here’s a unique list of things to do in Lahore, Pakistan that will actually interest travelers. Includes off the beaten track sights and a map to help you find your way.
At this point, I’ve spent months in Lahore. By far my favorite city in Pakistan (Sorry Karachi. Not sorry Islamabad, you’re boring.), the cultural capital never ceases to amuse. Many travelers begin their Pakistan adventure in Lahore… but what to actually do there?
There are a million and one interesting things to do in Lahore, but for some reason, all the recommendations online are lame AF. (Or only appeal to domestic tourists hungry for malls.)
“Badshahi Mosque. Lahore Fort. Fort Road Food Street.” Um, duh. Everybody knows about those places. If they don’t, they’ll figure it out after two seconds of Googling. What else is there to do in Lahore?!
In the name of helping out fellow travelers—and saving my fingers from typing the same recommendations over and over and over again—these are the things I recommend to travelers in Lahore.
Stroll about in Shalimar Gardens
These Mughal-era gardens could use a lot of upkeep, but they make for a pleasant stroll nonetheless. When I visited, “garden” was a bit of a stretch, but there are sometimes-filled waterways and tiled archways around the perimeter that (almost) justify the 500 Rs foreigner entrance fee. Besides, there are only so many places to find this kind of serenity when visiting Lahore.
Jog it all off in Model Town park
Fact: you’re going to get fat in Lahore (unless you get sick, in which case my sympathies and I hope you recover soon so you can continue eating).
If weight gain bothers you, realize it’s inevitable in Pakistan, and acknowledge the best you can do is stay active between all the feeding. There aren’t many places to jog in Lahore without asphyxiating from air pollution, being stared down by men, or getting run over by rickshaws, but Model Town park has a nice, tree-lined 2 km loop where you can burn off 1/10th of your paratha caloric intake without dying. Bring cash, entrance is 10 Rs.
Witness a state of trance at a Sufi dhamal
On Thursdays, Sufis gather at shrines around Lahore for dhamal. Pounding drums and uninhibited dancing like you’ve never seen before bring mystics to a state of trance which they believe brings them closer to God. Smokeable substances help onlookers enter another mental state with a bit more ease.
Dhamal ceremonies are harder to find since the famous dhamal at Shah Jamal stopped for security reasons; see my post on Sufi dhamal in Lahore for more information. This is by far one of the most interesting things to do when you visit Lahore.
Enjoy the view from above at Wazir Khan mosque
Wazir Khan is one of Lahore’s most famous mosques, second only to the massive Badshahi Mosque. Most travelers know they need to a pay a visit to admire its intricate tiles and paintings… but not everyone knows it’s also possible to check it out from above!
The men who collect shoes at the entrance also have keys to other parts of the mosque. For a bit of baksheesh—at this point around 500 Rs—they’ll let you up into one of the mosque’s minarets. The minarets offer a great view of both the mosque and the busy bazaar streets of Lahore’s walled city. Win-win!
Actually… just eat everything
Who am I kidding trying to only include a few food suggestions on this list?
To say Lahoris love food would be a gross understatement. It’s possible to stuff yourself at literally any time of day in Lahore if you know where to go. You can eat dinner OR breakfast at 4 in the morning.
There’s no better way to get to know Lahori and Punjabi culture than by eating sickening quantities of food. The Hungerist has an awesome list of local desifoods to try in Lahore.
Seek out the mother of mosques
17th century Miryam Zamani mosque, also known as Begum Shahi mosque, is the oldest known Mughal monument in Lahore. Despite being close to Lahore Fort, it’s often overlooked since it was consumed by more modern buildings. It’s not the most majestic mosque you’ll see in Pakistan, but the details in the interior are stunning. A must if you’re interested in the Mughal history of Lahore.
Chill out at Jehangir’s Tomb
On Lahore’s outskirts, about 45 minutes’ away from the city center, lies Jahangir’s Tomb. The ornate 17th-century Mughal mausoleum is in excellent condition (for Pakistan, anyway), and green lawns blanket the sprawling complex. It’s the perfect place to seek a bit of fresh-ish air and peace and quiet if Lahore’s clusterfuck is hitting a nerve. Bring a towel and a book, and you can spend an hour or two relaxing under the trees between people asking for selfies.
Sight Sikh-ing in Nankana Sahib
To get a taste of other religions in Pakistan, head two hours west to Nankana Sahib, home to a handful of Sikh gurdwaras. It’s said the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, was born in the city. His gurdwara, now known simply as Nankana Sahib, is visited by millions of Sikh pilgrims each year. Bring a scarf or head covering: both men and women must cover their heads inside gurdwaras.
Admittedly I didn’t enjoy the Wagah border ceremony… but other people do, so I can’t leave it off the list.
Drench yourself in nationalism at the India-Pakistan border
The daily ceremony on the India-Pakistan border happens before sunset. Ceremonial guards on either side of the border stomp, shout, and kick high in a performance meant to show solidarity between the two countries, then lower flags simultaneously.
(Yes, this is the border where you can cross into India. No, you can’t just cross over unless you have an Indian visa already.)
Kick it at an even more intimate border ceremony
If you want to get fully off the beaten track, head to the Gandha Singh Wala border ceremony outside of Kasur. A more intimate alternative to the popular Wagah Border ceremony, it’s structured differently as the border runs diagonally through the seating area and people don’t actually cross this border. Onlookers from either country are seated much closer together.
Note that you may have trouble accessing it depending on the mood of the security guards working the check posts leading to the border. Like the Wagah border ceremony, leave all big bags behind.
Savor aromas at a wholesale flower market
Casually known as phool mandi, flower market, this technicolored dream lurks across the river near the Saghian Bypass. Though there are other flower markets in Lahore, this is the city’s largest. Here people come to bid on wholesale quantities of flowers (1,000 PKR or less for a massive bundle? Tempting!) as well as buy garlands and bouquets for weddings and other events.
For the most floral experience, you’ll need to crawl out of bed before the crack of dawn: vendors start selling flowers around sunrise, and most will be whisked away by 8 or 9 in the morning. Note that the flower market spans both sides of the main road. The wholesale bidding area will be on your right when coming from Lahore.
Get mystical at Baba Bulleh Shah’s shrine in Kasur
The Shrine of Baba Bulleh Shah is only an hour or two outside of Lahore, and an important stop for anyone interested in Sufi poetry. Bulleh Shah’s words have been made famous in the modern day by Sufi singers such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen, and are an essential part of the musical tapestry of Sindh and Punjab. If you don’t know much about him/the music, no worries—there’s often someone playing Sufi qawwali music in the shrine.
Find peace at the shrine of Shah Kamal Chisti
If you’re heading out to Kasur for the shrine of Baba Bulleh Shah, you might as well stop at the shrine of Shah Kamal Chisti, too! The hilltop shrine isn’t as grandiose as Bulleh Shah’s, but it’s more peaceful and intimate in feel. Don’t miss the harmonium player who hangs out in the courtyard; he’s happy to play music for guests if asked.