Daesh. I visited the southern walls and they were nothing more than a pile of earth several hundred metres long. There is a restored section that I visited when I left Mosul for Iraqi Kurdistan, as the bus station is right next to it.

📍 Location
 

Read also
🔎 How to travel to Iraq

 

3. Ashurbanipal Library

Ashurbanipal Library in Mosul
Photo credit: Gary Todd / Ashurbanipal library tablets on display at the British Museum

Condition: in ruins

La bibliothèque d’Ashurbanipal porte le nom du dernier empereur Assyrien. C’est un lieu important à découvrir à Mosul puisque c’est la troisième plus ancienne bibliothèque au monde, les plus vieilles se trouvant en Syrie. Plus de 30 000 tablettes étaient conservées ici [photo], et la majeure partie de ce qu’il en restait se trouve aujourd’hui au British Museum en Angleterre. Les ruines de la bibliothèques sont facilement accessibles depuis le centre-ville.

📍 Location
 

4. Mosul Museum

Condition : Severely degraded

The Mosul Museum was one of the most notable in Iraq, housing a significant part of Mesopotamia’s historical heritage. The major statues and artefacts that represented deities were unfortunately destroyed by the Islamic State , considered to be idols, but the museum still remains a place with interesting things to see to this day.

📍 Location
 

5. Dair Mar Elia Monastery (St. Elijah)

Christian Monastery in Mosul
Photo credit: Wikimedia Common / The ruins of Saint Elijah’s monastery before the ISIS invasion

Condition: destroyed

One of the many other damaged sites in Mosul, the monastery of St Elias (Dair Mar Elia) belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church. It was the oldest in Iraq.

📍 Location
 

6. Al-Nuri Mosque

Al Nuri Minaret in Mosul
Photo credit: Wikimedia Common / The minaret of the Al-Nuri mosque before its destruction in 2017

Condition: destroyed / under reconstruction

Al-Nuri was one of Mosul’s most important mosques. The city’s emblematic leaning minaret stood here before it was bombed. It embellished Mosul, with its size almost equal to the Malwiya minaret in Samarra. Today, only its base is still standing. The mosque enclosure is currently being rebuilt. The Islamic State chose the famous minaret as the site for its flag. In 2017, the jihadists finally lost the battle and decided to bomb the building as a sign of surrender.

📍 Location
 

7. Qara Serai

Condition: in ruins

Qara Serai is a Turkmen palace/castle built by the emir of the Zengid dynasty in the 13th century. It stands on the banks of the Tigris to the west of Mosul.

📍 Location
 

8. Hatra, one of the must-see places around Mosul

How to visit Hatra from Mosul
Photo credit: Wikimedia Common / One of the best-preserved temples at Hatra

120 km from Mosul

The site of Hatra is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Iraq. These temples, dedicated to the worship of the sun deity (Shamash), have strong Mesopotamian, Persian and Greco-Roman influences, probably due to the important caravan transits at this location. It is a magnificent and completely unique site to discover in the country.

📍 Location
 

How to visit Hatra: Information

Hatra is a site that can be tedious to visit independently, unlike other monuments in Iraq. Firstly, the entrance ticket cannot be obtained in Hatra but in Mosul with an approved travel agency or guide. The office is open from Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 1pm. Some people have managed to gain access to the site with a taxi driver, while others have been refused entry because they didn’t have a guide. I would therefore advise you to use the services of a local guide or agency to organise your visit to Hatra.
 

9. Bakhdida (Qaraqosh)

Visit Bakhdida in Mosul
Photo credit : Wikimedia Common / Mara Sara church, Bakhdida

33 km from Mosul

Bakhdida (also known as Qaraqosh) is the largest Christian town in Iraq, almost exclusively Catholic with an Orthodox minority. In addition, its residents are Syriac Aramaic and speak Aramaic. The population stood at around 50,000 before Daesh invaded the city, which suffered a similar fate to Mosul. Many of the inhabitants fled to Kurdistan, but the population is returning to normal as more and more of them are returning home these days.

Don’t miss a visit to al-Tahira Cathedral. It has been completely restored. What’s more, Pope Francis made a historic visit here in 2021, and do you know what? It was thanks to this event that Iraq decided to issue tourist visas to international visitors immediately afterwards.

📍 Location
 

How to get to Bakhdida

Go to Mosul bus station to get to Bakhdida. Shared taxis are readily available.

📍 Mosul bus station
 

10. Bhazan and Bashiqah

Bhazan and Bashiqa, Yazidi villages close to Mosul
Photo credit: Wikimedia Common / City of Bashiqah and Yezidis in front of a mausoleum

23 km from Mosul

Bhazan and Bashiqah are two neighbouring towns, almost like twins, where the Yezidi community mainly lives. If you haven’t planned to visit Kurdistan or if you don’t have enough time to go to Lalish, which is a must-see place in Iraq as it is the holiest place of this religion, I would advise you to stop off in these towns as they are very close to Mosul.

📍 Location
 

11. Tall Afar

Tall Afar citadel
Photo credit : Asor.org / Tall Afar citadel

77 km from Mosul
⚠️ Dangerous area

Tall Afar is also an interesting town in Mosul’s cultural landscape, as it is mainly inhabited by Turkmens. Tall Afar has undergone a considerable decline since the beginning of the 21st century, when it had a population of over 200,000, compared with just a few tens of thousands today.

📍 Location
 

12. Mor Mattai, a monastery to discover near Mosul

Monastère orthodoxe de Mar Mattai au Kurdistan irakien près de Mosul
Photo credit: Wikimedia Common / Mar Mattai Orthodox Monastery

39 km from Mosul

Mar Mattai is an Orthodox monastery not to be missed. It is one of the must-see places in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is not possible to get to the monastery by shared taxi, so you will need to find a driver.

📍 Location
 

13. Khorsabad

Statue of Lamassu discovered in Khorsabad, north of Mosul
Photo credit: Unknown / A statue of Lamassu unearthed in Khorsabad in 2023. The head had been confiscated from looters by customs. The rest of the structure was finally discovered 20 years later after the seizure.

20 km from Mosul

Khorsabad is a village north of Mosul known for the ruins of its Assyrian palace, making it an important archaeological site. Recently, in November 2023, a gigantic statue of Lamassu was unearthed. When the jihadists invaded, the local people had hidden it underground to prevent it being desecrated. Two other statues from the same palace are in Baghdad’s National Museum. Two notable Lamassu statues can also be seen at the Persepolis site in Iran.

📍 Location
 

13. Bartella

Bartella, an unique city in the cultural lanscape of Mosul
Photo credit: Alarabiya.net / Bartella, near Mosul

20 km from Mosul

Another unique city in Mosul’s cultural landscape… As I said before, this is a very important place to visit for its rich diversity. Bartella is known for its Shabak population, a people who consider themselves neither Arabs nor Kurds because of their different culture and disputed origins, but rather an ethno-religious group in their own right. They are mainly Shiite, with influences from Yârsânism (a very small minority religion in Kurdistan) and Sufism combined with their own divine beliefs, which is what makes Shabak culture so unique. Nowadays, however, it is tending to disappear as cultures conform and the Kurdish authorities try to replace the Shabaki language with Kurdish. A large part of the town is also inhabited by Assyrian Christians.

📍 Location

 
 

Watch my visit of Mosul

Follow me on Instagram to see all the stages of my itinerary in Iraq and discover the city of Mosul through my highlight stories.
 
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How to get to Mosul

From Baghdad

To get to Mosul from Baghdad, you need to go to the “Alawi” bus station. From here, you can easily find a shared taxi to Mosul.

📍 Baghdad bus station
 

From Samarra

There is no direct link between Samarra and Mosul by shared taxi. You will have to travel to Tikrit, then find another fare to Mosul.

📍 Samarra bus station
 

From Tikrit

To get to Mosul from Tikrit, you can take a shared taxi for around 15,000 IQD.

📍 Tikrit bus station
 

From Iraqi Kurdistan

Please note that it is no longer possible to get to Mosul from Iraqi Kurdistan by land, or even to other cities in Federal Iraq if you do not have an Iraqi visa, unless you take the plane.

You can easily get to Mosul from the bus stations in Erbil, Duhok or Kirkuk.

How to get out of Mosul

Travel guide to Mosul on your own and backpack
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / How to travel to Mosul and arround
 

Connections to the South

You need to go to the “Baghdad Garage” in Mosul to be able to travel to southern cities such as Baghdad, Tikrit, etc.

📍 Bus station to the South
 

Connections to the North

For all the towns around Mosul and the north, as well as Iraqi Kurdistan, go to “Garage Al-Shemal”. You’ll find plenty of cars for Duhok, Erbil and even Akre. Just make sure you get there well before 1pm if you want to go to Akre. I had to wait a very long time for the car to fill up and it was the last one. The driver finally decided to leave with just two passengers (and with our agreement) rather than waste any more time. The journey cost us 15,000 IQD each to make up the shortfall. Otherwise, it’s 10,000 IQD per person for a full car.

📍 Bus station to the North

Where to stay in Mosul

There are many options for accommodation in Mosul. The area with the most hotels is around the old town. It took me less than a quarter of an hour to find cheap accommodation by searching a busy street with lots of shops and restaurants. I stayed here for 3 days: “Hotel Kahramana”, at 25,000 IQD a night.

I saw later in a traveller’s conversation that there was a hotel at the same price, the “Alsafer Hotel”, even closer to the old town.

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 (…)

🔎 Iraq Travel Guide
 
 

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About the author

Picture of Tom Spirit
Tom Spirit
Hey, it's Tom! Welcolme to Spirit Travelers. I'm a nomad traveler for several years and I share my experiences by publishing content and travel guides on this blog. Find some of the most popular countries to visit but also off the beaten track destinations.

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