Since its foundation in the 1960s, Islamabad has attracted people from all over Pakistan, making it one of the most cosmopolitan and urbanized cities of Pakistan. As the capital, Islamabad is the seat of the Government of Pakistan and the Presidential Palace (Aiwan-e-Sadr) is here.
Islamabad is known as a relatively clean, calm and green city by Pakistan standards. It hosts a large number of diplomats, politicians and government employees. Islamabad is a modern, well planned, well maintained and well-organised international city on the Pothohar Plateau in the north-eastern part of Pakistan, within the Islamabad Capital Territory and regarded as the most developed city in Pakistan. It has the highest literacy rate in Pakistan and, like Canberra in Australia, is surrounded by hills.
OrientationA relatively quiet city, Islamabad covers an area of 1,165.5 km² (450 mi²) of which 906 km² (349.8 mi²) is Islamabad proper. Travellers may be interested mainly in the Federal Government offices, Parliament House, the official residences of the President and Prime Minister; together with the Diplomatic Enclave - an area next to the Parliament House dedicated to foreign embassies and missions appointed to Pakistan.
Although the majority of the population in Islamabad traditionally have been employees of the Federal Government, the wealth of the Musharraf years fuelled a boom in Islamabad and it is becoming an important financial and business centre. In the last decade there have been vast changes in the city's traditional reputation. From it being a typical 9 to 5 city, Islamabad has become more lively with many new restaurants and hotels springing up to service this new wealth. A lot of international food chains have opened, and generally a great improvement in night life with increasing shopping areas opening till late. However during winter season streets are considerably quiet after dark.
Even now, Islamabad remains a city where people come from all over the country to enjoy its peaceful, noise-free atmosphere with a lot of greenery and nice surrounding scenery. It also serves as a base camp for people from the south and coastal areas like Karachi, visiting relatively lush valleys such as Swat and Kaghan together with northern areas like Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and Chitral in the Himalayas mountains.
Islamabad city is divided into five major zones: Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, and Zone 5. Out of these, Zone 4 is the largest in area. Zone 3 consists primarily of the Margalla Hills and Margalla Hills National Park. Rawal Lake is also in this zone. Zone 4 and 5 consist of Islamabad Park, and rural areas of the city. Zone 1 consists mainly of all the developed residential sectors while Zone 2 consists of the under-developed residential sectors. Each residential sector is identified by a letter of the alphabet and a number, and covers an area of approximately 2 km × 2 km. The sectors are lettered from A to I, and each sector is divided into four numbered sub-sectors.
Travellers will soon notice that Islamabad is laid out on a grid system - sector names are based on the following scheme:
D sector designates Diplomats, E sector designates Elites, F sector designates Forces, G sector designates General, H sector designates Health and Education, and I sector designates Industry.
E7, F6, F7, G6, G7 are the oldest sectors and F8, F10, F11, G10, G11, I8 are where the 'new money' has been invested.
E8, E9 are occupied by military housing complexes and are effectively out-of-bounds to travellers. G7, G8 and G9 are poorer areas where the city planners wanted the cleaners and office clerks to live. But these areas tend to be the only cultured areas in the city. Here you would find a common Pakistani rather than a common Islamabadi.
The H and I sectors are a hotchpotch of mixed use residential, academic and industrial areas. E11, E12 and even now D12 are under construction, there is even a G13 being built up. F6 and F7 are where most of the action happens, but the numbers of embassies and powerful Pakistanis' dwellings in these areas also mean a lot of security, concrete barriers and raise arm barrier gates that happily are largely absent elsewhere.
In choosing your guest house, F6 & F7 may be your best bet as they are generally posh areas and have all the necessary facilities close-by.
HistoryThe city of Islamabad is on the Pothohar Plateau which is one of the earliest known sites of human settlement in Asia. Some of the earliest Stone Age artifacts in the world have been found on the plateau, dating from 500,000 to one million years ago. The crude stones recovered from the terraces of the Soan River testify to the endeavours of early man in the inter-glacial period. Items of pottery and utensils dating back to prehistory have been found in several areas.
Limited excavations have confirmed evidence of prehistoric cultures. Relics and human skulls have been found dating back to 5000 BCE that show this region was home to Neolithic man, who roamed the banks of the Soan River. During the Neolithic, people developed small communities in the region around 3000 BCE. At one end of the Indus Valley Civilization, the area was an early habitation of the Aryan community in Central Asia. Their civilization flourished here between the 23rd and 18th centuries BCE. Many great armies - such as those of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Timur and Ahmad Shah Durrani - used the corridor through the region on their way to invade the Indian Subcontinent. A Buddhist town once existed in the region and remains of a stupa have been identified in the G-12 sector. Modern Islamabad also incorporates the old settlement of Saidpur. The British took control of the region from the Sikhs in 1849 and built Asia's largest cantonment in the region in Rawalpindi.
When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Karachi becomes its first capital. In 1960, Islamabad was constructed as a forward capital for several reasons. Traditionally, development in Pakistan was focused on the colonial centre of Karachi, and President Ayub Khan wanted it equally distributed. Moreover, Karachi having tropical weather conditions, was at one end of the country, making it vulnerable to attacks from the Arabian Sea. Pakistan need a capital that was easily accessible from all parts of the country was needed. Karachi, a business centre, was also considered unsuitable partly because of intervention of business interests in government affairs. The newly selected location of Islamabad was closer to the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and the disputed territory of Kashmir in the north.
In 1958, a commission was constituted to select a suitable site for the national capital with particular emphasis on location, climate, logistics, and defence requirements along with other attributes. After extensive study, research, and a thorough review of potential sites, the commission recommended the area northeast of Rawalpindi in 1959. A Greek firm of architects, Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, designed the master plan of the city, based on a grid plan and triangular shape with its apex towards the Margalla Hills. The capital was not moved directly from Karachi to Islamabad; it was first shifted temporarily to Rawalpindi in the early 1960s and then to Islamabad when the essential development work was completed in 1966.
Islamabad has attracted people from all over Pakistan, making it one of the most cosmopolitan and urbanised areas of Pakistan. As the capital city it has hosted a number of important meetings, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. In October 2005, the city suffered some damage due to the 2005 Kashmir earthquake having a magnitude of 7.6. Islamabad has experienced a series of terrorist incidents including the July 2007 Siege of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), the June 2008 Danish embassy bombing, and the September 2008 Marriott bombing. In 2011, four terrorism incidents occurred in the city, killing four people, including the murder of the then Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Tragic air crashes also took place here: on 28 July 2010, Airblue Flight 202 crashed in the Margalla Hills killing all 152 flight crew and passengers on board and Bhoja Air Flight 213 carrying 121 passengers crashed while making the final approach for landing, killing all on board on 20 April 2012.
Today, Islamabad is considered by some as one of the most extensively and successfully planned cities in South Asia. The city is home to many migrants from other regions of Pakistan and has a modern culture that is not so dissimilar to other internationalised cities.
The climate of Islamabad has a typical version of humid subtropical climate, with five seasons: Winter (November–February), Spring (March and April), Summer (May and June), Rainy Monsoon (July and August) and Autumn (September and October). The hottest month is June, where average highs routinely exceed 38°C (100.4°F). Wettest month is July, with heavy rainfalls and evening thunderstorms with the possibility of cloudburst and flooding. Coolest Month is January. Islamabad's micro-climate is regulated by three artificial reservoirs: Rawal, Simli, and Khanpur Dam. Winters generally feature dense fog in the mornings and sunny afternoons. In the city, temperatures stay mild, with snowfall over the higher elevations points on nearby hill stations, notably Murree and Nathia Gali. The temperatures range from 13°C (55°F) in January to 38°C (100 °F) in June. The highest recorded temperature was 46.6°C (115.9°F) on 23 June 2005 while the lowest temperature was −6°C (21.2°F) on 17 January 1967. The city has recorded snowfall.
New Islamabad International AirportOpened May 2018, this airport is set to completely revolutionize air travel in the city. The airport is 20 km from central Islamabad. The terminal includes 15 gates with ten remote gates, a 4-star hotel, duty-free shops, food court and 42 immigration counters. Level I: international and domestic passengers’ arrival area and collection bays for baggage. At level II – there are the domestic arrivals and departure lounges, boarding bridges, car parking, and Immigration counters for international passengers. Level III: international and domestic check-ins – baggage drop after check-in security scanning, international immigration departure and other airlines offices. The airport is connected to Islamabad via the Kashmir Highway and Rawalpindi via the GT Road and a proposed Ring road. A four-lane highway is also under construction to serve cargo traffic. The Islamabad Metrobus is being expanded to connect the airport. It receives flights from a variety of international destinations, including from Europe with Turkish Airlines (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul), the middle east with Emirates, Pakistan International Airlines - PIA and Shaheen Air (Dubai), AirBlue (Sharjah, Muscat and Doha), Iraqi Airways (Baghdad) and other Asian cities such as Urumqi with China Southern Airlines and Bangkok with Thai Airways. Other international destinations are served direct from Karachi and Lahore, including the only link to central Asia (Uzbekistan Airways fly from Lahore to Tashkent).
- Niazi Express, Skyways and Daewoo Sammi (+92 51 111 007 008) are some of the nicer long-haul operators. Skyways offer some direct services to/from Islamabad and Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi. Daewoo has its own terminal on the road from Islamabad just outside Rawalpindi. The majority of buses arrive and depart from Rawalpindi, a few kilometers and a 45-minute taxi ride from Islamabad. It's best to book Daewoo by phone in advance if possible. They serve Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Murree, Sialkot, Abottabad, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad and Multan.
Despite Islamabad have its railway station in sector I-9, majority travel through the railway station in the neighbouring city Rawalpindi, which is a major railway station and has good railway connections with various major cities including Karachi, Lahore & Peshawar.
Pakistan Railways' "Green Line" service between Islamabad and Karachi offers free Wi-Fi, breakfast, newspaper among other basic facilities to its passengers. The train is air-conditioned, has few major stops along the route such as Lahore, Hyderabad, Khanewal, Rawalpindi and cost Rs 5,500 for one-way trip.
Islamabad railway station
By taxiTaxis in Islamabad are abundant, popular and generally safe. Cost is around Rs 50-60 per sector travelled, depending on your bargaining skills. Prices will be higher at night, especially departing from places like Jinnah Super (F-7). It is always advisable to agree the fare before travelling.
However, most of the people prefer using Careem or Uber, as ride-sharing is one of the cheaper means of transportation. The cheapest way to travel is through calling Careem Bike.
By carCar hire is also a good way of getting around. Although road signs and directions are only available on main roads, the city's grid and numbering system make it relatively easy to find your way around. There are various car hire companies in Blue Area F-6 and also in G-8 Markaz where cars can be hired with drivers. Most major hotels have their own car hire services and are relatively cheap. A tip to the driver at the end of the booking period is always appreciated but not mandatory.
Museums and art galleries
Lok Virsa MuseumShakarparian Park (next to H7 & G8) US$5 for foreigners. Definitely worth a visit. Islamabad's premier museum featuring more than 25 large galleries in four blocks linked through passages depicting cultural linkages with Iran, Central Asia and China. There are large halls dedicated to architecture, musical heritage, textiles, romances, Sufi shrines and several other cultural themes. It has a large collection of embroidered costumes, jewellery, woodwork, metalwork, block printing, ivory and bone work on display. The Heritage Reference Library of Museum has a great collection of data on art, music, history and crafts of all regions of Pakistan. Books on culture, heritage, audio and video cassettes of folk and classical vocal and instrumental music are sold at the Lok Virsa's Sales Centre. Lok Virsa celebrates the national events in a befitting manner with musical concerts, exhibitions and public film shows on cultural heritage.
Golra Pakistan Railways Heritage Museumphone: +92 51 4316954address: Golra Sharif train stationA little known gem - worth seeking out for a trip back in time to the glory days of the North West Railway - the station house has been renovated and houses a small museum, and several old locomotives and rolling stock are there to be explored. Makes a nice cycle-ride from Islamabad.
Pakistan Museum of Natural HistoryThis is more a place for school trips than a tourist destination - however there is an impressive blue whale skeleton outside.
address: F5/1Opened in 2007, the gallery is a modern, light filled, air conditioned edifice that would not be out of place in many European cities. A diverting collection of almost 450 art pieces, purchased or gifted by the artists for National Art Gallery. Covers a surprising diversity of contemporary and classical paintings, sculpture and other installations. The Gallery is also home to an indoor and outdoor theatre (word-of-mouth and local press for schedules). Open 7 days a week - from 11AM-1PM (free) and 2PM-7PM (Rs. 500) - hence it is empty in the afternoons and you may find yourself trailed by gallery staff turning the lights on and off for you! In F5/1, on the corner of Jinnah & Constitution avenues, opposite the Parliament building.
Parks, viewpoints and green spaces
Daman-e-KohA lookout point in the hills above E-6 with great views of the city on a clear day/night. Its beauty is enhanced by the greenery and flowers at different sites. High quality restaurants, good food, live music, hiking trails and lush green hillsides make it a favorite place for local and foreign tourist alike.
ShakarparianA beautiful wild and hilly area for a nice evening walk in a green natural atmosphere.
Japanese ParkA children's park near Islamabad Zoo. It is popular among children, families and to those visiting Islamabad from other cities due to its park facilities and children swing facilities.
Rawal LakeOn the north side is Lake View Park (access from the road to Murree) - a beautifully laid out park with gardens, picnic spots, and secluded paths and views over the lake. Is now home to an aviary, go-kart track and climbing wall. The terraced garden and the lake are used for fishing and boating. On the south side of the lake is another small park with a nice lookout, Red Onion restaurant and old Hindu temple. The highest point in the garden offers a panoramic view of Islamabad. Boating, sailing, water skating and diving facilities are organized by private clubs. To the west of the lake is the Islamabad Club, which offers different sporting facilities.
Fatima Jinnah ParkAlso known as the F-9 park, it is considered one of the largest in South East Asia. F9 park is ideal for jogging around, and also has a cricket ground and some tennis court (minus nets). The park also has a large children's playground, some interesting sculptures, and an indoor facility with a nice bowling alley.
Pir SohawaAn overlook of Islamabad in the Margalla Hills above the city. There are two eateries at Pir Sohawa and both worth visiting. A walk up from Trail 3, from F-6/3 will get you to the hill top in around 2 hours with the perfect appetite, but you can reach Pir Sohawa by road in around 35–40 minutes.
Rose & Jasmine GardenNear Islamabad sports complex & Jinnah Stadium. South of Shahrah-e-Kashmir road and east of Islamabad Highway. Not too far from Rawal Lake.
Margalla HillsTake a nice nature walk in the hills surrounding Islamabad.
Mosques, shrines and monuments
Faisal MasjidIslamabad's most recognizable landmark, a very large mosque gifted by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Beautiful in the day or night, definitely worth the short taxi ride. Dress and act respectfully, this is much more a place of serious worship than a tourist site. Is open to non-Muslims outside of prayer times, but is sometimes shut altogether.
National MonumentNear Shakarparian, represents Pakistan's four provinces and three territories. From air the monument looks like a star (center) and a crescent moon (formed by walls forming the petals), these represent the star and crescent on Pakistan's flag. Also a small museum and a nice view of the city.
Imam Bari ShrineHistorical shrine of a Sufi saint in the valley of NurPur Shahan near G5.
Golra SharifShrine of Pir Mehr Ali Shah(RA), a Sufi Saint in a village of Golra (Islamic religious site).
Islamabad ZooAt the foot of Daman-e-Koh view point. It has more than 300 animals including 200 birds of different kinds, and tigers, lions and other animals.
Saidpur VillageIt used to be a sleepy little village lying in the foothills of the Margallas with a mystic past and breathtaking natural beauty. It has now been remodelled. The village now become popular with the citizens of Islamabad who want an occasional break from the frenzy of urban life. Surrounded with lush, tranquil wilderness, the centuries old village is furnished with rustic fittings and offers amenities like a wide range of local food outlets and restaurants. Exhibitions are held regularly to show case the traditional arts, crafts and the rich cultural heritage of Pakistan.
Chattar bagA small park in the hills, around 25 minutes away from Islamabad. A water park with a few amusement rides, but will not offer much excitement for those who have seen other amusement parks or water parks.
Go karting - F1 Traxx - Lake View Park (Rawal Lake) - there is another track in Bahria Town, Rawalpindi
Climbing - there is a climbing wall in Rawal Lake's Lake View Park
Para Gliding – at Margalla Hills. The Pakistan Adventure Foundation is the place to call, reservations are recommended.
Cycling – Mountain biking is fast becoming a much-loved activity because of the weather and the terrain. If you're in the mood for some adventurous cycling down one of Islamabad's beautifully scenic bike trails, get your bike ready. Information can again be had from the ASG's hiking publication. Cheap bikes can be purchased for Rs6,000 - Rs10,000 in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Alternatively you can hire decent quality bikes from K2Riders - based in F8/2.
Potohari - Art & Craft Villageaddress: Shakarparian - Near Rose and Jasmine GardenA craft bazaar with a food court serving 5 regional cuisines plus 3 Chai Khanas serving assorted teas and snacks. Built by the local Capital Development Authority but conceptualised and supervised by the Indus Heritage Trust.
- 7th Avenue, at Jinnah Super Market (F7 Markaz), has large selection of western food products.
- Best Price, at Super Market (F6 Markaz), also sells western food products and is of the better value 'western' style supermarkets.
MetroWay out in I11 is a huge Walmart type store selling groceries and household goods. Prices are good but not the cheapest in Islamabad - but if you are looking for a western style shopping trolley experience this is your best bet.
- Handicrafts: the Capital Development Authority has established a handicrafts village near super market, where small stalls with handicrafts from around the country are available. You should be able to walk from there to Mahraja (next to united Bakery) and find plenty of other stores much larger and with a much better collection of handicrafts and traditional items. This is a must-visit for all first time visitors and a useful stop for quick gift items for people back home. A good present for the ladies is Pashmina shawls or wraps, which can cost between US$15 and $700. Remember to bargain, you will be charged Gora price.
- Art See above. Some of the places to visit are, Khaas, The National Art Gallery and Nomad Art Gallery.
- Music Peak Shop 4, Amant Plaza, Main Double Road, F10 markaz. Small modern music shop, with guitars and other instruments.
- Haroons, a place to shop for gifts and women accessories. In Super Market.
- Saeed Book Bank is the largest book store in the city, in the F-7 Markaz. A wide variety, from old books of local interest ("The Story of the Malakand Field Force" by Churchill, for instance) to modern best-sellers. Plenty about geopolitics and war in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.
- Furniture: There are places selling antique or new furniture made from antique wood pieces, such as Wood Heritage, Pak Turk, and another small but packed one in E-7.
- Centaurus Mega Mall: Multiplex to food court.
- World Trade Centre: A big shopping centre with many handicraft stores build by WTO.
- AL Taqwa Mall: Good shopping mall with food court and playland.
- DHA Gold Crest.
- AL Safa Gold Mall.
Foreign currency exchange is easily available from F-6 Blue Area where there are hundreds of offices. Check with a few of them before going ahead with it.
For ease of use restaurants are organised by sector:
- Majlis, Hill Road (northern end, on the F6-3 side), a trendy place with good Lebanese food. A place where you will find the movers and shakers of the city and a large portion of the Arabic diplomatic community. The food is pretty good (although some would argue that the Lebanese Cafe in F10 is more authentic), and the setting just right. Though those visiting on a tight budget can choose to avoid it, it sure is worth a stop. It also delivers.Al Ghaazal Hotel I10 Markaz
phone: +92 51 2279313address: 2 Hill Road F6/3Tastefully understated refurbishment of the old UN club building. Mango Tree offers great Thai food, a delicate combination of fresh ingredients and authentic Thai flavours. A bit pricey - the owners play the old trick of slapping on 17% tax and 10% service to the bill, hence mains are about Rs 700 a pop. The upstairs balcony is particularly pleasant. Downstairs Nana's kitchen serves up a decent lunch and dinner menu with Brunch on Sundays. And their cupcakes are famous in Islamabad. The decor is tastefully done in soft tones and is accented by a large beautifully built fireplace.
Table Talkphone: +92 51 227-1927address: Khosar MarketUnderstated, home-cooked, well presented Asian and European food, in a small, cosy inside-outside restaurant with London Books (shop) next door. The place is aimed squarely at the expat market, and priced with this in mind. Owner also runs Riffy's restaurant in Chak Sharzad - call for details.
- Khiva offers a Central Asia Cuisine. It has indoor and outdoor seating. Address: House no.64, Main Margalla Road, F-6/3, Islamabad
Nando'saddress: F6 super market, south sideBranch of the popular chicken chain.
- Cafe Khaas, No. 1, Street 2, F-6/3. Cafe Khaas, is an extension of Khaas Art Gallery. A lunch only place that is normally packed, though expensive has great food. They also boast one of the finest art collections in Islamabad. Look for "Mouse" or the manager, and you will be given personal attention. Make sure you get a suggestion for what is best, and work your way through the limited, but exquisite menu. At the lunch hour, this place is filled with yet more, movers and shakers of Islamabad, from the business men, to politicians, models and expats. The place is always kicking for the sophisticated lunch.
Luna Capresephone: +92-51-2825061address: 34 School Road, F-6/3Famous for being the site of a bomb attack in 2008, offers acceptable Italian dining with an extensive menu covering, pastas, seafood and meat. Wine and beer available at a price (Rs 600 for a glass of red). Nice garden out back.
- Cafe Melange House 6, Street 41, F-6/1. Eat in, take away or delivery. Pizza is some of the best in Islamabad. 023 136 352 643
- Espresso Lounge, F-7 Markaz (Jinnah Super), Behind Shell Petrol pump and standard Chartered Bank. Best Cafe of the town. Specialize in a variety of coffees, pastas, salads, sandwiches, desserts. +92 51 2652943
- Upper Deck, F-7 Markaz (Jinnah Super), above Gourmet Bakery, near north-west corner of Markaz. A very nice, up-market restaurant specializing in seafood. Popular with expats and well-off locals. Nice ambiance, a variety of well-prepared fish, fish & chips and a fish burger. Decent cheesecake and chocolate cake for dessert. Main courses Rs300 - Rs800.
Namak Mandiaddress: 51 Bhittai Road, F7/1Only for dinner. Set in a pleasant garden behind a large guest house. Pakistani food, traditional music playing, aimed firmly at expats. Service is slow but the food good. Drinks available at a price (Rs2,500 for a bottle of wine). There is a better restaurant with the same name in Rawalpindi
phone: +92 51 2651804-5address: 47a Bhittai RdOpened in May 2011 and after a patchy start this place has found its feet. Tastefully decorated house restaurant offering an excellent choice in European dishes - try the Mediterranean chicken with olives, prunes & sun-dried tomatoes or the chocolate hazelnut timbale for dessert. The resident pianist adds to the occasion. Together with the Polo Lounge this is one of Islamabad's best restaurants. Can bring your own drinks. Recommended.
Papa Sallisphone: +92 51 265-0550F-7 Markaz (Jinnah Super), Very well known place (Please ask any local shop for directions) for steaks and pizzas since 1991. Prices are quite high for Pakistani standards, but from a Western perspective still very cheap.
Kitchen Cuisine / KC Grillphone: +92 51 2655712address: 81 Bhittai RdF. Adequate cafe restaurant with a nice terrace - serves European and Pakistani cuisine at reasonable prices (mains Rs 400). There is a popular bakery with really fresh and tasty bakery products downstairs, including chocolate fudge cakes, cheese cakes and low cholesterol items. Made to Order services are also available.
- Ye Olde Hangout, F-7 Markaz (Jinnah Super), behind Shell petrol station. A wonderful little coffee shop/sheesha bar. They serve a small selection of global and local food, and play sexy Bollywood and Egyptian videos. Posters of Jimi Hendrix, 50 Cent, Marilyn Manson and Angus Young are on the walls. One room is all men. Another for mixed couples and ladies only. No alcohol of course, but lots of cigarettes and a good tea selection.
- Civil Junction, F-7/3 markaz (Gol Market) offers good coffee and an interesting array of drinks and 'mocktails'. Light snacks are also offered along with coffee and drinks. The place offers occasional live music from upcoming local bands, making it a popular hangout with the youth of the city.
- Hot Spot, One of the few places that Islamabad can claim as theirs first. F-7/3 (Gol Market) also offers a great ice-cream place. Though the menu has expanded from just ice-cream to milkshakes, pies, sandwiches and plenty more, the place still has the feel of an ice-cream joint. With a unique, rather artistic decor, Hot Spot is a must visit for any first time traveller to Islamabad.
phone: +92 51 111 241 241address: F7 MarkazNot the same as worldwide, but still better than a few.
Clique Cafephone: +92 51 2608965address: House 10-A, Street 13, Sector F-7/2Opened in 2010 this place is still trying to establish itself. Its Euro-Russian menu and tasteful modern décor make it worth seeking out.
phone: +92 51 2610914address: Street No.4, Goll Market, F7/3Set in the wealthy back streets of F7 the Olive Garden is popular with wealthy Pakistani's and is a great place to people watch on a weekend. Food is variable, but the setting is nice, with a fire pit in winter, and plenty of sheesha. Not part of the American chain.
Kabul Restaurantphone: +92 51 265 0953address: F-7 Markaz (Jinnah Super)This large restaurant just off the markaz serves up tasty kebabs and Afghani specialties, and is usually very crowded with locals and expats at dinner time.
Seoul Club Korean Restaurantphone: +92 3015063354address: House 21a, Street 55, F7/4Hidden away in F7's back streets is this house-converted-to-restaurant run by a Korean women. Most other diners are Korean expats craving a taste of home. Most Korean favourites available, including dolsot bibimbap, and piles of Kimchi. No 'cook at your table' bulgolgi however. Moderately expensive. Alcohol available, but ask the price before ordering.
- China Town Restaurant, Street 55, F-8/4. A large and popular Chinese restaurant. It offers Sichuan Cuisine with Firepot as one of its specialities coupled with the modern blend where the waiters use PDAs to take orders. China Town enjoys a very loyal patronage from its customers. The restaurant is being re-located to a building on Street 55, F-8/4. It features a professional kitchen in the basement, a beautiful lounge on ground floor, a fine dining hall on the first floor, and a roof top sitting with a fantastic view of Margallas.
Dumpling Zhang Chinese Restaurantphone: +92 51 2853623address: 32a Street 55 F8/4Low key Chinese restaurant set in a suburban house, run by a Chinese family. Food is more authentically Chinese in comparison to the Pak-China food you get elsewhere in Islamabad, demonstrated by the fact that half your fellow diners will be from China. The potions are designed to share between 2 so remember to order half sizes. An added plus is that this place will serve you a cold beer with your food (Rs300 a bottle).
- Patio Lounge, House no. 1, street 17, F-8/3. Tastefully furnished garden with wall mounted fans keeping down the summer heat. Menu is standard western fare, although the steaks are considerably better than average. Also serves Sheesha as a digestive.
phone: +92 51 831 2705address: 18 Margalla RdF8/3. Decent south Asian cuisine. Everything is made fresh and has a real home cooked taste to it and the cooking oil is kept to a minimum. Mains Rs700. Can bring your own drinks.
phone: +92 51 2856513address: 35 Park Road, F8/1High-end restaurant serving European and Pakistani cuisine. Good food (try the caramelised steak) good service, a pleasant garden and local art on the walls makes this place worth seeking out. Has a clothing boutique upstairs also.
- LA balto Sheesha bar it has a very good offering flavours as well as snacks pizzas too.
- 19th House 6-A, Street 69, F8/3. +92 345-5236578 / +92 51 8356280/1. Another Chinese restaurant set in a house, this one with a Shezhuan flavour. The chef, Ami Qin speaks both English and French.
- Urban Lounge Street 21, F8/2. A coffee house that caters mostly to youngsters with its fairly budgeted and western food. The desserts are definitely worth a try and with ample seating at indoor sheesha allowed, its more than 90% of the time occupied!
- McDonald's is in the south-west corner of the F-9 Park. It also has a drive through service. Very popular with families.
Italian Ovenphone: +92 51 2103133address: F10 Markaz, facing the ParkPleasant, locally orientated Italian restaurant - extensive menu covering pizzas, pasta, meat and seafood - and all done pretty well (except the pizzas). Nice views of the F9 park from the upstairs seating area.
Lebanese Cafeaddress: Tariq market f10/2Run by a Lebanese family, the cafe restaurant is the perfect excuse to delve in to the back streets of F10 - the setting is nothing fancy, but the food is excellent, and very good value. Home deliveries available. No sheesha however.
Eclipse Cafephone: +92 300 5277638address: 3a Street 65, F10/3Young hip hangout in the back streets of F10 - menu is simple but tasty, with many European favourites. Excellent rooftop sheesha bar. This is a popular place for Islamabad's young and wealthy. Open until late.
phone: +92 51 2547764address: Street 11a F10/2Worth visiting just to see the custom made building. Nestled in the suburban sprawl of F10 this place offers a varied menu covering many cuisines, and doing a pretty good job at most of them. One of the more memorable places to eat in the city and certainly worth seeking out.
phone: +92 51 2210371address: MJ Plaza, Street 14, Tariq Market, F10/2Specialist European style bakery, pizzeria and BBQ. Excellent food, specialty breads, cheesecakes, gelato ices. Outside lawn for BBQ.
phone: +92 51 2210371address: Street 14, Tariq Market, F10/2A little gem of a coffeehouse serving the best coffee this side of Gloria Jeans in F6. Serves proper coffee in tasteful surrounds, and a great collection of cakes to boot - just a shame its all the way out in F10
"Inkantray" (Incantare) a not-so-nice place for hangout with friends. Mostly for shisha. In basement of Pizza Hut.
phone: +92 51 2228300address: Shop 6-9, Hassan Arcade, F11 MarkazRestaurant, cafe, patisserie - modern decor, plasma screens, surprisingly good food and service - has a nice outdoor area for sheesha and snacks also.
- PappaSallis (Lord Trade Center, F11 Markaz). +92 51 210-1136. Sister branch of the longstanding Italian restaurant. Pakistani flavoured Italian food. Mains Rs600.
- Des Pardes A sister restaurant of the popular Pakistani eatery in Saidpur village. Someone has clearly spent some money on opening this place - set in a huge tent in E11 markaz. Excellent Pakistani food, but you may find it quiet on a weeknight.
phone: +92 51 2228463address: E11/3 MarkazOverly stylish sheesha lounge and cafe, very much the modern face of Pakistan and a place to go to meet the hip, young and rich.
- Homestyle Cafe / Funky Bake swish cafe in E11 markaz, has a great little made-to-order cupcake setup (Funky Bake) attached.
- Melody Food Park In Melody G-6 Markaz is a food area with variety of food to choose from with some nationally famous restaurant names having outlets there. Plenty of BBQ and traditional Pakistani food with a variety of fresh fruit juices to choose from.
- Rakaposhi, pastry shop at the Serena, has some of the best coffee and pastries in Pakistan. Worth a visit if you just want to relax or get some work done. The Serena also offers wireless internet, so, it is an ideal place to sit and get some work done if you like.
- Kamran Restaurant In Aabpara, G-6/1 is also a famous place for traditional Pakistani cuisine.
Real French Bakehouse At back side of Melody food park shop 9 block 21 is one of the leading baker of Islamabad producing a variety of French and local products with its expert team in a hygienic way. Cell +92 51 2603390.
Khyber Afghan Restaurantaddress: Street 55, G9/4Pleasant local Afghan restaurant set in a small house, and a good excuse to explore the back streets of little-visited G9. Can eat well for under Rs. 500 per person.
phone: +92 51 2854455address: Shop No. 1, Jehangir Market G-9/2Quality fast food. Pathooras, burgers, french fries, shawarma, roll paratha, salads, pastas and soups.
- Sufi Restaurant
- Afghani Tikka House
- Tehzeeb Bakery
Karachi Companyalso known as G-9 Markaz is the most populous and busiest market in the whole city. Here you can find anything ranging from cars to ovens to clothes at the cheapest of prices. Some food outlets are only reserved to this place and one should not miss out the Afghani Chips or the Aloo wala Paratha sold here by street vendors. People here are generally very hospitable but since this is one of the more slightly dangerous localities, you should stay on your toes 24/7 here. Otherwise it is a very safe place with a famous Chicken Corn Soup vendor on the back side and just in front of it in the sector G-9/1 street 32 I&T centre market you can have the famous Afghani Tikkas.
Masoom's cafephone: +92 51 3029922address: Anique Arcade, I-8 MarkazMasoom's Cafe, right beside Bank Al-Habib, a small & pleasant cafe and pâtisserie, a place for lunch or a coffee rather than a dinner. And it also has a large variety of Hot Beverages.
Habibiphone: +92 51 4448222address: Executive Center, I8 markazUpscale Afghan style BBQ restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating - look for the big red sign
Hot Platephone: +92 51 4862331address: Shop 8, City Arcade, I8 markazNotionally Italian - in pleasant dark wood surroundings. Certainly I8's nicest looking restaurant. Serves a range of salads, pastas, steaks and sea food. Worth making the trip to I8 for.
Pizza Hutaddress: Time Square, I8 markaz
KFCphone: +92 51 111 532 532address: Time Square, I8 markazNotionally Italian - in pleasant dark wood surroundings. Certainly I8's nicest looking restaurant. Serves a range of salads, pastas, steaks and sea food. Worth making the trip to I8 for.
Haleem Gharphone: +92 51 4432606address: I-8/1 Mughal MarketPakistani Cuisine
- Red Onion Chain of Restaurants Blue Area, opposite the Saudi Pak Tower building stands one of the oldest restaurants in Islamabad. Established in 1991 with buy one, get one free pizza. Wide range of cuisines i.e. Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Pakistani & Continental. Prices are moderate, ambiance is modern & service is friendly
- Lasania Restaurant, 66 West Junaid Plaza, Blue Area (Ph: 227-3200, 287-2200). This place is very nicely decorated and is also in a very nice location. They have a huge selection of BBQ, Pakistani and Chinese food items on the menu. Their food is not extremely spicy like most other places.
- Cinnamon, Beverley Center, Blue Area, +92 51 2206988. One of Islamabad's best European restaurants, serving a range of continental pastas, salads and meat dishes, as well as a range of refreshing mocktails. The décor is absolutely superb, with black and white motifs and photographs, and the service and quality of food equally good. The perfect place to have a quiet albeit slightly expensive dinner.
phone: +92 51 2270595address: Awan Arcade, Blue AreaCurious restaurant in a basement with a plasticy cave theme going on. Food is acceptable, with large portions of European (steakhouse) and Pakistani food. More curious than the restaurant itself is the fact that this place tops the Tripadvisor listings for Islamabad. Mains around Rs400-500.
- Tehzeeb Bakers, F-6 Blue Area, Driving along the main road in blue area, with pizzas, bakery products, rich creamy milk ice creams etc. are available. A big range to choose from. Although it is a fairly big store, there are no eat-in arrangements. Right next to Tehzeeb Bakers is a place called Safilo, which offers a wide range of ice-creams, milkshakes and juices. They pride themselves in their cleanliness.
- Subway is a franchise of the international Subway and has two branches, one in Blue Area, and the other one in F11-Markaz. It offers subs and salad.
phone: +92 51 111 366 466address: Block H, Blue AreaTake away, dine in and free home delivery.
- Usmania Restaurant In Blue Area is also a famous place for traditional Pakistani cuisine.
- Bolan Saltish Afghani and Pakistani restaurant, known for its Khadda Sajji.
- Jahangir's, Masco Plaza, Blue Area is one of the most popular local restaurant chains. Its delicious local or 'desi' items and barbecue are a treat, garnering it lots of appreciation from food lovers. Known for their Pakistani and Indian specialties.
phone: +92 51 8317131, +92 51 8317132address: Shorab Palaza,Block 32, FazlL-e-haq Road Islamabad.Popular BBQ restaurant, with consistently good food and a varied menu of Pakistani favorites. Same owners as the branch in Karachi. Big rush on dinner timings. Free delivery available.
Kanpaiaddress: Street 4, Diplomatic enclaveExpensive but not bad Japanese restaurant, and one of the few restaurants in the Diplomatic enclave outside of an Embassy and hence open-to-all. Serves a range of Bento boxes, tempura, noodles, sushi and sashimi, and in all fairness the food is fairly authentic (the owner/manager is Japanese). Can bring your own drinks also.
Cordon Rougeaddress: Embassy Road, Diplomatic EnclaveSomething of a diplomatic enclave institution. Cordon Rouge serves up authentic French cuisine in softly lit surroundings. A bit pricey but decent food. Extensive wine list.
Saidpur Village / Margalla hills
phone: +92-51-2825151A great choice for top notch Pakistani food - evenings are best when Saidpur is illuminated with subtle floodlighting, and you can relax on the terrace and admire the architecture. Can be very busy on weekends so reserving a table is recommended - the parking can be chaotic also.
phone: +92 51 282-1677address: Saidpur villageDecent fine dining restaurant, with a long established sister restaurant in Lahore. European menu, excellent steaks, professional chef, drinks available. The upstairs terrace is wonderful, if a bit chilly in winter. Reservations recommended.
phone: +92-51-7165915address: Pir SohawaSet at an altitude of 3900 ft on Margalla Hills, Monal offers a spectacular view of the city. It is the largest restaurant in Pakistan in terms of seating capacity
- Chicken Shack - in Pir Sohawa about 5 km past Monal a simple BBQ place with great views to the north and south. Mains about Rs300.
address: Jinnah Road, Bani GalaA lovely setting on the southern banks of Rawal Lake, and offering great sunset views over the water. Its all outdoor and set in a garden, with a few gazebos to shade you from the sun. Food is BBQ & standard Pakistani, and good value also. You may want to bring a map if its your first visit as its a little tricky to find.
- Red Onion Near the dam on the southern end of the lake. Standard food but a nice setting on the lakeside, with views across the water to Islamabad.
- Lake View Park Restaurant is the only place to eat on the northern part of the lake. Which is a shame as the place is over 1 km from the waters edge and the food is overpriced for what you get.
Most Pakistanis though would find it extremely rude and offensive if you show or drink alcohol in public. Night Life is exists, but it's not easy to find. There are no open 'night clubs' in the city - however periodic special events are organised in various venues about once every two months - spread by word-of-mouth. Less excitingly some of the embassy clubs in the diplomatic enclave have 'dance parties' and the like but these tend to be exclusively expatriate and rather low brow.
Non-Muslim visitors can obtain from the local police a so-called 'non-Muslim declaration'. This permit gives you the right to legally buy a limited amount of alcoholic drinks like bottles of wine or beer. For instance, Pakistan's small Christian minority is by law allowed to consume alcohol.
Try local brands like Murree Brewery, in addition to that there are other brands such as Budweiser and Bavaria with non-alcoholic beer. There is a small off-license around the side of the Marriot hotel (next to the dry cleaners) - you'll need a 'non-Muslim declaration' (or maybe just a foreign passport if you turn on the charm) to be able to buy anything.
In soft drinks, all the usual western brands are available but better to try local limca cola which makes "pop" sound when opened. you can also try Pakola; Pakistan’s premier soft drink brand which is available in different flavors like Ice cream soda, Lychee, Orange, Raspberry, Apple sidra, Vino, Double cola, Bubble up etc. A 'fresh lime 7-up' is a better alternative for people who don't like standard soft drinks.
In other drinks try strawberry milk shakes and dhamaka soda (dhamaka means bang - the bang that happens when one opens the bottle) from Jinnah super market.
Gelato Affairsphone: +92 51 2610919address: F-6 (Main Kohsar Market)
address: Shop #1, Kohsar Market, F-6/3The classic expat coffee shop - typically expensive with exclusive decor, display and sale of world-renowned contemporary Nordic design, such as Georg Jensen, Arne Jacobsen, Stelton, Eva-trio and Rosendahl.
Jia's Deliphone: +92 51 2814110address: Beverly CentreThis café has a certain cosy charm. The low ceiling has photographs of their regular customers on display, and a few bright abstract oil paintings to brighten up its plain wooden walls. Bread is home made, and came in four varieties. Coffee is of extremely good quality, served with chocolates that appear to be hand-made: salted caramel, walnut and tiramisù, mocha java cake flavours all works real well. The service is spot on, with even minor details such as the topping up of bread faultless. There is an array of desserts and some great cakes.
BudgetBudget accommodation in Islamabad is fairly lacklustre and of questionable cleanliness. There are many guesthouses around the city that make a nice alternative to a hotel.
- The Boys Hostel (TBH), G-8 (campus), F-10 (Campus) & G-10 (Campus). Phone: 2102352, 2256705, 2224012
- Hotel Blue Sky, Sitara Market, G-7 Markaz. Double rooms from Rs300, with cable TV from Rs. 400.
- Hotel Friends Inn, Aabpara Market, G-6 Markaz. Double rooms from Rs1000, single room from Rs. 600
- Hotel Meraj Next to National Bank of Pakistan, G-9 Markaz, Karachi Company. Tel: +92 (0)51 2282587, 2255056-7 Double rooms from Rs. 1600
- Caravan Park Opposite Aabpara Market and a little distance away from the Shakarparian Hills. This place is open and accessible only for foreigners, making it exclusive and safe. Adequate facilities are provided to make visitors to the area comfortable and at home. Rs50 per person, Rs100 per vehicle (bicycles free). Popular with overlanders.
- Sohawa Heights Hotel, Pir Sohawa Up in the Margalla Hills about 5 km past the Monal restaurant. An alternative to staying in Islamabad proper is to stay up in the hills overlooking the city. Rooms are en suite, have satellite TV, and great views over the city (from the roof terrace) and view to the north over the picturesque valley behind from your bedroom. Only really an option if you have your own transport, as its a 30 minute drive from town up the hill. There is a popular restaurant (The Khokha) and some shops / restaurants nearby. Rs. 1,200 per room.
phone: +92 300 5252232address: H 8, Justice Abdul Rasheed Road, F-6/13-star range GuestHouse with 5MB WiFi@Fiberoptic, air conditioning & heating, powerbackup.
Chez Soiphone: +92 51 265-1451address: 6 Kohsar Rd, F-7/3Same owner as Upper Deck restaurant. Chez Soi has been hosting the diplomatic community exclusively since 1993.
phone: +92 51 2256670address: 94-A Nazimuddin Road, F-8/4
phone: +92 51 2854093-94address: 94-B Nazimuddin Road, F-8/4
phone: +92 51 227-7890address: 99-E Jinnah Avenue, Blue Area4-star range hotel (not related to the Crowne Plaza chain)
phone: +92 51 227391-7address: 111-F Fazal-e-Haq Road, Blue Area3-star range hotel, nice rooftop restaurant, internet center and phone center.
phone: +92-300-8525521address: House # 248, Street # 31,G-8/23-star range guesthouse with WiFi, air conditioner and heated rooms.
phone: +92 (364) 4912278address: Street 50, Rohtas Road, G-9/14-star range Guest House with in-room LCD TVs, satellite channels, powerbackup, and WiFi, available to let on daily, weekly and monthly basis.
phone: +92 300-5192413address: House No. 21, Street No. 38, Sector F-6/1Affordable rooms.
phone: +92 51 2816157address: House 5, F-8/1A corporate-only premium service guest house and business centre in the heart of the city.
phone: +92 51 111-133133address: Khayaban-e-Suhrawardy, F-6This 5-star hotel is the nicest in the city, with great restaurants and a gym. Rooms and suites $300-700. Presidential suite $2000.
phone: +92 51 2822070address: 3 College RdF-7/3. -71. A boutique hotel in a posh residential area, with private terraces and stunning views of the Margalla Hills.
phone: +92 51 2651070House 27-A, Street 18, F-7/2. – 72. A boutique hotel in a posh residential area, with a restaurant and business center.
phone: +92 51 111-223344Agha Khan Road, Shalimar 5. Once one of the top hotels in the city, it was ravaged by a truck bomb in September 2008. Rebuilt in just 3 months, it's once again open for business. But now the security is improved.
Embassy Lodgeaddress: Club RdA comfortable and safe place with good service.
- Centaurus hotel and convention centre7 star hotel with convention centre,mega mall and many other amenities.
- Grand Hyatt tower and apartmentsat constitution avenue, it is another luxury in the capital with luxury apartments and a shopping mall and a five star hotel.
- Intercontinental hotel,five star hotel of international standards.
- Le Meridien hotel,another luxurious hotel under construction.
- Jumeirah hotel,7 star hotel in capital.
- Sheraton hotel and country club,Bahria town,a luxurious hotel.
- Pearl continental hotel,in the neighbourhood Rawalpindi.
While travelling in city, you should keep your national identity card, passport, or driving license with you to prove your identity.
Crime-wise Islamabad is safe. Men can walk pretty much anywhere in the city day or night with little to fear. Lone women will attract male attention, particularly in areas of the city not often frequented by westerners. The Red Mosque in G6 and immediate surrounds aren't recommended given the history attached to this area.
EmergenciesThe Police emergency number is 15. There are various Police stations in the city with staff available 24/7.
112 from any GSM mobile handset should theoretically forward to the local emergency number, too.
Most locals do not drink tap water but instead draw water from government-installed filtration plants. Tap water is normally boiled and it is strongly suggested that you carry bottled water and request it at all food places. If you are unsure about the hygiene of a particular place, try to avoid ice in all your drinks.
There are 3 major hospitals in Islamabad: the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (also known as PIMS) next to G-8 Markaz, Shifa International Hospital in H-8/1 and the Poly Clinic in sector G-6.
Also, there are various private hospitals in every sector in Islamabad providing extensive health care with different price ranges. Ali Medical Centre in F-8 Markaz is one of them.
The Blue Area and Super Market (F-6) both have the two most trustworthy pharmacies: Shaheen Chemists and D. Watson. Both these stores are reliable and will be able to offer sound advice for minor ailments. They also carry a wide variety of European and American foods, albeit at a high price. They may even have a doctor at the facility, should a quick suggestion be required.
- People are very friendly and indeed very good hosts. Many of Islamabad's citizens are well-educated and speak English very well, working for the government and in the private sector. Be gracious in accepting invitations to people's houses for lunch, tea or dinner: it will reflect well on you if you verbally ensure that you are causing them no inconvenience.
- Generally, women do not shake hands with men, though this varies greatly by social class, social setting, age and personal upbringing. A good rule of thumb for both men and women: do not shake hands with members of the opposite sex unless they extend their hands first (in which case it would be rude of you not to shake hands). The best way to greet someone is to nod and say "Assalam-u-alaikum": smiling always helps!
- Don't consume alcohol in public.
- It's a good idea to avoid taking photographs of military establishments, police stations and anyone in uniform (army officers wear khaki, naval officers wear white, and the Islamabad police wear navy blue trousers with a light blue shirt). If in doubt, permission can be requested from the officers concerned.
- Islamabad is relatively safe, compared to other Pakistani cities, or indeed most other capital cities: violent crime is very rare, but use precautions as you would in any other city.
- phone: +92 51 8496156address: No.1, Zhou-Enlai Avenue, Diplomatic Enclave(Extension)
- phone: +92 51 282-8426address: 11, St 90, G-6-3, G-6
- phone: +92-51 227 9441 (visa) or +92-51 2279 430-35 (emergencies)address: Ramna 5, Diplomatic Enclave/PO Box 1027
- phone: +92 51 282-5186, +92 303 519 3105 (Emergencies)address: 33A, School Road, F-6/2, 44000
- phone: +92 51 2833283, +92 2833251-53address: G-5, Diplomatic Enclave
- phone: +92 51 282-5186, +92 303 283-2017, +92 303 283-2018, +92 303 283-2019, +92 303 283-2020, +92 303 288-0067, +92 303 288-0068address: Diplomatic Enclave I Street 5, Ramna G-5/4
- phone: +92 51 8318901-4address: Plats. NO. 222-238 Street no.2 G 5/1 Diplomatic enclave
- phone: +92 51-201-4000address: Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5
NewspapersEnglish Local Newspaper The Dawn, The News, The Express Tribune, The Nation and The Daily Times are national newspapers in English supplemented with local news sections.
Business Recorder is the only newspaper providing national and international business news. However, newspapers like the International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Khaleej Times, Gulf News, London's Sunday Times, etc, are also available. These international newspapers usually arrive in Islamabad a day after publishing.
All newspapers (international, national and local) are available at book stores in leading hotels like Serena & Marriott. They can also be purchased from leading book stores such as London Book House (Kohsar Market in sector F-6/3), Saeed Book Bank (Jinnah Super Market in sector F-7), and Mr. Books (Super Market in sector F-6).
- Taxila, an ancient Buddhist and Hindu site with strong Greek influence from Alexander the Great's time. Worth a visit and a picnic. Should you be interested further in the subject, guided tours can be arranged for sites around the museum.
- Murree & the Galis, One hour scenic journey through beautiful mountains to the hill resort of Murree which is a nice place to visit especially during the summer. A small place has a weather entirely different to that of Islamabad and much similar to most cities of Northern Europe. However the town is suffering under the sheer number of visitors and the small number of colonial buildings have been swamped by a plethora of cheap hotels - and consequently many visitors feel the town does not live up to its guidebook hype. Chairlifts of Murree and Patriata, Kashmir point are attractions for tourists. A two kilometer "Mall" is the center of gravity of Murree where all the shops and hotels are located. If you want to escape the crowds head further north towards Nathia Gali where there are several small towns with easy access to the mountains. The roads to Murree are very winding and busy - and not fun to drive in the dark. Driving through Murree is also not much fun.
- Simly Dam It is about 30 km east of Islamabad (look for the route on Google maps). A very picturesque lake spread over an area of 28,750 acres. There is not much there, some walking trails to the side of the lake (not possible to do a full circuit) and there is a guesthouse / lodge / cafe place on the dam itself. This isn't a place many Islamabad dwellers visit, and can be eerily quiet - best not to visit alone.
- Rawat Fort and the Mankiala Stupa to the south of Rawalpindi can fill an afternoon
- Khan Pur Lake a 1 hour drive north-west of the city.
- Kallar Kahar lake is 2 hours down the motorway - can go boating on the lake and visit some pleasant nearby shrines.
- Ketas Temples and the Khewra Salt mines makes for a pleasant day trip - the Salt Mines are good to visit in the summer as a place to escape the punishing heat of the salt range. The road between Ketas and Khewra is also spectacular.
- Malot temple in the Salt Range makes for an off-the-beaten-track destination about a 2 hour drive from Islamabad down the motorway. Coordinates are 32.684537° N 72.799391° E. You need to drive through the Lafarge cement factory to get there - the vista is as spectacular as the temple - and a nice spot for a picnic.
- Chiniot is an oft-overlooked gem just off the motorway near Faisalabad (about a 3-hour drive). Interesting old town and a centre for wooden furniture manufacture (hence a great place to go if you are furnishing a house). The Umar Hayat Palace is quite amazing also.
- Rohtas Fort 2 hour drive south of Islamabad off the GT road - enormous old fort that makes for a great day trip from Islamabad. Leave the old water well until last.
- Peshawar can be visited in a long day trip - about 2.5 hours on the motorway - visit the museum, have lunch, then go for a guided wander around the old town before heading back to Islamabad. May not be safe for Westerners.
- Lahore makes a great weekend destination - although you'll need more than 2 days to see everything. Gets very hot in the summer however so this makes a good winter weekend break.
- Combine a trip to Chiniot and Faisalabad spending a day in each. Staying in Kallar Kahar (a lake halfway to Chiniot) on the Friday night is also a possibility.
- Perhaps a bit ambitious for a weekend but you can visit India through the Wagah border. Usually, visiting Delhi should take you half a day by car, however you will need a visa. On the way, it is advisable to see the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and many other inspiring sights.
- Trips to the northern mountains are possible if flying - PIA flies to Chitral, Gilgit and Skardu - flights can be unreliable with cancellations for poor weather / not enough passengers common. This makes a weekend trip a bit of a gamble in case your flight is cancelled and you get stuck up north. Also in a weekend there isn't enough time to get in much walking. An alternative is to drive to the Kaghan Valley which is a 6 hour drive from Islamabad and can be done in a weekend (e.g. leaving Friday lunchtime and overnighting in Abbottabad) - but better to plan 3 or more nights if you can. Beware of landslides however if it has been raining - these can easily get you stranded for a week or more - best to save Kaghan for the dry season.