Baghdad is the capital of Iraq and is home to about 8 million people. It is a city with a rich history and culture, but it has also been through a lot of strife in recent years. The Iraq War, the rise of ISIS, the October Uprising of 2020 and the ongoing political instability have all taken a toll on the city and its people.
Despite all of this, the resilient people of Baghdad are still some of the most generous and welcoming folks you will ever meet. They are always willing to help out a stranger, and are so proud to show off their city to visitors.
Read on to find out about 8 of the not to be missed things to see and do in Baghdad!
Al-Mutanabbi Street is one of the most famous streets in Baghdad, Iraq. It is a major cultural hub and is home to hundreds of bookstores, cafes, and cultural institutions. The street is named after the 10th-century poet Al-Mutanabbi, who is considered one of the greatest poets in the Arabic language.
Al-Mutanabbi Street has a long and rich history. It was first established in the 8th century and has been a center of learning and culture ever since. The street was once home to the House of Wisdom, one of the most important libraries in the world. The library was destroyed in the 13th century, but Al-Mutanabbi Street has continued to thrive as a center of intellectual and cultural activity.
Today, Al-Mutanabbi Street is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. Besides the bookshops and cafes, there are many street performers and artists who add to the vibrant atmosphere of this magical place.
Don’t forget to stop in at Qushla Square. There is a clock tower there that is thought to be the oldest in the Middle East.
Getting lost on Al-Mutanabbi Street was our favorite thing to do in Baghdad. We came here during the day for one perspective and during the night for another. Whenever we came by, there were Iraqis who were so curious about us and wanted to show us their special city. They wanted to buy us food, take us to their home, offer us gifts, etc., It was crazy and at times overwhelming.
The first day a young man befriended us and became our “guide”. Although his English was not perfect, we were able to communicate. And his pride of his irrepressible city shone through the language barrier.
During our walk together he kept on trying to buy us snacks and drinks. At first, we declined his kind offers. However, finally trying not to be rude we accepted a candy. Oddly, at the end of our “tour” he offered us money. Of course, we did not accept it. But this was such a purview into the hidden nuances of communication of the Iraqi culture.
Etiquette and Communication while in Iraq
If you are planning a trip to Iraq, or are just curious, Nina Evason did a fabulous write up about proper etiquette in Iraq.
Here are the top 6 that stood out to us while there:
- When someone offers you something or makes a kind gesture towards you, it is polite to lightly protest first (e.g. “You shouldn’t have”, “That’s lovely, but I couldn’t”). Once the person insists, you may accept the offer.
- Be aware that if you show admiration for an item or compliment a possession, an Iraqi may feel obliged to offer the item to you as a gift. Thus, it is best to avoid making too many comments on objects that are portable and expensive in people’s homes.
- It is expected that men pay for the women in Iraq. One’s honor is often judged by their generosity as well as their ability to provide for others in Iraq. Therefore, Iraqi men may insist on paying the bill for other men as well—especially in a small group or business setting. Among friends, people may protest lightly before allowing the person who volunteered to pay. However, it is considered very awkward and rude to completely refuse to let someone pay for you and pay for yourself instead. Some may see this is an insult to their honor.
- You will likely be served second or even third servings of food. It is a great gesture to eat more servings, so it is best serve yourself less initially so you have more room to eat another serving.
- If you honestly would not like anymore food, the best way to refuse a serving is to place your hand over your heart and give your thanks whilst saying you are full and the host provided greatly.
- Leave a little food on your plate when you are finished as eating everything on your plate indicates that you would like another serving.
2. Drink Freshly Squeezed Pomegranate Juice
Ok, we are not talking about POM here. We are talking about getting a glass of the most sweet and delicious freshly squeezed pomegranate juice that you have ever had in your life. And yes, we have drunk the stuff all over the world, but nothing compares to the taste of this stuff. I felt an instant surge of vitamins pulsing through my body and brain!
Our favorite places were in Old Town, but they can be found in many parts of the city. And don’t get me started on the low low cost!
3. Get a Tea at Shabandar Cafe
Shabandar Cafe is a century old cultural institution located on the famous Al-Mutanabi Street. It is one of Baghdad’s few remaining traditional cultural cafés. Since opening its doors a century ago, the establishment has become a hub of Baghdad’s intellectual life, drawing writers, poets, book lovers and politicians to its wooden benches and photo-lined walls.
Many families would make Shabandar Cafe a Friday outing. The adults would pick up coloring books and reading books for their children on Al-Mutanami street. They would then head over to the cafe where the grown ups would discuss all important topics of the day and the children would drink tea, listen and color.
4. Check out the Architecture on Al Rashid Street
Al Rashid Street runs parallel to the east side of the Tigris River. It is one of the oldest streets in Baghdad and has been home to a variety of historical and cultural landmarks. Its origin dates back to the Ottomans who ruled Iraq from 1534 to 1918.
Today the street is a visual museum of colonial architecture. Even though most of these buildings are in a great state of disrepair they are still quite beautiful. Especially the many wooden balconies that are supported by columns. There are a lot of interesting and intricate decorations on the buildings as well. Today, there is a campaign to restore these treasures to their glory days.
5. Stroll Abu Nawas Gardens and Feed the Dogs
Abu Nawas Gardens is a large park in the center of the city . It is located on the banks of the Tigris River and is named after the 10th-century poet Abu Nawas. The park is home to a variety of gardens, fountains, and sculptures. It is also a popular spot for picnics and family gatherings. The park was heavily damaged during the Iraq War and has been rebuilt since that time.
Honestly, this park is not in the best of shape. However, the tranquility of the gardens really was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. In addition, we met the most amazing man here. Ali, is a simple man who takes care of the homeless dogs in the park.
These pups are the most beautiful and loving dogs. Unfortunately no one is there to help them except for Ali. When we met him, he was cradling one of the many puppies roaming the gardens. The dogs clearly loved and trusted him. A true angel of a man.
There is also an organization called The Baghdad Animal Rescue Organization that helps a handful of animals of the city. It is a start but so much more needs to be done.
6. Check Out The Antique Market
Antique markets are not usually our favorite thing to do. Especially since we don’t have a home and carry anything that we purchase on our backs. However, a young man who very generously decided to guide us through the city took us to the Khan Al Mudallal Antique Market. And we are really glad that he did.
This is an interesting building which was known to be a hotel for VIPs in the 1940s. It has a treasure trove of items that each has a rich history and story. The owner took us around proudly and showed us his vast collection of all things antiques.
7. Discover the "Posh" Karada Neighborhood
Karada is a historic neighborhood in Baghdad and is located in the central part of the city. It is home to a diverse population of Muslims, Christians, and Jews. This area is known for its lively atmosphere, its many shops and restaurants, and its beautiful mosques and churches. It is considered the “posh” neighborhood of Baghdad.
There are rows and rows of outdoor shops and higher end indoor ones. In one shop the owner was selling a variety of different birds. However he had very fancy chickens as well. He would carry around these interesting creatures and pet them. Quite an interesting place!
8. Eat The Best Fresh Bread
Our absolutely favorite fresh bread in the world is from Baghdad. And we bought it from many different bakeries. However, our absolute fave is from the Bab Al Hara Bakery. As always, these lovely people were incredibly generous and showed us how they bake the bread and to boot refused to take our money.
Bread making is a traditional art form in Iraq. It has been practiced for centuries and is an important part of the culture. Bread is a staple food and is eaten with every meal. It is also a symbol of hospitality and generosity in the country. It is often served to guests as a sign of welcome.
There are many different types of bread made in Iraq. Some of the most popular types include:
Iraqi saj bread: This is a thin, crispy bread that is made with wheat flour, water, and salt. It is typically cooked on a saj, which is a type of griddle.
Khubz Tannour: This is a round, flatbread that is made with wheat flour, water, and salt. It is typically cooked in a tandoor oven.
And for me the best part of the Iraqi bread, is that it is almost all vegan! This cannot be said of most breads in the world.
If you are thinking about visiting Baghdad, I would encourage you to do so. It is a city with a lot to offer, and the people are some of the most generous you will ever meet. Just be sure to do your research and be aware of the security situation before you go.
That said, during our visit we felt incredibly safe. However, in a country like Iraq things can change very quickly. As I write this, Khartoum is undergoing fighting the likes the city has never seen. Yet we were there a few weeks ago and the situation was very calm and safe.
Have you been to Iraq? What did you think? Did you enjoy Baghdad as much as we did? Let us know, we would love to hear from you!