Since I moved to Pakistan about a year ago, I wanted to visit the city of Lahore; for many called the “heart of Pakistan”.
Lahore is the second most populated city in Pakistan with an estimated population of more than 11 million people. It is with no surprise an extremely busy city, the traffic is manic and life never stops in the middle of a beautiful contrast between old and new.
I planned my visit to Lahore to be over 2 days so we could drive on a Friday evening and come back on Sunday evening in order to get a taste of the most famous places and the culture differences from Islamabad.
THE CITY OF LAHORE
The history of Lahore covers thousands of years with the city passing through different leaderships throughout the years. From Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Muslim, Mughal, Afghan, Sikh and British it became the ‘cultural capital’ of Pakistan.
Many historians agree that Lahore was founded by an ancient Hindu colony sometime between the first and seventh centuries, probably as early as the beginning of the second.
From 1524 to 1752, Lahore was part of the Mughal Empire. The Mughals, who were famous as builders gave Lahore some of its finest architectural monuments, many of them are some of the best things to see in the city, like the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque.
During the 18th century, as the Mughal power decreased, Sikhs invaded and joined into one to form a sovereign Sikh state from the royal capital, Lahore.
For the British, Punjab was a frontier province, because Lahore had boundaries with Afghanistan. Under British rule, colonial architecture combined Mughal, Gothic and Victorian styles.
In this article I gather the top 10 places to see in Lahore for your first visit. If you want an idea on how to build your own itinerary, check out my two day itinerary here.
TOP THINGS TO SEE IN LAHORE
① LAHORE FORT
The Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila is a fortress built during the Mughal era with beautiful gardens, stunning palaces, halls and mosques within its walls.
It’s truly unique offering exclusive views of the Badshahi Mosque and Minar e Pakistan with so much history around. Initially built by Emperor Akbar in 1566 it was later modified by Jehangir in 1618 and damaged by the Sikhs and the British years after. Efforts were made to have the fort restored over the years and some areas are still under reconstruction
Some of the famous structures you will get to see inside the Lahore Fort are the Naulakha Pavilion, which is a pavilion decorated with pietra dura (pictorial mosaic work using semi-precious stones), the Picture Wall ordered by Emperor Jahangir with vibrant mosaics and the Sheesh Mahal which I will talk about more in detail next.
A really interesting part of the Lahore Fort is the Alamgiri Gate, where elephants used to pass through carrying members of the royal household to their royal quarters.
You will easily spend a few hours there, especially if you have a guide explaining you about the different structures and architecture styles from the different eras so be ready for a lot of walk and talk!
② SHEESH MAHAL
The Sheesh Mahal also known as the Palace of Mirrors is also one of the most known buildings inside the Lahore Fort and one of the most visited palaces in Lahore, so I thought I would give it a special mention!
Constructed in the 16th century by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan is located in the northwest corner of the fort and was reserved for personal use of the empress and her court.
The most unique thing about the Sheesh Mahal is the way it was decorated. The white marble walls are decorated with frescoes, inlaid with pietra dura and a complex mirror-work known as ayina kari an assemble of finely cut mirrors together in geometric forms, creating a beautiful shining surface reflecting light as intricate abstract patterns.
Over the years conservation efforts were made to keep this wonder well preserved and it’s in excellent shape. The views of the Badshahi Mosque are really good from the top of the palace.
③ BADSHAHI MOSQUE
The Badshahi Mosque located west of the Lahore Fort it’s the most iconic landmark you’re going to see in the city.
It’s the largest mosque from the Mughal era built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1673 and is the second-largest mosque in Pakistan after Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. It can accommodate up to 100,000 worshippers during the large Eid congregation.
The decoration is typically Mughal with fine details. The interior is rich in stucco tracery and marble inlay. The exterior is decorated with stone carvings and marble inlay on red sandstone, giving its unique colour.
Minar-e-Pakistan is a national monument completed between 1960 and 1968 on the site where the Pakistan Resolution was passed on the 23rd March 1940 that led to the partition of India and Pakistan later in 1947.
The tower base is shaped like a flower and it reflects perfectly the Mughal/Islamic modern architecture. It’s also aims to symbolize freedom and the Pakistani pride.
It’s located very central in the famous Iqbal Park used many times for political and religious events.
⑤ SHALIMAR GARDENS
The Shalimar Gardens represent the period of the Mughal Empire when they were at the peak of their artistic creativity.
Built under the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan in 1641, the gardens were built to resemble a Persian paradise garden in perfect harmony with all elements of nature. With 410 fountains, marble pools, numerous different types of trees and pavilions, it’s a beautiful place to see, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
It was quite an impressive visit and the site felt peaceful. A lot of beautiful buildings still fairly preserved. I loved to see how green it was with so many flowers.
It has three main terraces, named the giver of life, the giver of pleasure and the giver of goodness and you can easily spend an hour walking around there while listening to all the history about the architecture works.
⑥ THE WAGAH BORDER CEREMONY
Probably since the beginning when I started to research about Lahore that I knew I had to go and see the Wagah border ceremony.
It’s basically a daily military practice at the border of Pakistan and India where soldiers from both countries ‘dance’ against each other since 1959.
It’s hard to explain with words the performance. They stomp, kick their legs high all very quick while the crowd chants very high that there are proud of their nation, each side from Pakistan and India.
It’s supposed to show solidarity and cooperation between the two countries that ends with them lowering the flags simultaneously.
This is also means that the border is closed from that moment until the next day.
⑦ JAHANGIR’S TOMB
The Jahangir’s Tomb was built in the 17th century as a final place of rest of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. It’s one of many places from the Mughal era in Shahdara Bagh located a little bit further away from the city along the banks of the Ravi River.
The building remains in very good condition with on-going renovations by the government which brought back to live the famous frescoes and marble. The interior is richly decorated with pietra dura.
In the same site on a short walking distance you will also have the opportunity to see the Akbari Sarai and the Tomb of Asif Khan.
⑧ LAHORE MUSEUM
The Lahore museum is a great place to learn a little bit more not only about the history of Lahore but also the history of Pakistan and its beginning.
There a lot of artefacts from the Sikh and Mughal eras, precious paintings, sculptures, Qurans and other important Islamic artworks.
⑨ WAZIR KHAN MOSQUE
As you enter the Walled City of Lahore through the Delhi Gate you come across the beautiful Wazir Khan Mosque.
It was built in the 17th century under the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the exact same Mughal Emperor who had the Taj Mahal built in Agra, India for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal.
The mosque has colourful mosaic Qashani tiles and frescoes which was unique and different from the usual use of red bricks and marble during the Mughal era.
⑩ ANARKALI BAZAAR
Visiting a local market was something I was looking forward when I went to Lahore. I love mixing up with the crowds and barter the prices with vendors.
It’s a great experience for shopping and to see a little bit how people live in a city always so busy and rushing everywhere.
In the middle of these tiny streets and hundreds of vendors, motorcycles drive fast passing just inches to the pedestrian crowds. It’s pretty crazy! I would recommend you to avoid rush hour which tends to be in the evening to be able to walk around peacefully.
The market is famous for the variety of dried fruits, beautiful silk dresses, jewellery and so much more. Definitely worth the visit!
Have you visited or are you interested in visiting Lahore? Let’s talk about your experiences!
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