Tourism in Iraq

Tourism in Iraq refers to tourism in the Western Asian country Iraq. The capital city Baghdad is the second largest city in the Arab world after Cairo. Iraq has several Islamic pilgrimage sites related to Shia Islam. Iraq is considered to be a potential location for ecotourism.[1] Erbil was chosen as "Arab Tourism Capital" in 2014 by the Arab Tourism Committee.[2] Yet, the cities of Karbala and Najaf are the most popular tourist destinations in Iraq due to the location of religious sites in the country.

Aerial view of Erbil Citadel

Religious tourism

Religious tourism is the most popular type of tourism in Iraq, with tens of millions of tourists from several countries visiting Holy cities and places in Iraq every year. These include:

Well-known cities in religious tourism


Najaf has the Amir al-Mo’menin library established by Abdul Hosein Amini and tens of personal and public libraries. Traditional mosques which were teaching centers along the history like Al-Hindi mosque, Al-Tusi mosque. Great Mosque of Kufa where Noah's Ark stopped.


Karbala is considered one of the holiest cities in Islam according to Shia Muslims and some Sunni scholars due to the family members of the Islamic prophet that are buried there. It is considered one of the most influential cities in Islam internationally.


Baghdad is the capital of Iraq. Gravesites of family members of the prophet Muhammad are also found in Baghdad. In addition, there are many places to visit which will provoke a deep understanding of how Iraq had, and has influenced the rest of the world. Baghdad is a city of continuous growth and rapid changes, yet holds onto its history at the same time.


Erbil City Tour Bus.

The number of tourist arrivals in Iraq in 2013 was 892,000. In the last two decades the highest number of tourists came in 2010 with 1,518,000 tourists. In 2012, the value of international tourism receipt was $1.64 billion.[3] Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq, was a hotspot for tourism. It was considered to be a safe and stable region and least affected by terrorism. In 2012, Kurdistan recorded a 70% rise in tourist arrivals. In 2007 Kurdistan had 106 hotels which increased to 405 in 2012 in addition to 214 motels and 50 tourist villages.[4][5] Erbil city in Kurdistan which was declared as "Arab Tourism Capital" in 2014. However, as of 2015, activities of the militant group ISIS have affected tourism in Kurdistan. According to the association of hotels, tourism in Kurdistan is going through a crisis. The Governor of Erbil said that the financial crisis of Iraq and the war against ISIS have affected all sectors of the economy including tourism.[6][7]

Najaf and Karbala are considered a thriving tourist destination for Shia Muslims and the tourism industry in the city boomed after the end of Saddam Hussein's rule.[8] However, due to the US sanctions on Iran, the number of Iranian tourists dropped significantly.[9]


Iraq has four World Heritage Sites recognised by the UNESCO as well as eleven additional sites on the tentative list of UNESCO. All of the World Heritage Sites are cultural, which include Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat), Erbil Citadel, Hatra, and Samarra Archaeological City. The tentative list includes Ur, Nimrud, The Ancient City of Nineveh, The Fortress of Al-Ukhaidar, Wasit, Babylon, The Marshlands of Mesopotamia, The Site of Thilkifl, Wadi Al-Salam Cemetery in Najaf, Amedy city, Historical Features of the Tigris River in Baghdad Rusafa. In addition to these sites, there are must-see places to visit in person in Iraq, like the Iraqi Plastic Society which houses numerous art work demonstrating traditional as well as innovative styles of design.[10]

See also


  1. "Iraq: the world's next big eco-tourism destination?". Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  2. "Travel and Tourism in Iraq". Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  3. "Iraq - International tourism". Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  4. "Iraqi Kurdistan records 70% rise in tourism arrivals". 2012-08-28. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  5. Newton, Jay (2012-12-31). "Is Iraqi Kurdistan Emerging as a Tourist Hot Spot? |". Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  6. "Kurdistan tourism devastated by ISIS Iraq chaos". 2015-02-02. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  7. "Iraqi Kurdistan's tourism sector is undergoing its worst stages: association". 2015-06-15. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  8. "Iraq's holy cities enjoy boom in religious tourism". Al Arabiya. 4 April 2013.
  9. "Iraq's city of Najaf suffers as Iranian tourist numbers drop". The National. 20 February 2019.
  10. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. "Iraq - UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Retrieved 2015-11-18.