- For other places with the same name, see Medina (disambiguation).
Medina is the second holy city of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina from Mecca, and taught there for some years before his triumphant return to Mecca. The city is commonly visited as part of the Hajj pilgrimage.
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. However, Medina's Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport (IATA: MED) 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).
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.
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).
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 actual 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.
In fact most of the things to be done or seen are around this grand mosque which is at the city centre. Adjacent to the mosque is Jannatul Baqi, a huge graveyard, where most family members and companions of the Prophet are buried.
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. 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; Masjid Jumua where the Prophet prayed the first Jumua or Friday prayers; Masjid Gamama where once he had prayed for rain; Masjid Quba at Quba, which is the first mosque of Islam. Another place worth visiting is the battleground of Khandaq or the Trench.
Visit the grand mosque, Masjid Al-Nabawi. The Prophet Muhammad's burial site lies inside the mosque.
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. Also, always make sure to count your change carefully and don't assume it'll all be there.
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.
As it is everywhere else in the country, alcohol is prohibited. Drinking any kind of beverage during Ramadan is subject to punishment by the religious police and thus shouldn't be done in the open.
Medina has many hotels, most of which are very close to the mosque.
The following hotels are for Muslims only.
- Al-Majeedi ARAC Suites, Northern Central Zone, P.O. Box 6388, ☎ 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 SAR 400.00.
- Madinah ARAC Inn, Western Central Zone, P.O. Box 6388, ☎ 966 4 819 6666. It offers rooms furnished with air-conditioning, cable TV, a phone, private toilet and bath, and mini-bar. Some of its facilities are currency exchange, airport transfer, and dry cleaning/laundry. While staying here you can visit some tourist spots like Quba Mosque, Jannatul Baqi, Battleground of Khandaq. Best rates on official website start at SAR 350.00.
- Taiba ARAC Suites, Northern Central Zone, P.O. Box 6388, ☎ 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 SAR 2300.00.
Numerous 5 star hotels have been and are being constructed all around the Prophet's mosque within a radius of 500 m.
- Al Andalous Suites
- Madina Al Rawda Suites
- Dar Al Hijra Intercontinental
- Hilton Hotel
- The Oberoi
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.
Outside forbidden zone
The following hotels are open to all.
- LeMeridien Medina. 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 600 riyals per night.
Many visitors think that because Medina is a holy city, they need not fear being treated dishonestly. Sadly, 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.
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 500 SAR 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 55 SAR per person. The VIP version (which you can catch from the Crowne Plaza hotel) is slightly more luxurious and will cost 100 SAR per person.