Iraq – Highlights of Kurdistan Tour – a 8 day Small Group Tour
Iraq is certainly not your average holiday destination, and lives in most people’s minds through the images shown in the media.
However the northern region of Kurdistan, to all intents and purposes a separate country from the troubled south, ranks as one of the most intriguing places in the Middle East. Our group tours and tailor made holidays to Iraq concentrate on Kurdistan, a land that must be one of the most ancient on our planet and with a history as wide and varied as it is long.
Explore cities that date back to the dawn of human civilization, ancient monasteries and bustling bazaars that belie the difficulties of the past. Kurdistan is now experiencing a real renaissance but it not yet on the tourist trail – there is no better time to visit.
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 Kurdistan 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.
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)
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 Parwar 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.
Day 4 - Dohuk - Al Qush - Gara - 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 fascinating village of Gara where we visit one of Saddam’s palace remains and chat with the Peshmerga who guard it (subject to availability for the guards). 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. Overnight Rubar Resort or similar. (BLD)
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 Ramada Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Day 7 - Suleimaniyah - Halabja – Suleimaniyah
(Approx. driving time today: 4 hours)
After breakfast, visit Sulaymani Museum, Kurdistan’s largest collection and Iraq’s second largest collection of antiquities. There are other museums in Kurdistan but nothing to equal this one in Sulaymani. The Director of the Museum is often on hand to explain some of the issues facing Kurdistan in the preservation of its antiquities including looters and corrupt officials who have sold the nation’s heritage to collectors abroad. Once the visit is over, 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 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 Ramada 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)
Dates & Price.
Minimum Group Size
This group tour operates subject to a minimum group size of 2 travellers.
Return flights from London to Erbil start from around £580 per person. Please contact us for a quotation.
Airport transfers are included if you are booking pre and/or post tour accommodation at the hotel mentioned in our tour dossier.
Extra night accommodation pre and/or post tour in Erbil costs from £105 for a twin/double room and £95 for a solo occupancy room.
Please note that the prices quoted above are for the category of accommodation and hotel used for this particular tour. Depending on the hotel eventually confirmed there may be some difference in the rate advertised by the hotel, and the prices available through Undiscovered Destinations. It should be noted we will not apply a surcharge should more expensive accommodation be used. At the same time in the event that a lower rate is available for the confirmed hotel we are unable to offer a refund.
Private tour to Kurdistan
If you do not wish to be part of a group tour then you can do the same tour on a private basis subject to guide availability. Please contact us for prices.
Kindly note that we can also tailor a similar or totally different itinerary to meet your requirements. Please get in touch with Estelle or Rhia so we can tailor your perfect tour.
Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?
Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.
For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
+44(0) 191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA
- 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