Traveling to Islamabad, Pakistan soon? I used to find it bland, but after living there for months, I’ve learned of all kinds of things to do in Islamabad.
To be honest, Islamabad used to bore me. Unlike the rest of Pakistan, Islamabad is orderly, clean, quiet, and… well, dull? If you’re traveling in Pakistan, Islamabad is a likely first stop, but it isn’t exactly the most thrilling destination. Years ago, if you asked me about things to do in Islamabad, I would come up blank. Or procure a snide comment or two about how thrilling the capital wasn’t.
… but as my Pakistan women’s tours and motorcycle tours picked up steam, I found myself spending months in Islamabad in and around the tours. And, dare I say, I’ve learned to love the city. Just a bit.
There are a lot of things to do in Islamabad if you’re willing to look, especially if you’re fond of the outdoors. Clean, green Islamabad is heaven for those who need a bit of fresh air while traveling in Pakistan… but even if you’re not the hiking type, we’ll still find something for you to do there! Read on, dear travelers, read on.
Table of contents: best things to do in Islamabad, Pakistan
- Evening prayer at Faisal Mosque
- Street food in Melody Food Park
- Roam around Rawalpindi
- Chai in the hills
- Village life in Saidpur
- Secondhand shopping in Itwar Bazaar
- Chai at Quetta Tea & Teas
- Hike in the Margalla Hills
- Sunset at Pakistan Monument
- Golra Railway Station
- Walk in F9 Park
- Music at Shah Allah Ditta
- Relax at Rawal Lake
- Local breakfast at Cheema & Chatta
- Rent a motorcycle
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15 things to do in Islamabad, Pakistan
Listen to the evening call to prayer at Faisal Mosque
Another one of the best sunset spots in Islamabad: Faisal Mosque. The massive masjid is a stark contrast to mosques elsewhere in Islamabad; its futuristic white design evokes ideas of a nomadic bedouin tent, rather than a Mughal monument. Not a surprise, considering it was funded by a Saudi king. Contrast aside, the mosque is beautiful when it lights up at sunset with the Margalla Hills as a backdrop, and the call to prayer rings out over the air. You can join crowds of worshippers going inside for the sunset maghrib prayer. Don’t miss it; visitors are not allowed inside the actual mosque outside of prayer times.
Feast on street food at Melody Food Park
Islamabad is more limited than other Pakistani cities when it comes to street food, but Melody Food Park in the G6 markaz is one place where you can fill your belly without emptying your wallet. From fresh juices to fried samosas to steaming plates of pulao topped with kebabs, you can find almost any food your heart desires if you look long enough in Melody Food Park. It’s one of my favorite places for cheap food in Islamabad!
Dive into the depths of old Rawalpindi (AKA Pindi)
Rawalpindi has my heart, and deserves far more than a single spot on a list of the best things to do in Islamabad… but, for now, this must do! The sister city of Islamabad is older, busier, and dirtier than the capital, but within its depths lie a treasure trove of historic buildings, fantastic façades, and religious centers waiting for curious visitors. I’ve spent weeks roaming around in the old center of Rawalpindi, and learn something new every time I visit.
Save yourself the traffic hassle and take the Metro Bus from Islamabad into the center of Rawalpindi; Waris Khan station is a good starting point. From there, wander your heart out. If you prefer to have a bit more guidance—and a lot more history and context—my friend Hassan runs fantastic walking tours of Rawalpindi that highlight places I’m positive you’ll never find on your own. You can reach out to him through the Pindi Heritage Tours Instagram.
Pro tip: If you don’t have time to travel to Lahore, Rawalpindi’s old city is a very good substitute!
Have chai in the hills above Islamabad
Monal restaurant is famous for its views over Islamabad… but it’s expensive, crowded, and cliche in my opinion! My favorite place to enjoy a snack and some chai with a view is a small dhaba across from the Isloo Grill restaurant. It’ll be on your right when heading past Monal toward Pir Sohawa. Chai is cheap, the view is great, several hiking trails start from the area, and there’s a man selling most excellent pakoras from a small stall nearby. What more could you ask for?
Get a taste of village life (and religious diversity) in Saidpur Village
Before Islamabad became the capital of Pakistan, the territory was just a collection of small villages up against the hills. The city has since swallowed most of them, but you can still find remainders of village life on the outskirts; Saidpur village is one such spot. A touristic center has been organized at the entrance of the village, but if you wander past it, there’s little to differentiate Saidpur from other rural villages in the region.
That’s not to say that you should skip the tourist area! In its center is a reminder of the religious diversity that used to exist before Partition: a Sikh gurdwara, Hindu temple, and Islamic mosque sitting side by side. It can’t get more South Asian than that!
Shop for secondhand everything and anything in the Itwar Bazaar
If you love thrifting—or just want to see the closest thing Islamabad has to a “bustling bazaar”—the Itwar Bazaar is right up your alley. The name means “Sunday Market”, but it’s actually open on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
You can find virtually anything both new and old in the market. Ice skates? Check. Grandmotherly tea sets? Check. Chinese leafy greens? Check. I particularly like going there to pick up cheap secondhand clothes and shoes; it saves me money and buying secondhand is more sustainable!
Pro tip: If you’re heading up north to the mountains of Pakistan and need more warm clothes, the Itwar Bazaar is a great place to find cheap used jackets, hiking boots, sweaters, and more. Heck, you can even find backpacking backpacks from time to time; just keep searching!
Sip chai into the night at Quetta Tea and Teas
Quetta T&T is the place to go for chai without pretention in Islamabad. The renowned dhaba in the center of F10’s markaz serves Islamabad’s best chai 24/7, but the spot really comes alive after night. I’ve spent countless nights with friends chatting over too many cups of doodh patti (thick milkty tea) or aromatic kawa (green tea) on Quetta Tea’s terrace, picking at stuffed parathas in the meanwhile. If you’re looking for an iconic place to hangout in Islamabad on a budget, Quetta Teas is the place to be.
Go for a hike in the Margalla Hills
The Margalla Hills National Park is, arguably, Islamabad’s greatest asset. The 12,000+ hectare area is a rolling green delight for hikers, bikers, and creatures alike. Dozens of trails crisscross the hills, some more visited than others. There is an official set of numbered trails throughout the hills, but there are plenty of unmarked paths in the region for more experienced hikers. Trail 5 is one of my favorites for starters. Check Google Maps or Maps.me for inspiration in regards to other hiking trails.
Safety note: I recommend heading out in groups when going hiking in the hills. There are a lot of wild animals, including monkeys, leopards, and… men. There have been incidents of assault on women hiking in the hills, so be cautious, and carry sticks with you. Know that mobile signals are not guaranteed in the hills, so let people know where you’re going ahead of time.
Watch the sunset from Pakistan Monument
Built on the spot where—supposedly—it was proclaimed that Islamabad would be the new capital of Pakistan, the lotus-shaped monument represents the unity of Pakistan’s people and its variety of cultures. Though the monument itself doesn’t take much time to appreciate—indeed, it’s hard to on weekends while surrounded by crowds of selfie-takers—the view from the monument over Shakarparian Park and the rest of Islamabad is hard to beat. Make sure to stay a bit after sunset, when the monument lights up for the night!
Watch trains at Golra Railway Station
If you’re looking for offbeat things to do in Islamabad, Golra is a small, regional railway station on the edge of Islamabad (well, technically Golra village). There’s a small railway museum there to peruse at any time of day, but you can sit and be transported back through time as you watch trains pass by in the evening, when the sunlight fades and the station lights come on.
Go for a stroll (or run) in F9 Park
F9 park helps Islamabad breathe. Occupying four square kilometers within the heart of Islamabad, the city’s biggest park contains a web of paths throughout green fields and tree-lined ways. You can spot different flowers in bloom almost year-round, and the park can be positively dreamy at sunrise and sunset. If you need a breath of fresh air while traveling in Islamabad, or just need to get away from noise and chaos for a bit, walking in F9 park is sure to clear your head. It’s the ideal place for travelers looking for active things to do in Islamabad.
Listen to music at Shah Allah Ditta caves
Music isn’t a given at the Shah Allah Ditta caves on the edge of the city, but it’s a likely scene once the weekend comes. You can occasionally find a couple of musicians armed with plenty of Sufi songs and a heaving harmonium stationed under the trees on Saturdays and Sundays. They’re a cheeky lot, and happy to play requests if you have any! Even if they aren’t there, don’t fret; you can still poke around in the caves and enjoy a cup of chai at one of the handful of cafes that have set up shop near the caves.
Chill out next to Rawal Lake
Rawal Lake ain’t just a lake; it’s one of the main water reservoirs for Islamabad! Situated in the southeast of the city, the sprawling man-made lake is a popular sunset spot with families and fishermen alike. (Whether they actually catch anything is another question; I sure haven’t seen anything.) You can go for boat rides, munch on snacks, or enjoy the peace and quiet… if you come early in the morning, that is.
Unfortunately, like many popular natural places in Pakistan, the lakeside is woefully polluted. Do your best to walk a bit further away from parking areas and the trash situation will improve. Slightly.
Devour a desi nashta (local breakfast) at Cheema & Chatta
Desi food is, unfortunately, often forgotten in aspiringly posh Islamabad, but Cheema & Chatta is one place where you can feast on a proper Pakistani breakfast without all the frills. Sink your teeth into the sweet and savory combinations of a traditional halwa puri breakfast with a side of lassi. More adventurous eaters can try a hot plate of paaye (stewed goat hoof) with a side of bheja masala (fried brains). Wash it all down with a hot cup of chai… then go back to sleep. Trust me, you’ll need to.
Rent a motorcycle and head into the hills
To be honest, my love for Islamabad started once I got a motorcycle. (To be even more honest, I think traveling Pakistan by motorcycle is the best way to go, period.) Before I had my own wheels, the city was just a bland grid of attempted culture… but once I started exploring the surroundings by motorcycle, I realized that Islamabad is surrounded by a fantastic amount of natural beauty. Now, I can’t imagine being based anywhere else in Pakistan. Biking around the hills is one of my favorite things to do in Islamabad, any day of the week.
You can easily rent a motorcycle for a day (or a week, or more) on Riderly, an online platform for motorcycle rentals. Where you go is up to you, but two of my favorite routes are the road to Pir Sohawa that goes past Monal, and the tourist route to the Kotli Sattian area.
More resources for travel in Pakistan
Now that you know everything there is to know about the best things to do in Islamabad, here are a few more resources to help you along your way when planning your trip to Pakistan:
- Complete Pakistan travel guide
- Favorite things to do in Lahore
- Is it safe to travel to Pakistan?
- Guide to female travel in Pakistan
- Motorcycle travel in Pakistan
- Join one of my Pakistan women’s tours
- Join one of my Pakistan motorcycle tours