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Medina

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Medina (Arabic: المدينة Madinah) is a city in Saudi Arabia, to the north of Mecca. Medina is the second holy city of Islam. The city is commonly visited as part of the Hajj pilgrimage.

Understand

The Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina from Mecca, and taught there for some years before his triumphant return to Mecca.

Get in

By plane

For pilgrims, the most common route is to arrive in Jeddah by plane, and get on a special pilgrims' bus to Mecca and Medina, and come back to fly home in a couple of weeks.

  • 1 Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport (MED IATA). This airport fields an increasing number of direct flights from around the Middle East, and the airport is accessible to non-Muslims. Keep in mind that this is a very small airport, and not really designed to cope with the large numbers now passing through it. So expect a crush at the baggage carousels. And expect a free-for-all in the check-in areas, where queuing seems to be (literally) a foreign concept. Also, beware of scammers (see "Stay safe" below).  

By bus

The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) runs luxurious buses several times daily to and from most parts of the country at cheap rates. There are also privately run buses. The SAPTCO terminal is off-limits to non-Muslims.

By train

A new high-speed railway linking Medina with Jeddah and Mecca opened in Sep 2018 with 8 services a day. The 2 Medina railway station is east of the centre, along King Abdul Aziz Rd.

Get around

There is no public transport other than taxis. If you are on the side of the road, you might find locals willing to pick you up and take you to your destination for a fee, even though they aren't officially taxis, but beware of con artists from among both official and unofficial taxi drivers (see "Stay safe" below).

See

The overwhelming majority of visitors come to Medina for religious purposes.

Religious places

  • 1 The Prophet's Mosque (Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, المسجد النبوي). Since it is visited only by Muslims, for religious purposes, the main thing to see is the Masjid Nabawi or the Prophet's Mosque where devout Muslims offer prayers. Men are allowed to visit the burial site of the Prophet and pay respects throughout the opening hours of the mosque, which used to close for the night at around 10PM but has since become 24/7. Women may visit only after the Fajr or dawn and Duhr or afternoon prayers, when they are taken there in groups according to their countries. (updated Apr 2021)
  • 2 Al-Baqi' (Jannat al-Baqī, ٱلْبَقِيْع‎) (Adjacent to the Prophet's Mosque). A huge graveyard, where most family members and companions of the Prophet are buried. (updated Apr 2021)
  • 3 Mount Uhud. Other things to be seen, a little away from the city, are the plains and mountain of Uhud where the battle took place. There is also the burial ground of the 70 martyrs of this battle including the Prophet's uncle Hamza who is considered one of the greatest martyrs of all time. (updated Apr 2021)

Apart from the main Prophet's Mosque, there are numerous historic mosques scattered around the city. Almost all are working mosques, meaning that visits might be limited.

  • Masjid Qiblatayen. Further away is the Masjid Qiblatayen where the Quran recounts that the Prophet was ordered by Allah to turn his face from Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Makkah while offering prayers. (updated Dec 2018)
  • 4 Masjid Jumua. Masjid Jumua where the Prophet prayed the first Jumua or Friday prayers. (updated Dec 2018)
  • 5 Masjid Al Ghamamah. Masjid Gamama where once he had prayed for rain. (updated Dec 2018)
  • 6 Masjid Quba, Quba. Masjid Quba at Quba, which is the first mosque of Islam. (updated Dec 2018)

Non-religious sites

  • 7 Al-Madinah Museum, Omar Ibn Alkhtab Rd. One of few non-religious sites in Medina, this museum is housed in the former terminus station of the Hejaz railway and showcases the history of Medina from prehistoric to modern time. (updated Apr 2021)
  • 8 Dar Al Madinah Museum (Next to the high-speed railway station). A smaller, private museum that hosts a number of models of old Medina. (updated Apr 2021)

Further afield

Another place worth visiting is the battleground of Khandaq or the Trench.

Do

Visit the grand mosque, Masjid Al-Nabawi. The Prophet Muhammad's burial site lies inside the mosque.

Buy

The streets leading to and around the Prophet's Mosque are lined with shops selling goods of every variety. Visitors to Medina usually buy prayer rugs (some with magnets pointing towards the Kaaba), caps, Tasveeh or rosary beads, Abayas, pictures of the holy city and mosques, religious CDs, copies of the Holy Quran, clocks sounding Azan or the call to prayer (correct to the second) for nearly 5 million cities, etc. as souvenirs to take back with them or as gifts for family and friends. The best of them to take back are Dates from Medina.

There are also huge glittering shopping complexes and malls selling goods from all over the world.

Credit cards are largely unaccepted, and few banks will exchange travelers' checks.

Eat

There are restaurants selling almost all types of food from all over the world. There are Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants in abundance. There is also Chinese, Indonesian, Turkish, Egyptian, and local food.

The well-known Western fast-food chains such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Don Giovanni's and KFC all have outlets, as do Saudi chains such as Al Baik, Kudu and Hardeez. The cheapest local specialities are shawarma, taamiyya (a type of vegetable sandwich), foul (cooked beans) with tameez (bread), roasted whole chickens called Broasts. There are always dates.

Drink

As it is everywhere else in the country, alcohol is prohibited. Drinking any kind of beverage during daylight hours during Ramadan is subject to punishment by the religious police and thus shouldn't be done in the open.

Sleep

Medina has many hotels, most of which are very close to the mosque. Numerous 5 star hotels have been and are being constructed all around the Prophet's mosque within a radius of 500 m. Beyond these are many budget hotels extending miles from the Masjid Nabavi. The tariff depends on a hotel's distance from the mosque, the nearer the more expensive. Even these low cost hotels have facilities like proper beds with clean linen, carpeted floors, air conditioning, refrigerator in every room, tiled bathrooms fitted with either eastern or western type WCs (sometimes both), 24 hours running hot and cold water. Kitchens with LPG and burners and sinks are also available for those pilgrims who would like to cook their own meals. But now all of these small old hotels are being demolished on a large scale to make way for starred hotels.

City center

The following hotels are for Muslims only.

  • 1 Al-Majeedi ARAC Suites, Northern Central Zone, ☏ +966 4 820 0000 ext 5100. It offers spacious and air-conditioned serviced apartments, all of which has a telephone, cable TV, and private toilet and shower with bathtub. Some of its amenities are currency exchange, dry cleaning/laundry, and safe deposit boxes. While staying here you can visit some tourist spots like Masjid Al Nabawi, Qiblatayn Mosque, and Masjid Musallah. Best rates on official website start at SR 400. 
  • 2 Taiba ARAC Suites, Northern Central Zone, ☏ +966 4 820 0000 ext 1005. It offers air-conditioned suites aptly boasting a private toilet with shower and bathtub, cable TV, and phone. Some of its amenities are currency exchange, dry cleaning/laundry, and safe deposit boxes. While staying here you can visit some tourist spots like Masjid Al Nabawi Al Sharief, Qibalatin Mosque, and Baqi ‘Al-Gharqad. Best rates on official website start at SR 2300. 
  • 3 Hotel Pullman Zamzam Madina, Amr Bin Al Gmoh Street, ☏ +966 14 821 0500. (updated Jan 2017)
  • 4 Madinah Hilton, King Fahd Rd, ☏ +966 14 820 1000. Has 357 rooms with free Wi-Fi and a TV. There is a cafe that works from 10AM to 11:45PM and two restaurants on-site. Parking is free of charge. (updated Jan 2017)
  • 5 The Oberoi, Madina (فندق اوبروي المدينة المنورة x), 1880, Abizar Road, ☏ +966 14 828 2222. (updated Jan 2017)
  • Al Andalous Suites
  • Dar Al Hijra Intercontinental
  • Anwar Al Madinah Hotel
  • Al Muna Kareem Hotel

Outside city center zone

The following hotels are open to all.

  • 6 Le Méridien Medina, Khaled Bin El Waleed Road, ☏ +966 14 846 0777. Previously the Sheraton, this is the only branded hotel in Medina open to non-Muslims. It is near the airport and often used by airline crew. About SR 600 per night. 

Stay safe

Scams

Many visitors think that because Medina is a holy city, they need not fear being treated dishonestly. That is not a safe assumption. Below are some scams to beware of:

  • As you leave the secure area of the Medina airport and into the arrivals hall, if you look like a well-to-do visitor from a wealthier country, you will be approached by a confident and well-spoken man demanding to see your passport. This person is not an airport or government official, but is actually working for a local taxi company and you should demand to see ID if anyone asks for your passport. If you do give him your passport, he will then ask you to follow him to a desk where it will be handed over to someone who will pretend to be scrutinising it carefully for a while and then tell you to follow one of his colleagues to the taxi rank where you will certainly be hideously overcharged for your journey into central Medina. There are standard set prices for taxi journeys from the airport into central Medina, as set by the government, and these will be listed on signs in the car park area. Do not be tricked into paying over the odds.
  • Beware of taxi drivers - both official and unofficial - selling you a sob story about great hardships at home, or even saying they are about to go and fight Jihad in Palestine, Chechnya, Burma etc., and will ask you for a donation. These are always lies designed to con you out of money, as they know pilgrims are feeling charitable and won't question the lies. Never fall for this trick.
  • Beware, as some shops and kiosks will unashamedly short-change you as they know few people will realise and it is easy money for unscrupulous businesses. So if you are from a place where you trust shops to be honest then you need to be much more cynical while you are in Medina. Confirm the price before you hand over cash and then double-check your change. If you get less than you should have, be firm in asking them for the correct change. They will then give you the correct change without complaint as there are severe penalties for theft, which is essentially what short-changing people amounts to.

Go next

Mecca is the other holy city visited by people taking part in the Umrah (minor pilgrimage) or the Hajj. You can hire a taxi to take you to Mecca, which will cost about SR 500 for up to four passengers. A much cheaper way to get there is to use the SAPTCO (Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company) bus services instead. There are two versions: regular and VIP. The regular service is reasonably comfortable and will cost SR 55 per person. The VIP version (which you can catch from the Crowne Plaza hotel) is slightly more luxurious and will cost SR 100 per person.


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