In this Pakistan travel guide I’m going to share with you the top highlights of my 16 day trip in Pakistan.
Get ready to meet some of the most hospitable people, see some of the most spectacular natural scenery, and eat some of the most incredibly delicious (and meaty) food.
Ok, let’s move right in to the highlights of traveling in Pakistan!
Note: We’ll be writing many more articles and guides that get more specific about a location or food in Pakistan, but these are just my initial thoughts and some highlights.
Here’s a quick intro video to get you started. Full videos coming soon!
Lahore is located in the Punjab province of Pakistan, and it’s where my trip to Pakistan began.
Step outside and you’ll immediately realize it’s a vibrant, energetic, late-night, history packed city, where tasty Pakistani food is everywhere you look. If there’s one city to choose in this Pakistan travel guide, Lahore to me, had the most well rounded of everything – food, culture, history, and significance.
Hotel in Lahore – My family and I stayed at Hospitality Inn, which was safe and clean, and in a great central location in the city.
Street food snacks
A few of the best areas in Lahore to find street food are Gawalmandi, Lakshmi Chowk, Shah Alami, and everywhere in the Walled City.
Chana chaat is a chickpea mixture snack, and as we drove past on a rickshaw, I knew it was a place we need to stop. In moments, he whipped up chickpeas and potatoes, masala powder, and about 4 different chutneys and yogurts. It was incredibly refreshing, the spices blending with the sourness of the yogurt and creaminess of the chickpeas.
Address: Located outside Thai Centre in Shah Alami, he’s been selling there for 40 years.
Open hours: daytime
Price: 120 PKR ($0.90) per plate
Butt Karahi Tikka is an institution of a restaurant in Lahore, known as it states in their name, for their karahi’s. Karahi is the name for the rounded metal pan, which is used to cook meat and curry spices, smothered in desi ghee, and brewed into a succulent curry.
Chicken was fresh and delicious, but everyone I was eating with (including myself) thought the mutton karahi was the best.
Address: 17 Temple Road, Safanwala Chowk, Mazang, Lahore, Punjab 54000، Mazang, Lahore, Punjab 54000, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 11 am – 3 am daily
Prices: We paid 5,600 PKR ($41.86) for 2 large karahis and drinks for about 6 of us
Siddique Fish Corner
Specializing in only fish, Siddique Fish Corner gives each fillet a nice rub in spices, including plenty of coriander seed and turmeric, and then deep fries it in pure mustard oil. The freshwater fish is fragrant, greasy, and delightful.
Address: Allama Iqbal Rd, Garhi Shahu, Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 12 noon – 2 am daily
Prices: 400 PKR ($2.99) for a portion
Until reading about haleem, I didn’t known it was a food with so much history and regional variation. I have to mention it quickly in this Pakistan travel guide though, because it was a dish that I totally didn’t expect to be so good – it ended up surprising me.
Pakistani-style haleem includes a mixture of lentils and shredded chicken. When you order, usually some desi ghee is added, and then you season with ginger, chilies, coriander, masala, and variety of other herbs and spices. It may sound simple, but it’s incredibly tasty.
Address: Walled City Lahore right in the courtyard of Wazir Khan Well (google map)
Open hours: daytime
Walled City of Lahore
Without a doubt one of the top things to do in Lahore is to explore the Walled City. I spent an entire day walking around, eating street food, visiting sights, riding around in rickshaws, and just being amazed.
It’s one of those places where everywhere you look you see something fascinating, and it’s just mind-boggling to understand how everything functions together. From narrow unknown alleys to bustling main lanes and never ending markets, the Walled City of Lahore is exciting and enticing at the same time. I loved it!
Dating back to the 1600’s during the Mughal era, Badshahi Mosque is a huge mosque located right outside the walled city of Lahore.
It’s a sight that’s so prominent and so important in how it represents Lahore, that today it has become an icon. I especially enjoyed just walking around the massive courtyard, surrounded by red walls and minarets, with the old city of Lahore in the background.
Just over 100 km from Lahore is Gujranwala. We drove from Lahore, taking the historic, and always busy Grand Trunk Road.
Gujranwala is actually a very large and bustling city as well, and locals happen to be very well known throughout Pakistan for their love for food – especially meat – I think that’s why we decided to go there.
Again, if you love meat, Gujranwala is a worthy stop when you’re in Pakistan. Now I had an almost un-countable amount of deliciously meat heavy meals in Pakistan, but this restaurant was one of the top.
They really took great care in the quality of their meat, the marinade and rub, and I loved the really smoky grill taste of everything. The goat chops were the highlight, but also the gola kebabs (like meatballs) were superb.
Khizar Tikka Shop
Address: Gondlan Wala Rd, Noumania Chowk, Muhammad Pura Model Town, Gujranwala, Punjab, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 12:15 – 11:30 pm daily
While in Gujranwala, Ali’s friend Saim, through his family contacts, arranged for us to observe Pakistani wrestling practice.
Wrestling has been a part of Pakistani culture, especially Punjabi culture, for a long time, and in-between meals it was a cool part of the culture to have a chance to see.
Village eating in Kot Yousef
From Gujranwala, we continued to Kot Yousef, a small village of about 700 people.
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In the morning the entire Bagdi family (who hosted us), and some of the community from the village gathered to cook us an amazing local Punjab breakfast.
Breakfast included three types of parathas, chana curry (chickpea), halwa, and saag (similar to spinach).
Everything was cooked using pure desi ghee (local clarified butter) right from the buffaloes nearby, and it was all churned by hand, moments before we ate it.
I never knew that tent pegging, the art of riding a horse while carrying a spear and trying to stab a wooden stake as you race past, is a popular sport (and even form of art) in Pakistan.
Islamabad, Capital Territory
From Gujranwala and Kot Yousef village, we drove to Islamabad (about a 4 hour drive away, and the capital city of Pakistan).
As soon as you arrive, you’ll notice Islamabad is more spacious, the traffic isn’t as chaotic, and things are just organized – it feels like a totally different place.
That’s because the modern part of Islamabad is a new city, planned and built accordingly. It’s quite a lovely city, wide spaces, greenery, and mountains.
Hotel in Islamabad – We were hosted by Islamabad Serena Hotel, and had an amazing stay. The rooms were excellent, very secure, huge compound, and great service. Thank you Serena.
It’s one of the greatest restaurants in this Pakistan travel guide, it has a relaxed, backyard feel while you eat, and they serve up big portions of incredible curries and stir fries.
Their signature dish is the “crisis,” a dish that we’ll cover way more in a full post. But my personal favorite dish was the kebab fry, grilled kebabs, re-fried in tomato sauce.
Address: Shabeer Huts، University Road، Islamabad, Islamabad Capital Territory, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: Not fully sure, but bustling from lunch and into the afternoon
Prices: 1,900 PKR ($14.20) for a huge meal for 4
Afghani Kabab House
For dinner, I was excited to check out Afghani Kebab House – pretty self explanatory what they serve!
You can see the smoke rising to the sky from well before you arrive, and their little slider kebabs are superbly tasty. I especially enjoyed it with their Kabuli pulao, slightly similar to Uzbek plov, fragrant rice pilau cooked with sweet carrots.
Address: Street 30, G-9/1 G 9/1 G-9, Islamabad, Islamabad Capital Territory, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 6 pm – 11 pm daily
Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Still smiling from Majeed Huts, we drove from Islamabad to Mardan, a city in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
Mardan is the second largest city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and we came to mostly eat kebabs – and I’m talking about the King of all Pakistani kebabs.
Now of all the food within this Pakistan travel guide and during my entire 16 day trip, probably the single food that made my jaw drop, and made me cry tears of meat-overjoy, was the chapli kebab.
Set aside all health concerns, close your eyes and imagine minced buffalo with a high ratio of fat, mixed with onions, tomatoes, chilies, ginger, citrus juice, slices of bone marrow, all mixed and formed into a patty and fried in its own liquid fat.
Pakistani chapli kebabs are one of the greatest forms of meat I’ve ever had.
Rambail Chapli Kabab House (not pictured, but this was my favorite restaurant)
Address: Peshawar-Rawalpindi Rd, Tarnab, Peshawar, Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 10:30 am – 9 pm daily
Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Mardan is just about a 30 minute or so drive from Peshawar, which is the largest city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and quite close to the border of Afghanistan.
A city of immense history, unique culture, and some of the most meaty delicious food you’ll find in Pakistan, Peshawar was a real highlight for me.
Hotel in Peshawar – During our stay in Peshawar we stayed at Shelton’s Green. It’s quite basic, could use a renovation, but staff were nice, and it was safe and functional.
Mahabat Khan Mosque
The white marble Mahabat Khan Mosque was built in the 17th century during the Mughal empire. It’s one of the most picturesque landmarks and sights of Peshawar, and it was very cool to visit.
On a full street food tour of Peshawar, we began the day with paye (or paya), a stew of trotters (this time cow feet), served along with actual meat, the stew, and a good spoon of red infused oil (or desi ghee)?
Cooked in a clay pot, and turned on its side to serve, this was one of the most oily meaty and delicious dishes of my trip to Pakistan. You actually need thick bread to eat it, so you can absorb as much greasy oil as possible.
Brains masala in Peshawar was also a highlight.
Tea, and not the milky sweet tea you typically associate with the Indian subcontinent, but rather green tea, is a common drink on the streets of Peshawar. And in-fact, dating back to the ancient silk road, when traders would pass through Peshawar, they would drink tea to chat and discuss and trade.
You can’t miss green tea, brewed with cardamom, when you’re in Peshawar.
Another beverage that blew me away was pomegranate juice, squeezed right before my eyes, with nothing added. One of the best single cups of fresh juice I’ve ever had, perfectly sour, sweet, and fresh.
I really enjoyed Peshawar for the food, off the beaten path streets, history, and the friendly people.
After a whirlwind and extremely rewarding trip through Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we continued our Pakistan travels to Gilgit-Baltistan. From Peshawar, we actually had to drive back to Islamabad, then we caught a flight to Skardu.
Skardu is located in a spectacular valley surrounded by the rugged rocky Karakoram Mountain range. I was immediately blown away by the jaw-dropping scenery.
Hotel in Shigar – Thank you to Serena Shigar Fort Hotel for sponsoring out stay.
Within the city of Skardu many of the restaurants serve more Punjabi style food or kebabs, rather than local traditional Baltistan food. But traveling for food, I wanted to really explore the regional local cuisine, and the best place to find that is at someone’s home.
We were invited to a local Balti family home for dinner where they prepared no less than 14 different dishes. Completely different from the spices and desi ghee of Punjabi food, Balti food is heavy on whole grains, plainly boiled meats, and dishes prepared and flavored with apricot oil.
A yogurt and apricot oil stew, was one of my favorite Balti dishes.
Shigar is a district north of Skardu, and it took about 30 minutes or so to drive out from Skardu. Again, a majestic valley, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and almost strangely lush green trees at the bottom.
The highlight was where we stayed, Serena Shigar Fort Hotel, a 400 year old restored fort, which is now both a hotel and museum. We had an incredible stay in a piece of history. Thank you to Serena for sponsoring our stay.
Deosai National Park
Not everything in this Pakistan travel guide turned out exactly as planned.
After getting a good night sleep in Shigar, we woke up, and packed everything into 4 WD Toyota’s. The plan was to drive to Deosai National Park, a high altitude plain, and drive all the way through the plain to the other side, and continue driving on towards Gilgit city.
Unfortunately, on the high winding road, it began to snow harder and harder. Our drivers decided it wouldn’t be safe to continue, due to snow blocks and ice on steep roads, so we had to turn around and drive a different route, missing the park.
That being said, it was still gorgeous, and I can’t wait to go back – maybe next time in the summer.
Quite long and scary at times, the drive to Gilgit, the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), but again, the area is stunningly beautiful, as is this city, surrounded by massive peaks.
Gilgit is a strategic city, located along the Karakoram highway, the road that connects China with Pakistan.
Hotel in Gilgit – Thank you to Gilgit Serena Hotel for sponsoring our stay. Very nice, almost mountain lodge style accommodation, with great breakfast, and nice garden.
Friendly street food
One of the best things to do in Gilgit city is walk around and explore the markets. I found Gilgit to be one of the most friendly cities of all. We could barely walk a few feet in the market without someone wanting to shake hands or invite us to eat.
Couldn’t resist some street food snacks while exploring – kebabs, pulao, and of course of GB style chapli kebabs.
Just outside of Gilgit is the village valley of Jutal, and Nizam, who is employed by Ali, is from Jutal and invited us over for a meal. Again, the natural scenery was mind blowing.
We first went to the garden along the rivers edge to pick fresh vegetables for the meal. And again, the friendliness and genuine hospitality of the people was heartwarming.
Nizam’s family prepared for us an incredibly delicious (one of the best during the entire trip to Pakistan) meals of home-cooked mutton curry and local vegetables, with rice and roti.
Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan
I’m going to tell you straight up, Hunza Valley is one of the most, if not the most, spectacular natural destination I’ve ever been.
Driving there you see incredibly scenery and you actually don’t think your eyes could possibly see anything more spectacular… and then you arrive to Hunza Valley.
Jagged snowy mountains, green and yellow lush valley’s, and contrast of landscapes are truly heavenly.
Hotel in Hunza Valley – Thank you to Hunza Serena Inn for sponsoring our stay. The views from the mountain lodge were spectacular, and cozy clean rooms.
In Hunza Valley, and along the highway to get there, you’ll start to find chapshurro, which is a specialty of the region. It’s kind of basic, rounds of dough flattened out and stuffed with a minced meat spiced mixture, and either fried dry or with apricot and walnut oil.
You’ll find a variety of meat as well, and I tried yak, chicken, and beef.
Long-life Hunza Valley food
In Hunza Valley, especially traditionally, people are known to have a high life expectancy – could be the mountain fresh air, a less stressful life, and definitely partly because of the food.
We were invited to a 400 year old heritage family home where we were served a traditional Hunza Valley meal that consisted of dishes seasoned with walnut and apricot oil, dumplings, and pancakes. Food was plainer in taste, but fresh, wholesome, and very natural tasting. Again, the vibrantly flavorful apricot oil stood out in nearly every dish.
Final day in Gilgit-Baltistan, we packed up the Toyota’s and set off on a journey along the scenic Karakoram highway all the way to the border of China at Khunjerab Pass.
Again, be prepared for scenery that will make your jaw drop.
The road gains some serious elevation, and with every turn I could start to feel my head start to get lighter and lighter – a slight dizziness.
We arrived to the pass at 16,010 feet. It was about -10 C, so didn’t want to stay out for too long, and literally a few steps and I was breathing heavy.
It literally felt like we were at the end of the world. It was an amazing experience, and more about the journey to get there.
From 16,010 feet in elevation, down to sea level (with 2 flight in-between – Gilgit – Islamabad – Karachi), we arrived to Karachi, a massive city in Pakistan.
With never ending traffic, loud, and action packed, Karachi is about as opposite from Hunza Valley as you can get – but it has its own charms. And of course, I came especially to explore Pakistani food, and it would have been detrimental to miss Karachi!
Karachi was our final destination, and the conclusion to this Pakistan travel guide.
Hotel in Karachi – We stayed at Ramada Karachi Creek. Hotel was alright, but it was aging, not the greatest smells, and needed some updates, but overall alright.
Nihari is a beloved dish in Pakistan, and it’s one of the thickest, richest, meatiest dishes you might ever eat… I don’t if I can think of anything I’ve eaten that richer or meatier.
I had nihari a couple of times in Pakistan, but Javed Nihari in Karachi was my favorite. Their balance of taste, a little less desi ghee than other versions, and fragrant unique bread, all contributed to its deliciousness. Just a light breakfast to get this food tour started in Karachi!
Address: Federal B Area Block 15 Gulberg Town, Karachi, Karachi City, Sindh, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 8 am – 5 pm, and 6:30 pm – 12 midnight daily
Prices: 1,150 PKR ($8.60) for three plates
There’s a type of biryani which is not actually too traditional, but I guess nothing about it is not traditional, it’s just a new style and many more massive bones added to the recipe.
Nalli means bone marrow, and biryani is the fragrant rice we all love. Combine the two, and you have the most melt-in-your-mouth fragrant rice, both fluffy yet oily rich, all at the same time.
It was one of the most memorable and fun to eat dishes I’ve had in a long time.
Quick note: Ghousia Food Center is the most famous spot, but right across the street is Qadri Nalli Biryani, which is the one we tried. Turned out to be incredible.
Qadri Nalli Biryani
Address: Back side of Madni Masjid, 2nd St, Block 6 Liaquatabad Town, Karachi, Karachi City, Sindh, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: lunch
You have to taste it to believe it, and once you do, you’ll be in awe. It really is a perfect little combo handheld delicious treat.
Hanif Super Biryani & Bun Kabab
Address: New Chali, Karachi, Karachi City, Sindh, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 10 am – 10 pm from Monday – Saturday
At the end of a full Pakistani food tour of Karachi, we sat down to relax and eat another feast at Dua Restaurant.
The open air seating, the energy and amount of food, and mainly the prawns karahi, is why I needed to include this restaurant within this Pakistan travel guide. The prawns were simmered in spices and desi ghee, and seasoned with fresh ginger, chilies, and coriander. The hints of cinnamon and coriander seed were amazing.
Address: Marine Promenade, Block 2 Clifton, Karachi, ضلع, Sindh, Pakistan (google map)
Open hours: 5 pm – 2 am daily
Prices: 4,840 PKR ($36.18) for big meat feast for 4
Liyari is a densely population part of Karachi, known as Little Balochistan because many people living there are from Balochistan province.
Just a few years ago, this was one of the most dangerous areas of Karachi. But now, things are very much improved, and that’s why Ali and I wanted to visit.
With a colorful bright painted street in a neighborhood, people are beginning to turn around their lives, and take pride in their neighborhood, and this needs to be recognized.
We had a wonderful street-side breakfast and met so many friendly people as we just hung out.
Dal, goat trotter stew with some extra marrow, and chickpeas with hard boiled egg made a delicious breakfast and just a taste of the positive side of Liyari.
Seafood grand finale
On our final day of this trip to Pakistan, Sharoz invited us to his home on the beach just outside of Karachi, to partake in a full Pakistani seafood feast.
It was one of the top meals, a perfect ending to an incredible trip. Thank you!
Ali had been inviting me to Pakistan for a couple of years already, and he’s the one who hosted us. From helping with our visas to arranging all logistics in Pakistan and just hanging out and eating with us, my entire trip to Pakistan wouldn’t have been possible without him. Thank you Ali!
I hope this Pakistan travel guide has shown you a different side of Pakistan that isn’t always portrayed, and given you ideas about the possibilities of where to go, things to do, and delicious Pakistani food. I can tell you with certainty, Pakistan is one of the most naturally beautiful, hospitable, and delicious countries I’ve ever traveled to.