Modern, planned and organised
Islamabad is a 1960s answer to the teeming Asian city. Built from scratch as the new capital of Pakistan (replacing Karachi) the city is divided into eight zones, each with its own facilities to serve the 800,000 inhabitants. Like other recently-built capitals, it has a genuinely international, ‘diplomatic’ feel – and a newness that is reflected whenever you take in the skyline.
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If you dive into Islamabad's bustling markets, you're sure to find some treasure. Colourful local textiles, antiques and handcrafted metalwork and woodwork are just some of the products to hunt down. The Aabpara district’s Sunday Bazaar (between Municipal Road and Garden Road) is a great place to search for bargain carpets, Afghan antiques and crafts, leather goods and clothing. For ceramics and brassware, head to Islamabad's satellite suburb of Rawalpindi. Here, the best pottery can be found in and around Bara Market (off Iqbal Road), while the Sarafa Bazaar (Sarafa Bazaar Road) has plentiful gleaming metalwork.
Food & Drink
Pakistani food is packed with flavour due to the use of the best aromatic spices from both South and Central Asia. For a special meal, you can't beat the ambience of The Monal (Pirsohawa Road); this magical hillside restaurant is reached by a winding mountain path to the Margalla Hills, 9km out of town. Dining on the terrace here allows breathtaking views of the entire city. The main business district is full of decent restaurants. Among these, Cafe Lazeez (15 Bhittai Road) serves up flavourful Pakistani classics at decent prices, while Khiva (64 Margalla Road) has a menu featuring dishes from Central Asia's finest cuisines.
Mystic Music Sufi Festival
Not to be missed if you're in town, this festival celebrates the musical traditions of Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam). It brings together Sufi singers from across the country to perform the ancient poetry and music that’s such a core component of the faith.
Jashn e-Baharan Festival
Islamabad organises a range of cultural events to coincide with Jashn e-Baharan Festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring. Music concerts, modelling events, shows and dance performances are held at venues across the city.
Islamabad Literature Festival
This bookworms’ event encompasses book fairs, readings, signings and Q&A sessions with well-known Pakistani authors and international writers. There’s also a chance to attend debates and lectures on hard-hitting issues.
Folk Festival of Pakistan
Also known as Lok Mela, this 10-day celebration highlights the country’s staggering diversity in culture and tradition within the capital. A programme of art exhibitions, folk dance performances and music concerts is rolled out at several different venues.
This one-day family-friendly fair is held at Fatima Jinnah Park, where the little ones and big kids at heart can take part in cricket tournaments and activities, as well as explore the many food stalls.
Islamabad's accommodation options tend to be business-orientated and functional, with a particular concentration in the Blue Area business district. For high-end facilities and rooms, the Islamabad Marriott Hotel (Aga Khan Road) ticks all the boxes with an indoor swimming pool, luxurious spa and rooms decked out with up-to-the-minute features. Mid-range and budget travellers should check out Comfort Residency Islamabad (47 Main College Road), which has elegantly styled rooms, or Fortalice Kohsaar (18 Street 26) with its luscious garden and modern rooms featuring soothing pastel and cream furnishings – both hotels are just north of the central Blue Area.