Erbil (Hawlêr in Kurdish and sometimes spelt Arbil in the English speaking world) is the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of three provinces in northern Iraq. Unlike the rest of federal Iraq, Kurdistan is a relatively safe place for travellers.
Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and is a city in transition from a small town to a growing centre for commerce in the region. Restaurants, shops and other locations are best found in relation to key landmarks, districts or large roads. Good examples include the Citadel (landmark), Ankawa (district) or 60m Road. Even if you do not speak Kurdish or Arabic, drivers and hotel drivers will be able to find your destination with the help of landmarks, a map or a Google map.
Erbil is about 350km north of Baghdad. It lies on a rich fertile plain between two rivers, the Greater Zab and the Lesser Zab.
Erbil is a safe city with real ethnic and religious diversity. There is no tolerance for extremism locally, and the city has suffered only two real security incidents since 2007. Hotels maintain strong security protocols (eg, metal detectors and bag checks).
- Komari Where the stadium and Hawler Plaza Hotel are located
- Ankawa Originally the Christian suburb to the north of the city, Ankawa now houses a diverse set of professionals from around Arbil, while maintaining its Christian history.
- Citadel A 32m high mound with a continuously-occupied 7,000 year old settlement, believed to be the oldest continuously occupied human settlement in the world. The Citadel area also includes the city's souk, where you can buy both basic souvenirs as well as more modern items such as cell phones, etc.
Visa-free entry (misleadingly called visa on arrival) valid for 15 days is possible for most Westerners, many Middle Easterners and some other countries. All foreign tourists will find a warm welcome from locals.
Erbil International Airport
Northern Iraq is served by Erbil International Airport with a growing number of international airlines serving Erbil.
- Austrian Airlines launched flights between Vienna and Arbil (Erbil) (Irbil) twice weekly in December 2006. As of July 2007, Austrian is operating four flights a week to/from Vienna.
- Egypt Air flies 4 times per week from Cairo to Erbil, and 3 times per week from Erbil to Cairo.
- Lufthansa has recently restarted four weekly round trip flights from Frankfurt.
- Royal Jordanian has regular flights from Amman.
- Qatar Airways flies 4 times a week between Erbil and Doha.
- MEA flies to Erbil from Lebanon on 6 flights per week.
- AtlasJet ,Turkish Airlines, and Pegasus have flights to Istanbul.
- FlyDubai has flights from Dubai.
- Turkish Airlines has flights to Istanbul and on to the rest of the world.
- Pegasus Air has low-cost flights with connection in Istanbul.
- Mahan Air has flights from Tehran, established in 2012.
- Etihad Airlines flies from Erbil to Abu Dhabi with connecting flights onwards. (currently they have discontinued their services but will resume from end of October 2015)
- Air Arabia also has flights from Sharjah.
- Germania Airlines flies from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah to Dusseldorf, Munich and Stockholm
Citizens of the EU, the US, Canada, Japan and Australia (list is not exhaustive) are given a free stamp of 15 days on arrival. After that you must visit the residency office to extend your stay. Most other nationalities must obtain a visa, or they may seek a letter of invitation from the KRG Department of Foreign Relations to facilitate a visa into the Kurdistan Region.
Recently there are bus companies running services connecting Erbil to Dyiarbakir in Turkey (10-15 hours) and Istanbul (36-48h):
- Cizre Nuh Buses (Tel Erbil: 0750 340 47 73) run everyday at 15.30 from the New City Mall, 60m Road to Istanbul (USD100) via Silopi (USD40) Diyabakir and other Cities inbetween. Tickets can be brought at the New City Mall, Flyaway on Barzani Namir and at a Phone Shop on Shekhi Choly close to the bazaar.
- Can Diyarbakir Buses (Tel Erbil: 0750 895 62 17-18-19) leave daily from Family Mall on 100m Road to Istanbul via Ankara, Diyarbakır and other cities inbetween.
There are at least two other Turkish companies running buses from Erbil to cities ın Turkey - look around for flyers on Iskan Road.
- Best Van: Running from Ainkawa Road in Erbil to Istanbul via Adana, Aksaray, Ankara (14:00) and Diyabakir (16:00, via Hasankeyf, Batman). Bus from Diyabakir to Erbil leaves at 11:00.
- Federal Company: Daily service from Erbil to Istanbul, at 14:00. Charged $80 in late 2012 (the same as other bus lines, at the time), but claimed to be using VIP buses. Friendly service and location near citadel. Can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone at (+964)-0-66-2246999.
Arrival time depends on border formalities (around 2 hours from Turkey to Iraq in March 2012 and 5-8 hours back to Turkey)
Public transport is available in the form of taxis and some bus routes. Private drivers are also available from many three- and four-star hotels and can help show you around the area.
In terms of taxis there are essentially two choices:
- Hello Taxi,, which is Erbil's branded taxi company and has English speaking drivers, but at highly inflated rates. US dollars are accepted. From the airport to central Erbil the rate is USD50, to Ankawa USD20.
- "Street Taxis", which are generic independent taxis and will take you most places in Erbil and Ankawa. Rates are negotiable, however, for a drive across town (15-25 minutes) expect IQD3,000-6,000.
- PNK Taxi, ☎ +964 750 633 7700, . A subsidiary of BWFW Services company. PNK Taxi is "By Women... For Women". IQD3,000 at flagfall and then IQD1000/km. edit
Looking across Shar Park to the ancient Erbil Citadel
- The Erbil Citadel sits in the middle of Erbil City and is, as of 2014, a UNESCO World Heritage site. At 7000+ years old, the Citadel is one of the oldest continuously occupied human settlements. The citadel has seen the reign of many historic civilizations including Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians. Other ancient powers including the Achaemenian, Seljuks, and Sassanians also dominated the Citadel before being finally conquered by the Muslims. This longevity was made possible by the existence of abundant ground water, which has sustained the population throughout its long history.
The Citadel is a round structure, 28-32m high which dominates the old city and has been built upon seven layers of civilization. The mound itself is not natural but has been formed by successive layers of settlements: Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek. The total area of the Citadel is 110,000m². The Citadel of Erbil consists of three main quarters: Topkhana, Saray and Taki, with a total of 605 houses in the area.
The UNESCO Revitalization Project of the Erbil Citadel is on-going, so the Citadel is currently closed to cars. Visitors can still access the site on foot and walk around the mound. Key attractions include the historic architecture, views of the city and the Kurdish Textile Museum.
- Kurdish Textile Museum is on the Citadel. Entry is free. The Museum is open every day 09:00-17:30 from October to April and 09:00-19:00 from May to September. During the summer, the Museum is also closed on Fridays. The Museum's director often wanders around chatting with visitors and shares stories about the artefacts and current activities of the Museum. Great items on display include antique Kurdish rugs, ornate carrying sacks used by nomads in the region and pieces from Iran. You may also meet contemporary weavers at the Museum, which is the site for a US Embassy-funded initiative to revive Kurdish textile skills and support local (primarily female) artisans. The gift shop is one of the best spots in town for classy souvenirs; you can purchase traditional hats, jewellery, rugs made by the local Kurdish weavers and traditional Persian carpets brought across the border from Iran.
- Syriac Heritage Museum is better known as the Ankawa Museum. Entry is free. The Museum focuses on the Christian Syriac heritage of northern Iraq. The first floor includes examples of traditional attire in different villages around the region and farming tools from the first half of the 20th century. The second floor has a small, but exciting display of Syriac Christian books from the 1700s-1900s, including several New Testaments and one illuminated text. The display on the second floor also includes examples of early legal documents from the 1900s and a display on journalism in the region. The explanatory text is limited, but helpful, and available in both English and Kurdish.
- Erbil Civilization Museum sits on Municipality Street, across the street from City Hall. The Museum is open from Sunday to Thursday 09:00-14:00. The Museum has three halls, one is for prehistoric and stone-age archaeological pieces, the second is for Assyrian Era pieces, and the third is for Islamic Era pieces. All of the artifacts are from the Kurdistan Region. The Mound of Qalich Agha lies within the grounds of the Museum of Civilization, 1km (0.62 mi) from the citadel. An excavation in 1996 found tools from the Halaf, Ubaid and Uruk periods.
- Sami Abdul Rahman Park is the largest park in the Kurdistan Region. The park and all the other gardens and parks in Erbil are accessed for free. Sami Abdul Rahman Park is contains a lot of children games and restaurants, in addition to
the Erbil International Fair Ground, Zaytun Public Library, theaters, a number
of statues and monuments, a summer movie theater, and two artificial lakes.
- Minaret Park The 36m high Mudhafaria Minaret, situated in Minaret Park several blocks from the citadel, dates back to the late 12th century AD and the reign of king Muzaffar Al-Din Abu Sa’eed Al-Kawkaboori. It has an octagonal base decorated with two tiers of niches, which is separated from the main shaft by a small balcony, also decorated. Another historical minaret with turquoise glazed tiles is nearby.
- Shanidar Park Near the minaret park (on the other side of the street), this is a public park connected with the Minaret park via cable car.
Volunteer talking to English students at the ALSON language & computer centre (near Sheraton Hotel). To communicate with the students, go on a picnic and give students contact with English speakers. Also, Kurdish language lessons available.
Small and human scale shopping in Erbil
Visitors to Arbil have the option of shopping at small speciality stores, antique shops, malls and a souk offering both classic and contemporary goods. Few stores or malls have formal addresses, but many are known by local drivers. Most stores will accept US Dollars or Iraqi Dinar.
- Erbil's souk is located next to the Citadel. Also known as the Qaysari Market or Bazaar, it dates from the Ottoman period. As with most contemporary cities in the Middle East, you can find lunch, socks, cellphones, carpets, antiques and fresh produce throughout the market. To get to the souk, you should direct your taxi or driver to the "souk" near the "citadel."
- Antiq Qala is an antique shop located near the Citadel on Arrass Street. Selection includes antique silver jewelry, daggers, armour, instruments for navigation, books, carpets, embroidered cushions, lamps, furniture, coins, gaming sets and other items from across Iraq. The store also includes antiques from Pakistan, Britain, Egypt and Kurdistan's Jewish community. The store's owner, Khalis Younis, is very knowledgeable and will gladly explain items of interest in fluent English, Arabic or Kurdish. The store is well-located near the Citadel and Souk, but may be hard to find. You can call the store and Khalis will provide directions to you or your driver at +965 750 446 3169.
- Gift Shop at the Kurdish Textile Museum is located on the Citadel. The gift shop is one of the best spots in town for classy souvenirs; you can purchase traditional hats, jewellery, rugs made by the local Kurdish weavers and traditional Persian carpets brought across the border from Iran.
- Family Mall is located on 100m road, and includes prominent international brands like Blackberry, GEOX, Samsonite, Merrell, DKNY, Armani, Levi's and Mango. You'll find that the styles and sizes differ from offerings in US/UK/Asia store locations, though similar items may be available. Family Mall also includes a Carrefour market and a large cinema with first-run films from the US. The mall is open seven days per week, and closes at 22:00 or 23:00 depending on the day.
- Majidi Mall is located on Kasnazan road and includes dozens of international and local stores, including Adidas, Nike, United Colors of Benetton, Ermenegildo Zegna, Ecco and Movenpick. Majidi Mall includes a cinema and is open seven days per week.
Other indoor shopping centres include Hawler Mall on Shaqlawa road, NewCity supermarket on 60th road, Reihnmall in the Eskan neighbourhood and Shopping Centre Nishtman (National) Mall.
A good many restaurants exist in Erbil just none with any variety of cuisine. The choice is extensive, and the food is great and fresh especially at Fairuz Group which are currently running the Mamounia Skybar located at the 7th floor of the Noble hotel and Munch Cafe & Restaurant located at Gulan Street. .
- At the Erbil International Hotel, an Asian cuisine restaurant serves curry.
- Sajalreef restaurant on Kirkuk Baghdad Road.
- erza restaurant on ainkawa
- tarin restaurant on saladeen road
- bakery and more restaurant on shoresh street
- akito restaurant on ainkawa
- Erbil Rest on Ankawa Road.
- Al Mahar (Sea Food)on 60th Street.
- Fairuz Lebanese Restaurant Erbil 60th.
- Abu Shahab restaurant on 60th street.
If German food is your liking then in the Erbil suburb of Ainkawa, you'll find a new German restaurant. Also in Ainkawa you will find Happy Time restaurant which serves a version of western style foods including nice pizzas.
Many sandwich shops may be found in the bazaar.
- T Bar Sports Lounge and Grill, Ainkawa (Ainkawa exit road, across from RRT compound), . 17:00 to late. American style sports bar and lounge. Where you can enjoy a drink and american style food while watching sport on the 16 different plasma tv's. edit
- Baydoner, 100 m street Family Mall (food court), . Turkish "Iskender" dish is served, famous Turkish restaurant chain, Erbil branch edit
- For Great Lebanese food there is Zahle Restaurant that is located on the 60m street in the Arabella Hotel. Good food and fairly priced with a garden terrace. 0750 313 898. deliveries and take away service available too!
You can buy a wide variety of beer, wine and spirits at reasonable prices in Ainkawa, the Christian suburb of Irbil. Just look for any of the local alcohol stores. A litre of Jack Daniels for about 22 U.S.D. is cheaper than in Tennessee, USA where it is bottled!
- Marina. Great food! Pretty expensive. edit
- Deutscher Hof. For German draft beer and food edit
- Hotel Layali Baghdad Hotel, In the city center, Bata. Approximately 36.189414, 44.007693, . *Erbil International Hotel aka Sheraton is a great place to stay, if you can afford the rates. In November 2008, the rate for a single room (double bed) was around $US200 (including service charges). Payment is in cash only, no credit card. In November 2008, there were ATMs in the hotel, but it is not clear whether they allow cash withdrawals using international credit cards. In March 2010 International credit cards allow you to withdraw Iraqi Dinars there. The hotel has excellent food and internet service. There is a dry cleaner and laundry and several relatively good restaurants in the hotel (including East Asian and Indian food). *Ankawa Palace, . It is nice and clean and the staff are very helpful. USD150. edit USD150. edit
- Samira Miss Hotel, Corner or Qalat and Bata streets - right next to citadel, west side of Qaysari Bazaar. Tiny but "fully equipped" (TV, air-con, fridge, bathroom, wi-fi) single rooms which can be negotiated down to 20,000 IQD ($18). Friendly staff, no english spoken though. (Mar 2016) edit
- Dana Hotel, (In a small alley off Bata Street). Close to Samira Miss Hotel, spacious yet simple private rooms for 20,000 IQD ($18), "dorm" room with 4 beds for 10,000 IQD ($9) per bed - you'll be sharing the room with locals. (Mar 2016) edit
- Hotel below the main gate to the Citadel. One of the cheapest options in town. Beds on terrace start from 5000 dinars. Numerous other Hotels in this area or west of it - Rooms mostly between 25000 and 50000 dinars. edit
- Hotel Ali, Bata St. (one street west from the main gate of the Citadel). Basic but clean, shared bathrooms, squat toilets, Sat TV. from 20000. (36.188364,44.007564) edit
A good place to stay is the Lonia Motel. It offers rooms wich includes a bedroom, sittingroom, kitchen and bathroom at a rate of 80 USD/night. It's located at Kirkuk mainroad near the Tablo Mall. Free internet is included.
- Rotana, Gulan St (By the airport). This is a new modern hotel very close to the airport. Current rates are about USD450 a night. edit
As of March 2015, although the war front with ISIS is less than 30km away, Erbil is still considered a remarkably safe city to visit. Simple security procedures are recommended, such as not overtly displaying wealth, being careful of Taxi drivers who may not speak English and may overcharge. Women are advised not to walk around at night on their own as this is not common cultural practice and may attract unwanted attention. Although an attack on Erbil by ISIS is considered unlikely, be aware that the security situation could diminish rapidly and that random lonewolf attacks are of course still a possibility. Foreign workers in Erbil are advised to avoid spending time in areas where large crowds may gather and avoid any protests or heated situations.
As of March 2015, Erbil hosts large numbers of Arabic IDPs from southern and central Iraq along with refugees from Syria. These large numbers of arrivals combined with underlying economic difficulties cause social tension. Visitors should avoid getting involved in public discussions around these issues that may become heated.