3 Hour Activities

CLIMB THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT

  • 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

EXHIBITION OF THE TWO HOLY MOSQUES ARCHITECTURE
5322 Old Makkah-Jeddah Rd.

KISWAH FACTORY
Old Makkah-Jeddah Rd.

DELVE INTO ISLAMIC HISTORY

  • 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.

AL-BANI
Ash Shawqiyyah

ABU YASSER
Ash Shawqiyyah

ABU ZAID
Umm al-Qura Rd.
abuzaidrest.com

KHAN BABA
Shafei

HALAWANI
Umm al-Qura Rd.

EAT LIKE A LOCAL

  • Discover the impressive depth and variety of Makkah’s culinary scene
  • Sample exotic flavors from across the globe on a progressive food tour
  • Indulge in South Asian sweets from an 80-year-old, family-run institution

Come mealtime, most pilgrims settle for the familiar comforts of KFC, Domino’s, or McDonald’s. Don’t be like them. For centuries, Saudi Arabia’s Hejaz province has been a gathering place for Muslims from all reaches of the world, so Makkah has spawned an impressively cosmopolitan food culture, incorporating dishes and flavors from East and South Asia, Africa, and beyond. Sample the best offerings on a self-guided tasting tour through the neighborhoods spread out beyond the mosque. Al-Bani, in Ash Shawqiyyah, is a local mainstay that frequently caters weddings around the city; it’s lauded for Makkah-style classics like saliq, a delectable, porridge-like dish wherein rice is cooked with both chicken broth and fresh cream, and kuzi, rice and noodles paired with chicken or lamb. Abu Yasser is known for African-inspired dishes like the beloved sereh, steak dusted in flour and grilled over flame. Abu Zaid is worth a stop for a Yemen-style murtabak, a savory flatbread filled with leeks, eggs, and spice-scented ground beef. The new Khan Baba does a brisk trade in Indo-Saudi “fusion” shawarmas, stuffed with biryani or chicken tikka masala and wrapped in piping-hot roti-style breads. End your trek on a sweet note at Halawani, a Makkah institution that’s still in the same family after more than 80 years; the owners migrated here from India and brought recipes for desserts like milk-and-cardamom labania and fried laddoo (balls of sweetened chickpea flour). Take a mixed platter home for 60 riyals per kilo.

These restaurants are all within 30 minutes from the Conrad by car, and some are difficult to find, so ask the concierge to plot them on a map and give directions to your taxi or Uber driver. Alternatively, the hotel can arrange a private food tour with a local chef and dining expert.

AL-BANI
Ash Shawqiyyah

ABU YASSER
Ash Shawqiyyah

ABU ZAID
Umm al-Qura Rd.
abuzaidrest.com

KHAN BABA
Shafei

HALAWANI
Umm al-Qura Rd.

HARRAT MAKKAWIYYAH
Alnozha St., opposite al-Diyafah Mall, al-Zahir

STEP BACK IN TIME

  • 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

MAKKAH MUSEUM
Madinah Rd., next to King Abdul Aziz Hospital, al-Zahir

GALLERY AND MUSEUM ASSALAAMU ALEYKA AYYUHAN NABIYYU
An-Nasim

DISCOVER SAUDI’S DEEPER HISTORY

  • Visit the gorgeous, stately Makkah Museum for a lesson on its pre-Islamic past
  • View ancient rock art and rare Korans
  • View ancient rock art and rare Korans

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