Pakistan is not one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Asia. But in recent years, more and more people are discovering the beauty of Pakistan: its ancient mosques and shrines, mountains and deserts, metropolises and ruined cities. Traveling in Pakistan is a unique experience – and this list of the most beautiful places and best sights in Pakistan is helpful for all those who are planning a trip to Pakistan.
Lahore – The historical and cultural center of Pakistan
Only 50 kilometers away from Amritsar and the Golden Temple lies Lahore, one of the most historical and interesting places in Pakistan. Lahore used to serve – together with Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri – as one of the capitals of the Mughal Empire. This influence is still visible today, especially in the impressive architecture of Lahore. The Lahore Fort is one of the most beautiful forts on the Indian subcontinent, while the four hundred year old Badshahi Mosque can accommodate up to 100,000 people
Places to visit in Lahore:
- Data Darbar: This Sufi shrine is the spiritual center of Lahore. Ali Hujwiri, a Sufi saint and mystic from the eleventh century, is worshipped here. He is also the patron saint of Lahore.
- Walled City of Lahore: In the narrow, bustling streets of the old city you can find everything: delicious street food, fine jewelry, traditional dresses, spices and dried fruit.
- Lahore Museum: One of the most important museums in South Asia. Among other things, it houses Buddhist and Indo-Greek artifacts.
- Wagah Border Crossing: Every day at 16:00, the spectacular border closing ceremony takes place, attended by hundreds of Pakistanis on one side and at least as many Indians on the other.
Above all, however, it is the inhabitants of Lahore who will make sure that you will fall in love with their city: the people are curious, very hospitable and always helpful. This is one of the reasons why Lahore is one of the best places for tourists in Pakistan – and the best place to start traveling Pakistan!
More about the history and sights of Lahore here: Lahore – the heart of Pakistan.
Islamabad / Rawalpindi – Old and New Pakistan
Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and with its one million inhabitants one of the largest cities in the country. Unlike Lahore or Karachi, Islamabad is an extremely modern city. It was founded in the 1960s as the new Pakistani capital, thus replacing Karachi. During the planning, special emphasis was placed on many green spaces and wide streets. The location for this new city was chosen because of the climate, which is mild, not too cold in winter and not a heat inferno in summer.
In Islamabad you can see modern Pakistan better than anywhere else: young people in western dresses, chic cafes, Italian and Thai restaurants, cinemas, shopping malls and bowling alleys. Islamabad has no historical sights – but there is still a lot to see! The modern Faisal Mosque, completed in 1986, is the national mosque of Pakistan and the symbol of Islamabad. It is located at the edge of the city. The Margalla Hills form the background and are a popular destination for tourists and the inhabitants of Islamabad. Several well signposted hiking trails offer a beautiful view of the geometrically laid out Islamabad – and also of the chaos of Rawalpindi.
Rawalpindi is the sister city of Islamabad and borders directly on it. The city, which has a population of two million, is the headquarters of the Pakistani military, and therefore has a central political significance. In Rawalpindi there are also several Hindu and Sikh temples as well as numerous mosques and bazaars.
Together with the so different Islamabad, Rawalpindi is one of the best places for tourist travel in Pakistan!
Murree – The Best Hill Station in Pakistan
In summer, in the plains of Pakistan it often gets unbearably hot. Temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius are not uncommon. Many people are therefore drawn to the mountains, where the climate is milder and the air fresher. One of the most popular of such mountain resorts is Murree. From Islamabad you can reach the Hill Station (which lies at an altitud of 2.300 meters) in only 30 minutes. Murree was built by the British colonial rulers as a refuge from the hot summer and today it is one of the most popular vacation resorts in Pakistan.
In Murree you will find numerous cafes, restaurants and shopping opportuniteis, and there are also short hikes in the area. Murree’s attractions include the Church of the Holy Trinity (1857), where worship services are still held today, and Kashmir Point, a spectacular viewpoint.
By the way: some Muslims living in Murree believe that the Holy Mary, the Mother of God, is buried here. Thus, after the resurrection, Jesus is said to have gone East together with his mother and the Apostle Thomas. Jesus himself – so it is claimed – is buried in the Indian Kashmir, more precisely in Srinagar.
In recent years, many new and often ugly buildings have been erected in Murree, which somewhat detracts from the natural charm of the mountain village. Nevertheless Murree is one of the most beautiful places in Pakistan and certainly worth a visit – especially in the hot summer!
More about Shimla (the Indian sister of Murree) and Hill Stations India here: The Most Beautiful Hill Stations in India.
Peshawar – A Must-See while Traveling Pakistan
Peshawar is one of the oldest continuous inhabitated cities in the world. (The oldest being Varanasi, Shiva’s holy city.) It was one of the most important trading points in South Asia, connecting India with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Later the Mughals ruled Peshawar, then the Sikhs and finally the British.
Not far from Peshawar is the world famous Khyber Pass, through which the army of Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, the Mughals and numerous other kings and peoples passed on their way to India.
Only ten years ago, Peshawar – which is located close to the border with Afghanistan and was considered a stronghold of the Taliban – was one of the most dangerous cities in Pakistan. In 2014, a terrorist attack on a school resulted in 132 children losing their lives. But in recent years the security situation in Pakistan has improved considerably, and today Peshawar is safer than it has been for a long time. The inhabitants of Peshawar (the “City of Flowers”) are known for their extraordinary hospitality and always welcome tourists with open arms. Although the city is one of the most conservative in Pakistan, at the same time (or perhaps precisely because of this) it is also one of the most worth seeing.
Places to visit in Peshawar:
- The Sunheri Mosque, which dates back to the time of the Mughals
- The Mahabat Khan Mosque built entirely in white marble (17th century)
- The Peshawar Museum, which houses greco-buddhist artifacts of great interest
- Sethi Mohallah: One of the old districts of Peshawar, with many well-preserved traditional residential palaces.
After a stay in Peshawar, you return with a deeper understanding of the culture and history of Pakistan and the mentality and religiousness of the Pakistani people. This is why Peshawar is one of the most interesting places to visit while traveling Pakistan!
Taxila – One of the Best Places to Visit in Pakistan
Taxila was already mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana, more than 2,000 years ago. It was one of the most important cities of ancient Asia, and a melting pot of different cultures and religions. Buddhism, which originated 500 years before Christ in northern India, spread to Afghanistan and transformed Taxila into one of its centers. This was the site of one of the world’s first and then largest universities, where numerous important Buddhist texts were written and translated. The Dharmarajika stupa houses bones of the Buddha and is one of the most important Buddhist buildings in Asia. The stupa and the other ruins of Taxila were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980.
The French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss said about Taxila that – with the exception of Christianity – “all the influences that shaped the Old World are gathered here […]”. Whoever wants to learn more about the history of Pakistan and Asia, and indeed of the world, will find Taxila to be a single, huge and freely accessible history book.
The best book about the long and interesting history of the Indian subcontinent is this:
Pakpattan – One of the Holiest Places in Pakistan
Pakpattan is one of the most important centers of Sufism in Pakistan. Sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam and is particularly widespread in India and Pakistan.
In Pakpattan lived, taught and died Fariduddin Ganjshakar (also called Baba Farid), one of the most important Sufi saints and poets of the Indian subcontinent. His poems and songs can also be found in the holy book of the Sikhs.
After his death in 1266, his Dargah (tomb, shrine) in Pakpattan became one of the central pilgrimage sites for the Sufis of Punjab. Hindus and Sikhs from the region also worship Baba Farid. Especially on the Urs (the day of the saint’s death) people from all over Pakistan come to pray and sing in the Dargah Baba Farid.
So if you want to get to know the spiritual, mystical side of Islam and Pakistan, you will not find a better place than Pakpattan. Pakpattan is located between Lahore and Sehwan Sharif, another very significant Sufi pilgrimage site. In Pakpattan – as in Pakistan in general – you won’t meet many other western tourists; but the hospitality of the locals will be even more generous! Because this is exactly what you learn to appreciate and love so much while traveling Pakistan: the incredible openness and helpfulness of the Pakistanis!
More about Sufism in India and Pakistan here.
Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu – The Magic of the Mountains of Pakistan
Pakistan is home to some of the highest mountains in the world. The Hindu Kush, the Himalayas and the Karakorum mountain range meet here and form a breathtaking, seemingly extraterrestrial landscape. Gilgit is one of the most famous tourist destinations in northern Pakistan, attracting mountaineers, adventure sports enthusiasts and history buffs from around the world. From Gilgit, spectacular hikes and treks lasting several days can be undertaken, and the city is also famous for its Buddhist remains that are thousands of years old. The Kargah Buddha is an impressive, 15-meter-high, stone-carved representation of the founder of the Buddhist religion.
The Hunza Valley was also strongly influenced by Buddhism in the past. This can be seen, among other things, on the “Holy Rock of Hunza”, on which Buddhist inscriptions were carved about 1,000 years ago. At the Baltit Fort in Karimabad (approx. 700 years old) strong Tibetan influences can be seen.
Another important city in the Karakorum Mountains is Skardu (2,300 meters). Besides Gilgit, it is the most touristic place in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory and is known for the Skardu Fort, among other things. It is over 1.000 years old and one of the main attractions of northern Pakistan.
Gilgit, Skardu and the Hunza Valley can be reached after a nerve-racking drive on the world-famous Karakorum Highway. It leads past snow-capped peaks, idyllic mountain villages and desert wastelands to the border with China. Just a bus ride on the Karakorum Highway is a highlight for every tourist in Pakistan, and should not be missing on any trip in Pakistan. In winter the road is not passable.
Karachi – From a Fisher’s Village to a Metropolis
What is true for Peshawar and Pakistan in general is also true for Karachi: once notorious for crime and a high risk of terrorism, a lot has changed in recent years – and Karachi is now one of the most popular destinations for travel in Pakistan! This is hardly surprising, since Karachi is an incredibly diverse city, the cultural center of the Sindh region and a symbol of a rapidly changing Pakistan. Just 300 years ago, there were only a few small fishing villages in the area of today’s Karachi. The British recognized the important strategic position and developed Karachi into a huge port city. Since then it has been growing and growing continuously, and today has over 15 million inhabitants. This makes Karachi the largest city in Pakistan and one of the largest in the world. Until 1959 Karachi was the capital of Pakistan.
Places to visit in Karachi:
- Jinnah Mausoleum: The landmark of Karachi and Pakistan. Here Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the Pakistani nation, is buried. What Ghandi is to India, Jinnah is to Pakistan.
- Frere Hall: This British colonial style building functions as a library and art gallery. It is a reminder of the times when Pakistan was still part of British India.
- National Museum of Pakistan: From the first civilizations that sprang up around the Indus River thousands of years ago, to Buddhist, Hindu and finally Islamic artifacts, the National Museum of Pakistan reveals the region’s diverse past.
- Cape Monze Beach: A few kilometers outside there is an almost untouched beach from which – so they say – sometimes turtles, whales and even dolphins can be seen.
- Chaukhandi Tombs: These richly decorated tombs and mausoleums were built between the 15th and 18th century and are still in good condition today.
- Mohatta Palace: The Hindu prince who had this palace built in 1927 in the Rajasthani style moved to the neighboring state during the division of India, which is why the building now houses a museum and art gallery.
- Saint Patrick’s Cathedral: A Gothic church completed in 1845. Particularly impressive is the several meter high Jesus statue, which is made entirely of marble.
Karachi is especially known for its street food, which is among the best in the country. Karachi Biryani is raved about in all corners of Pakistan. So if you are in Karachi, you should definitely try this delicious rice dish, which is sold everywhere and at any time.
Traveling Pakistan: More Places to Visit in Pakistan
- Fairy Meadows: A truly magical landscape at 3,300 meters above sea level, at the foot of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. The journey is a bit arduous and involves a four-hour walk, but for the fantastic views one gladly accepts this. Fairy Meadows is closed during the winter months when the snowfall is too heavy. By the way, the name comes from German mountaineers who called the enchanting place “Fairy Meadow”.
- Sehwan Sharif: Another center of Sufism and Qawwali music in Pakistan. The saint Lal Shabaz Qalandar, who lived in the 12th and 13th century, is buried here. He is also revered by members of other religions. Sehwan is considered one of the oldest places in Pakistan inhabited by humans – some historians claim that the city was founded by Set, the third son of the biblical Adam.
- Abbottabad: Does not enjoy the best reputation, as Osama Bin Laden hid here until his death in 2011. But Abbottaad is located in the middle of a breathtaking mountainous landscape, is easily accessible from Murree and Islamabad and is also known for its many educational institutions. This is why Abbottabad is also called the City of Schools. Abbottabad is located at an altitude of 1,200 meters and is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Pakistan.
- Uch Sharif: Birthplace of Bulleh Shah, one of the greatest Punjabi poets and Sufi poets in Pakistan. He lived in the 17th century and is considered one of the national poets of Pakistan. In Uch Sharif there are several centuries old mausoleums and shrines, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Also Jalaluddin Bukharim another important Sufi saint, was born here. It is believed that Uch was founded about 2300 years ago by Alexander the Great.
- Multan: Only a few kilometers north of Uch, and another jewel of Punjab. Multan also has a long and eventful history: Hindus and Sufi mystics, Alexander the Great and British colonial masters, Sikhs and Moguls have shaped the city, its architecture and identity. The landmark of Multan is the mausoleum of Shah Gardez, a Sufi of the 11th century. It is considered one of the first and most beautiful examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. Those who are in Uch or Bahawalpur should definitely take the short drive to Multan and visit the “City of Saints” – because it is without doubt one of the most beautiful places in Pakistan!
- Thatta: The “City of Silence” was once the capital of Sindh. That is why there are still numerous historical monuments in Thatta – e.g. the beautiful Shah Jahan Mosque, which is one of the most worth seeing in South Asia. The Makli Necropolis is one of the largest cemeteries in the world: up to one million graves have been built here over the last four centuries. Numerous Sufi saints have also found their final resting place here. By the way, Makli means something like “little Mecca”. Definitely a must-see for everybody traveling Pakistan!
- Bahawalpur: Also located in Punjab, near Uch Sharif and Multan. Bahawalpur is famous for its architecture, for example the Noor Mahal (the “Palace of Light”). It was built in the style of an Italian castle and served as the seat of the Nawabs (princes) of the old princely state of Bahawalpur. Bahawalpur also has a beautiful bazaar where everything from parrots to traditional dresses are sold. The Al-Sadiq Mosque is one of the most beautiful in the country and was built by a Sufi saint more than 200 years ago.
The Best Places to Visit in Pakistan: Summary
- Islamabad / Rawalpindi
- Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu
- Fairy Meadows
- Sehwan Sharif
- Uch Sharif