Welcome to Najaf, Iraq!
Najaf City, in Iraq’s south-central area, is located about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Najaf is also one of, if not, the holiest places for Shi’a Muslims. That is the top reason why Najaf is worth visiting. The amount of history, both culturally and religiously, that has passed through here is astronomical. During the 1970s, almost any influential spiritual leader of the Shi’a world from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and elsewhere came to study in Najaf.
Najaf is an important seat of religious pilgrimage, with plenty of important Islamic sights around the city. As this city is located in war-weary Iraq, visiting Najaf can be a little tricky, but that makes it an adventurous destination. For worldwide locals looking to explore where tourists don’t, use this guide for insider tips on how to best experience Najaf.
Worldwide Local Tip: Once you land at Najaf Airport, you’ll see that this city is not particularly an unsafe place, as there is security around--but since there was combat here as recently as 2007, visitors should exercise extreme caution. Acts of violence and kidnappings are still relatively common in the country, so don’t try to make yourself stand out too much.
Don’t Miss the Local Attractions
As a worldwide local you need to visit the local attractions that are absolutely, culturally important. One of the most important places not only for the city of Najaf but for Shi’a Islam, in general, is the Imam Ali Mosque. There are thousands of years of history packed into this mosque. Mohammed’s cousin and the fourth Caliph is buried here, and according to Islamic belief, Noah and Adam (old testament) are also said to be buried here. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this monument, as the building itself is a gorgeous example of Islamic style architecture. With a massive gold dome and ornate tile work on both the exterior and interior of the building, this is a must-see location.
Worldwide Local Tip: The Imam Ali Mosque might be a cultural landmark but it is also one of the most important sites in Shi’a Islam; so the utmost respect needs to paid while visiting. Dress appropriately and act accordingly at all times. It’s so much more than just a regular mosque.
Visit Al Sook Al Kabeer and Get in Some Shopping
Whether you’re on a religious pilgrimage, or not, a worldwide local goes where the locals do, to get a glimpse of everyday life. If you’re looking to spend time amongst the people of Najaf, then look no further than the Al Sook Al Kabeer (The Big Market). All cross sections of locals come here to do essentially all their shopping, as the market contains a lot. There are shops and stalls for everything you need, such as fresh fruit, butchers, jewelers, goldsmiths, and everything else in between.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re looking to eat cheaply and grab a quick bite, this is the place to stop before you venture onto your next adventure, in Najaf. Pick up some sweet treats like halva, Kanafeh, or Iraq’s national cookie - the kleicha. A sweet cookie, that is usually filled with dates or other fruits.
Najaf is a great city, but a worldwide local knows that sometimes it helps to get out and see the outer regions that surround the city. Luckily, the ancient ruins of Babylon are close by and are absolutely worth the visit. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ancient city of Babylon is essentially the cradle of civilization. Dating back to 2300 BC, Babylon was the center of empires, politics, and religion for hundreds and hundreds of years. Not much remains of Babylon, but the ruins are simply magnificent to check out and let your mind wonder what was once there thousands of years ago.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re going to make the trek out to the ancient ruins, make sure you book through a reputable tour operator. Moreover, you’d be going into the desert, so make sure to bring a lot of water and wear the appropriate clothes, as the Najaf weather can get pretty extreme.
Have a Great Time in Najaf Iraq!
Right now, Najaf is one of those cities that is really off-the-beaten-path especially for most western visitors, but it’s for that reason that it should appeal to a worldwide local. It’s far off and a little dangerous. The city is very important to millions of people worldwide, has been inhabited for thousands of years, and will be around for a lot more.