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.
Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and it is a city in transition from a small town to a growing center 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).
Entry visas valid for 10 days are available at the airport for most nationalities (US, EU, etc), although some nationalities require a letter of introduction or invitation to facilitate a visa. All foreign tourists will find a warm welcome from locals.
Northern Iraq is served by Erbil International Airport with a growing number of international airlines serving Erbil.
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, 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 (36-48 hours):
There are at least two other Turkish companies running buses 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. 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:
The Erbil Citadel sits in the middle of Erbil City and is on the tentative list for nomination as 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, 28-32 meters high which dominates the old city and has been built upon seven layers of civilization. The Citadel is a round structure that sits 28-32 m above the surrounding city. The mound itself is not natural but was been formed by successive layers of settlements: Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek. The total area of the Citadel is 110,000 square meters. The Citadel of Erbil consists of three main quarters: Topkhana, Saray and Taki, with a total of 605 houses in the areas.
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 located on the Citadel. Entry is free. The Museum is open every day 9:00 - 17:30 from October to April and 9:00 - 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 artifacts 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, jewelry, rugs made by the local Kurdish weavers and traditional Persian carpets brought across the border from Iran.
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.
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.
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.
Visitors to Arbil have the option of shopping at small specialty 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.
Other indoor shopping centers 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. .
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 USD22 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.