How to visit Samarra: Travel guide

How to visit Samarra in Iraq


Visit Samarra

Samarra is a historic Mesopotamian city that reached its apogee when it became the capital of the Abbasid Empire before being transferred to Baghdad, which stretched from Tunisia to Afghanistan. Today, tourists come to discover the famous mosque and its Malwiya minaret, while Shiites come on pilgrimage to the tombs of two important Imams of Islam. Samarra is a holy city as well as being an archaeological marvel!

Find out all you need to know about visiting Samarra and its emblematic minaret, including transport links, places to discover, where to stay, how to get there (…)

Samarra Travel Guide
© Spirit Travelers / Samarra Travel Guide


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How to visit the Samarra Mosque and Malwiya minaret

Malwiya Minaret of Samarra
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / How to visit Samarra

Entry fee: 25 000 IQD

The Malwiya Minaret is Samarra’s flagship tourist attraction, and one of the most famous in Iraq. At 52 metres high, the building has retained its status as the world’s tallest minaret for several decades. Its unique spiral architecture is said to have been inspired by the Tower of Babel. Unfortunately, the site was closed when I visited. There is a minaret in Cairo, Egypt, which was inspired by the one in Malwiya: Ibn Tulun.

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1. How to get to Samarra from Baghdad

Most travellers set off from Baghdad to visit Samarra. To get there, you need to go to the “Alawi” garage, one of the capital’s major bus stations. The journey costs between 10,000 and 15,000 IQD.

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2. Checkpoint

I have referred to the experiences of various travellers on groups or forums, and visiting Samarra has almost always been presented as a difficult place to get to with lots of restrictions. Let me tell you that a lot of information about Iraq is obsolete and that things are changing very quickly as far as tourism is concerned.

Not so long ago, visitors complained about checks that could last a long time, sometimes resulting in the authorities refusing to allow them to visit. Others mention that security sometimes keeps travellers’ passports in exchange for a ticket, forcing them to return to the checkpoint.

From my own experience, it’s true that I noticed that there were more checkpoints in this locality, but the security simply took a quick look at my passport each time and I never had to talk or wait. In fact, it was very quick and easy.

Why are the checkpoints different in Samarra?

Samarra is controlled by a Shia militia that secures the area, although the city is largely Sunni. And as mentioned above, two of the twelve Shia imams are buried there. These places have already come under attack, especially when the EI tried to take over the town. It was at this point that the government decided to work with the Shiite militia to secure the area, and with this in mind, formalities at checkpoints may differ.

3. Safety in Samarra

Consider what you have just read. The situation is generally stable but this religious controversy and sectarianism can make it volatile. I backpacked alone in Samarra. I visited ruins in remote parts of the city within a 20km radius but did not feel unsafe. However, the driver I found there warned me that the area was unstable and could be conflict-ridden or even dangerous. Those are my words, and he himself was not comfortable with the idea of visiting the area around the city.

You have nothing to fear from the authorities. To tell you the truth, I travelled from Samarra to Mosul by hitchhiking and was dropped off at roadblock after roadblock by militiamen and then later by the military. They were all extremely helpful and sympathetic. I had an unusual but pleasant time before continuing my journey with local people. By the way, you should absolutely avoid taking photographs of checkpoints – army checkpoints – or anything related to them without the permission of the militiamen.


Watch my visit of Samarra

Follow me on Instagram to see all the stages of my itinerary in Iraq and discover the city of Samarra through my highlight stories.
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Places to see and things to do in Samarra

Discover the other places not to be missed during your stay in Samarra:

1. Abu Dulaf Minaret

Abu Dulaf Minaret in Samarra
© Tom – Spirit Travelers / The Abu Dulaf minaret and the ruins of the mosque, an authentic place not to be missed in Samarra

Entry fee: gratuit

Despite digging through all the experiences of other travellers and even blogs by English-speaking travellers, I never saw anyone mention this minaret. In fact, I found it while exploring the area around Samarra via Google Maps and watching Iraqi content. For me, this place is a nugget. Unlike Malwiya, it’s abandoned, untouched and has never been restored, which makes it an absolutely authentic place with a breathtaking view of the ruins of the mosque. I’d encourage you to climb up, but this one has no security, not even an embankment, and the spiral is much thinner than the one at Malwiya. In other words, you’ll be very close to the edge, which is pretty scary and not at all safe. Nevertheless, the view from the top is simply extraordinary and the atmosphere is indescribable.

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2. Qasr Al-Khalifa

How to visit Samarra in Iraq
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / The Caliph’s palace is near the Malwiya minaret

Qasr Al-Khalifa was the palace of the Caliphate at the time. Sumptuous Abbasid architecture, like all the others, in fact. And don’t miss the many ruins in the surrounding area.

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🎥 See what it looked like in the past

3. Archaeological ruins of Samarra

Archeological ruins of Samarra
Photo credit: Google Maps / You’ll find similar ruins and remains absolutely everywhere around the city of Samarra

Les alentours de Samarra sont littéralement remplis de ruines que vous pouvez déjà observer sur Google Maps en mode satellite. C’est impressionnant, il y a tant à voir. Lorsque vous emprunterez la route de Mosul, vous pourrez en avoir une idée des deux côtés de la route et même apercevoir un tell important, “Tell Al-Alij” (les tells sont des accumulations de diverses fondations dans le temps. En gros, ce sont des “couches archéologiques” qui finissent par former des monticules à force de bâtir par-dessus. Ils sont très nombreux en Irak, et témoignent de l’activité humaine sur une période prolongée). Selon les estimations de l’UNESCO, près de 80% des vestiges et des ruines de Samarra doivent être remis à niveau.

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4. Qasr al-Ashiq

Qasr al-Ashiq à Samarra
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Qasr al-Ashiq Palace in Samarra

On the west bank of the Tigris is another little-known historic site, the Abbasid palace of Qasr al-Ashiq, built in the 8th century. There is no entrance fee and the site is unguarded, although there is a checkpoint just before the entrance. On the other hand, the monument remains in a very good state of conservation.

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5. Shrine of Imams Ali and Hassan Askari

Shrine of Imam Ali in Samarra
Photo credit: unknown / The sanctuary of Samarra

The shrine of Imam Ali and Hassan Askari is a major pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims the world over. It is for this holy site that the majority of the world’s visitors travel to Samarra.

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Where to stay in Samarra

It is impossible to stay in Samarra as hotels are not allowed. Nor is it possible to stay with local people, as foreigners are not allowed. You will have to organise your visit from Baghdad and then return there, or do the same from the city of Tikrit if you are coming from Mosul.

From my own experience, I left Baghdad in a shared taxi and visited Samarra in half a day before hitchhiking back to Tikrit and Mosul. There are two or three hotels in the town, including a cheap one not far from the bus station, and even a working ATM.

How to get out of Samarra

In Iraq, bus stations are called “garages”. They are home to buses and shared taxis.

1. How to get to Baghdad from Samarra

To get to Baghdad from Samarra, you need to go to the garage on rue Khatib.

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2. How to get to Mosul from Samarra

To get to Mosul from Samarra, you need to go to the garage on rue Khatib.

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From here, you’ll need to find a shared taxi to reach the city of Tikrit, as there are no direct services to Mosul. From Tikrit, head to the Qadisiyah Station garage. From here, you can easily find a driver for your destination.

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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

Visit other places in Iraq

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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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