Peshawar, the city of the valiant Pashtuns, is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) or, formerly, the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Strategically located on the crossroads of Central Asia and the subcontinent, the city was known as the oldest living city in Pakistan and one of the oldest cities in South Asia. Peshawar has been the hub of the Gandhara Civilization and the pathway of many great civilizations like the Aryans, Persian, Greeks, Mongols, and Mughals. Largest in KP and the 6th largest in Pakistan, this culturally vibrant and lively city is the administrative center and an economic hub of KP province still retains the glory and old looks of historic streets, buildings, and bazaars with just a slight change during the past one century. Many international tourists keep the city on their wishlist and when visiting Pakistan, they make sure not to miss the Peshawar Tourist Attractions.
The recorded history of Peshawar dates back to at least 539 B.C.E. The name, Peshawar (the frontier city), was said to have been given by the Mughal Emperor Jalal Uddin Muhammad Akbar during the Mughal era when it was an important trading center. When the Mughal emperor Zaheer Uddin Babar came to Peshawar, it was known as Bagram. Before the Mughals, the city had almost as many names as rulers. Peshawar is irrigated by various canals of the Kabul River and by its right tributary, the Bara River. The key Peshawar tourist attractions are listed below.
Bala Hisar Fort
Bala Hisar literally means “the raised or great fort” and the name was suggested by Taimor Shah Durrani – an Afghan King. The fort stands on a high mound in the northwest corner of Peshawar city providing a commanding and panoramic view of the clustered city and the surrounding mountains on a clear day. This historic fort was built by the Mughal emperor Babur when he conquered Peshawar in 1526. The royal family lived in this fort before it was destroyed. However, the Sikhs rebuilt a mud fort later and the British replaced it with bricks. The fort can be visited on weekends only and is under the custody of the military forces. Its incredible architecture and the elbow-shaped rooms of the museum displaying retrieved weapons, apparel, photographs, and a range of other artifacts, make it an attraction worth a visit.
Constructed in 1905 during the British Colonial era, the red-brick Peshawar Museum, also known as “Victoria Memorial Hall,” is a two-story building featuring a blend of British, Hindu, South Asian, Buddhist, and Mughal Islamic Architectural styles. Peshawar Museum is one of the prominent museums in Southeast Asia for its collection of Gandharan art and currently showcasing about 14,000 items from various civilizations. Its rich collections comprise sculptures, coins, household items, weapons, and art & crafts excavated from the major Gandharan regions of KPK including Shah-Ji-Ki-Dheri in Peshawar, Takht-i-Bahi & Sahri Bahlol in District Mardan and later on from Jamal Garhi, and other Gandharan sites excavated by the British archaeologists.
Mahabat Khan Mosque
Mahabat Khan Mosque or Muhabbat Khan Mosque is the finest mosque in Peshawar named after the governor of Peshawar state, Nawab Mahabat Khan Bin Ali Mardan Khan, who commissioned this mosque. The mosque was built in 1630 during Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule. Masjid Mahabat Khan is the only structure that stands in a slim ally of the “Andar Shehar Bazaar” in the town, to the west of Chowk Yadgar, and reminds of the glory of the Mughal kingdom’s fondness for construction, especially the mosques. Muhabat Khan Mosque was later renovated in 1898 by the British Government. The Masjid is worth a visit and remains open for tourists except during prayer times, especially the Friday prayers.
Chowk Yadgar is the central square of the old Peshawar city and is known as a reunion venue for the local residents, for political rallies and protest demonstrations. Its old name was Colonel Hastings Memorial (built around 1884-92 in remembrance of the first British Commissioner of Peshawar, Lieutenant Colonel Edward George Godolphin Hastings). This historically significant landmark has lost its original shape in the name of renovation; the structure of the original Chowk Yadgar was a horse-shoe-shaped structure that was changed several times in the past and demolished and the present-day concrete structure was built. The square was named after the heroes of the war (1965) between Pakistan and India.
The Chitral Bazaar in the heart of Peshawar was famous for its handmade woolen hats, waistcoats, and robes embellished with colorful embroidery. It was established in the 1940s and is famous around the country for its expertly crafted woolen wintery stuff. The Chitrali Bazaar has about 500 shops where native Chitrali people make their livings. It used to be a bustling junction for locals and foreigners alike but remained in a slump after 9/11 yet trying to pick up again.
Once a famous convergence point for foreigners in Peshawar, the Brass market has now tapered to only a few shops. Brass utensils used to be part of daily household use but gradually vanished due to their high costs. Historically, people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa used to present household utensils made of brass to their daughters in dowry but that tradition has also faded gradually because of rareness. However, luckily there are still a few selected artisans producing brassware handicrafts in the form of decorative plates, vases, bowls, and other souvenirs at least to cater to local and foreign tourists. The brass and copperware crafted by old artisans of Peshawar still could not be matched anywhere in the country.
Cunningham Clocktower or Ghanta Ghar
The Cunningham Clock Tower was named after Sir George Cunningham – a former British political agent in North Waziristan – who was later promoted to the governor in the province. This masterpiece is locally called Ghanta Ghar which means “Hour House”, “Clock House” or “Clock Tower”. The Cunningham Clock Tower was built in 1900 in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The four-tiered tower was designed by James Strachan, the Municipal Engineer of Peshawar, and the foundation stone was laid by Sir George Cunningham himself. The clock displayed in this tower is one of the pair (the second one is in England) presented by Queen Elizabeth. One can see the Cunningham Clock Tower within a distance no matter which location in the surroundings one is standing, and this clock tower will also help one navigate through the area a bit easier.
Qissa Khwani Bazaar or the Storytellers Street
The Qissa Khwani Bazaar or Storytellers Street is Peshawar’s most famous bazaar. The American writer and traveler Lowell Thomas and Peshawar’s British commissioner Herbert Edwardes called it “the Piccadilly (a famous 1.6km straight and wide road in Westminster, London, connecting central London with some key regions) of Central Asia“.
Qissa Khwani is derived from two Persian words Qissa & Khwan means the storytellers. It has a historic significance where, about 1000 years ago, traders and travelers, mostly from central Asian states, would gather here and exchange tales, information, and ideas while sipping the famous Qehwa (a local green tea). In the center of the street, the two monuments erected were in memory of the massacre of 23rd April 1930, when the British army killed some 400 demonstrators on this street, in the independence movement.
The archaeological complex of Gorkhatri or Gor Khuttree (Warrior’s Grave) is a public park in the ancient city of Peshawar, built at an elevated site of ancient ruins. The complex served as a Mughal-era caravanserai, built by Jahanara Begum, Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter, in the 17th century to provide comfortable access and a resting place for those traveling between India and Central Asia. Gorkhatri with the giant stupa of Indian King Kanishka the Great was identified by Alexander Cunningham. The park is located on the top end of Sethi Street, measuring 160 meters square courtyard with huge Mughal gateways on either side. The complex has also remained a governor’s mansion during Sikh rule and it also contains a neglected Hindu temple. The many strata in its 15 m below-the-ground archaeological excavations reveal the history of Peshawar to well before the Greeks and Kushans and authenticate the claim that Peshawar has been one of the oldest living cities in south Asia. The small museum and the fire brigade’s two vehicles on the premises are worth a visit.
In the heart of the walled city of Peshawar, Sethi Street (locally known as Sethi Muhallah or sometimes called Sethian Muhallah) is a traditionally arranged neighborhood in a narrow street. The Sethis are known to have migrated to Peshawar from Bhera, Punjab when the Sikhs established their rule in Punjab. The Sethi family initially built twelve mansions; five were demolished later while seven impressive houses still survive presenting the best models of the houses of the early 20th century. Reflecting oriental style architecture, the houses belonging to the Sethi family located in a small alleyway display a fine example of innovation in the architecture of houses, mansions, and buildings displaying their unmatched architectural intellect and immense love for Muslim art and architecture. The Sethi Muhallah is a prominent tourist attraction in Peshawar, surrounded by the city’s other key attractions, located between Cunningham clock Tower and the Gorkhatri complex. The Sethis were affluent traders having businesses in China, India, Afghanistan, Iran, and several cities in Central Asia. Besides business, the family contributed to considerable welfare work in Peshawar.
The main Sethi house, located at the end of Sethi Street, was constructed by Karim Bakhsh Sethi in 1884, about 49 years’ time, during British rule in the subcontinent. This oriental-style highly embellished building presents unique architectural values, eye-catching wood craftsmanship, a water supply system, natural light supply, and cross-ventilation facilities. Built primarily out of bricks, wood, sand, and jute; Sethi House comprises a double basement, a ground floor with outside access, and a top floor. The main courtyard of the house on the ground floor is surrounded by wooden balakhanas and its beauty lies in the wood carpentry and carvings as most of the construction is of high-quality wood. Its highly carved wooden doors, galleries featuring intricate artwork, stained glass windows, and ceilings with intricate geometric designs still boast of its brilliance. The building covering a total of 33 Marlas is currently serving as a cultural heritage functioning under the Directorate of Archaeology. Visitors are subject to pay entry fees and there are special charges for still photography and video photography. Museum timings during summers are 08:30-12:30/14:30-17:00 hrs (from 1st April to 30 September) and during winters from 09:00-13:00/13:30-16:00 hrs (1st October to 31st March). Sethi House remains closed on Fridays.
Founded in 1913 by personal initiatives led by Sir S.A. Qayyum and Sir George Roos Keppel, Islamia College in Peshawar is one of the oldest institutes of higher education in Pakistan. The historical roots are traced from the culminating point of the Aligarh Movement. Both Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees are awarded in various disciplines including fields of Arts & Humanities, Business & Social Sciences, Language & Cultural, Engineering, and Science & Technology. The Victorian-style building constructed of red bricks, facing Jamrud Road, can easily be seen and accessible to anyone and is well worth a visit. The magnificent building surrounded by manicured gardens presents an atmosphere of a real oasis. The prestigious building was also featured on the country’s Rs. 1000 currency note.
Smugglers’ Bazaar or Karkhano
The Smugglers’ Bazaar or Karkhano falls on the way to Khyber Pass, just on the fringes of Peshawar. A fairly large set up of concrete shops lined up and stocked with imported goods, mostly smuggled from Afghanistan and other countries is a paradise for shoppers to get imported goods at a reasonable price. Major inventory includes cut-price electronics, fabric, and other items of household necessities. Karkhano is now easily accessible by Peshawar BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). For more information: transpeshawar.pk
The legendary Bab-e-Khyber or the Khyber Gate is a monument standing at the entrance of the Khyber Pass located to the west of Peshawar city at GT Road which is also the entrance to Khyber Pass that further leads to the Torkhum border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Khyber Gate is about 16 km from the main city and takes about 30 min to reach. This post-independence structure was built in 1964 by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The historic Jamrud Fort is located adjacent to the Khyber Gate. There is no decent rest area and the monument is only surrounded by some local Bazar and fruit markets around the roadside.
Jamrud Fort is located adjacent to Khyber Pass, about 16km west of Peshawar. The fort was built by Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837) and lost by the Afghan Durrani Empire, in 1836 to mark the western edge of their empire. Hari Singh Nalwa, the commanding officer of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Khalsa Army and the founder of Haripur city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was responsible for the expansion of the frontier of Sikh empire beyond the Indus River and the western boundary of the empire was Jamrud at the time of his death. The construction of the fort was completed in 54 days with the help of 6000 soldiers and was originally named Fatehgarh to commemorate the Sikh victory over the disunited tribes. The fort was originally built on a high mound from where the Khyber, Mohmand, and Bara areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be seen. Its construction resembles the Balahisar Fort in Peshawar as its security walls were six yards high with security watch towers duly cannon installed on all of them to keep an eye on outside attackers. There is another separate tower 12 foot high attributed to Hari Singh Nalwa.
When it comes to food, the Charsi Tikka is a name synonymous with Peshawar – one of the famous places to visit and try the delicious Afghan dish called Charsi Tikka. This place, also known as Namak Mandi, is well known for BBQ and Karhai offered with salads and the magical Qehwa (green tea). The aroma of outdoor BBQ and the traditional setup is unique and attracts people from all walks of life from surrounding cities, including foreign tourists visiting Peshawar who have a taste for rich local food.