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5 Alternative Things to Do in Baghdad, Iraq

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2 weeks ago

At the crossroads of civilizations, Baghdad’s history goes back millennia and you would need months to explore every historic tomb or mosque in Baghdad.

Any good Iraqi tour guide will take you to the major tourist attractions of Baghdad. From the ever-atmospheric Shahbandar Café to the large domes of the Martyr’s Monument, these iconic sites of Baghdad are well known across the Middle East.

However, with each visit to Baghdad, I always try to seek out one or two new sites from which I can learn about yet another layer of this complex city. I know there is something a little bit comical about going off the beaten path in Iraq but, for those seeking to go a little deeper, here are my top 5 alternative things to do in Baghdad.

1. Zumurrud Khatun Mosque and Mausoleum

A former Turkic slave, Zumurrud Khatun is a fascinating Abbasid-era historical character. Zumurrud Khatun most famously rose through the ranks of high society and eventually birthed the Abbasid Caliph Al Nasir.

view from zubayda tomb over abbasid era graveyard and mosque

Dating back to the 13th century, this iconic minaret sits in an old graveyard in the south of Baghdad. Given its location far from central Baghdad, it’s often excluded from Baghdad travel itineraries. But in my opinion, this is a real shame.

Given Baghdad’s notorious traffic, I recommend visiting this shrine first thing in the morning.

The Zumurrud Khatun Mosque is one of the reasons Baghdad is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s less about the mosque itself, and rather how treasures from many of history’s greatest empires are sprinkled throughout the Baghdad’s neighborhoods.

You’ll find that the actual minaret design is similar to the more popular Tomb of Ezekiel at Al-Kifl. However, here, you can climb to the top of the minaret. The caretakers of the graveyard are very friendly – please don’t forget to slip them a 5,000 IQD for the trouble of showing you around!

2. Former Railway Station and Tomb of Joshua the High Priest

This mysterious site combines two of Baghdad’s quirkiest spots: a former railway station, and the biblical tomb of Joshua, the Jewish High Priest. As you approach the location, you will find a large, fenced-off complex which is guarded by police. Don’t be deterred, the police are relatively friendly and will let you enter. There is a good chance the police will ask you to leave your passport at the checkpoint.

As you enter the guarded compound, you will first find a large, eerie collection of rundown Iraqi railway trains. Technically you aren’t allowed to climb on them, but if nobody is watching, I won’t tell!

You will soon reach the tomb of Joshua the High Priest, one of the major biblical sites in Iraq. Joshua the High Priest was the first Jewish High Priest of Jerusalem after Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. If you are interested in the ancient Jewish heritage of Baghdad, you won’t want to miss this site. Joshua’s tomb doesn’t receive many visitors and you will be greeted by an old caretaker, a huge smile, and likely a plate full of dates!

The area is full of other Abbasid and Seljuk-era tombs, often falling to pieces and covered in very photogenic cats.

3. Dijlah Village

I know I’m jumping from Abbasid-era tombs to the modern day, but we’re looking for alternative things to do in Baghdad. In my opinion, any list of alternative things to do in Baghdad needs to take into account layers of history, traces of different civilizations and, most importantly, the often complex faces of Baghdad.

Dijlah Village is a brand new, high-end shopping and dining complex in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood. There is no question Dijlah is the place to see and be seen, with a number of high-end restaurants. If you’re looking for something special, Dijlah Village is home to an outpost of our favorite Beirut restaurant, Em Sherif.

dijlah village in baghdad karrada shopping mall high end

Local tip: Dijlah Village maintains a loose dress code. Best not to wear sandals or open shoes.

Dijlah Village attracts crowds for its half-hourly fountain shows, which may rival Las Vegas. Welcome to the Baghdad of 2024: jumping fountains, a despacito-style playlist and lots of people in high heels.

4. Al Tatanji Café

This may be Baghdad’s second-most famous café, yet Al Tatanji remains off the circuit for most travelers to Baghdad. Filled with men smoking shisha, shanasheel-style decorations and portraits of Fairouz, this looks like any other photogenic Baghdadi café.

However, local legend suggests this café holds one of the secrets of modern Iraqi history. Apparently, it was here that Saddam Hussein attempted to launch his first coup.

Local tip: Order the unique Iraqi drink of chai limon basrawi here – it was certainly the strongest I ever had in Iraq.

5. Beit Tarkib Art Space

Run with a number of local NGOs, Beit Tarkib Art Space is an excellent grassroots-led art and cultural center which will make you fall in love with Iraq all over again. Simply ring the doorbell and a friendly team member at Beit Tarkib will gladly give you a tour.

Beit Tarkib contains a handful of art studios, often with politically motivated artworks. You can also find an open space for ballet and theatre here and a lovely art-filled garden.

Beit Tarkib is only a few doors down from Darbuna, one of our top restaurants in Baghdad, making it an easy spot to visit on the way to trying some of the best Iraqi traditional food.

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