Saudi Arabia: Visit and explore Medina as a non-Muslim

JUAN MARTINEZ

April 23, 2024

Saudi Arabia: Visit and explore Medina as a non-Muslim

Opened for tourism in 2023, visiting Medina as a Non-Muslim is a completely new experience. Let me tell you all you need to know and what the best things to do are.

Welcome to Medina, a city steeped in history and spirituality, and the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. You can call this one of the latest destinations for travelers, as the city of Medina opened for non-Muslim travelers last year. Before that, only pilgrims were allowed to visit Medina and this part of Saudi Arabia.

I traveled to Medina curious to learn about the atmosphere of the city and interested in knowing more about Islamic culture. Even though my stay was short, I created a guide to help you navigate the treasures of Medina and experience its unique charm.

I visited Medina in April 2024.
I visited Medina in April 2024.

Getting in and around Medina

Getting into Medina and moving around Medina is extremely easy. Since this is one of the most important cities for pilgrims, a good transport infrastructure has always been key to keeping things running smoothly.

Travelers coming from Jeddah have the option to take the Haramain high-speed train, which connects the two cities in just two hours (cost around 25 EUR). For those coming from Riyadh, they can either take a quick one-hour flight (there are multiple flights per day) or arrive by bus (over 12 hours).

Travelers visiting from other areas can also arrive with the Northwest Bus (especially those from AlUla – with 2 arrivals per day) or rent their own car. In Saudi Arabia, it is not so expensive to rent a car in one location and leave it in another.

You can also check out my full guide on how to travel around Saudi Arabia. It is currently the most complete guide on this topic, and everything should be clear and easy to follow.

Once you are in Medina, UBER or Careem are the most convenient options. There are also some street taxis, but if you hate discussing price, stick to ride-hailing apps.

Additionally, Medina has one of the best bus infrastructures in Saudi Arabia. Buses connecting the airport to the train station and to Medina’s main attractions are available all day long, and you can either purchase tickets online via app or at the bus station.

Medina Bus System Map
Medina Bus System Map

And finally, between the Quba Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque (around 3km), golf cars offer transfers. Just make sure to negotiate the price beforehand.

Read more: How to get around Saudi Arabia

Visiting Medina as a Non-Muslim

Although Medina opened for tourism, travelers can’t enter all places inside the city. The main mosque in the city, The Prophet’s Mosque, is still off-limits for travelers, and you can see a guard at every door.

No, there are no control checks at the entrance, and there is not a document certifying you are a Muslim. However, inside the Mosque, every single person is praying, and if you go inside and have no idea what to do, it will be a little bit off, and you will cause some suspicion (especially during praying times).

NOTE: Even though I couldn’t officially confirm it, I heard that officials could check your visa and read if you are coming to Saudi Arabia for religious or tourism reasons.

But don’t worry, outside the perimeter of the mosque, you can still get a good view of this incredible building and experience from a distance the unique atmosphere Medina has.

Even though I couldn’t find information if travelers can enter the Quba Mosque, and most locals simply had no idea about it, officers next to the doors are vigilant, and if they see someone who obviously doesn’t look like a Muslim and wears a very western outfit, I can imagine a quick questioning to find out.

Still, everyone in Medina was super friendly and extremely helpful with everything I needed.

NOTE: If you don’t know where you are allowed to enter, don’t ask locals; most of them don’t know what is allowed and what is not. Police officers are a good option, but 90% of them can’t speak English.

View of the Quba Mosque in Medina
View of the Quba Mosque in Medina

Is there a dress code for Medina?

As you can probably imagine, Medina is probably one of the most conservative cities in the world. At the same time, due to the fact that Medina receives Muslims from all over the world, expect to see people from all nationalities.

There is not a specific code when entering Medina – as a man. I saw people walking in shorts, jeans, and t-shirts, as well as pilgrims wearing traditional Indonesian, Indian, or Burmese attire. However, if you want to blend more into the city, getting a traditional Saudi outfit is your best bet. You can get one in Medina’s city center for only 10 EUR, and with it, you will make sure not to catch too much attention.

I wore my traditional Saudi outfit during my whole stay in Medina, and I was treated always as another local.

For women, I guess wearing an abaya is a must. I saw many women not covering their hair, but I guess this could also be an option to blend better with the rest of the people. One thing is for sure: no tops or short skirts.

Saudi Arabian traditional outfit
This is a Saudi Arabian traditional outfit.

Best things to do in Medina

Medina is a great destination for a day trip or a two-day trip. Not being allowed to enter the Prophet’s mosque didn’t affect my experience at all, and there is still a lot to visit around the city.

The easiest (and laziest) choice would be to do a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus in Medina. Prices for the whole day are 20 EUR, and you will be able to visit Medina’s key attractions in less than 24 hours.

If you are more in the mood for a long walk, you can cover most of Medina’s key attractions by foot. These are some of the best places to see in Medina:

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet’s Mosque):

The centerpiece of Medina, this majestic mosque is a place of reverence and devotion for Muslims worldwide. Visitors can marvel at its stunning architecture, explore its expansive courtyards, and pay their respects at the Prophet’s tomb. Come by around the evening praying time (18:30) and experience one of the most magnificent religious events in the world.

View of the outdoor area of the Prophet's mosque
View of the outdoor area of the Prophet’s mosque

Quba Mosque:

Considered the first mosque in Islam, Quba Mosque holds special significance for believers and is a must-visit site for pilgrims and travelers alike.

Jannat al-Baqi:

This historic cemetery is the final resting place of many companions of the Prophet Muhammad and his family members.

Quba Road:

Perfect for those walking from the Prophet’s Mosque to the Quba Mosque, this pedestrian street has several shops, restaurants, and cafes. Saudi Arabia has a growing coffee culture, and some cafes offer excellent options – my recommendation: Visit Café Bogota.

NOTE: Medina is empty during the hot hours of the day. Plan your day to avoid being outdoors before 5 PM. I know it sounds weird, but everything is empty before 5. On the good side, expect to see people and families outside until 2 or 3 AM.

Quba Castle:

Located next to the Quba Road, the castle is still under renovation. However, the structure looks beautiful from the distance and is a nice quick stop along the way.

View of the Quba Castle in Medina
View of the Quba Castle in Medina

Historic Oasis Farm:

Located next to the Quba Mosque, this palm forest is a good getaway for those who want to see something different and want to have a refreshing stop under the trees.

Explore the Bazaar Areas of Medina:

Surrounding the Prophet Mosque and with some alleys around the Quba Road, going to a Bazaar and window shop is a great alternative to start your evening. This is the place to find a traditional Saudi outfit for a bargain or a mistyped t-shirt to bring home.

Mount Uhud:

A short distance from the city center, Mount Uhud offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and serves as a reminder of the Battle of Uhud, a significant event in Islamic history.

Map of the tourist attractions in Medina
Map of the tourist attractions in Medina

Would I come here again?

As a Non-Muslim, not really. Medina is one of those places that have very cultural importance for many people, and as a non-Muslim, I felt in part a bit of an intruder into their world.

I felt very comfortable at all times, and there are enough activities and places to keep you busy for a few days. However, since I’m not religiously connected to this city as 99% of the people visiting this city, I would prefer to just spend a few days there to get a glimpse of Medina and move on.

More things are also happening in the next years. A few Museums about Islam will be open, and I can get the feeling that Saudi Arabia is becoming less and less conservative. Still, there is a long road ahead for that to happen.

Read more: How to plan a road trip to Oman

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