A view of a busy street in Erbil with cars and people.

Erbil Citadel and Grand Qaysari Bazaar · Complete Guide 2023

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Moving to a new country every two years

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Choni bashi! (“Hello, how are you” in Kurdish)

I was thrilled to visit the Erbil Citadel during my time in Northern Iraq. This ancient fortress, located in the heart of Erbil, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world!

It’s a must-see destination for anyone interested in history, architecture, or simply experiencing the unique culture of Kurdistan and the Middle East.

The Erbil Citadel is an impressive area with its towering walls and architecture. Locals told me that the citadel has been inhabited for over 6,000 years and has been home to numerous civilizations over the centuries. 

It is the best location to visit in Erbil and Northern Iraq! (except for the mountains, perhaps, they are spectacular)

Table of Contents

Where is the Erbil Citadel located?

The Erbil Citadel is situated in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Erbil governorate, also known as Hawler in Kurdish, is the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurdistan Region is an autonomous region within Iraq. It has its regional government and is home to a diverse mix of ethnic groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Assyrians. The region has a distinctive cultural identity is known for its natural beauty, historical sites, and warm hospitality.

How to Reach the Citadel in Erbil 

The journey by car from the city center or the airport to the citadel is short, usually taking around 15 minutes, depending on traffic. 

Where to park at the Citadel in Erbil 

The best place to park when visiting the citadel is near the back entrance. You’ll find an open field with a small booth at the entrance where you can pay the fee. You’ll get a ticket that you can place under your window. When leaving the parking area, you must return the ticket when driving through the exit. They will check how long you’ve stayed and if you need to pay extra.

The parking fee is only 1000 dinars (75 dollar cents).

Starting your trip: The back entrance: Ahmadi Gate

After a stroll up the hill, you’ll drive to the back entrance, the Ahmadi Gate. You’ll have a nice view over a part of the city of Erbil, and on a clear day, you can easily see the mountains near the small town of Shaqlawa.

Walking through the gate, you’ll see two historic sights on your left and right that are free to enter. Listen to typical Kurdish music on headphones or explore a small museum.

Kurdish Flag

You’ll find an enormous Kurdish flag in the center of the citadel. A spectacular sight! The flag holds great importance in the Kurdish community. It symbolizes their rich cultural heritage and serves as a reminder of their deep-rooted history in the region. It is a source of pride and identity for the Kurdish people.

You’ll see Kurdish flags many times in Erbil.

Kurdish Music Museum at the Erbil Citadel

The Kurdish Music Museum at the Erbil Citadel is a unique cultural institution showcasing the Kurdish people’s rich musical heritage.

The museum exhibits a wide range of musical instruments, traditional costumes, and audiovisual materials.

The museum also hosts live performances some times to show some Kurdish musical traditions.

You can buy many different CDs of Kurdish artists there.

Kurdish Textile museum

The Kurdish Textile Museum is a place that showcases the rich heritage and artistry of Kurdish textiles. Located in Erbil, Iraq, the museum houses an impressive collection of traditional garments, rugs, and tapestries from the Kurdish region. It is an excellent place to visit and shows some fascinating insights into Kurdish culture.

A textile museum has been established within the Erbil Citadel as part of the revitalization efforts. The museum has traditional Kurdish textiles and handicrafts, highlighting the region’s cultural heritage and craftsmanship.

Antique shop

This is the place to be if you want to buy some antiques. My favorite item to buy is old money from ancient Iraq times.

Photo Gallery

On the left of the Kurdish textile museum, there is a location where various photo galleries are being displayed. Take a look if there is an exposition!

Exit through the front gate

Walking through the front gate, you’ll encounter a magnificent view of the main square of Erbil. An excellent place for some photos!

Castle Cafe

The castle cafe is my favorite place to get a drink or a quick bite in the citadel area. It’s like a Disney kind of Middle Eastern place from the movie Aladdin. Take the stairs upstairs on the right side of the terrace outside.

Grand Qaysari Bazaar

Walking down the road, you’ll find the grand bazaar across the street. The bazaar is a great place to shop for traditional Kurdish clothing, jewelry, and handicrafts. The market is also home to many food vendors selling local dishes such as kebabs and baklava.

Things you can buy at the Grand Qaysari Bazaar:

  • Kurdish rugs
  • Gold
  • PlayStation games
  • Camera equipment
  • Famous Barzani Scarfs (president of Kurdistan)
  • Plants and flowers
  • Kurdish prune juice

Drink Kurdish tea at famous cafe Mam Khalil

Mam Khalil is an old tea cafe that is an absolute must-visit at the bazaar. The place is covered with old photos collected from years ago.

Main Square

Right at the center of Erbil lies the main square of the city. You can’t miss it!

Explore the Arabian Quarter

The Arabian Quarter near the Erbil Citadel is not just a place—it’s almost like a film decor. As you walk through the small pathways, you’re not just a traveler but a time-traveler! How awesome is that?

It took my a few months to discover this unique place. And once again, you’ll notice that people are very friendly. When I was visiting the streets of the Arabian quarter people would just come up to me and tell me which streets are great for photos!

When you’re visiting the Citadel, make sure not to skip this place.

Markets and streets around the citadel

There are numerous markets around the citadel and the bazaar. The amount of markets can depend on the day your visiting but overall every day it will be bustling with much to see.

If you want to see all of the citadel, bazaar and markets you could definitely spend an entire day there.

Friendly folks might even pose for a shot!

It is also an amazing area for street photography, and people often ask me to take photos of them!

Opening times Erbil citadel

Opening times of the Erbil citadel are from 9:00 to 5:00 pm in winter and from 9:00 to 6:00 pm during the summer.

What’s the best time to visit the citadel?

Best time of the week:

All days except Friday from 3 pm. It gets way too busy, then.

Best time of the year:

As someone who has visited Erbil Citadel multiple times, I can say that the best time of the year to visit is from February to May or from September to December. During these months, the weather is mild and pleasant, making it the perfect time to explore the citadel and its surroundings.

During the summer, the weather can be extremely hot, with temperatures reaching over 45 degrees. This can make exploring the citadel and its surroundings uncomfortable and even slightly dangerous, especially if you’re not used to such high temperatures. Always bring some water with you.

Things to keep in mind when visiting the citadel

  • Visiting the citadel is very safe. Whenever it gets busy, you might need to get used to everyone walking around in the small alleys, especially at the markets and the bazaar. But people are friendly, and merchants never try to sell you things.
  • Make sure to wear shoes, in the bazaar the floor can be dirty and wet in some places.
  • Most people wear long pants. I always wear those as well instead of shorts, to feel the most comfortable.
  • Unlike some other parts in the Middle East, Ladies don’t have to cover their hair or ankles.
  • Be cautious when crossing the street. Traffic can be chaotic and unpredictable.
  • Avoid drinking tap water and only consume bottled water. This will help prevent any potential stomach issues.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, the Citadel is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Iraq and Kurdistan.

As the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, it offers a unique glimpse into the country’s rich history and cultural heritage.

During my visit to the Citadel, I was impressed by the stunning architecture, Middle Eastern style streets, and beautiful city views. The citadel’s narrow alleys and winding streets are a great place to explore, and plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants exist.

I’ve been to the citadel over 5 times, and it is still a great area to visit.

Where to Stay in Erbil

When visiting Erbil Citadel, there are a variety of accommodation options to choose from. 

One popular option is the Divan Erbil Hotel. This 5-star hotel is located just a short distance from the citadel and offers stunning views of the city. 

Another great choice is the Rotana Hotel Erbil. This 5-star hotel is located in the heart of the city.

F.A.Q. Erbil Citadel and Grand Qaysari Bazaar · Complete Guide 2023

The Erbil Citadel, also known as the Citadel of Erbil or Qalat, is an ancient mound in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city.

It is considered the oldest continuously occupied settlement globally, with evidence of human activity spanning over 6,000 years. 

The citadel is believed to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements. It dates back to at least the Assyrian period, which is over 6,000 years ago.

The Erbil Citadel is home to various historical and cultural attractions. You can visit the Grand Qaysari Bazaar, and explore the lower town and fortifications of the citadel.

Yes, visitors are allowed to enter and explore the inside of the citadel. Anyone can enjoy the unique atmosphere of this ancient site.

Yes, the Erbil Citadel was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. It is recognized for its outstanding universal value and its cultural significance.

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on Gritdaily.com, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

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