Things to Do in Dhaka
Though most are used to seeing stars only at night, a visit to Star Mosque—known by locals as Tara Masjid—is filled with plenty of celestial sights. This stunning mosque was built in the first half of the 19th century, and both its interior and exterior are covered in hundreds of colorful mosaic stars that have given it its name.
A white reflecting pool surrounding a massive white star is stationed in front of the mosque’s impressive exterior. Nearly a dozen archways guide travelers and worshipers alike to the stunning white marble domes of this iconic religious structure that is certain to be a highlight of any visit to Old Dhaka.
Once a place of worship in this historic Armenian community, which was settled in the 17th century, the Armenian Church in Dhaka is now a quiet sanctuary in a nearly empty town where few Armenians remain. Still, the impressive church with its cream and yellow exterior pays homage to a time when this population of people ruled local trade and industry after leaving their homeland in search of political and economic freedom.
Built in 1781, the church is surrounded by more than 300 tombstones of fallen Armenians. In addition to its beautiful, traditional façade, the church was once home to a stunning clock tower and spiral staircase that were later destroyed in an earthquake. Visitors who are lucky enough to tour this religious gem will still find incredible paintings on the interior and a large marble font for baptisms. A local groundskeeper is sometimes available for private, informal tours, and can share stories about the Armenian Church’s history, its people, and even the time Mother Teresa stayed here during a visit to Dhaka.
Once the official residence of the Nawab family, this stately red structure was built in the mid-to-late 1800s. This stunning palace was damaged and abandoned after a tornado hit in 1888. Khwaja Abdul Gani and his son worked tirelessly to resurrect and reconstruct the structures that were deemed too dangerous to inhabit, which resulted in the birth of what is today, designated as a national museum.
Widely recognized as one of the most significant architectural icons in the nation, the palace is divided into two parts known as the eastern and western sides. Its unique octagonal dome serves as the apex of the palace and is considered to be the structure’s most significant feature. Locals say it was designed to look like the bud of a lotus flower. Travelers will find an incredible collection of photos of the palace’s 23 rooms taken in its hay day on display, as well as family portraits and other Nawab artifacts.
This bustling river port in the heart of Dhaka is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Some 500 passengers arrive every hour of the day and embark on into the eclectic city streets that meet the dock. Travelers can venture into the port, where photographers say it’s possible to spend the day snapping photos of the hundreds or large and small ships that make their way through the surrounding waters. Adventurous travelers can hire a paddle boat and take a trip across the black waters of the Buriganga River. Visitors agree its diverse markets, incredible views and access to the lives of locals make it a destination among travelers seeking to experience real Dhaka.
Travelers who want to experience the beauty and stoicism of the Mughal Empire can step back in time on a visit to the Lalbagh Fort (Fort Aurangabad). Built in 1677, this stunning structure was never actually completed, since the sudden death of the builder’s daughter was considered bad luck. It stands as a stark reminder of Old Dhaka’s past. A stunning red façade and tiny reflecting pool offer up a quiet escape from the energy of the old city. Travelers can wander the peaceful grounds—which include the Mausoleum of Pari Bibi, the Audience Hall (Diwan) and the beautiful Quilla Mosque—or explore the halls of the impressive museum that’s filled with artifacts that date back to the Mughal Empire.
This stately Hindu temple is known as Bangladesh’s National Temple. Built in the 12th century by a king of the Sena Dynasty, its cream and red stupas are icons of the city. According to locals, former King Bijoy Sen’s wife would bathe in the waters of Langolbond, and this temple was built as an homage to the birth of her son.
Travelers will find two distinct architectural styles at Dhakeshwari, since construction (and reconstruction) spanned years. One temple is in ancient style and another, constructed at the start of the century by the East India Company, is set in a more contemporary style. Although much of the structure was damaged during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, travelers will still find extraordinary examples of historical and religious architecture here.
The hillside town of Sonargaon is one of the oldest capitals in Bengal and is home to diverse history that spans time, across Hindu, Mughal and British rule. Visitors can see evidence of this eclectic past while wandering the streets, where ancient ruins of a rich past juxtapose more modern European structures.
Travelers can explore the villages and towns that make up this stunning destination aboard a local rickshaw, which can be hired for a single low daily fee. Drivers will transport visitors to some of the areas key sites, including the Goaldi Mosque, Tomb of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah and the Shiva Shrine. Those looking for memorable items to take home will do well on a stop to the FolkArt and Craft Museum Gift Shop inside the Sadarbari museum, which sells dozens of handmade, local items.
Recognized as one of the largest parliamentary houses in the world, this massive structure spreads over more than 200 acres of well-kept grounds and attracts locals and tourists thanks to its awe-inspiring architecture. Designed by Louis Kahn, construction on this regal government hub began in 1961.
Today, visitors can explore the grounds, which include the Bhaban (main building), Main Plaza (home to the Parliament’s library and chambers), the south plaza (mostly operations and offices) and Presidential Plaza. This and nearby Jatiyo Sangshad attract runners, skaters and other active outdoors folks who use the scenic grounds for daily exercise and urban escape.