The capital of the Punjab is a city of markets, minarets and mystery. From the mighty battlements of the Shahi Qila to the vast courtyard of the Badshahi Mosque, Mughal history is written large in the ancient centre, where children play cricket on every patch of open ground and the streets teem with commerce and industry.
The best way to navigate the historic centre of Lahore is on foot, so you can soak up all the sights, sounds and smells of the city’s fragrant bazaars. Buses and minivans buzz to very corner of the city but they are unbelievably crowded; taxis and autorickshaws offer a more comfortable ride.
Exploring old Lahore is like stepping back in time. The focal point of the old city is the Shahi Qila fort, where the ghosts of Mughal emperors swirl around the battlements. To the west, the Badshahi mosque is one of the wonders of the Muslim world, and nearby is the Minar-e-Pakistan, marking the spot where the creation of Pakistan was announced in 1940.
To the south, the winding bazaars of old Lahore are a place to get lost and explore. Hidden away amidst the market stalls inside the medieval city walls are the tiny, golden Sunheri Masjid and lavishly tiled mosque of Wazir Khan.
The British stamped a new identity onto Lahore in the 19th century, building formal boulevards such as Mall Road, still lined with some of the city’s most impressive colonial architecture. To discover more of Lahore’s legends, visit the Lahore Museum, once curated by the father of Rudyard Kipling.
Modern Lahore has grown up around this historic kernel, with modern shopping malls, international hotels and spectacular dining, particularly in the affluent district of Gulberg. In the northern suburbs are the stately tomb of Emperor Jehangir and his wife Nur Jahan, while polo matches still take place regularly at Race Course Park to the south.
Centuries of history have given Lahore plenty of secret corners. The shrine of the Sufi mystic Abdul Assan Ali Hajveri is thronged by devotees on Thursday evenings, when the mausoleum rings with devotional qawwali songs. Closer to the Fort, the mausoleum of Ranjit Singh and Gurdwara Dehra Sahib are fascinating reminders of the short-lived Sikh empire in the Punjab. Tucked just inside the city walls, the Fakir Khana Museum displays the vast collection of South Asian art amassed by the Fakir family over more than two centuries.
Lahore’s lavish cuisine is famous the world over, thanks to enterprising expats who have transported Lahori kebabs as far afield as London and Mombasa. Just south of the old city, the Gawalmandi area is Lahore’s favourite ‘food street’, with restaurants and stalls serving everything from tandoori chicken to Afghan-style chapli kebabs. Some of the city’s best dining experiences are steeped in history, particularly Sunday brunch at the Polo Lounge at Lahore Polo Club. The city is famously cosmopolitan when it comes to dining, with fine food from as far afield as Italy, China and Japan; Costa Nostra, Pompei and Tokyo are top recommendations.