Arbil (Hawlêr in Kurdish and most usually known as Erbil 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. Entry visas are available at the airport and foreign tourists will find a warm welcome from locals.
Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, but it still feels a bit like a small town. 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 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 (e.g., metal detectors and bag checks).
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. Regular flights to Arbil are also available weekly from Dubai, Amman, Istanbul and very recently, Tehran.
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 roundtrip flights from Frankfurt.
Qatar Airways flies 4 times a week between Erbil and Doha
Fly Hellas flies to Arbil from Athens (Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport) and Stockholm.
MEA flies to Erbil from Lebanon on 6 flights per week.
AtlasJet ,Turkish Airlines, and Pegasus have flights to Istanbul.
FlyDubai has flights to Dubai.
Turkish Airlines has flights to Istanbul, there to the world.
Etihad Airlines flies from Erbil to Abu Dhabi with connecting flights onwards.
Citizens of the EU, the US, Canada, Japan and Australia are given a free stamp of 10 days on arrival. After that you must visit the residency office to extend your visa. Other nationalities must have an Iraqi visa before arrival.
Recently there are bus companies running services connecting Erbil to Dyiarbakir in Turkey (10-15 hours) and Istanbul (36-48 hours):
There are at least two other Turkish companies running busses from erbil to cities ın Turkey - look around for flyers on Iskan Road.
Arrival time depends on border formalities (around 2 hours from Turkey to Iraq in March 2012 and 5-8 hours back to Turkey).
Public transportation is available in the form of taxis and some bus routes, however at this point, if you don't know your way around or have a guide with local knowledge it is inadvisable to try it alone. Chances are if you are coming to Erbil you will have your trip pre-arranged with someone at this point in time.
In terms of taxis there are essentially two choices:
The Erbil Citadel sits in the middle of Erbil City. It is a round structure, 30 meters high which dominates the old city and has been built upon seven layers of civilization. The total area of the Citadel is 110,000 square metres. The history of its building dates back to 6000 years and has been continuously inhabited since its founding. 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. The Citadel of Erbil consists of three main quarters: Topkhana, Saray and Taki, with a total of 605 houses in the areas. Picturesque view from the upper floors of the opposite shopping centre.
Kurdish Textile Museum displays textiles produced in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Mound of Qalich Agha lies within the grounds of the Museum of Civilization, 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the citadel. An excavation in 1996 found tools from the Halaf, Ubaid and Uruk periods.
Minaret Park The 36 m high Mudhafaria Minaret, situated in Minaret Park several blocks from the citadel, dates back to the late 12th century AD and the reign of Arbil 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), connected with the minaret park via cable car.
Stroll around in the deserted city inside the hilltop castle (kale)in the centre of Arbil. Hundreds of houses that appears to have been abandoned in a hurry. Walk into the court yards, sleeping rooms and bed rooms or up to the rooftop terraces to enjoy an spectacular panorama of Arbil or ponder what life might have been in this place before the inhabitants were repopulated.
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.
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. .
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.
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 US22 is cheaper than in Tennessee, USA where it is bottled!
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.