1 - Empress Market
Designed and built between 1884 and 1889 by the English firm AJ Attfield, Empress Market was named after the then-Empress of India, Queen Victoria, and features a 43-metre-tall clock tower that overlooks the action below. Since then, Empress Market has come to embody the frantic energy for which Karachi is known. Located in Saddar, one of the city’s most congested areas, it continues to be a one-stop shop for anything a household might need. A visit to the market is a sensory assault, from the vibrant colours of the produce and aromatic spices piled high in their sacks, to the smell of fresh meat and the cacophony of running tea boys, passing rickshaws and honking taxis. Standing amidst its hustle and bustle, you instantly understand why Karachiites consider their city to be the beating heart of the country.
2 - Mazar-e-Quaid
For a break from the organised chaos of Karachi, head for the Mazar-e-Quaid. The elegant structure, built from immaculate white marble and accented with Moorish arches and copper grills, is the tomb of Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, known as Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). Situated in the heart of the city, it was designed by Indian architect Yahya Merchant and has become an iconic symbol of Karachi since its completion in 1970. Surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and fountains, the Mazar-e-Quaid is often used as a venue for governmental and military ceremonies. For visitors and residents, the mausoleum is a great place to take a step back from the commotion of the city, enjoy the greenery and reflect on how a single individual’s struggle for a shared vision can change history.
3 - Burnes Road
Ask anyone in the city for the quintessential Karachi gastronomic experience and they will point you towards Burnes Road (often confusingly spelled Burns Road). Named after British doctor James Burnes, who served the Raj as a spy in the first half of the 19th century, Burnes Road was once fertile ground for political movements but has since become a melting pot of new and decades-old food haunts. There’s Café Lazeez, which has been in business for half a century and is known for its karhai curry, or Waheed Kabab House, which has been serving a plethora of sumptuous dishes – seekh (skewer), boti (cubes of meat), reshmi (silky) and dhaga (string) – since the 1970s. Those with a sweet tooth must squeeze in a stop at Delhi Rabri House, which serves a condensed-milk based desert called rabri, made from heating sweetened whole milk over a low flame. Burnes Road is also a street food haven, with vendors serving up a host of sweet and savoury options.
4 - Mohatta Palace Museum
Mohatta Palace was built in 1927 as a seaside retreat for Rai Bahadur Seth Shivratan Mohatta, a wealthy Marwari businessman in Karachi. Located on Hatim Alvi Road in the affluent neighbourhood of Clifton, the sprawling mansion was designed by Ahmed Hussein Agha. One of the first Muslim architects of India, his design incorporated elements of the Mughal revival style using locally available yellow Gizri stone and pink Jodhpur stone. After partition in 1947, Mohatta left Karachi for India and the ownership of the palace changed hands several times. It fell into disrepair until the late 1990s, when the government of Sindh converted it into a museum. Since then, it has been a venue for exhibitions displaying art and artefacts. A visit is a must for anyone interested in tracing back the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Pakistan and the subcontinent. Open Tue-Sun 11am-6pm; entry costs Rs30 (US$0.5); mohattapalacemuseum.com
5 - Sea View Beach
Much of Karachi’s identity as a city is rooted in its proximity to the ocean. The long coastline along the Arabian Sea is where fishing villages first arose more than 2,000 years ago, mentions of which can be found in writings about the Greek commander Nearchus, an admiral in Alexander the Great’s army. Today, the silver-sanded Clifton Beach, known locally as Sea View, is the favourite getaway for residents to beat the oppressive summer heat, enjoy the cool ocean breeze and relax after a long day. A traditional trip to the beach in Karachi must include a camel ride, followed by a taste of corn on the cob grilled over white-hot charcoal and eaten with lemon juice and a mixture of red chilli powder and salt.