Balkh Travel Guide

Explore the historical city of Balkh with our comprehensive travel guide. Discover the best attractions, food, accommodation, and more to make the most of your trip.

Introduction to Balkh

Balkh is a historical city located in the northwest region of Afghanistan. It is said to be one of the oldest cities in the world, with a rich cultural heritage and fascinating history. The city was once a major center of Buddhist learning and the birthplace of many influential figures, including the great Sufi poet Rumi. Today, Balkh is a popular tourist destination that attracts visitors from around the world with its stunning architecture, natural landscapes, and vibrant cultural scene.

List of Places to Visit in Balkh

Balkh is a city of contrasts, with ancient ruins and modern skyscrapers side by side. Here are some of the top places to visit in the city:

Culturally Important Attractions: Museums and Historical Places

  • The Balkh Museum: This museum is a must-see for anyone interested in the region’s rich history. It showcases relics from the Buddhist era, as well as artifacts from the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods.
  • The Blue Mosque: Also known as the Shrine of Ali, this mosque is one of the most important religious sites in Afghanistan. It is said to be the final resting place of Hazrat Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Citadel of Balkh: This ancient fortress dates back to the 1st century AD and offers stunning views of the city. It was once a major center of power and trade in the region.

Natural Attractions of Balkh: Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Views

  • Tash Kurgan: This mountain peak offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Hindu Kush mountains and the Amu River.
  • Khulm River: This scenic river is a popular spot for picnics and fishing, and offers a tranquil respite from the busy city center.
  • Balkh Gardens: These lush gardens offer a tranquil oasis in the midst of the city. They are a popular spot for locals to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Hiking/Biking Routes of Balkh

Balkh offers some of the most stunning hiking and biking routes in the country. Some of the popular trails include:

  • The Tash Kurgan Hike: This challenging hike takes you to the top of the Tash Kurgan mountain, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
  • The Amu River Bike Trail: This scenic bike trail follows the Amu River through the stunning countryside surrounding Balkh.
  • The Kabul-Balkh Route: This historic route was once used by traders and is now a popular hiking trail that takes you through some of the region’s most stunning natural landscapes.

Best Things to Do in Balkh: Activities and Tours

Here are some of the best activities and tours to enjoy in Balkh:

  • City Tour of Balkh: Explore the ancient ruins and historical landmarks of the city with a knowledgeable guide.
  • Food Tour of Balkh: Experience the rich culinary heritage of Balkh with a guided food tour, where you can sample traditional dishes and local specialties.
  • Cultural Tour of Balkh: Get a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural scene with a tour of its museums, galleries, and art studios.

Week-Long Itinerary for Balkh

Here is a suggested itinerary for a week-long trip to Balkh:

Day 1: Arrive in Balkh and check into your hotel Day 2: Explore the historical landmarks of the city, including the Balkh Museum and the Citadel of Balkh Day 3: Take a bike tour along the Amu River and enjoy the stunning natural scenery Day 4: Visit the Blue Mosque and other religious sites in the city center Day 5: Enjoy a guided food tour of the city and sample the local cuisine Day 6: Take a hike up Tash Kurgan and enjoy the panoramic views of the Hindu Kush mountains Day 7: Visit the Balkh Gardens and enjoy a relaxing day surrounded by natural beauty

Food and Drink Scene of Balkh

Balkh offers a rich culinary heritage that is influenced by its history as a center of trade and cultural exchange. Here are some must-try dishes and local beverages:

Must-Try Dishes

  • Quroot-i-Qurut: This dish features strained yogurt that is mixed with herbs and spices. It is often served with bread or rice.
  • Kabuli Palaw: This iconic Afghan dish features rice and meat, usually lamb or beef. It is often garnished with raisins, carrots, and nuts.
  • Bolani: This savory pastry is filled with potatoes, leeks, or spinach and is a popular street food in Balkh.

Local Beverages

  • Kahwa: This traditional Afghan tea is made with green tea leaves and is often spiced with cardamom and cinnamon.
  • Doogh: This refreshing yogurt-based drink is often served with meals and is a popular choice during hot weather.

Where to Stay in Balkh: Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses

Balkh offers a range of accommodation options to suit any budget. Here are some of the best places to stay:

  • Hotel Balkh: This comfortable hotel is located in the heart of the city and offers convenient access to all the major attractions.
  • Balkh Guesthouse: This cozy guesthouse is a great option for budget travelers, offering clean and comfortable rooms at an affordable price.
  • Mazar Continental Hotel: This upscale hotel offers luxury accommodations and amenities, including an on-site restaurant and fitness center.

What to Buy in Balkh: Souvenirs and Local Products to Bring Home

Balkh is known for its rich arts and crafts scene, with a wide range of handmade goods available for purchase. Here are some of the best souvenirs to bring home:

  • Carpets and Rugs: Balkh is famous for its handmade carpets, which are admired for their intricate designs and exceptional craftsmanship.
  • Jewelry: Afghan jewelry is known for its ornate and colorful designs, with many pieces featuring semi-precious stones and intricate metalwork.

Local Culture and Customs of Balkh

Balkh is home to a rich and vibrant culture that is influenced by its long history and diverse population. Visitors should be respectful of local customs and traditions, including dress codes for religious sites and conservative norms for public behavior.

Best Time to Visit Balkh

The best time to visit Balkh is from March to June or from September to November, when the weather is mild and pleasant. July and August can be extremely hot, while December to February can be quite cold and snowy.

Do’s and Don’ts of Balkh

Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when visiting Balkh:


  • Dress conservatively, especially when visiting religious sites
  • Respect local customs and traditions
  • Try the local cuisine
  • Learn some basic Dari phrases to interact with locals


  • Take photographs of people without their permission
  • Get involved in political discussions or debates
  • Publicly display affection or act inappropriately towards members of the opposite sex

Safety and Health

Balkh is generally a safe destination for travelers, but visitors should exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings at all times. It is also recommended to check with a healthcare professional before traveling to ensure that you are up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations.

Safety in Balkh

  • Be aware of your surroundings and avoid areas that are known to be dangerous
  • Take precautions when traveling at night, especially if you are alone
  • Keep your valuables safe and avoid carrying large amounts of cash or expensive items with you

Health in Balkh

  • Drink only bottled water or boiled water
  • Consider getting vaccinated against common illnesses such as hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and rabies
  • Use insect repellent and wear protective clothing to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and malaria

Getting to Balkh: Transportation Options and Logistics

Balkh is easily accessible by both air and land. Here are some transportation options to consider:

Airports Near Balkh

The closest airport to Balkh is the Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, which is located about 20 km away from the city center.

Bus Stations Near Balkh

Balkh is well-connected to other major cities in Afghanistan through a network of bus stations. Buses run regularly from major cities such as Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar.

Other Options

Taxis and private cars are also available for hire for those who prefer more flexibility with their transportation arrangements.

How to Get Around in Balkh

Balkh is a relatively small city and most major attractions are within walking distance of each other. Taxis and private cars are also available for hire for those who prefer more convenient transportation.

Where to Go Next from Balkh: Nearby Destinations and Excursions

Balkh is located in close proximity to many other popular tourist destinations in Afghanistan, including:

  • Herat: This fascinating city is known for its stunning mosque complexes, bazaars, and historical monuments.
  • Kabul: The bustling capital city is filled with museums, landmarks, and vibrant markets that are sure to delight any traveler.
  • Bamiyan: This picturesque valley is home to the famous Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 but remain a popular tourist attraction.


Balkh is a fascinating city that offers something for every type of traveler. Whether you are interested in history, culture, or natural beauty, you are sure to find something to captivate your interest. Be sure to plan your trip carefully to make the most of your time in this enchanting city.