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Baghdad's current state betrays its long and illustrious history. It was once a vital centre for scholarship and culture in the Arab world and an inviting destination for bohemians and backpackers from every corner of the world, invoking romantic images of Arabia. Today, sadly, after years of conflict, much of the city is in tatters, and constant dangers make it difficult for local residents, not to mention foreign travelers. International visitors, mainly there for business purposes, are largely restricted to the International Zone, or Green Zone, where security is better. Venturing outside the Green Zone is often advised against, but that is where much of the city's and its population's vibrancy and flair can be found and enjoyed.
Though international visitors are advised to remain within the International Zone for security reasons, venturing outside its boundaries reveals more of what the city has to offer. Within and without, imposing monuments to wartime heroes and some fascinating museums make up some of the highlights, and parks provide some much needed green spaces for locals to rest.
Iraqi cuisine has roots that date back as far as 10,000 years, and through the centuries those roots have incorporated ingredients and techniques from nearby areas such as Persia, Syria and Turkey, resulting in a complex and varied cooking tradition. Be sure to try some of the typical dishes and snacks, such as falafel, dolma, biryani and pita with hummus.
From the modern and sleek Western-style cafes where young urbanites sip espressos, to more traditional Iraqi teahouses where older gentlemen share a hookah, to child-friendly ice cream parlours where families escape the afternoon heat and enjoy pistachio-packed cones, Baghdad's cafe scene has plenty to offer even the most discerning coffee-lover.
After years of violence and imposed curfews, Baghdad's once famous nightlife is slowly coming back to life. Throngs of young residents can be seen enjoying themselves at outdoor cafes and pool halls, drinking beer and playing dominoes until as late as midnight. Bars and restaurants and even a nightclub or two are once again filling the city's nights with merriment, but for foreign visitors, the best place to get a drink and enjoy the night is still at one of the international organisations or private clubs.
Baghdad's historic shopping area stretches out from Shuhada Bridge to Ahrar Bridge, Rashid Street being a traveler's' main landmark - most specialized shopping streets (souqs) are off the Rashid Street's either side. Some highlights of the busy shopping labyrinth include the deafening Coppersmith Souq, vibrant Shorjah marketplace and colorful Clothiers and Rug Souqs. On the other side of Tigris, Mansour Mall offers a quieter, haggle-free shopping alternative.
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