Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan and the most diverse and has a different feel than the northern cities of Lahore and Islamabad. Being a massive modern city (around 20 million people depending on who you believe) and the economic powerhouse of Pakistan there are plenty of things to do in Karachi to keep you entertained.
It doesn’t have epic forts like Lahore or the nearby mountains of Islamabad, but it has its own unique charm where the old and modern collide.
The main areas of Karachi to explore if you are there for a few days are Clifton and Saddar and the places nearby them.
Historical Places in Karachi to Visit
Frere Hall in Karachi is an old colonial building built in 1865 that is now a library open to the public. It has around 70’000 books and amongst them are some rare manuscripts.
The building is beautiful and a well-known landmark of Karachi as well as the best colonial-era building to see. Inside it is a peaceful respite from the busy city.
Take some time to relax on a couch in the library and have a browse through their books. A must visit if you are interested in old architecture and libraries.
Frere Hall is open from 9am to 5pm.
Empress Market Area
Empress market is also set in an old colonial building finished in 1889 and is now a busy, albeit small, market place nearby Jahangir Park.
It’s not the place to go for clothing or souvenir type things (visit the somewhat chaotic market areas to the south of Empress Market for that, such as Zainab Market), but sells fruit, vegetables, condiments, oils, textiles, etc.
The area used to be a lot more vibrant with over 1000 stalls and traders having their shops removed by the government for overcrowding in the area. The government seems to be trying to gentrify the area but it’s still worth it to go there and have a look around, even if it isn’t the busy place it once was.
The whole area is worth visiting for a feeling of old Karachi, and many old buildings can be discovered, such as St Patrick’s Cathedral which is a ten-minute walk away.
Mazar-e-Quaid (Jinnah Mausoleum)
We didn’t get inside the mausoleum area but saw it from the streetside. It’s an impressive building and is the tomb of Pakistan’s founder, Jinnah.
Side note: There are some ancient Hindu temples in Karachi that would be great to visit but they only allow Hindus inside, so unless you are Hindu don’t bother trying to see them.
As Karachi is by the sea there are plenty of beaches to visit by the city and slightly further afield. As the city is massive there is some pollution on the beaches closest to the city with lots of trash. Still, they’re worth seeing as a part of life in the city.
You will need your own transport to get out to the further away beaches.
Beaches make for popular picnic places in Karachi.
Clifton Beach is the closest to the city and the one you should visit if you don’t have time for others.
Why visit? Don’t go for sunbathing and swimming, too much trash for that, go to see the local Karachiites gather on the beach for a sunset walk, a game of cricket, eat at food stalls on the beach, take a camel or horse ride, it can all be seen.
It’s entertainment on the beach and for that is a must-see. Just don’t expect any privacy!
Turtle Beach is just down from HawksBay Beach and is a popular beach just like Clifton. It gets crowded, especially on the weekends, and there is a lot of trash.
It’s interesting to see local people out and about and maybe catch a beach cricket game but if you want some peace, this isn’t the place.
I’m only mentioning French Beach here to give a warning. Don’t go! Not because it isn’t nice there, but because it is an exclusive place and you most likely won’t get in. It’s for the rich and influential.
We were told it’s one of the nicer beach areas for less crowds and cleanliness, and it is, and it’s like that because they don’t let people in. We were allowed to enter just for 30 minutes to take a look. But whats the point of a short time on a beach?
Mubarak Village Beach
Finally! Well sort of. Around a one hour drive from Turtle Beach is the small fishing village of Mubarak.
The main beach has some food sellers and lots of small fishing boats anchored by the beach.
It’s interesting to see but not the beach to swim on. Head south two hundred metres and you will find a long stretch of sand that will most likely have just a few people on it (that’s what it was like for us on a Saturday).
The beach doesn’t have that much trash as in comparison to other beaches around Karachi and the water is clean to swim in. You will get a lot more privacy here than anywhere else we saw, except French Beach where you can’t hang out anyway.
One other good option we were told to do but didn’t have time as it was late in the day is to go to Churna Island.
Churna Island is around 45 minutes by wooden boat from Mubarak Village and apparently has great scuba diving, snorkelling, and fishing.
Museums in Karachi
To be totally honest we didn’t get around to seeing any museums as we were so busy doing other things and spending time with family time during the one week we had there.
Having said that there are a bunch of museums in Karachi that was recommended for us to visit when we come again.
Mohatta Palace Museum
We really wanted to see this one but it was closed for the day when we tried to. Next time!
A rich Hindu businessman from India built it in 1925 and when India was partitioned the businessman remained in India and gave up his palace. Nowadays it’s a museum and looks impressive from the outside for sure, so the inside must be great as well.
National Museum of Pakistan
If you want to learn about the history and culture of Pakistan then this is the museum to go to, apparently.
Pakistan Air Force Museum
If you’re interested in military history then this museum has over 40 jets and planes that have been used by the Pakistan Air Force. This could be a potentially good destination if you have children.
Pakistan Maritime Museum
Another good option if you are with children or have an interest in naval history and boats. You can go inside a submarine here! It’s not too far from the Air Force museum so you could manage to do both.
Shopping in Karachi
Karachi is the shopping capital of Pakistan!
You will find almost anything you could want and there are so many places to go shopping, with the most fun being the local busy street markets. Shopping is one of the best things to do in Karachi if you’re looking for some good deals on items.
The main street markets to visit in the centre of the city are many. Bolton Market is one option and the Zainab Market for cheap clothes etc near Empress Mall.
For more modern shopping the biggest mall in Pakistan is at the seaside by Clifton Beach, called Dolmen Mall. It stands in stark contrast from the street markets but it’s always good to check out both sides of a city.
Just be aware it’s expensive shopping!
The nearby area of Zamzama has many boutique shops for more shopping in the upper price category.
Tariq Road is also a good option for upmarket shopping in Karachi with boutique shops and malls.
But if you want to get lots of cheaper clothes, souvenirs, etc, then stick to the street markets in Karachi.
Food in Karachi
Karachi is famous in Pakistan as a food city and there will be lots to choose from. Only warning is to be careful and choose busy and good places to eat as travellers getting a bad stomach from the water etc is a problem there.
Never drink tap water in Karachi!
Karachi has some of the best sweets in Pakistan and there are plenty of places to choose from.
Delhi Sweets on the main Shahrah-e-Faisal road is one of the best in the city, especially for gulab jamun.
Rehmat-e-Shereen is another excellent bakery in Karachi worth going to and has the best overall sweet variety we found.
Get a takeaway box with different types of sweets to try.
Sindh province of Pakistan, of which Karachi is part of, is known for its spicy biryani and a visit would not be complete without trying one.
There are lots of biryani places in Karachi, too many to mention here, but one piece of advice would be: if you get invited to someones home (Karachiites are very friendly) then go for it as home-made is the best!
Coffee Shops in Karachi
If you’re looking for some good coffee in Karachi then these coffee shops are the best ones to try. Many are in the Zamzama area in Clifton.
Butlers Chocolate and Cafe has some of the best coffee and is a popular chain in Pakistan with outlets in numerous places. One is in Dolmen Mall and another is in Zamzama.
Esquires Coffee is nearby Butlers in Zamzama and has some great coffee and a relaxed vibe. There is also one in Dolmens Mall but the Zamzama one is better for the atmosphere.
Floc – for the love of coffee, is also in the Zamzama area and worth checking out.
What better way once you’ve had a coffee fix than to take a short walk. Nearby Zamzama park is perfect for that.
Long story short: if you want great coffee shops in Karachi then head to Zamzama.
Head To The Port Area
The seaside is a popular place to go not just for beaches but also for the port settings, such as at Port Grand.
At Port Grand, you can walk along the jetty and munch on traditional snacks from the stalls and have a nice meal at a restaurant. It’s also good to bring children as there is a children’s entertainment area as well as a cinema.
Getting Around in Karachi
The absolute best way for transport in Karachi is to use Careem, the local version of Uber.
Download the app to your phone and order a car to get from place to place. It’s not that expensive and will generally be cheaper than trying to get a taxi on the street. It’s also very safe.
The other fun option if you’re not going long distances is to take a local rickshaw but make sure you fix a price before leaving.
Don’t bother with the local buses they are overcrowded and uncomfortable.
Where to Stay in Karachi
There are so many neighbourhoods to stay in Karachi, but as a visitor, your best bet will be to stay in Clifton as it’s a central location for visiting the main sites and is also a safe place to be.
Karachi is such a massive city that you won’t see everything in just a few days but what I mentioned in this post is the best things to do in Karachi in a short time.
This post is dedicated to my wife Sidra who has a strong family and friendship link with Karachi.
More reading on Pakistan:
There are not many real guidebooks for Pakistan with the only one recommended being Insight Guides Pakistan.
Be sure to take travel insurance for travelling in Pakistan. I recommend WorldNomads insurance.
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