The Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges have long drawn adventurous tourists to northern Pakistan, but these famous summits are far from the only beautiful places to visit in the country.

In fact, there are fascinating places to visit spread right across the country, from the cosmopolitan coastal metropolis of Karachi to the centuries-old Mughal city of Lahore.

Our list of best places to visit takes in varied landscapes and architecture, thousands of years of history, and some of the best aspects of Pakistan’s vibrant contemporary culture. Together, it’s a reminder of why Pakistan is one of Asia’s most exciting tourist destinations. It's time to start planning your trip!

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1. Lahore

Best place for culture

If you only have time to visit one place in Pakistan, make sure it’s Lahore. A Unesco City of Literature, and home to multiple Unesco World Heritage Sites, this ancient Mughal city is not only one of the most historic places in the country, it also hosts a thriving modern cultural scene.

Lahore Fort has recently been restored with support from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Shalimar Gardens are one of the world’s finest Persian-style gardens, and the magnificent Badshahi Mosque is one of Pakistan’s most famous landmarks; in fact, it's one of the most striking religious buildings on the planet. The city’s food scene is fabulous, too.

Planning tip: Book a hotel in or near Lahore’s Walled City so you can walk to many of the monuments.

2. Multan

Best place for spirituality

Multan is known as the City of Saints and it continues to be an important regional center for Sufism, the mystical form of Islam. Multan has been inhabited longer than almost anywhere else in Asia – Alexander the Great besieged the city in the 4th century BCE, adding to Multan’s claim to be the most historic spot in the country.

The most beautiful places to visit are the city’s Sufi shrines, especially the Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam with its delicate turquoise tiles, and the predominantly pink Mausoleum of Shamsuddin Sabzwari, which is topped by a bright yellow dome.

Planning tip: Multan is at its busiest during the Urs festivals, which commemorate the death anniversaries of local saints. The festival dates follow the lunar calendar and therefore change from year to year – check dates for the coming year when planning your trip.

A long empty stretch of the Karakoram Highway with mountain peaks in the background
The Karakoram Highway is one of the most iconic road trip destinations in the world © Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost / Getty Images

3. Karakoram Highway

Best place for scenery

The 1300km-long (808 miles) Karakoram Highway is one of the world’s greatest road trips. There are front-row views of Nanga Parbat (8126m/26,660ft), Rakaposhi (7788m/25,551ft) and other dramatic mountain peaks from the road, which passes through Gilgit and Hunza as it meanders north towards the border with China.

Traveling the section from Gilgit to the Chinese border is one of Asia’s greatest adventures – you can fly to Gilgit from Islamabad and hire a 4WD vehicle and driver locally to explore.

Planning tip: The northern part of the Karakoram Highway is closed between January and April due to heavy ice and snow, so plan accordingly.

4. Rohtas Fort

Best place for military history

The territory covered by the modern state of Pakistan has long been contested, and you’ll find fortifications all across the country recalling past battles for supremacy. The largest of these is Rohtas Fort near Dina.

This Unesco World Heritage Site is considered to be the best surviving example of Mughal military architecture in Asia, with 4km (2.5 miles) of sandstone walls and 14 seemingly impenetrable gates, protecting a vast and well-preserved complex of mosques, step wells, palaces and domestic buildings.

Planning tip: Rohtas lies north of Lahore, just off the Grand Trunk Road (NH5) – visit en route between Lahore and Islamabad/Rawalpindi.

5. Fairy Meadows

Best place for hiking

The Fairy Meadows National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Pakistan. Mighty Nanga Parbat (8126 m/26,660ft), the ninth-highest mountain in the world, rises above fertile grasslands and alpine forest, home to brown bears and deer. Wildflowers paint the meadows in spring and summer and the serene landscapes are reflected in the water of small, still lakes.

Planning tip: There are a few tourist cottages and guesthouses at Fairy Meadows, but camping brings you closer to nature. Get here from Raikot Bridge, on the Karakoram Highway south of Gilgit.

The partially excavated archeological site of Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan
The sheer scale of the ruins at Moenjodaro is something to behold © Getty Images

6. Moenjodaro

Best place for ancient history

Moenjodaro, meaning “The Mound of the Dead”, was built in Sindh more than 4500 years ago, making it one of the world’s oldest cities. This was the center of the technologically and culturally advanced Indus Valley Civilisation, which stretched not only across Pakistan but also into Afghanistan and India. This was the very first site in South Asia to be designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The ruins are huge – archaeologists have excavated streets, granaries and guard towers, and even a grand public bath.

7. Shandur Pass

Best place for spectator sports

The Shandur Pass lies at 3720m (12,204ft) above sea level in Gilgit-Baltistan, one of the most beautiful mountain regions in Pakistan. Close to the idyllic Shandur Lake, this lofty pass is the location of Pakistan’s most famous polo ground, which hosts an annual tournament between the teams of Gilgit and Chitral. The matches are played on horseback with free-style rules and the Polo Festival attracts thousands of spectators.

Planning tip: The Shandur Polo Festival dates are fixed every year from 7-9 July but plan ahead as there’s heavy demand for accommodation and transport.

A camel walking across the beach at sunset in Karachi, Pakistan
Expansive beaches and excellent live music venues await you in Karachi © Getty Images

8. Karachi

Best place for nightlife

You won’t find many Western-style nightclubs in Pakistan, as the country is officially alcohol-free (unless you have a government permit), but there’s still plenty to do in Karachi once the sun goes down. Venues like Base Rock Cafe and The Second Floor (T2F) attract an enthusiastic audience of live music lovers, and Burns Road and Rashid Minhas Road are packed every evening as foodies flock to their buzzing restaurants and street food stalls. Combined with the city’s expansive beaches, it’s an experience many travelers are surprised to find in Pakistan.

9. Katas Raj Temples

Best place for myths and legends

Modern Pakistan has a Muslim-majority population, but before the arrival of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths were prevalent. The pool in the center of the Katas Raj Temples in Punjab is said to have been formed from the tears of the Hindu god Shiva, and in the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, the Pandava brothers were exiled here.

Early travelers mentioned the presence of a Buddhist stupa, too, and you can still see its remains alongside the ruins of multiple temples, a small fort, and havelis. The buildings are in poor condition and little conservation work has been done, but Katas Raj remains a remarkable place to explore.

A view across the water from the pavilion in Hiran Minar, Pakistan
You may think you love your pet until you visit Hiran Minar © Tahir Mahmood / Shutterstock

10. Hiran Minar

Best place for a day trip

We all love our pets, but the Mughal Emperor Jahangir took his affection to extreme lengths when he built Hiran Minar for his favorite antelope, Mansraj, who he proclaimed to be "Lord of all animal beings". The early 16th-century tomb, minaret, and pavilion overlook a huge reservoir in the center of what was once a royal hunting ground but today is a wildlife reserve. Animals and birds still come out of the scrub forest to drink, so it remains one of the best places to visit in Pakistan for wildlife watching, fishing, and generally relaxing in peaceful surroundings.

Planning tip: Hiran Minar is an hour’s drive outside Lahore and is easy to combine with the nearby Sheikhupura Fort.

11. Attari

Best for pomp and circumstance

The Attari-Wagah border post is the only place where you can cross between Pakistan and India by land. Its daily closing ceremony is also one of the most over-the-top examples of military posturing you’ll ever see, with soldiers from both sides competing to show off who can kick higher, shout louder, parade more in sync, and grow the most impressive facial hair. Take a seat in the stands and join the cheering, flag-waving crowds for a very entertaining afternoon out.

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NEPAL COUNTRYSIDE, OCTOBER 2018: CLOSE UP: Colorful tourist bus drives along a scenic road in the green Nepalese mountains. Old bus drives tourists and locals along the scary Pasang Lhamu highway.; Shutterstock ID 1495188476; GL: 65050; netsuite: Lonely Planet Online Editorial; full: How to get around Nepal; name: Brian Healy
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Colorful tourist bus drives along a scenic road in the green Nepalese mountains. Old bus drives tourists and locals along the scary Pasang Lhamu highway.

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