Article cover image

A Journey of Faith: Discovering the Spiritual and Cultural Treasures of Iraq


| 6 mins read

In the words of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Malala Yousafzai, "Iraq's heritage is a tapestry woven with stories of triumph and tragedy, a reminder of the enduring power of human perseverance. It is a place that teaches us the value of understanding, compassion, and the pursuit of peace."

Often called the cradle of Civilization,  Iraq is a captivating country that weaves together a tapestry of rich history, diverse religious heritage, and awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is a treasure trove of spiritual and cultural wonders, offering a truly unique and unforgettable experience. 

To make the most of your journey through this spiritual and cultural heart, tourHQ recommends eight must-have experiences in Iraq that are sure to leave you spellbound and touch your heart directly!

Explore the Holy City of Najaf

The holy city of Najaf is an enchanting destination that captivates the hearts of pilgrims and travellers alike. A must-visit is the world-renowned sacred site (the final resting place) of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib. As you stroll through the sacred complex while your local friend regales you with stories of Imam Ali, you can feel the essence of pure devotion and contemplation. Additionally, visit the local bazaar to experience authentic Islamic day-to-day life and enjoy Iraqi cuisine while having lovely conversations with friends from another land! 

Imam Ali Holy Shrine

tourHQ Recommendation: Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Najaf Cemetery, one of the world's largest Muslim cemeteries, where esteemed religious scholars and figures find their eternal resting place. Here, you can pay respects to luminaries who have left an indelible mark on the Islamic world.

Trace Iraq’s Cultural History at the Ancient City of Babylon

After Najaf comes another city, perfect especially for history lovers- the city of Babylon, a UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Site, where you'll be transported back to an era of remarkable achievements. In Babylon, visit the renowned Hanging Gardens, a marvel that once graced the city and stood as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Other gems awaiting your discovery are the iconic Ishtar Gate and the village of Babylon, where you can connect with locals, browse through unique handicrafts, and savour the flavours of traditional Iraqi cuisine. To make the most of your tour, take a day tour and engage the services of a knowledgeable guide who can provide in-depth insights into the historical significance of Babylon.

Ishtar Gate

tourHQ Recommendation: The best time to visit Babylon is during the Babylon International Festival. Here, immerse yourself in live music performances, traditional dances, theatrical shows, and art exhibitions showcasing the vibrant cultural heritage of Iraq. The festival aims to revive Iraq's artistic traditions and foster cultural exchange, attracting local and international artists.

Discover the Yazidi Faith in Lalish

A unique experience to have in Iraq is to delve into the lesser-known world of the Yazidis in Lalish, nestled in the picturesque mountains of Kurdistan. The Yazidis are a religious minority with a distinct cultural heritage, and Lalish is considered their holiest site. While in Iraq, explore the holy shrine of Sheikh Adi and witness the spiritual rituals performed by devoted Yazidis while you walk through the site.  

A Yazidi Priest

tourHQ Recommendation: The best time to visit Lalish is during the mystical ceremony of "Jam Jam" that takes place at specific times throughout the year. Jam Jam is a significant Yazidi ritual where a large communal meal is prepared and shared among the Yazidi community and visitors. To know more details about this sacred ceremony, get in touch with a local guide

Visit the Ancient Christian Monastery of Mar Mattai

Monastery of Mar Mattai

A hidden gem  atop a mountain near Mosul, Iraq, the ancient Christian Monastery of Mar Mattai (also known as the Monastery of St. Matthew) is a centuries-old monastery where you can see intricate frescoes depicting biblical scenes and saints and a remarkable collection of ancient manuscripts dating back to the early Christian era. One of the best parts of the monastery is the breathtaking view from its lofty perch. Situated at an elevation of over 1,400 meters, get to witness the panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscape, including the Nineveh Plains and the Tigris River Valley. 

View from the Monastery of Mar Mattai

tourHQ Recommendation: The best time to visit the place is during the Feast of St. Matthew. This annual festival, celebrated on September 21st, honours the apostle St. Matthew, to whom the monastery is dedicated. For Christians and non-Christians alike, the festival offers a unique experience for visitors to witness vibrant religious traditions, observe the fervour of the faithful, and engage in the joyous atmosphere of the festivities. 

Pay Respects at the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala

Being the location of the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussein, Karbala attracts millions of devotees every year. It is the final resting place of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and a central figure in Shia Islam. Beyond its religious and cultural significance, the shrine also stands as a majestic architectural marvel adorned with intricate golden domes and minarets. Additionally, you can explore historical sites like the Imam Abbas Shrine and experience the rich cultural heritage through local markets and cuisine.

tourHQ Recommendation: Visiting the shrine during the holy month of Muharram offers a unique and deeply moving experience. Muharram commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, and Karbala becomes the epicentre of mourning processions and religious rituals. Witnessing the heartfelt expressions of devotion, the sorrowful processions and the powerful recitations of elegies creates an unforgettable atmosphere that captures the essence of faith and reverence.

Witness the Whirling Dervish Ceremony in Mosul

The city of Mosul in Iraq is known for its vibrant Sufi community and is considered one of the best places to witness a Whirling Dervish ceremony. The Sufi order of the Mawlawiyya, commonly known as the Mevlevi Order, has a presence in Mosul, and their mesmerising Sama rituals attract visitors from far and wide. With a local friend by your side and an open heart, step into a realm of rhythmic chants and mesmerising spinning that unite the devotees with the divine. Do not miss out on engaging with the Sufi community! Listen to their stories, ask questions, and embrace the opportunity to deepen your understanding of Sufism's spiritual teachings and how they can help you in your day-to-day life!

tourHQ Recommendation: While in Mosul, take a guided day tour to explore the city's renowned landmarks, such as the Al-Nouri Mosque, the Great Mosque of Mosul, and the Mosul Museum. Despite the city's tragic recent history, these sites hold significant historical and architectural value.

Great Mosque of Mosul