MAKE AN OFF-SEASON PILGRIMAGE
- 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.
EXPLORE SAUDI’S SECOND CITY
- 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 to a day of exploration.
The Conrad Makkah concierge desk can help you plan a half-day or full-day excursion to Jeddah (just an hour away by car), with or without a guide. Confirm opening hours of Nassif House and al-Matbouli before your journey.