Karbala is one of the holiest cities in Shi'a Islam. In the Battle of Karbala, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Husayn was slain. To pay respects to the martyr Husayn, Shi'a Muslims visit the Imam Husayn Shrine, the biggest tourist attraction in Karbala, every year during a pilgrimage called Arbaeen.
Most travelers enter the city by bus or by car as the city does not yet have a functioning airport. Due to its religious importance, cities all across Iraq has regular bus services. The entrance to the city is well protected and check points are working hard on every single car that gets into the city. There are one or two trains each week from Baghdad and Basra. Extra trains are available on special occasions.
The Downtown Area is closed off and the entry of vehicles into the area of 1.5 km around the holy shrines is forbidden except for security, the shrines' personnel and residents. Anyone else who wants to get in must put their car in a parking and get in either via the holy shrine buses or on foot.
- 1 Karbala railway station (8 km northeast of central Karbala, along Highway 9).
A new dedicated airport is under construction, but as of late 2020 it is unclear when it will open. The nearest major international airport is in Baghdad.
- 2 Karbala International Airport. Future airport dedicated to pilgrims.
There are also a lot of religious places around the Holy Shrines of Imam Hussen and Abu Al-fadhl Al-Abbas.
- 1 Imam Hussein Holy Shrine (مقام الامام الحسين). One of the holiest sites in Shia Islam, it contatins the grave of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.
- 2 Al Abbas Mosque (مسجد الامام العباس, Masjid al-‘Abbās). The mausoleum of ‘Abbās ibn ‘Alī, located across from the Imām Husayn Mosque. ‘Abbās was the half-brother of Hasan and Husayn, and was the flag-bearer for Husayn in the Battle of Al-Taff. The majority of the design was done by Persian and Central Asian architects. The central pear shaped dome is an ornately decorated structure with two tall minarets on its sides. The tomb is covered with pure gold and surrounded by a trellis of silver, along with Iranian carpets rolled out on the floors.
- Hadrat Abbas Shrine. Historical building, the burial place of the brave son of Imam Ali (AS), and half-brother of Imam Hussein. The shrine is especially revered by the Shia who visit it every year, in the month of Muharram, and various other times of the year, to honour his legendary martyrdom in the Battle of Al-Taff.
Outside the city
The areas around Karbala are rich in heritage and archaeological sites. A few sites have at least basic services for tourists, while you are left on your own when visiting others.
- 3 Imam Ali's Dropper Shrine. A small spring, said to have been brought to life by Imam Ali, and a mosque.
- 4 Al-Aqiser (الأقيصر). An archeological site in Ayn al-Tamr near Karbala that has been described as the oldest eastern Christian Church. In 2019, prayers were again said in the ruins of the church by Assyrians of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
- 5 Al-Rubu' Caravansarai (خان الربع) (16 km south of Karbala, along road 9 towards Najaf). Also known as Khan al-Nukhaylah, this historical caravansarai dates back to the Ottoman era. The site has hosted cultural festivals from time to time.
- 6 Al-Ukhaidir Fortress (50 km southwest of Karbala, along road 22). A prime example of Abbasid architecture, built in 775 AD. The fortress has been a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage since 2000.
- 7 Ruins of Mujada (40 km southwest, into the desert). Historic ruin located to the west of the city. The ruins sit in the middle of the desert, around 40 km (25 mi) away from the city. The ruin is cylindrical shaped, and it reaches more than 30 m (98 ft) from sea level. The origin of the ruins is unknown.
Visit the Imam Husayn & Abbas shrine.
You can buy khak-e-shifa. Some Shi'a Muslims consider it sacred and miraculous, and claim diseases can be treated with it.
The restaurants are spread all around the city, especially downtown, and you can find whatever you desire of halal food at suitable prices.
- 1 The Baron Hotel, Alhusseiniya Road, ☏ . Within walking distance from the holy shrines. Includes several restaurants and a promenade along the river.
- 2 Karbala Rayhaan by Rotana (كربلاء ريحان روتانا), ☏ . Luxury hotel along just outside the city, along road from Baghdad.
- Najaf, another holy city in Iraq, with the Shrine of 'Ali.