IslamabadCopyright: Shahid Khan/Shutterstock.com
IslamabadThe majestic Faisal Mosque stands against the backdrop of the lush Margalla Hills as a symbol of a Pakistan placed firmly in the modern day, while holding on to its history and traditions. The capital city of Islamabad is a forward-thinking metropolis nestled among the green base of the Himalayas. Usually regarded as a diplomatic city, it has recently grown to become an important business and financial centre for the region, as well as an emerging travel destination. Together with its neighbouring sister city of Rawalpindi, Islamabad gives travellers in-the-know a taste of all sides of contemporary Pakistan.
The CityNowhere is the juxtaposition of the new and old of Pakistan better displayed than in Islamabad and its twin city of Rawalpindi, two distinct sides of the country as it is today. Islamabad is modern, sleek and classy, full of broad tree-lined avenues, square city blocks and suburban sprawl, expansive parks and green spaces, elegant government buildings and embassies, up-scale restaurants and of course the mighty Faisal Mosque overlooking it all. It has long been a popular travel destination among Pakistanis for its peaceful and quiet vibe and its beautiful greenery, and now international travelers are catching on. In contrast, Rawalpindi (affectionately called "Pindi") is much more a South Asian metropolis, with the exciting and sometimes hectic bustle of people, traffic, rickshaws and outdoor markets, what many would refer to as "the real Pakistan". It is a fascinating city in its own right, and though it may not boast as many famous attractions as its sister city, it has a special feel of intimacy that makes it unique in the eyes of visitors.
Do & See
The Faisal Mosque is, naturally, Islamabad's most iconic and instantly recognisable landmark, but this is a city rich in historical sights, impressive monuments, fascinating museums, tons of green spaces for outdoor activities, and even some great entertainment options for children and families. There are also enough nearby sights and places of interest to warrant a few day-trips, including some fantastic archeological excavations.
Islamabad's restaurant scene has exploded in recent times, in part to accommodate the high standards and tastes of the many international diplomats that call the city home. The city now boasts a wide selection of fine dining, local family-run restaurants, cool diners and cafes and plenty of international options for traveling foodies.
There is an abundance of fantastic Western-style cafes in Islamabad at the moment, all offering high-quality coffee and a surprising range of snacks, meals and freshly made desserts and pastries. They are a great way to take a break from sightseeing and escape the afternoon heat, and some offer truly unique experiences either for their inventive decor or the views from their terraces.
Bars & Nightlife
Alcoholic beverages are officially forbidden for Muslims (who make up roughly 97% of the population) in Pakistan, and as such, there are no places that could really be called "bars". However, visiting foreigners are allowed to order and consume alcohol at restaurants and hotels, so travelers hoping to have a drink in the evening in Islamabad will do best by visiting the restaurant in one of the luxury hotels in town. Other entertainment is available in the form of cinema and other cultural activities.
Shopping in Islamabad-Rawalpindi can be as varied as the cities themselves. Spend the afternoon browsing, shopping and eating at one of the many large modern shopping malls, which contain everything a shopper could need, or head to one of the more traditional open-air markets to pick up some local handicrafts or traditional garments. Some real unique finds await the patient shopper who takes the time to explore the city's many shopping possibilities.