What you need to know
Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan as well as its largest city, located in the eastern section of the country. Rapid urbanization had made Kabul the world’s 64th largest city and the fifth fastest-growing city in the world.
Kabul has been the capital of Afghanistan since about 1776. The city has been badly damaged during the various 1979–2001 wars, particularly its western parts. Kabul is currently going through a period of renovation and development, with some modern style tower blocks and a handful of glitzy shopping malls appearing over the last few years. However, roads and other infrastructure remain in poor condition, and electricity is spotty even in the downtown areas.
Population: 3.678 million (2015)
Area: 106.2 mi²
The Afghan Afghani is the currency of Afghanistan. The currency code for Afghanis is AFN, and the currency symbol is ؋. It is nominally subdivided into 100 pul (پول), although there are no pul coins currently in circulation.
Kabul has a cold semi-arid climate with precipitation concentrated in the winter (almost exclusively falling as snow) and spring months. Temperatures are relatively cool compared to much of Southwest Asia, mainly due to the high elevation of the city. Summer has very low humidity, providing relief from the heat. Autumn features warm afternoons and sharply cooler evenings. Winters are cold, with a January daily average of −2.3 °C (27.9 °F). Spring is the wettest time of the year, though temperatures are generally amiable. Sunny conditions dominate year-round. The annual mean temperature is 12.1 °C (53.8 °F).
Dari and Pashto language are widely used in the region although Dari (Afghan Persian) serves as the lingua franca. Multilingualism is common throughout the area, particularly among the Pashtun people.
Kabul is generally considered one of the safer parts of the country, and while bombings and kidnappings have waned considerably, they do remain a threat. Avoid restaurants popular with expats and affluent Afghans as much as possible; avoid police and military buildings, as well as embassies of NATO countries and allies as much as possible. They are the most popular targets for bombings, mass shootings, and kidnappings. Note that the standard policy is now to not report kidnappings of foreigners, so don’t think because you haven’t read about any kidnappings recently that means they are not still happening. That said, there are tens of thousands of expats and visitors to the city and considering that only a small handful have been victims of such attacks, you should be vigilant but not afraid. Avoid walking after dark, don’t loiter in hotel lobbies, and (for long stays and expats), vary your routes and timings daily. Female visitors must Make sure you wear a headscarf before landing in Kabul Airport until you fly out.
Health care in Afghanistan is relatively poor. The wealthy Afghans usually go abroad when seeking treatment.
The Ministry of Education led by Ghulam Farooq Wardak is responsible for the education system in Afghanistan. Public and private schools in the city have reopened since 2002 after they were shut down or destroyed during fighting in the 1980s to the late 1990s. Boys and girls are strongly encouraged to attend school under the Karzai administration but many more schools are needed not only in Kabul but throughout the country. The Afghan Ministry of Education has plans to build more schools in the coming years so that education is provided to all citizens of the country.
There is the Millie Bus which operates many routes around Kabul, but it is faster and more comfortable to use taxis. Some buses are relatively new, but many are old as one might expect in a 3rd world country.
Taxis are plentiful and to hire the whole car should cost around 30 to 50 Afg depending on destination and bargaining skills. Some drivers have learned basic English, but such drivers may try to charge a slightly higher price and are most likely to be found loitering near Westerner-friendly locations (airport, major hotels). While the city is fairly safe, it isn’t a bad idea to be proactive and avoid catching a taxi near any sensitive location (embassy, military facilities, 5-star hotels). It is customary for women to always sit in the back seat. After dark local yellow taxis become a rarity, so keep a few taxi numbers in your phone as a backup.
Downtown Kabul is relatively compact and walkable – a good option in the spring and fall – summers bring intolerable heat and dust, whilst winters bring snow and mud. Pavements are few, and you need to keep your wits about you when crossing roads.
If you are nervous about your safety walking around areas such as Wazar Akbar Khan and Taimani (to a restaurant etc.) is fine day or night – central Kabul at night is walkable but be sure you know where you are going, and how to get back to your guesthouse. Given the volatile security situation always be aware of any demonstrations, gathering crowds, etc. which could spiral out of control quickly. Keep a low profile, wearing simple clothes and (for ladies) covering your hair with a scarf or shawl. It is also wise to vary your routes frequently to reduce the threat of kidnapping. People are generally helpful and polite if you ask for directions.