Saudi Arabia is not a typical travel destination. Here, a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the Kingdom. Weekends: Friday and Saturday. Prayer Times: All restaurants and businesses must close during the five daily prayers—typically 15 minutes before they begin and up to an hour after they conclude. Keep this in mind as you plan your shopping and dining excursions (if you’re seated in a restaurant before it shutters, you’ll typically be allowed to stay and continue eating). “Single” vs. “Family” Seating: All restaurants and coffee shops have separate seating areas and ordering counters: Those marked “families” apply to any mixed groups, while “singles” sections are limited to males or groups of men. Don’t go wandering into the wrong section, or you’re very likely to be scolded. Access to the Great Mosque: The Conrad Makkah has an entrance that leads directly toward the gates of the mosque—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can roll in just as the call to prayer begins. Security guards regulating pedestrian traffic in and out of the mosque can close down entrances based on congestion, so at busy times you may have to walk further to find an open gate. If you’re running late, you can always pray in the hotel’s private prayer room, located at the garage level, with large windows overlooking the mosque and speakers broadcasting the services. Calendar: Saudi Arabia uses the lunar-based Hijri calendar (it’s currently the year 1438). Given the difference, it’s useful to determine which date is being used, though this can get a bit confusing at museums when trying to gauge the age of an item.
Outside the five days of the hajj, visitors come to Makkah throughout the year to perform the shorter umrah pilgrimage, which can be completed in a few hours. Begin by bathing and donning the ihram garments, the prescribed attire, before flying into the country; perform tawaf by circling the Kaaba seven times; cross between the hills of Mount Safa and Mount Marwah seven times; and end your umrah by cutting off a lock of hair. We suggest seeking out a comprehensive umrah guide like this one to ensure all required steps and prayers are carried out properly; alternatively, ask your travel specialist if they have a book or pamphlet available.
• Explore the higher-end shops of the Abraj al-Bait complex, right near the Conrad • Find stylish contemporary takes on traditional items The Great Mosque is surrounded by shopping malls featuring familiar brands and chains, but you didn’t come all this way to stock up on Sephora products, did you? Instead, do a targeted loop through the shopping centers in the Abraj al-Bait mall complex—home to the famous Makkah Royal Clock Tower skyscraper, and just steps from the Conrad—to seek out the highest-grade religious-themed souvenirs. Reem sells tasbih—prayer beads—from its plush showroom; My Fair Lady has quality abayas and scarves at reasonable prices; Lomar is where dapper Saudi men buy tailored thawbs; the Bin Dawood grocery store carries a wide range of dates; and Abdul Samad al-Qurashi stocks high-end scents in agarwood and amber (just be prepared for the price: some offerings cost upwards of $2,000 USD an ounce). If you’re looking for something more artistic and cutting-edge, Makkah-based design outfit Dhuraibah sells contemporary takes on traditional items: think minimalist prayer rugs, colorful Pop Art–inspired illustrations of the Kaaba, and Korans sheathed in jackets adorned with modern calligraphy. All of these shops are located in the Makkah Royal Clock Tower complex, along the perimeter of the Great Mosque, about a five-minute walk from the Conrad Makkah. BIN DAWOOD: Abraj al-Bait, ground floor; +966-12-571-9218; bindawood.com MY FAIR LADY: Abraj al-Bait, 2nd floor LOMAR: Abraj al-Bait, 11th floor; facebook.com/lomarthobe REEM: Abraj al-Bait, 11th floor ABDUL SAMAD AL-QURASHI: Abraj al-Bait, ground floor; store.asqgrp.com DHURAIBAH: Abraj al-Bait, 11th floor; +966-12-571-9157; duraibah.com
• Book a private appointment at the Conrad with a renowned Saudi jewelry designer • Browse exquisite pieces inspired by kiswah calligraphy and the sacred Black Stone For a truly unique memento to mark your journey, ask the Conrad concierge to summon Saudi jewelry designer Wessam Hassanin for a private visit. He’ll arrive at the hotel with a range of his stunning pieces inspired by the kiswah (the black cloth covering the Kaaba): exquisite necklaces, cufflinks, and magnets embossed in the kiswah’s signature calligraphy motifs or modeled after the sacred Black Stone. Hassanin has even designed a remarkable pendant incorporating a piece of actual kiswah cloth, delicately framed in gold. The designer is also an official photographer for the two Holy Mosques, which means he has an archive of breathtaking color prints on offer as well. He’ll bring his wares straight to the lobby or your suite, along with a credit card machine, so you can browse and purchase from the comfort of your room. Contact the Conrad concierge to arrange a private hotel visit by Wessam Hassanin.