Rawalpindi is a city of 2.1 million people (2017) in Pakistan. It is a bustling town strategically located between the Punjab and Azad Kashmir. It has a strong colonial influence and possesses a large military cantonment with the headquarters of the Pakistan Army. It is the sister city of Islamabad, and is essentially the older sister of Islamabad. To locals, it is simply known as "Pindi".
For the visitor Pindi offers a slice of real Pakistan (in contrast to Islamabad) - however there are few tourist attractions of note in the city. Bahria Town, a wealthy suburb to the south of Pindi, offers a couple of attractions that warrant an excursion.
Islamabad International Airport (ISB IATA) has daily flights from various international and local destinations. It is accessible via GT Road, Motorway M2 at Pind Ranjah, and is a 30-minute drive from Saddar area.
Rawalpindi has its own central railway station, with regular services to many destinations within Pakistan.
Rawalpindi has extensive road networks, linking it directly to various major cities such as Lahore, Peshawar and Taxila to the north. Apart from that Rawalpindi has a complete structure of travelling around in the city through local buses. However, this is not a recommended mode of transport to tourists. Taxis are cheap, and you'll be looking at around Rs300-400 or so for a trip from Ghakar Plaza to the outer sectors of Islamabad, so travel within Rawalpindi will be around Rs100-250 per trip - very affordable for a foreign tourist. Make sure you agree the price before getting into the taxi.
Skyways, Daewoo travels are one of the nicer long-haul operators. Skyways offer some direct services from Islamabad and Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi. Daewoo has its own terminal on the road from Islamabad just outside Rawalpindi. You can call the Daewoo Station in advance for booking. They shall confirm a seat for you. ☏. You can travel to Peshawar, Lahore, D I Khan, Murree, Sialkot, Abottabad, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Multan. They have a service between Karachi and Hyderabad.
Coach is a very comfortable way to travel in Pakistan, and is very popular for travellers between Rawalpindi and Lahore. You will receive a small meal on the coach, and a first class ticket is Rs800-3000.
Rawalpindi is a large sprawling city - however the centre, focused on Raja Bazaar is walkable - but easy to get lost, so a GPS or compass isn't a bad idea. To get from one part of town to another (e.g. Raja Bazaar to Saddar) its best to hop in a taxi. Buses are an option for going up or down Murree Road, but working out how to get a bus to more far flung parts will require some Urdu. A trip to Bahria Town is best done in your own car or a taxi (and armed with a map).
Rawalpindi is not blessed with an extensive architectural history. However the city is an interesting place to wander, especially if you are based in Islamabad and are looking for some hustle and bustle.
- 1 Liaqat Bagh. Gardens that have a depressing history of political assassination - The first prime minister of Pakistan, Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated here in 1950, and 57 years later Benazir Bhutto was assassinated here on 27 December 2007.
- Nawaz Sharif Park (Murree Road near Shamsabad). The park was opened in 1991. It has a play area for children, lawns, fountains and flower beds. A cricket stadium was built in 1992 opposite the Public Park. The 1996 World Cup cricket matches were held on this cricket ground.
- 2 Jinnah Park (Near Kachehri Chowk). McDonald's, Pappasalis, Cinepax and COSMO (Cash and Carry) are built inside this park.
- 3 Ayub Park (Beyond the old Presidency on Grand Trunk (G.T.) Road). It covers an area of about 2,300 acres and has a play area, lake with boating facility, an aquarium, a garden-restaurant and an open air theater.
- Eidgah Sharif.
- Shah Chun Charagh.
- Army Museum (at the end of Murree road). The Army Museum was established in 1961 to collect and display material relating to the Pakistan Army and the British Indian Army.
- Moti Bazar/Sarafa Bazaar/Purana Qilla (Take a Van or a Cab.). 20 - 40 minutes from airport depending on the traffic. One of the oldest and most traditional bazaars of Rawalpindi. Moti Bazar is famous for clothes and artificial jewellery, Saraf Bazar is the most famous gold market of Rawalpindi famous for good quality gold and unique designs. Purana Qilla (translation: old castle) is a bazaar that is famous for variety of fancy wedding clothes. The traditional snacks like gol gappay, dahi bhally, smosa chaat, chana chaat, fruit chaat are very famous in these bazaars. Also while visiting these bazaars you will get to see old temples and Lal Hawali, buildings with old architecture.
There are various things you can do in Rawalpindi. A few of them are:
- Plan a trip to Raja Bazar, Bara Bazar and Murree Road. Although the traffic gets horrible at times, but you will find such amazing stuff at amazing prices that you'll forget the pain. Be careful in Raja Bazar in particular - it is not recommended for lone female travellers.
- Go to Ayub Park, have a pleasant walk around, it will give you hours of walk in green meadows without having to worry about anything else. If you take the family along, you can eat snacks and even take you own for added fun !
- Head to Bahria Town to the south of Pindi - this new-build suburb offers mini-golf, karting, a luxury spa, and a strange copy of Trafalgar Square in Safari III.
- Plan a visit to Rawat Fort 15 km away off the Grand Truck Rd
- Cinepax (next to Jinnah Park). Modern western style cinema complex showing a range of south Asian and Hollywood films.
- Helicopter Tours, 5-A The Mall, AWT Plaza, ☏ .
- Taxila tourist train, Rawalpindi train station. On the first Sunday of each month a tourist train (possibly steam) makes its way from Pindi to Taxila, stopping at Golra Sharif station where there is a small museum. From Taxila a coach can take you to Khanpur dam - or you can check out the Taxila museum and ruins. The train leaves Pindi around 9am, returning in late afternoon. Rs 1,200.
Saddar Bazar is the most versatile, modern and easily approachable market place of Rawalpindi. Its connected to Mall Road on one side, City to the other, and Railway station on the 3rd side.
Saddar Bazar has certain good looking plazas, banks, fun houses for children and has a few recreational parks for children and elderly
Gakkahr Plaza is one of the most renowned shopping markets in Saddar Rawalpindi. You can buy leather jackets, trousers, all sorts of garments, kameez salwar, khussas, sandals and all gents garments from Gakkahr Plaza. In 2008, Gakhar Plaza was completely gutted down by a huge fire.
Close to Gakkahr plaza, you will find Jabbar Tailors which is one of the oldest tailors in Rawalpindi. Mostly busy with military uniform stitching.
Computer and Mobil Phone: Plazas at 6th Road, and Sadar are the major markets, where one can find many computer items and other electronic items.
College Road near Liaqat Bagh holds electronic components for electronic enthusiasts.
The most economical market in rawalpindi is Raja Bazaar where you can find most things at very economical rates.
- Sheikhs Mall, Adam Jee Road Saddar Rawalpindi (KFC Basement Saddar), ☏ . One of the largest shopping malls of Twin City. It deals in garments imported from Hong Kong, Thailand, Italy, France, and the UK, imported and stylish jewellery, men's branded suiting, branded shoes, children's branded suitings, complete range of ladies western dresses, party wears and under garments.
- Midway Centrum shopping mall, 6th Road & Murree Road. until 8pm. If you are looking for a multifloor shopping mall, with escalators, shiny floors and lots of shops this is a good option (especially in summer when the bazaars are baking hot). Lots of clothing shops covering male and female fashions, and a good option if you are looking for a comparatively relaxed shopping experience.
Zircon Plaza Saddar: Zircon Plaza is an area of Saddar filled with amazing shops. Most of the shops here are high-end Pakistani brands with amazing Western and Eastern varieties of clothes and shoes.
Singapore Plaza Saddar: Next to Zircon Plaza is Singapore market from where you can buy mobiles related stuff.
Gold Market: Two famous places for gold shopping are Murree Road and Sarfa Bazzar. The Roads to these areas are filled with traffic but it's easier to get to Murree Road than Sarafa Bazaar.
A visit to Rawalpindi makes a pleasant change from Islamabad's restaurant scene. As you might expect Pindi offers some excellent places for top-notch Pakistani food, and offers better value than you find in Islamabad. You'll almost certainly be the only non-Pakistani customer, and you can expect the staff to go out of their way to be hospitable.
- Fortress Street (Next to Rawalpindi cricket ground, off Stadium road). until late. A good collection of Pakistani restaurants popular with families and couples - including a nice outdoor grill serving sheesha around low tables (Shahinshah). Plenty of parking and feels secure - and very little traffic. cheap.
- Namak Mandi, 2nd Flr, Zarkoon Plaza, Saddar area (just off main Murree Road before junction with GT road), ☏ . lunch until late. Excellent upscale Pakistani and Afghan restaurant. Dual western seating and lounging on cushions setup. Air conditioned also makes for a good choice in summer. The fact it is always busy is testament to the great food, atmosphere and service. Meal around Rs600.
- Mei Kong, 32 Haider Rod, Saddar area, ☏ . Western quality Chinese restaurant set away from the main road. Extensive menu covering all the Chinese bases. Seafood is a bit of a specialty (the honey prawns being particularly good) and even lobster is available. Perhaps Pindi's nicest restaurant. Note that the portions are all designed for 2 people to share, so ask for half portions as necessary. Around Rs600 per person for a decent meal.
- Tehzeeb bakers & pizzeria (between Bank Road & Haider Road, Saddar), ☏ . very popular bakers and Pindi's best place for pizza (Rs. 650). Outdoor eating area.
- 1 Mini golf club restaurant (Sizzle'n'spice), Bahria Town Phase IV (print a google map beforehand). until late. Memorable setting on the terrace of the minigolf course, with a small lake, flamingos, and Greek statues. Good selection of Pakistani food (BBQ and curries mainly). Popular with Pindi's middle classes. About Rs700 per person for a good sized meal.
- Texas Steak House (Ground Flr, Zarkoon Plaza, Saddar). lunch & dinner. Pindi isn't the place to go for a good steak - but if you are looking for one then this uncomplicated family restaurant is probably your only choice. Serves a range of western food, including sizzling hot-plate style steaks.
- Savour Foods, Gordon College Road, ☏ .
In Pakistan there is a big fascination with these large fast-food chains, particularly "Pizza Hut", "McDonalds", "KFC", and "Subway". As a tourist, it is recommended to try the local food, as these fast food chains do not live up to their hype, although they are cleaner establishments than local restaurants. They are also quite overpriced, with combo meals costing around Rs 300 compared with Rs 7 you could expect to pay for a naan bread at the local market.
Eating in these chains is more of a statement of status in Pakistan than anything else, and you will notice that there is usually quite a fashion parade in many of these establishments.
In Rawalpindi, do as the pindites do! Grab a bag of the most yummy and juicy local sweet called "jalebee" from Gratto on Murree road, the luxuriously garnished icecream from "Chaman" at saddar, the famous 'samosas' from 'karim hotel', 'fresh from the pan' halwa poori from satelitown and 'rabri' (milky drink) from 'nirala' in saddar.
Alcohol in Pakistan is forbidden but you can find drinks at many modern hotels like Pearl Continental (PC), Shalimar Hotel and Flashman Hotel. There are no bars and night clubs in Rawalpindi city but all the big markets are open til late-night.
Drinking culture in Pakistan is essentially soft-drink culture, where Pepsi is traditionally the drink of choice. It is impossible to avoid Pepsi advertising throughout Pakistan. Be warned as a traveller about the cleanliness of bottles - always drink from a straw, and always request that bottles be opened in front of you, as a cleanliness measure.
Drinking culture also revolves around tea, called 'chai' in Urdu, and this is available everywhere and anywhere. Coffee is not impossible to come by, however iced coffee tends to be the popular coffee drink of choice.
The Locally available drinks are:
- Sharbat of Imli and Alu Bukhara (Plums)
- Shakar Kola (Drink made from Brown Sugar)
- Sugar Cane Juice.
Do not drink from places with flies.
Rawalpindi has one 5-star hotel called the Pearl Continental but often known by its acronym PC. Other that this you can go to Hotel Shalimar and others.
Flashman's Hotel, The Mall, ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Government-run, centrally located, and apparently named after Harry Flashman, the anti-hero in the novels by George Macdonald Fraser. RS 5000 and up.
Pearl Continental, The Mall, NH 5, ☏ . Features outdoor pool and steakhouse. Lit up in green twinkle lights sometimes. RS 5000 and up.
Rawalpindi is not necessarily as safe as its sister, Islamabad. Islamabad has higher foreign tourist traffic, and thus has become accustomed to it, however foreign tourists are somewhat rare in Rawalpindi. Pakistan on the whole is not recommended to lone young female travellers, however Pindi is relatively safe for larger groups of females, or mixed gender paired-travellers. For female travellers, it is highly recommended to purchase a shawl upon arrival in Pakistan (even better to bring one over on your flight, for airport arrival purposes). It is not necessary or expected for you to wear this on your head at all times, however to avoid unwanted attention, and gain local respect, cover your chest with this shawl (i.e. drape it across your neck). Also wear a long shirt/top, that covers your backside region - this again, will draw away unwanted attention.
Avoid flashing large amounts of cash around - Rs 1000 notes are commonplace, however the haggling process is often easier when you show the limited cash you have (e.g. "I only have Rs 200 on me"). Keep your larger notes on the inside, and only allow small notes to be seen, for example, when paying taxi drivers, purchasing items, etc.
Do not feel compelled to give money to all beggars, no matter how young or needy. Of course exercise discretion, and it not unacceptable to give them money.
In the case of an emergency, call police by 15 from any landline phone.
- Ambulance Access To get an ambulance in case of an emergency, dial 115 from any landline or cellphone.
If you found yourself in serious trouble and need any type of emergency rescue or help then feel free to dial 1122. The name of the emergency service is "Rescue 1122".
- Islamabad - Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, is very near to Rawalpindi. You can plan your trip by visiting both Rawalpindi and Islamabad in the same day.
- Khanpur Dam - You can go to Khanpur Dam for paragliding and watersports
- Murree If you have more time on your hands, go to Murree. Murree is one of the hottest attractions (attraction wise; in temperature, it's very cold) where you can spend even weeks if you like.
- Archaeology lovers can visit the ruins of Taxila, 28 km from Rawalpindi. Taxila houses many ruins of Buddhism, most important is that of Julian University. A beautiful museum holds the artifacts of that time. Taxila also offers many beautiful stone utensils.
- Gujar Khan
- Rawat Fort
- Stupa in Mankiala