Hike to the summit of Jabal al-Nur See the entrance to the cave where the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation Jabal al-Nur, “the Mountain of Light,” is a hallowed location in Islamic history—at its top lies the cave of al-Hira, where the Prophet Muhammad often retreated to meditate. It was during one of these moments of solitude that Muhammad received the first revelation of the Holy Koran from the Angel Gabriel: Iqra bismi rab bikal lathee khalaq—“Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists).” Given the site’s significance, it’s no surprise that pilgrims flock to climb the 2,000-foot peak to get a firsthand glimpse of the cave. It’s a fairly easy walk up mostly paved stairs and should take 45 to 90 minutes each way, depending on your fitness level; given the heat, though, we suggest going early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Just don’t expect much solitude of your own when you arrive at the cave’s mouth—it’s thronged by people and can be difficult to access, but remains a profoundly moving experience. Depending on traffic, it can take 20 to 30 minutes to reach the base of Jabal al-Nur from the Conrad Makkah. Ask the hotel to arrange a car, or call a taxi or an Uber. Jabal al-Nur: Mecca 24238, Saudi Arabia
Uncover the backstory of the faith’s two holiest mosques Trace the evolution and expansion of these sacred sites over the centuries Visit the workshop where the holy kiswah cloth is handwoven, then threaded with gold and silver The focus of any trip to Makkah and Madinah is, of course, to spend as much time as possible in prayer and reflection. But you’re sure to have questions about the history, details, and operation of the two holiest mosques in Islam (the Great Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah). Two attractions are designed to help answer all your queries. The al-Haramain Museum, also known as the Exhibition of the Two Holy Mosques Architecture, chronicles the history of the mosques’ construction and their numerous expansions, and now houses remnants from earlier iterations: salvaged marble arches, calligraphic inscriptions, old wooden doors, fragments of pillars, teak staircases, and much more. Vintage renderings and photographs of the complexes in bygone eras will make you appreciate the massive versions that stand today. Next door, you’ll find the Kiswah Factory—but have the concierge arrange your visit in advance, as it’s not open to the public without an appointment (which requires a bit of finagling. Once inside, you’ll walk through the rooms where the kiswah—the signature black cloth that’s draped across the Kaaba—is made. Yards upon yards of dyed raw-silk fabric are woven on intricate looms, while ornate calligraphic inscriptions are stitched by hand from threads of real gold and silver. It’s an astonishing sight, and well worth the effort of booking an appointment. Both attractions are about 20 minutes west of the Conrad; hire a taxi or arrange for a hotel car. Again, you’ll need an appointment to visit the Kiswah Factory, so contact the Conrad concierge for assistance. EXHIBITION OF THE TWO HOLY MOSQUES ARCHITECTURE: 5322 Old Makkah-Jeddah Rd. KISWAH FACTORY: Old Makkah-Jeddah Rd.
Travel back to the 1930s and see Makkah’s forgotten past come to life Explore inventive re-creations of old-time blacksmiths, cobblers, and grocers Sample delicacies from across the Muslim world Historic sites around the Great Mosque have been overrun by centuries of expansion and commercialization, so it can be difficult to find authentic glimpses of Makkah’s past. Many Saudis openly lament that fact; local businessman Adel Hafez did something about it. Hafez converted a tract of land in the al-Zahir district into Harrat Makkawiyyah, an inspired reimagining of how Makkah looked in the 1930’s, and Hafez opens the site to the public several times a year for colorful throwback carnivals. You’ll find a warren of traditional Makkah-style houses and shop fronts for blacksmiths, grocers, cobblers—even a retro photography studio. To add to the authentic look and feel, the entire affair is decked out with antiques from Hafez’s family collection, from a 1900s movie projector to a vintage icebox. In the courtyard, dozens of stalls sell food from Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, India, Thailand, and Egypt—a microcosm of the Muslim diaspora that’s congregated in Makkah for more than a millennium. Harrat Makkawiyyah is a 15-minute drive northwest of the Conrad. Ask the concierge if it’s running during your visit; the carnival usually operates for a month at a time during Ramadan, the hajj, and over school vacations, usually from 5 p.m. to midnight each evening. HARRAT MAKKAWIYYAH: Alnozha St., opposite al-Diyafah Mall, al-Zahir
Visit the gorgeous, stately Makkah Museum for a lesson on its pre-Islamic past View ancient rock art and rare Korans Immerse yourself in the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad The Makkah region’s historic significance began long before Islamic times, of course; for a deep dive into this astonishingly rich past, visit the imposing Makkah Museum, housed within the beautiful jewel-toned interiors of the Qasr al-Zahir palace, built by King Abdul Aziz. The archaeological exhibits on the ground floor chronicle various regions of the kingdom from the rock-art era to the early Islamic era, and the upper level has displays on Islamic currency from the Byzantine, Abbasid, and Umayyad periods; traditional crafts and fabrics; and rare Korans and other Islamic texts. Each room has impeccable signage in English. You won’t be so lucky at Gallery and Museum Assalaamu Aleyka Ayyuhan Nabiyyu, an interactive museum dedicated to the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. High-tech exhibits include 3-D renderings of the Prophet’s house, a depiction of his family tree, and tools that would have been used during his time. It’s a wonderful exhibit, but the 45-minute tours (leaving at set times between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.) are conducted in Arabic—and all displays and captions are in Arabic as well. If you’re not fluent, consider asking the Conrad concierge to book a translator to assist. The Makkah Museum is 15 minutes north of the Conrad, and Assalaamu Aleyka Ayyuhan Nabiyyu Museum is 15 minutes southeast. If you don’t speak Arabic, ask Conrad to send a translator with you for the latter. MAKKAH MUSEUM: Madinah Rd., next to King Abdul Aziz Hospital, al-Zahir GALLERY AND MUSEUM ASSALAAMU ALEYKA AYYUHAN NABIYYU: An-Nasim
Follow the route of the pilgrims without the crush of the crowds Experience the hajj landmarks in relative peace and quiet Seek out a fresh perspective on Islam’s holiest sites Every year, over five days in the lunar month of Dhu’l-Hijja, nearly a million and a half Muslims congregate in Makkah for the hajj pilgrimage. During that week, the city feels almost impossibly packed with celebrants. Makkah remains steadily busy all year round, but the main sites visited during the hajj—apart from the Kaaba—are surprisingly empty for the rest of the year. This is quite a contrast to the crush of visitors during the hajj, and makes an appealing time to visit—whether you’re curious about what to expect when you embark on your own hajj, or (if you’ve done the pilgrimage before) you simply want to see what the landmarks look like in the absence of fellow worshippers. We’d advise hiring a car and driver to make your circuit through the primary sites: the plain of Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon at Jabal al-Rahmah, the Mount of Mercy; Muzdalifah, the valley where pilgrims spend a night in the open air; and Mina, where 100,000 tents are erected during the hajj, and where pilgrims participate in the ritual of the stoning of Satan at Jamarat. The Conrad concierge can arrange a driver and guide for a four-to-five-hour tour of the holy sites.
Take a day trip to dynamic Jeddah, “the bride of the Red Sea” Stroll the atmospheric al-Balad quarter and shop in a traditional souk Tour historic mansions for a window into Jeddah life from the 1600s to 1800s All international visitors to Makkah transit through Jeddah, a glitteringly cosmopolitan city (Saudi’s second-largest after Riyadh) that unfolds along the shores of the Red Sea. It’s only an hour-long drive between the two cities, so a day trip from the Conrad Makkah to explore the best of Jeddah can be easily arranged by the concierge. Head first to al-Balad, Jeddah’s atmospheric old quarter, where well-preserved, whitewashed buildings with signature brown-and-green wooden shutters conjure a bygone age. Definitely pay a visit to the fascinating Nassif House (aka Biet Nassif), a gorgeous, 100-plus-room mansion constructed in the 1870s for the governor of Jeddah, whose family owned the property for nearly a century. It’s now a museum, though opening hours are erratic (ask the concierge to check before you go). The resident docent will show you the mansion’s curious staircases, purportedly designed to accommodate camels, which carried goods to the upper stories. Nearby, the 400-year-old al-Matbouli house is more regularly open to visitors, and offers a window into traditional home life in Old Jeddah. Spend some time getting lost in al-Balad’s quiet, evocative side streets, then hit the souks to bargain for scarves, dishdashas, incense, and more. After digging deep into Jeddah’s past, slip back into the present day at the chic Café Bateel, a contemporary Arabic teahouse operated by a well-known Saudi brand of dates (whose distinctive label you’ll recognize by now from your travels). Here, fusion pastries like za’atar-laced croissants, a Khidri-date opera cake, and dhibs (date syrup) mille-feuille are all popular, but the signature dessert is the “Bateel Sticky Toffee Pudding,” a brilliant riff on the British classic that incorporates a date-pudding base and tangy yogurt ice cream. It’s the perfect cap-off t