Peshawar’s climate is mostly warm and temperate. It does not lie on the monsoon belt, however, rainfall here is frequent. The winter temperatures can go down to 4 degrees Celsius, while the summers can be hot and dry, with temperatures rising up to 40 degrees Celsius.
Overview - Peshawar Travel Guide
Peshawar is one of the top ten largest cities in Pakistan and the capital of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). The city, although famous for its unique culture, cuisines, and people, is one of the oldest cities in all of South Asia, with a history that can be traced back to 539 BC.
Peshawar lies close to the international border of Afghanistan and is known as the ‘City of the Frontier’. It has a population of over 2.3 million that is Muslim in the majority and being the capital of KPK, serves as the economic hub for the rest of the province. The city in the last couple of decades has seen much infrastructural development and investment in consumer goods industries, housing societies, and much more.
Although seemingly a flat land, Peshawar is actually a valley that lies between the Khyber Pass, a high mountain pass located in KPK, and the Indus River. It is a major urban center being the sixth most populous city in the country and receives tourists in multitudes every year.
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Location & Commute
Peshawar is located in northern Pakistan, almost 187 kilometers from the country’s capital city, Islamabad, making it a road journey of close to 2 hours from the M-1 motorway. The city itself is accessible easily via train, airplane, bus, or car. The Bacha Khan International Airport located in Peshawar has flights flying in and departing at multiple hours and foreign tourists can land directly to it if they wish to.
For commute within the city, taxis and ride-hailing services, inner city Metro buses, and rickshaws are easily available.
It is not widely known, but Peshawar was once the capital of the ancient Buddhist Kingdom of Gandhara. The city at that time was known as ‘Puruspura’ and that is probably from what the name Peshawar was derived.
Even in ancient India, Peshawar city was always the economic hub and a gateway between countries. The city is known to be an entryway witness to some of the crusades that shaped the world order that we live in today.
Peshawar once served as the capital city of the Kushan Empire in old India. This was the time when Buddhism was rampant in the region – and during the era when Peshawar was home to the Kanishka stupa, which was one of the tallest buildings in olden times.
Later on, the city was ruled by the Hepthalites – an ancient tribe originally believed to be living to the north of the Great Wall of China and which repeatedly invaded Persia and India.
The rule of Peshawar was later on given to the Hindu Shahis, who governed the city before it was handed over to the Muslims as part of the Mughal Empire.
During that time as well, Peshawar was an important trading center for the region and became home to the Pashtun Durrani Empire before 1846, when it was taken over by the British during their rule of India.
Peshawar’s climate is mostly warm and temperate. It does not lie on the monsoon belt, however, rainfall here is frequent. The winter temperatures can go down to 4 degrees Celsius, while the summers can be hot and dry, with temperature rising up to 40 degrees Celsius.
Peshawar is famous for the Pakhtun cuisine it serves and visitors from all neighboring cities are known to head to Peshawar over the weekends to get a taste of this delectable salty palate.
The cuisine served in Peshawar is meat-centric, where lamb meat, mutton, and beef are widely available in a variety of forms. The Peshawari Chapli kebabs made of lamb or beef minced meat, fried in animal fat are considered a delicacy here. Similarly, the Kabuli pulao, an Afghani rice and meat dish with caramelized carrots and raisins, is well-known in Peshawar, due to its proximity and influence of culture from the neighboring Afghanistan. Peshawari lamb karhayi (a savory dish made with meat and tomatoes) and namkeen tikka (barbecued pieces of meat in salt and very little spices) are some of the few popular dishes to lookout for.
Peshawar is known as the ‘land of the Pathans’. It is dominated by the Pashtuns ethnic tribe, which is the second largest ethnic group in the country. The city also has a large presence of other Pathan tribes including the Afridis, Khattaks, Hindkowans, Kashkhelis, Chamkanis, and Muhmands. The residents here mostly speak Pashto and Hindko languages, while Urdu can mostly be understood.
Culture in Peshawar (Dress)
Peshawar is deemed as a conservative Islamic city with a significant history. It is predominantly a male-centric society. As such, females on the streets are mostly seen covered in an abaya or a full gown with a headscarf and niqaab to cover their faces. While this is not compulsory in the city, it is recommended to keep yourself properly covered if you are a female visitor and wear a headscarf to avoid unwanted attention.
Men here wear the traditional shalwar kameez in a loose, baggy fit. The most distinguishable part of the dressing culture of the people of this city is the Peshawari chappal, which has a distinctive crisscrossed style in sandals, the craftsmanship of which is known only to this region. People from other cities are often seen visiting Peshawar to shop for these sandals.
Peshawar, being an ancient city, is home to many olden-era structures that are historically significant. Much of the relics from the Buddhist era here have been destroyed. However, some remains are still there to be witnessed.
Here are some popular tourist spots to consider as part of your Peshawar experience. If you would like to check out any of the below mentioned attractions, contact us here and we will customize a trip for you.
The Khyber Pass is one of the most popular monuments in Pakistan. Being right at the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass is a high mountain gateway that connects Kabul to Peshawar, through the Nagarhar province in Afghanistan. The Pass lies on the hills of Spin Ghar, approximately 44 kms from Peshawar.
It is believed that Hazrat Ali, the beloved cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) had also travelled through this pass once during one of his journeys. Concrete proof for this narration is, however, missing.
The Khyber Pass was built originally as a railway track, complete with tunnels and bridges, to stimulate transportation and trading in the region. During the time of the British rule in the Indian Subcontinent, the Khyber Pass was considered to be a potential route for the Russian Empire to invade and take over the British Raj in India. Factually, the pass had served as a gateway for invasions over history, while the Persians, Greeks, Afghans, Mughals, and the British have known to have passed through this route for various purposes. The railway tracks remain incomplete and services here were suspended a long time ago.
Since the Afghan war started in 2001, the Khyber Pass also served as a channel for a large majority of NATO coalition supplies between the regions. The supplies would arrive in Karachi, travel to Peshawar, and enter Torkham through the Pass, to eventually get to Kabul.
Spīn Ghar / Safed Koh Range
The Spīn Ghar Range, also known as Safīd Kūh in the local Dari language, is the mountain range that connects Pakistan and Afghanistan. It spreads from eastern Afghan territories and extends to KPK in Pakistan. The range also hosts the Khyber Pass at its eastern end.
The Safed Koh range has its highest peak located right at the border between the two countries. The peak is known as Mount Sikaram and rises almost 15,600 feet above sea level. The range connects directly with the Shandūr offshoot of the Hindu Kush mountain range.
One of the most popular and aesthetically wondrous architectural structures in Peshawar is the Sethi House and Sethi Muhalla.
The Sethi House is situated near Ghanta Ghar in Bazaar Kalan in Peshawar, and is known to be a 19th century heritage site. Comprising of around 6 residential units, the Sethi House is an architectural marvel inspired by Uzbekistan, with red and brown wood carvings and floral decorative engravings on the walls, complete with intricate mirror work. Small doorways, balconies, and arches make up huge mansions and become a must visit for all tourists!
The lanes around the Sethi House make up the ‘Muhalla Sethian’ where the havelis were built by the international trading family, the Sethi family.
Fort Bala Hissar
The historic fortress Bala Hissar is built right in the center of Peshawar and can be seen from afar, rising high above with its red brick walls. The fort Bala Hissar was built by the Sikhs.
What’s less widely known is that the fort was first built by the Mughal Emperor Babar in the 1500s. The fort was the royal residence of the Durrani Pashtuns, before it was captured and trashed in the 1800s during the British takeover. The fort was later rebuilt by the Sikhs and is now serving as the headquarters of the Frontier Corps. Because of this, entry into the fort for tourists is restricted – however, the building can be seen from outside and should not be missed.
Islamia College University
The Islamia College building Peshawar is one of the most popular and attractive sites in Peshawar, and one of the oldest educational institutions in the country.
Built in 1913, the Islamia College building is an embodiment of Islamic Mughal Muslim traditions, translating its culture into charming architecture embedded with tall domes, cupolas, pinnacles, and lush green gardens.
Mahabat Khan Masjid
The Mahabat Khan Masjid is a Mughal-era mosque built back in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jehan. The mosque is located in the inner old city area of Peshawar somewhere in the intertwined tiny lanes, from which opens up this monumental architectural magnificence, all in white tiles and marble. The mosque’s courtyard can house close to 14,000 worshippers at one time. The structure itself is a beautiful reminder of the Mughal architecture’s glory – boasting of arched entryways, large domes, mini and tall minarets, floral and geometric designs on the walls, and prayer halls.
Some historical narrations believe that the tall minarets of the Masjid were used to hang criminals as a substitute for gallows during the Mughal era.
Located almost 17 kms outside of Peshawar lies the Jamrud Fort, near the Khyber Pass. It is also known as Fatehgarh and is a valued heritage site.
Built in the 1700s, the Jamrud Fort was established by the Sikh Khalsa Army during the Sikh Empire. Jamrud was the entrance to the historic gateway to India and also had access to Kabul, and hence, the Sikh commander-in-chief at the time built the fort in Jamrud, KPK, to defend themselves from the local Pakhtun tribe’s threats and to potentially attack Kabul.
Takht-e-Bahi is an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mardan, KPK, which arrives en route Islamabad to Peshawar. It is about 66 kms from Peshawar and is a UNESCO world heritage site consisting of numerous chapels and stupas on high, rocky hills.
Takht-e-Bahi translates to ‘Throne of Origins’ and dates back to the early 1st century. It hosts Buddhist monastery ruins and some of the rarest relics of Buddhism in the Gandhara region. Takht-e-Bahi is situated high up on a hilltop and is composed of an assembly of buildings constructed on stones in Gandhara patterns. The site to date consists of multiple stupas and has been well-preserved.
Kissa Khuwani Bazaar
Kissa Khuwani Bazaar is located in the heart of the old city area of Peshawar and is a series of intertwined small lanes, shops, homes, and restaurants. Known as the ‘Storytellers’ Bazaar’, the Kissa Khuwani Bazaar got its name because in the olden days, traders, travelers, and merchants would stop here and tell tales to the people at night, narrating their travel stories.
This bazaar is also the birthplace of the legendary Indian actors Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, who have entire lineages of Bollywood stars in India now.
These are not all the tourist attractions in Peshawar. Being an ancient city, there is still a lot more that can be explored here, including the Peshwar Museum, the Gor Khatree gardens, the Rashakai Bazaar, and much more.
Some things to remember
- Hospitality in Peshawar is exceptional. If you befriend the locals, they will help you around the city.
- The city is male-dominated and conservative. It is advised to remain mindful of religious sensitivities here.
- Female tourists are advised to adorn modest clothing and wear a headscarf for safety purposes.
- This is an urban city with well-equipped modes of transportation, hotel options, and connectivity infrastructure.
- Fridays are considered holidays in Peshawar and most shops, restaurants, and tourist spots will be closed for public.
If you are a history buff and would love to see one of the most ancient urban cities of South Asia, contact us here now, or check out our upcoming tours and get ready for your exceptional tour to Peshawar – the City of the Frontier.
Written by: Hira Sami