Iraqi Kurdistan | must-visit places + things to do

Iraqi Kurdistan is a land of majestic mountains, ancient history, and warm Kurdish hospitality! This autonomous region in northern Iraq offers a unique blend of culture, stunning landscapes, and delicious food, waiting to be discovered by curious travelers. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a first-time explorer, this beginner’s guide will help you plan an unforgettable journey through Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan nature

Planning your trip to Iraqi Kurdistan

Having been captivated by Iraqi Kurdistan’s mountains and hospitality, I’m excited to share tips for planning your own adventure! Here’s some helpful information.


A visa is necessary for most passport holders entering Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan is no different. To discover the distinct characteristics of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq, you can read Differences, similarities and relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq. you can apply online through the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) visa portal well in advance of your trip.

Travelers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States should contact the nearest Iraqi embassy or consulate to confirm visa requirements and application procedures.

Country Visa Requirements
Processing Time
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland Visa on arrival (valid for 30 days)
Upon arrival at Erbil or Sulaimaniyah International Airport
Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States Visa required (must be obtained in advance from an Iraqi embassy or consulate)
Varies depending on country and processing location (generally 4-6 weeks)

Additional Notes:

  • Visa regulations can change, so it’s best to check with the nearest Iraqi embassy or consulate for the latest information.
  • Some nationalities may require additional documentation or face longer processing times.
  • Visa extensions may be possible within Iraqi Kurdistan.


Erbil International Airport (ERB) and Sulaimaniyah International Airport (ISU) are the main gateways. Consider booking flights during the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) for pleasant weather and fewer crowds.

  • Popular airlines: Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Flydubai, Emirates, Mahan Air
  • Flight time from Europe: 4-6 hours
  • Flight time from Asia: 2-5 hours
  • Flight time from North America: 12-15 hours


  • Book your flights in advance, especially during peak season.
  • Consider flying through regional hubs like Dubai or Doha for more options and potentially lower prices.
  • Check visa requirements for any transit countries on your route.


The Iraqi dinar (IQD) is the official currency. ATMs are widely available, but cash is still preferred in smaller towns and rural areas.


  • Exchange some currency before arrival or at the airport.
  • Compare rates at different exchange offices before making a transaction.
  • Carry some small bills for tipping and everyday expenses.


While Iraqi Kurdistan is generally safe, stay informed about the latest developments and exercise caution, especially near borders. Stick to reputable transportation providers and avoid venturing into isolated areas after dark. I also suggest you to hire a local guide if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

  • General safety tips:
    • Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites.
    • Avoid public displays of affection.
    • Be aware of your surroundings and belongings, especially in crowded areas.
    • Don’t take photographs of military or government installations.
    • Avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics or religion.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

Dawid Diduszko, tour guide of btpadventure

Hi, I’m Dawid, a passionate tour guide with BTPadventure. I’ve explored over 100 countries and specialize in crafting memorable journeys to unique destinations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Must-See Destinations in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan offers a captivating tapestry of ancient history and stunning landscape, waiting to be explored. Here are some must-see destinations that will leave you enchanted:



Erbil, the lively main city of Iraqi Kurdistan, mixes modern buildings with super old ruins. Walk around the busy streets of the Erbil Citadel, a super special place from 6,000 years ago! Climb to the top for amazing views and see the cool museums inside.

Shop like a local at the Qaysari Bazaar, a maze-like market full of spices, clothes, and handmade things. Don’t miss Sami Abdulrahman Park, a green space in the middle of the city, perfect for a picnic or a relaxing walk.

Erbil, Kurdistan Erbil, Kurdistan


Nestled in the Zagros Mountains, Lalish houses the Shrine of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, a pilgrimage destination for Yazidis worldwide.  This sacred village nestled in the Zagros Mountains is the spiritual center of the Yazidi religion. The Shrine of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fascinating complex of cave temples and waterfalls. Witness the unique blend of Islamic and pre-Islamic influences in the architecture and colorful Yazidi rituals and immerse yourself in the unique culture of this ancient community. Remember to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering the shrine grounds.

Lalish Temple Lalish Temple



In Iraq’s mountain heart, Amedi (Amadiya) sits like a forgotten treasure. Picture this: a town perched high, whispering stories of its 5,000-year past with every stone and step. Breathtaking views of the Great Zab valley stretch below, a tapestry of history, culture, and nature woven into every corner. For the curious traveler, Amedi awaits.

Amedi, Kurdistan Amedi



Alqosh, nestled in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, is a historical treasure inhabited by ethnic Assyrians and Syriac Christians. Explore ancient Assyrian ruins, old monasteries, and a museum, then wander through the vibrant bazaar and sample delicious Kurdish cuisine. Hike the Sapna Mountains and visit nearby archaeological sites such as Rabban Hormizd Monastery, St. George’s Chaldean Catholic Church (Mar Gorgis) and Tomb of the Prophet Nahum.




Soran and Rawanduz Canyon

Soran, nestled in the Zagros Mountains, is an adventure waiting to unfold. Hike through emerald valleys, stumble upon hidden villages, and conquer snow-capped peaks. This Kurdish gem whispers of ancient legends and promises breathtaking landscapes that will leave you breathless.


The Rawanduz Canyon, also known as Rawandiz Gorge, is a must-see for adventure seekers in Iraqi Kurdistan. Hike along its rim, taking in the dizzying drop and verdant tapestry below, or feel the spray of its cascading waterfalls.

Rawanduz Canyon in Iraqi Kurdistan


Pretty town Akre hides near Gara Mountains, famous for its Kurdish roots. See Akre Castle, an old fort with amazing views, and the lively market. Hike to Bekhal Waterfall, a hidden oasis in the mountains. Don’t forget to try yummy Kurdish food like grilled kebabs and sweet mountain honey.


Mar Mattai Monastery

Mar Mattai Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, clings to the Tigris Valley cliffs. Founded in 363 AD, it’s one of the oldest continually operating Christian monasteries in the world. Today, a devoted community of monks resides within its walls, welcoming visitors to experience the monastery’s calmness and breathtaking valley views.


Dukan Lake

Dukan Lake is more than just a body of water; it’s a living, breathing tapestry of beauty, adventure, and history. Whether you seek thrills on the water, quiet moments of reflection, or a window into the Kurdish way of life, Dukan Lake promises an unforgettable experience.



The cultural hub of Iraqi Kurdistan, Sulaymaniyah is known for its vibrant arts scene, delicious cuisine, and friendly atmosphere. Visit the Amna Suraka Museum, a former prison turned into a memorial, and explore the bustling bazaars. Don’t miss the Red House, a beautifully restored Ottoman mansion now housing an art gallery and cafe.

Things to do in Kurdistan | Cultural Experiences

Kurdistan offers a tapestry of cultural experiences that will leave you feeling enriched and inspired. Immerse yourself in the warmth of Kurdish hospitality, delve into ancient traditions, and witness the vibrant expression of art and music. Here are some must-do cultural experiences:


Traditional Tea Ceremony

In Kurdish tradition, chai is more than just a drink; it’s a bridge between strangers, a symbol of community, and a testament to the enduring power of hospitality. Step into a Kurdish home and accept a cup; it’s an invitation to witness the beating heart of their culture, where laughter and stories flow as freely as the spiced chai itself.

a cafe in Erbil a cafe in Erbil


Experiencing Kurdish Music

Feel the soul of Kurdish culture pulse through its music. From the mournful strains of a Soran song on the duduk to the daf’s infectious rhythms, let the soundscapes transport you. Immerse yourself in a local concert, where the scent of spices mingles with the shouts of the crowd, or join a traditional gathering where the music weaves its magic.


Exploring Kurdish Cuisine

Try the diverse flavors of Kurdish cuisine. Taste hearty stews like Kofta bi tahini (meatballs in tahini sauce), indulge in fresh flatbreads like Tandoori Naan, and tease your taste buds with local delicacies like Dolma (stuffed grape leaves); Don’t miss the hearty Kurdish soup, Kalia, or the flavorful grilled kebabs.

Celebrating Nowruz

Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated on March 21st by diverse communities across the globe including Kurds. Witness the joyous spectacle as people light bonfires, symbolizing the vanquishing of darkness, and dance to the rhythm of ancient melodies. Feel the energy as they welcoming spring and renewal.


Visiting a Kurdish Carpet Weaver

Step into the timeless tapestry of Kurdish carpet weaving, a tradition woven through generations. Let each rug be your portal to a world steeped in tradition, resilience, and the enduring spirit of Kurdish artistry.

Kurdish Textile Museum Kurdish textile museum


Attending a Kurdish Wedding

Kurdish weddings are vibrant celebrations bursting with music, color, and tradition. They’re often multi-day affairs filled with:

  • Joyful parades with dancers in elaborate costumes and musicians playing traditional instruments like the zurna and daf.
  • Family feasts featuring rich dishes like dolma, grilled meats, and sweet pastries.
  • Traditional dances like the “Halay,” a circle dance where everyone joins in, symbolizing unity and community.
  • Vibrant clothing with rich embroidery and intricate patterns, often handmade by the bride and her family.
  • Special ceremonies like henna night, where henna is applied to the bride’s hands in intricate designs, and the “Kurdava,” a symbolic tying of the bride and groom’s scarves to signify their union.


Explore the Kurdish Bazaars

Kurdish bazaars are vibrant labyrinths filled with ancient crafts, bustling energy, and sensory delights. Weave through alleys stacked with treasures, feast on the sights and smells, and haggle for unique pieces while experiencing the warmth of Kurdish hospitality. These vibrant hubs are more than marketplaces; they’re pulsating hearts of the community, weaving magic into your heart as you explore.

Qaysari Bazaar Qaysari Bazaar


Find peace in Sufi shrines

Watch the hypnotic twirls of Dervishes in their traditional white robes, and experience the calm atmosphere of these historic buildings. See pilgrims from different backgrounds come together in devotion, and sense the centuries of tradition within the walls.

Travel tips beyond the guidebook

  • Dress modestly: Respect local customs by covering your shoulders and knees, especially in religious sites. Opt for loose-fitting, comfortable clothing for exploring mountain regions.
  • Learn basic Kurdish phrases: A few words go a long way in showing respect and connecting with locals. “Hello” in Kurdish is “Salaam,” and “Thank you” is “Spas.”
  • Bargain in bazaars: It’s part of the cultural experience, but be polite and respectful. Start with a price significantly lower than the asking price and negotiate with a smile.
  • Hire a local guide: Gain deeper insights and navigate hidden gems with a knowledgeable guide. They can help you avoid cultural faux pas and ensure a safe and enriching experience.
  • Be mindful of photography: Ask permission before taking photos of people, especially women. Respect their privacy and cultural sensitivities.
  • buy from locals: Support local businesses and communities by buying souvenirs and handicrafts directly from artisans.