So you want to go to Madinah? It is possible, but in my opinion you will enjoy it more if either you are Muslim, or you really are interested in Islamic history. I say this because we have recently travelled to Medina and there is not a whole lot to do there, but see the sights and go to the mosques. Of course if you are Muslim you will be looking forward to The Prophet’s Mosque. We arrived during a sandstorm, so most activities were limited to indoor ones. The sandstorm/dust lasted about 3 days. Most of the city could not be seen past a certain distance, and even when the tour bus got close to the mountain ranges, we could barely see they were there. That’s the power of sand storms for you!
A Conservative City: When you are in Medina you must follow the dress code. Although for foreigners the rules have changed in most of Saudi, here as in Makkah (Mecca), women must wear a hijab or head scarf and an abaya that is closed. Put a mask with that for Covid protection and really you are mostly all covered. Men also need to wear long pants and shirts that cover to their elbow. If this is a problem for you, then probably this is not a good choice of destination. It also gets hot during the day, so people tend to rest indoors and go out at night. It would be best to visit Medina in the winter months. March is getting to see the heat of the day.
Religious City: Medina is the second holiest city in Islam. To go there and visit, is to go back in time to a place that started as a small village and now is a bustling city. However unlike a lot of cities, it has a peaceful, laid back vibe. In one way it is due to the fact that the second holiest mosque, The Prophet’s Mosque, is here, and prayers are said around the clock 5 times each day. There are also a number of other historic mosques in the area which you can pray at which have their own significance. If you have ever been to Egypt then you will definitely find that the atmosphere and city street design feels a lot like what you’d experience in Egypt. Two-story buildings, open stores down the streets, tea cafes, dusty avenues and street cats…kind of everything mixed up together. Two things to do here that are popular: buy and eat the most delicious dates native to Medina (small dark ones) which are very rich and sweet, and feed the pigeons.
Since this is an international destination, the cities’ inhabitants are used to foreigners. Most of the large international hotels surround the prophet’s mosque, so that you can have a view of The Haram (The Prophet’s Mosque), from your hotel window, and easily be able to go to prayer. Many people walk in from the surrounding neighborhood during prayer times, so there is a steady stream of foot traffic. Many go back home after they have said prayers. Check out my blog all about visiting The Prophet’s Mosque: https://datepalmsncamels.com/2021/03/27/al-masjid-an-nabawi-the-prophets-mosque-al-haram/
Hotel Experience: We stayed at the Pullman Zamzam Madina with a city view, which we booked about 3 weeks before. It can be hard to get The Haram view, so book in advance. The beds and pillows were comfortable, and service was good. They have a cafe area and dining room. The food was ok/good, meaning the main dishes were alright, salad bar a bit skimpy, but desserts were great! We paid for 2 adults, and kids ate for free. The only real complaint we had, which can’t be avoided here, is the smoky smell of the air even with the A/C on. Many people smoke, so it gets recirculated throughout the hotel. We noticed a definite improvement in the air quality after the weekend. So, if you want cleaner air, book your stay for Sunday through Thurs, or find a small apartment for rent that caters to non-smokers.
Food: Finding places to eat was a bit tough. You will find many street food vendors in the neighborhoods, more than you will around The Haram area. In fact it is hard to find a good food place except for the hotel cafes and restaurants. There are a few small places like a Dunkin Donuts hole-in-the-wall and some small coffee shops (take out only) near the mosque. It is worth going out and scoping the neighborhood for more choices. We found a great little place out in the neighborhood streets that served shish kabobs, Za’atar, meat pies, etc., and those prices you will find affordable. We ate at Istanbul Shish Kabob and here the chef is making our Za’atar bread, which one of my kids adores.
Most menus may be in Arabic and you may need to scan the bar code to get the menu. If you tell them what you like for example, salad, vegetables, rice…or chicken, meat, cheese, bread, etc you can work it out. For desserts just find a nice bakery and buy a bunch of stuff to try. There is baklava, cookies, dates, ice cream, etc.
City Tour Bus: Highly recommend the 24 hour ticket, double decker tour bus! Don’t miss this unless you don’t like buses for some reason. These are new and definitely a good deal. It will bring you around the city in 2 hours, stopping at 12 significant sites. This is the best way to see just how spread out Medina is, and to get a feel for the surrounding landscape, which is mountainous and dry. Check out my blog just on this tour experience: https://datepalmsncamels.com/2021/03/25/madinah-medina-sightseeing-bus-tour-videos/
Since Covid-19: Covid has affected Medina in a number of ways. For entry into your hotel you will need to have your temperature taken and show the Tawakkalna App. You will also need to do this for the bus tour. They may check your temperature at the mosques.
Another difference during Covid, is that there are a lot less foreigners or visitors coming into the city. We felt a spaciousness around The Haram, with some people from countries not being able to enter Saudi, while others just wanting to be safer, stay at home. You will see less people at the mosques, and on the tour bus. We felt like it was a good time to visit as you have more space for contemplation.
Ways to Get Here: For airlines that fly internally to Medina, you can choose between Saudia (Saudia.com), and the budget flyadeal (flyadeal.com) and flynas (flynas.com). The budget flights let you on with carryon only, while Saudia allows for regular suitcases.
A road trip to Medina is also an option, and a great way to see different areas of Saudi. It will be hot and dry so be sure to take lots of water and also toilet tissue with you.
There is also a high speed train from Jeddah to Madinah (Medina) and Makkah Mecca) called the Haramain. The service was suspended due to Covid, but now will reopen at end of this month March 2021. You can read more about it in the articles from 11 Oct. 2018 and 14 March 2021 in arabnews.com links below.
“Saudi Arabia’s Haramain High-Speed Railway opens to public” https://www.arabnews.com/node/1386191/saudi-arabia
“Saudi Arabia’s Haramain High Speed Railway to resume operations after COVID-19 suspension” https://www.arabnews.com/node/1825356/saudi-arabia
For an idea of what Medina area looks like near The Prophet’s Mosque you may enjoy the video below. You will notice all of the large hotels in this area. This is the final leg of the tour bus and at the end you can see the mosque down the street. Also, check out my blog just about the bus tour here: https://datepalmsncamels.com/2021/03/25/madinah-medina-sightseeing-bus-tour-videos/
Enjoy your time in this famous city!