Creating beauty and preserving cultural heritage are goals for any assiduous urban planner, and few capitals around the globe can kill two birds with one stone, juxtaposing the old and the new with spectacular neck-craning wonders. Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad however has some legitimate swagger to boast about. Stunning pyramidal mosques share the green cityscape, dotted with relaxing and family-friendly parks, rustic ruins, and avant-garde markets for the youthful hip crowd. Its no wonder that Pakistan’s pride gets on the podium for being the 2nd most beautiful city in the world, an often overlooked prestige that many people are oblivious to.
Cultural Heritage Sights
For many fresh-off the plane travelers, the absence of skyscrapers and electric-flashing districts should be a sight of relief. Islamabad’s historical sites not only chronicle Pakistan’s development as a nation since it’s formation in 1947, but offer unique insight into the cultural diversity of Pakistani people.
1) The Pakistan Monument.
Nestled in the Shakarparian forest-covered hills overlooking the city, the Pakistan Monument stands erect as a petal-closed flower, arching its pointed granite blocks together towards the sky just as sports players embrace each other before a game. This harmonic convergence symbolizes Pakistan’s national unification and solidarity as one people.
In addition, the four converging petals represent Pakistan’s major provinces – Balochistan, Punjab, Kyhber-Pakhtunkwa and Sindh while the shorter petals sandwiched between them portray Pakistan’s territories – specifically Azad Kashmir, GilgitBaltistan, and government controlled Tribal Areas.
Ensconced on top of a patio foundation made up of marble, the patriotic structure allow’s a picturesque bird-like view of the capital. The national monument also offers an exquisite wax statue exhibit, depicting the country’s arduous endeavor in winning independence and founding a new nation.
2) LokVirsa Museum
Five minutes by foot from Pakistani’s monument, the LokVirsa museum, meaning “place of people’s heritage,” is another beautiful exhibit illustrating the unique culture of Pakistani people. Working in collaboration with UNESCO, the museum owes its outstanding maintenance and well-preserved artifacts to the organization’s donations.
Displaying pieces of pottery, art, musical instruments, religious statues, and architectural relics the museum takes you on a pleasant walk through an outside garden while escorting you through nine galleries of Buddhist and Sufi shrines dating back to antiquity.
3) Faisal Mosque
Recognized as one the most iconic structures of Islamabad in travel photography, the desert-tented mosque holds one of Islam’s most divine places of worship as it stretches above a surface area of 5000 square meters. Flanked with four towering spires on each corner, the sacred temple stands as an illuminated beacon from any vantage point across the city.
Accommodating nearly a quarter million people to worship, the modern-looking wonder is situated at the foundation of the Margalla hills. Intricately carved mosaics of marble and glass in triangular patterns hang from the tented ceiling in the prayer room which itself can hold over 10,000 people. Adjacent to the prayer room is the primary lecture hall as well as a library, restaurant and a cafe.
4) Saidpur Village
If your’re looking for a rustic down-to-earth break from Islamabad’s glitzy malls and teeming bazaars, Saidpur village is a great place to experience authentic village life in a 21st century metropolis. Meandering through the square-roofed village in a ravine of the Margalla hills, one can visit a Hindu temple and a Sikh gurdwara.
Feel free to roam the laid-back gravelly streets as children run and greet and you around the ancient artwork and residents playing sitaars enjoy the town’s simple and traditional lifestyle.
High quality restaurants such as Des Pardes and DeraPakhtoon will give you some sizzling plates of spicy chicken masala as you gaze upon the Himalaya foothills.
Sometimes nicknamed the “Green City,” Islamabad is famous for its nature-loving residents and scenic attractions.
5) Margalla hills and Daman-e-Koh Park
The hilly forest-covered terrain of the Margalla range leading up to the Himalaya mountains is visible around Islamabad and is often traversed by vista-seeking enthusiasts.
Walking up the trails you may see some of the range’s abundant wildlife such as the Rhesus macaque monkey and the Asian Paradise flycatcher, a rare and exotic bird with a long light-grayish tail.
Meaning “foot hills” in ancient Persian language, Daman-e-Koh is a spectacular vista point in the Margalla hills where one can get a panoramic view of Islamabad and the picturesque Faisal mosque on the horizon.
6) Rawal Lake
Flowing down from the Margalla hills, the Korang river pours into the Rawal lake, a scenic reservoir in the Malpur village district of Islamabad. Interlaced around its perimeter are gardens with picnic spots under shady groves and quiet paths to saunter with loved ones. Taking paddle and motor boats out on the lake are great activities for families and friends.
Food and Nightlife
Taking it to the streets in Islamabad’s active yet tolerable nightlife scene is an adventurous way to meet friendly locals over some delicious Pakistani cuisine.
7) Monal Restaurant
Located in Daman-e-Kohpark, this high quality and affordable restaurant specializes in chicken and rice dishes ranging from chicken Seekh kebabs to Biryani South Asian rice. According to TripAdvisor, the restaurant is ranked as the number one eating-out joint in Islamabad and the view over the city is irresistible.
8) Islamabad Club
If you’re hoping to get some rest and recreation and plan to stay in Islamabad for a while, becoming a member at the chic Islamabad club is a relaxing way to enjoy leisure activities – including swimming, playing tennis, and reading books.
Touted as one of the elitist hangout spots for ministry of government officials and foreign diplomats, the club offers a fusion style buffet of world cuisine with sumptuous hotel-like suites.
9) Jinnah Supermarket
Famous as a trendy hang out spot for youth and fashion-seekers, this circular shaped supermarket complex offers a smorgasbord of world dishes, cafes, hole-in-the wall eateries and music stores.
10) Itwar Bazaar
Last but not least on the endless things to do in Islamabad is shopping at the Sunday market. Teeming with a grand assortment of cheap second-hand goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and odds and ends the market opens its doors on Sundays as well as on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Islamabad is a gorgeous city with a diverse array of interesting places to visit and food to savor, and venturing to Pakistan’s heartland will leave with you with very fond memories.