Baghdad (Arabic: بـغداد Baġdād) is the capital and largest city of Iraq, with an estimated population of 6-7 million.
Once one of the greatest centres of learning and culture in the world, Baghdad has a long and illustrious history. It was once a favoured destination on the 'hippie trail' and packed full of sight.
Travel to Baghdad is not recommended because of security concerns. Westerners are particular targets of kidnapping and assassination by militant and extremist groups. Baghdad airport is secure, so transiting there if necessary is safe.
The national airline is Iraqi Airways that operates a growing fleet of more than 30 modern jets. Their main activity are domestic flights but Iraqi Airways also offers flights to numerous international destinations, including a few routes from Europe. Numerous other operators in the Middle East also fly to Baghdad, with daily flights from most regional hubs. There are also a few low cost airlines such as FlyBaghdad that has flights to Baghdad. The best way to travel from Europe is either with Austrian or Turkish Airlines. They operate several direct flights per week from Vienna respectively daily from Istanbul. For those working for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Iraq, there are charter airlines operating into Baghdad.
The frequent sandstorms that hit the area can obscure visibility and cause flights to be turned away. It is not unusual for commercial flights to make it all the way to BIAP, and then turn around and return to their origin due to limited visibility on the runway.
- 1 Baghdad International Airport (مطار بغداد الدولي) (16 km west from the centre of Baghdad). All of the usual airport facilities are available, such as banks, money exchange, ATMs, mobile phone companies, restaurants and even a hotel. The airport has three interlinked terminals. It is easy to walk between the terminals both land side and air side. One terminal is used by Iraqi Airways (the most counter-clockwise one) and the middle one handles all other flights. The food outlets are small and limited air side, so if you have a long wait, it is better to check in and return back through security to use the land side restaurants. When departing, be prepared for some queuing. Entrance to the airport grounds about three or four miles from the airport terminal will require you and your vehicle to wait in line to be searched. Security checkpoints can take from two to three hours to process through. BGW IATA
Nightly train services are available from Basra, arriving early morning. Prices range between 10,000 dinars for a couchette to 25,000 dibars for first-class. Irregular services from Karbala, mostly on weekends, are available too. Additionally, trains runs twice per day from Fallujah. Due to the ongoing conflict cancellations are common.
- 2 Baghdad Central Station (محطة بغداد المركزية), Damascus Sq. Completed in 1953, Baghdad Central Station is an architecturally impressive terminus, all trains call here. Located on Qahira Street, a kilometre north of city centre, at Damascus Square.
Overland travel is possible from all neighbouring countries and while major roads are generally in an acceptable condition, travelling by car is strongly discouraged due to violence. Baghdad is in the centre of Iraq's highway network, with Freeway 1 from Basra and continuing towards the Jordanian borde being the major thoroughfare. Confusingly, the road from Mosul is named Highway 1.
Multiple daily buses arrive from most major Iraqi cities. Long-distance bus services from Istanbul and Ankara restarted in the summer of 2018, with two departures per week. However journey time is a gruelling 30 hours or more. Most long-distance buses arrive at the sprawling 3 Al-Alawi bus terminal (گراج العلاوي), next to the central station. Buses leave and arrive from stands both north and south of the Allawi skyway.
While the almost daily bombings and shootings have subsided for the moment, there is always a risk of getting caught in violence when travelling around the city. Staying vigilant is essential. Many high-end hotel provides their own transport, some even with armored cars.
Baghdad is served by an extensive but chaotic bus network, maps or route information of the network is not available in English. Taxis are also plentiful and quite cheap to use. Walking is possible in parts of the city, especially in and around the old city. Cycling is not uncommon among locals, but there is next to no infrastructure to support it.
A combination of heavy redevelopment during the second half of the 20th centuary, two decades of warfare and neglect has not been kind to Baghdad's architectural and cultural heritage. Generally, the eastern side contains the older districts while the western side is newer. The historic old quarter contains a myriad of alleys and small streets with buildings dating back to Ottoman era or even older. Many of them are unfortunately in various stages of disrepair. The old quarter is also home to the heart and soul of Iraqi literacy and intellectual community, Mutanabbi Street. The street is lined with bookstores and outdoor book stalls as well as cafés to discuss matters of the day.
- 1 Mustansiriya Madrasah (المدرسة المستنصرية). Often referred to as the Abbasid Palace, this medieval-era scholarly complex was established in 1227 CE. It's one of the oldest buildings still standing in Baghdad and a central landmark in the historic district.
- 2 Qushla building. Ottoman landmark building.
- 3 Baghdad Zoo (حديقة حيوانات بغداد). The largest zoo in the country, opened in 1971. It was destroyed in the 2003 war but has quickly recovered. There are, however, few larger mammals to see.
- 4 Khan Murjan (خان مرجان). First built in the 14th century as a caravanserai, an inn for traveling merchants, whose center was a hall more than 13 metres high.
- 5 National Museum of Iraq (المتحف العراقي). Covering the history of Mesopotamian culture, this museum housed a huge collection before the Iraq War. Today, many pieces have been looted and the museum is open only on special occasions.
- 6 Baghdadi Museum (المتحف البغدادي) (eastern bank of Tigris, 200 m from Shuhada bridge). History and folklore museum depicting life in Baghdad.
Monuments and public art
Baghdad is home to many monumental monuments and displays of public art. Many were built during the dictatorship of Saddam Husseum and evoke mixed feelings among locals, while others are universally loved. A large number of high-profile public sculptures were made by Mohammed Ghani Hikmat (1929-2011), nicknamed the sheik of sculptors.
- 7 Monument to the Unknown Soldier (صرح الجندي المجهول). Inspired by the glorification of a martyr from the Iran–Iraq War. The monument represents a traditional shield (dira¹a) dropping from the dying grasp of an Iraqi warrior. The monument used to house a museum which is now mostly empty. Ask the Iraqi soldiers who guard the monument for permission.
- 8 Al-Shaheed Monument (نُصب الشهيد) (east side of the Tigris river, near the Army Canal). First built as a monument dedicated to the Iraqi soldiers who died in the Iran-Iraq war. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, it has been repurposed to a monument for all Iraqi martyrs including victims of his regime. The monument consists of a circular platform 190 metres in diameter in the centre of an artificial lake. A museum, library, cafeteria, lecture hall, and exhibition gallery are on two levels underneath the domes.
- 9 Swords of Qādisīyah (قوس النصر) (inside the Green Zone). A huge pair of triumphal arches celebrating the alleged victory over Iran. Also known as the Hands of Victory. It marks the entrances to a former parade ground.
- 10 Freedom Monument (نصب الحرية). Located at the epicenter of Baghdadi civic life, the Tahrir square, this iconic and massive sculpture is one of the city's most well-loved monuments. Completed in 1961, the sculpture spans almost 50 meters in length and features bronze castings depicting the history of Iraq.
- 11 Kahramana, Sa'adoon St. Depicting a scene from the legend of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, in which the slave girl Marjana outwitted the thieves by tricking them into hiding inside jars over which she poured hot oil.
- 12 Save Iraqi culture monument (نصب انقاذ الثقافة). Built in 2010, meant to remind Iraqis on the fragility of its cultural heritage.
- 13 Ashaar Baghdad. Dedicated to the poetry of Baghdad.
- 14 Abu Hanifa Mosque. One of Baghdad's most prominent Sunni mosques, it surrounds the tomb of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence.
- 15 Al-Kadhimiya Mosque (الحضرة الكاظمية) (northwest of Baghdad). One of the most important Shi'ite religious sites in Iraq. It was finished in 1515 and the 7th Musa ibn Jafar al-Kathim and the 9th Imams Mohammed Al-Jawad were buried there.
- 16 Al-Asifyah Mosque. A complex of mosque, madrasa with school buildings, old courts and other former government buildings, and a palace. Together they form a complex that is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- 17 Al-Khulafa Mosque. Oldest mosque in Baghdad with parts dating back to 902 AD.
- 18 Umm al-Qura Mosque (جامع أم القرى). A mosque built to commemorate the "victory" in the 1991 Gulf War, the minarets are shaped like barrels of guns and SCUD missiles.
- 19 Zumurrud Khatun Mosque and Mausoleum (southeastern end of Sheikh Maarouf Cemetery). Historic mosque and shrine, dating back to the Abbasid era.
- 20 Cathedral of Our Lady of Sorrows. Built in 1898, it is the seat of the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate of Babylon.
- 21 St. Joseph's Cathedral (كاتدرائية القديس يوسف). Seat of the Archdiocese of Baghdad, the current building dates back to 1866.
- 22 Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral (كاتدرائية سيدة النجاة). The main Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad. Constructed in 1968, in a striking modernist style.
During the reign of Saddam Hussein, a large number of palaces were built. While not tourist sites per se, they can be of interest to the intrepid traveler. Many are in various states of disrepair and might not be open to the public.
- 23 Al-Faw Palace (قصر الفاو). Also known as the Water Palace for its site beside the Tigris River. Used as a military base for US troops
- 24 As-Salam Palace. Home of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
- 25 Republican Palace (القصر الجمهوري). Commissioned by King Faisal II in the 1950s as the new principal Royal residence. The palace serves as a key government building and can only be seen from outside.
- 26 Dur-Kurigalzu. Situated along an east-west-trending limestone ridge between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the town of Dur Kurigalzu was founded by the Kassite King Kurigalzu I in the late 15th or early 14th century BC. Today, the ruins contains among other a well-preserved ziggurat.
- 27 Shaduppum. Also known as Tell Harmal. The site has been occupied at least between 2100 BC and 1700 BC. Several artifacts from the site can be found in the Iraqi museums.
There are several ways to work in Iraq as a foreigner. For US citizens the most obvious is the US Army which still maintains personnel here. Next are the government contractors, such as the construction company KBR. Many contractors hire personnel with prior military experience to return to Iraq. Persons with military experience or who are fluent in Arabic are especially sought after. Lastly, there are civilian government agencies in Iraq. USAID send their own personnel as well as contractors to Iraq.
The agencies above are all relevant for US citizens. Citizens of other countries with a presence in Iraq can apply for work through the respective agencies in their home country.
Rugs and DVDs are available to buy. Inspect the quality of rugs carefully: Some are cheap Chinese-made rugs, and many are extremely overpriced. Also, many DVDs, especially those from street vendors, are bootlegs of varying quality.
Baghdad is home to several traditional markets with vendors that both produce and sell their goods at the same market. One traditional art is coppersmithing with the Baghdad copper souk producing some of the finest copper artifacts in the world. However it and several other traditional crafts are in decline due to cheaper imported goods.
- 1 Coppersmith souk (al-Safafeer market).
Restaurants and cafés have been notorious targets for suicide bombers in the past, making eating out a quite dangerous activity.
- Marsa Al-Zawariq (on Abu Nuwas St), ☏ . A place famous for its kebab grills.
While Baghdad is undergoing something of a liberalization regarding both night life and alcohol, it is still not widely available and large parts of society frowns upon it. While some bars exists, particularly along Abu Nawas Street, a safe bet is always the bars of the top tier hotels. Many international organisations have their own bars as well, and some are open to outsiders.
Tea houses and cafés are however ubiquitous, and often open late into the night.
- 1 Shahbandar Café, Mutanabbi St. The oldest operating tea house in Baghdad, established in 1907. A hub to discuss matters of the day over a cup of tea.
Most organizations arrange their own accommodation. Sleeping in hotels in the proper city is always a risk due to bombings.
- 1 Baghdad International Airport Hotel (فندق مطار بغداد الدولي). A standard business hotel, but with quite a hefty price. On secure grounds at the airport and often used by people visiting on business. USD225 for a standard room, lower rates when staying longer.
- 2 Inter Hotel, Abu Nawas St, ☏ .
- 3 Babylon Rotana Baghdad Hotel, Karrada St, ☏ .
- 4 Coral Baghdad Hotel, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. An upstart hotel that has quickly become one of the most popular higher-end hotels in Baghdad. USD215+.
- 5 Cristal Grand Ishtar Hotel, Saadoun St, ☏ . A hotel in central Baghdad. USD50+.
- 6 Masbah Plaza Hotel (at Masbah Crossing in Karada district), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Luxury hotel, restaurant on site. Free Wi-Fi.
- See also: War zone safety
The easiest way to stay safe in Baghdad is not to go there in the first place, except for official reasons. Most expats and business travellers to Iraq hire a security detail which constantly monitors the security situation within Iraq and around Baghdad. Travel outside the International Zone is extremely dangerous. Roadside and car bombs are detonated every day in Baghdad. Many Iraqis are armed. Markets and popular gathering places are frequent targets of bombers. As a foreigner you are more likely to be targeted for kidnapping. Kidnappings are often financially motivated. These threats are not restricted to Americans or women. You are also likely to be refused access to accommodation as Iraqis will fear being targeted for supporting the occupying forces.
In January 2020, the U.S. military carried out drone airstrikes in Baghdad. American military drones were heavily loaded with weapons targeting military personnel and Shi'ah militia forces. The following is some advice on drone airstrikes:
Drones are characterized by the loud buzzing noise that they make, equivalent to that made by a bee or a lawnmower. You may also see the aircraft circling overhead.
- Do not:
- Lie down and drop something on a road (it looks like you are laying an improvised explosive device)
- point at the aircraft.
- These actions may result in the aircraft opening fire at you.
- Just pretend that you don't see the aircraft and that you are having a normal day.
- Stay away from anyone who you suspect to be a member of military or Shi'ah militia forces. They will be targeted, and if you are near them you may be caught in the blast radius of the aircraft's weapons.
- See also: Hot weather
Baghdad is prone to heatwaves, with temperatures exceeding 50 °C (122 °F) during July and August. Making the situation worse, frequent electrical outages means that even where there is air conditioning it might not work. Being prepared and staying hydrated is essential.
- Australia, Haifa Street, next to Ibn Sina Hospital, International Zone, Baghdad, Iraq, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Canada, British Embassy Compound, International Zone, ☏ , ✉ BGHDD.Consular@international.gc.ca.
- Greece, Hay Babil, AL-Jadriyah Sector 913, Rd. 31/ Built 63, ☏ , (Emergencies), fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Serbia, Jadriya Babil District Mahala 923, ZUKAK 35, Bldg 16, ☏ , fax: .
- United Kingdom, International Zone, ☏ , ✉ Baghdad.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1 United States, Al-Kindi St, International Zone. Su-Th 08:00-16:30.
- Basra — second largest city in Iraq
- Mosul — third largest city in Iraq
- Assur and Hatra — archaeological sites from the Cradle of Civilization
- Ctesiphon and Salman Pak — archaeological sites just south of Baghdad