Highlights of Kurdistan

Highlights of Kurdistan

Style: PioneerGroundbreaking tours to unique destinations
Duration: 8 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Iraqi Kurdistan is a fascinating place of sheer beauty, warm and friendly people and a rich and challenging history. Although situated in the northern part of Iraq, it is in many ways a world apart. Largely unknown or traditionally avoided by Western tourists, we believe this region is an absolute gem in the making and that now is the time to visit before the crowds discover this hidden world. This tour starts in the ancient city of Erbil, brimming with history and monuments that stand as testament to the numerous influences on the region. From here we head to Dohuk, with its fascinating bazaar before visiting the small town of Zakho with its stunning bridge, and in Suleimaniyah and Halabja we learn about the brutal legacy of Saddam Hussein’s regime upon the Kurdish homelands. But Kurdistan is not simply about ticking off the sights; tourists are virtually unknown here so it is not uncommon to be asked to join people for tea or food, or to simply talk or pose for a photo. The Kurds are a proud people and eager to show Kurdistan to the world, and your encounters with these resilient people will undoubtedly be your enduring memory of this trip.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●○○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • Experience the fascinating Kurdistan region of Iraq
  • Visit the citadel of Erbil, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Stop to some of the oldest constructions in the world such as Jirwana

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Comfortable hotel accommodation in most places. Basic.
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Erbil
End Point: Erbil - you can depart any time after 3pm
Transport: Private cars or minibuses
Countriy Visited: “The Other Iraq” (Kurdistan)

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.


Day 1: Arrival in Erbil
Arrive in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax or explore. Overnight Van Royal Hotel or similar. (D)

Day 2: Erbil
We begin our adventure by exploring on foot the 7,000-year-old Citadel of Erbil, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and in our opinion, becoming one of the new hot spots of the Middle East. We visit the historic Citadel (Qalat Hawler), as well as the superb Textile Museum which features ancient Kurdish fighting tools, traditional dresses, handmade rugs, jewellery and ancient photos from Kurdistan but also from Iran and Turkey. Continue to the food market and covered Qaysari Bazaar, a labyrinth of streets and alleys selling everything from fascinating antiques to sweet delights. After lunch in one of Erbil’s most famous local restaurants, we visit the remaining parts of the iconic Choli Minaret, dated back from the 12th Century. Overnight Van Royal Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Erbil is known locally as Hewler, meaning ‘seat of the gods’ and lays claim to being one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, dating back to at least the 23rd century BC. Throughout history it has been ruled by a succession of invaders, including Turcomans, the Persian Safavids, Ottomans and the British. More recently it became the seat of the Kurdish parliament. Erbil is most famous for its ancient citadel, a vast fortress situated on top of a steep earthen mound that has been accorded World Heritage Status by UNESCO. Erbil Citadel was once a Sumerian City called Urbellum or Arbella (4 gods) and it is believed that Abraham passed through this city on one of his journeys. It once housed the Temple of the Goddess Ishtar. It was also the city Darius III fled to after facing defeat by Alexander the Great on the nearby plains of Gaugamela. The city also contains some impressive old houses dating from the 19th century.

Day 3: Erbil - Gaugamela – Jirwana - Lalish - Dohuk (Approx. driving time today: 4.5 hours)
After breakfast, we depart for the fourth century St Matthew’s Monastery and take a tour guided by the local monks, then head to Gaugamela, the site of the famous battle between King Darius and Alexander the Great. We then continue our journey to the sacred village of Lalish, home to the followers of the Yazidi faith, stopping en-route at Jirwana, the oldest aqueduct and bridge ruin in the world. In Lalish we learn about the ancient rituals of the Yezidis who are considered by many to be the remnant of the original religion of Kurdistan. We end our day in the picturesque town of Dohuk. Overnight Dilshad Palace Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Important Notes: When we visit the village of Lalish, outer footwear must be removed. It is advisable to take a pair of very thick black socks especially for this purpose. Socks are allowed and can be provided locally if needed. We also advise not to wear blue garments as Yezidis people usually do not war this colour.

Jirwana ancient aqueduct and bridge was built in 690BC at the time of Sennacharib. The site was once part of a vast complex that was built to water the gardens of Nineveh. Huge stones transported by hand from quarries hundreds of miles away are in scripted with the story of this amazing feat. Here you will find the secret of the, “hidden message of Sennacharib,” known by only a few living scholars in the world.

Lalish is one of the most unique destinations in the entire Kurdistan Region. It is a cultural and religious experience, as well as a place of calming, serenity, and natural beauty. This small mountain town is the holiest place for the heterodox ethno-religious Yezidi (Yazidi) community. It is the resting place for some of the most important figures in the Yezidi faith such as Sheik Adi (1070s-1162), who essentially codified Yezidi theology and balanced previously disparate teachings. Yezidis are expected and encouraged to make a six-day pilgrimage to Lalish in their lifetime in order to visit the tomb of Sheikh Adi and other sacred places in the small mountain village. The village is easily recognizable due to the famous conical structures (shrines).

Close to the border with Turkey, Dohuk is a picturesque town situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. Traditionally the region has been associated with agriculture and is locally famous for its grapes – other crops grown here include rice, tobacco, wheat and all manner of fruit and vegetables. Once known for its colourful houses, Dohuk grew in importance during the period of sanctions imposed on Iraq – its proximity to the border meant that it was a hub for smuggling goods.

Day 4: Dohuk - Zakho - Dohuk (Approx. driving time today: 1.5 hours)
This morning we visit the churches and monasteries of Al Qush, including the third century Hurmiz monastery, once home to around six hundred monks. Then head to the ancient Jewish town of Zakho to see the Delal Bridge, a stunning stone arch bridge over the Khabur river and take a walk through the town. Later in the afternoon, we return to Dohuk and time permitting can explore the bazaar. Overnight Dilshad Palace Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 5: Dohuk - Amadiya – Barzan - Rawanduz (Approx. driving time today: 5.5 hours)
Head to the nearby mountain town of Amadiya where we visit the 400-year-old mosque and see the minaret, with bullet holes from the Kurdish Civil War still visible. Then we pass by a third century Synagogue and visit an ancient Egyptian Madrasa, reportedly founded by the University of Cairo centuries ago. After lunch we continue south east to the town of Barzan, the ancestral home of the Barzani tribe. The current President and Prime Minister of Kurdistan are from this region. We stop at the Mullah Mustapha Memorial for a learning about the history of Kurdistan’s most famous leader while enjoying a cup of chai. Our journey continues along the spectacular Hamilton Road and time permitting, we visit Shanidar, a Neanderthal Cave discovered in the 1950’s. We reach Rawanduz in the late afternoon and take the cable car to the top of Korek Mountain where we stay for the night. Overnight Korek Mountain Resort or similar. (BLD)

Amadiya (dating from the Assyrian era) is located on a high promontory above a breathtaking landscape and fed by a geothermal spring originating far below the mountain. 90km northeast of Dohuk, about 1400m above sea level and surrounded by heights it was once an almost impenetrable fortress. The city Gate (Bab Zebar) is located in the eastern side of the City of Amadiya. Its width was 4 metres, built by Imaduddin Al- Zanki in 5-600 AD. A minaret is located in the middle of Amadiya. It is 30 metres high. The Islamic ornamentation (arabesque) is clearly seen on the minaret. It is said that it was built in the time of Sultan Hussein Wali Amadiya as part of an already existing ancient city.

Day 6: Rawanduz - Dokan - Suleimaniyah (Approx. driving time today: 3.5 hours)
Leaving Rawanduz we pass through the mountains and down through Dokan, arriving into Suleimaniyah, the second largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, and possibly the most relaxed and cosmopolitan. On arrival we visit Suli’s bazaar and the locally renown Sha’ab teahouse. Time and weather permitting, we walk to the summit of Goizha Mountain to get a view over the city. Overnight Hotel Copthorne Baranan Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Suleimaniyah takes it names from Suleiman Baba, the ruler of the emirate of Baban who founded the city in the late 18th century. The city plays an important role today in the promotion of Kurdish culture, and since the war has grown in importance, with numerous factories established here – tourism is also an important part of its economy with people from Iran travelling here. It is home to a couple of fascinating museums – the Amna Suraka which provides an important insight into the horrific treatment of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein, and the Slemani Musuem which houses Kurdish and Persian artefacts.

Day 7: Suleimaniyah - Halabja - Suleimaniyah (Approx. driving time today: 4 hours)
After breakfast, we travel to the nearby village of Halabja, a place of almost unspeakable horror at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s military forces, and visit the fascinating Monument of Halabja Martyrs and the Halabja Museum and Memorial Cemetery before returning to Suleimaniyah. On the way back, we stop at the Ahmed Awa waterfall for a relaxed picnic lunch. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure to explore the city. Overnight Hotel Copthorne Baranan Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 8: Suleimaniyah - Erbil (Approx. driving time today: 2.5 hours)
This morning we witness first-hand the terrible legacy of Saddam Hussein as we visit the infamous Amna Suraka (Red House) buildings including the many prison cells and torture chambers where thousands of people, mostly Kurds were imprisoned, tortured or killed. Afterwards drive back to Erbil and, depending on the flight departure time, stop en-route at the ancient Zarzi cave. After lunch, transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)


Tour Inclusions/Exclusions

Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance