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Introduction

Medina is a city in the west of Saudi Arabia and is the second holiest city of the Islam religion. Non-Muslims are strictly prohibited from entering Central Medina. The minimum penalty is deportation from the country. Documentation will be checked upon entry and anyone not showing proof of being Muslim will be denied entry. However, many parts of the city, notably the outskirts and the Medina Airport, are open to all.

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Neighbourhoods

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Sights and Activities

Since it is visited only by Muslims, for religious purposes, the main thing to see is the Masjid Nabawi or the Prophet's Mosque where devout Muslims offer prayers. Men are allowed to visit the actual burial site of the Prophet and pay respects throughout the opening hours of the mosque, which used to close for the night at around 10:00pm but has since become 24/7. Women may visit only after the Fajr or dawn and Duhr or afternoon prayers, when they are taken there in groups according to their countries.

In fact most of the things to be done or seen are around this grand mosque which is at the city centre. Adjacent to the mosque is Jannatul Baqi, a huge graveyard, where most family members and companions of the Prophet are buried.

Other things to be seen, a little away from the city, are the plains and mountain of Uhud where the battle took place. There is also the burial ground of the 70 martyrs of this battle including the Prophet's uncle Hamza who is considered one of the greatest martyrs of all time. Further away is the Masjid Qiblatayen where the Quran recounts that the Prophet was ordered by Allah to turn his face from Jerusalem to the Kaaba in Makkah while offering prayers; Masjid Jumua where the Prophet prayed the first Jumua or Friday prayers; Masjid Gamama where once he had prayed for rain; Masjid Quba at Quba, which is the first mosque of Islam. Another place worth visiting is the battleground of Khandaq or the Trench.

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Events and Festivals

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Weather

Medina has a hot desert climate. Summers are extremely hot with daytime temperatures averaging about 43 °C with nights about 29 °C. Temperatures above 45 °C are not unusual between June and September. Winters are milder, with temperatures from 12 °C at night to 25 °C in the day. There is very little rainfall, which falls almost entirely between November and May.

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Getting There

By Plane

For pilgrims, the most common route is to arrive in Jeddah by plane, and get on a special pilgrims' bus to Mecca and Medina, and come back to fly home in a couple of weeks. However, Medina's Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport (IATA: MED) fields an increasing number of direct flights from around the Middle East, and the airport is accessible to non-Muslims. Keep in mind that this is a very small airport, and not really designed to cope with the large numbers now passing through it. So expect a crush at the baggage carousels. And expect a free-for-all in the check-in areas, where queuing seems to be (literally) a foreign concept. Also, beware of scammers.

By Train

A new high-speed railway linking Medina with Jeddah and Mecca is currently under construction and expected to open in March 2018.

By Bus

The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) runs luxurious buses several times daily to and from most parts of the country at cheap rates. There are also privately run buses. The SAPTCO terminal is off-limits to non-Muslims.

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Getting Around

By Public Transport

There is no public transport other than taxis. If you are on the side of the road, you might find locals willing to pick you up and take you to your destination for a fee, even though they aren't officially taxis, but beware of con artists from among both official and unofficial taxi drivers.

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Eat

There are restaurants selling almost all types of food from all over the world. There are Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants in abundance. There is also Chinese, Indonesian, Turkish, Egyptian, and local food.

The well-known Western fast-food chains such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Don Giovanni's and KFC all have outlets, as do Saudi chains such as Al Baik, Kudu and Hardeez. The cheapest local specialities are shawarma, taamiyya (a type of vegetable sandwich), foul (cooked beans) with tameez (bread), roasted whole chickens called Broasts. There are always dates.

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Drink

As it is everywhere else in the country, alcohol is prohibited. Drinking any kind of beverage during Ramadan is subject to punishment by the religious police and thus shouldn't be done in the open.

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Sleep

Medina has many hotels, most of which are very close to the mosque. Numerous 5-star hotels have been and are being constructed all around the Prophet's mosque within a radius of 500 metres. Beyond these are many budget hotels extending miles from the Masjid Nabavi. The tariff depends on a hotel's distance from the mosque, the nearer the more expensive. Even these low cost hotels have facilities like proper beds with clean linen, carpeted floors, air conditioning, refrigerator in every room, tiled bathrooms fitted with either eastern or western type WCs (sometimes both), 24 hours running hot and cold water. Kitchens with LPG and burners and sinks are also available for those pilgrims who would like to cook their own meals. But now all of these small old hotels are being demolished on a large scale to make way for starred hotels.

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Work

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Learn

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes abound in major Saudi cities, and many shopping malls feature a gaming parlor or two. Rates are around SR5/hour.

While Internet in Saudi Arabia is cordoned off by a filter, it aims primarily at pornography, non-Islamic religious and domestic political sites in Arabic, and (from the traveller's point of view) is nowhere near as strict as, say, China's. Google, Skype, Wikipedia, all major webmail providers etc. are all accessible.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The three mobile operators in Saudi, incumbent Al Jawal, Emirati rival Mobily and Kuwaiti newcomer Zain (Vodafone Network) are fiercely competitive, with good coverage (in populated areas) and good pricing. A starter pack with prepaid SIM and talktime starts from about SR 75, and you can sign up in most any larger mobile shop (bring your passport). Local calls are under SR 0.5/minute, while calls overseas are around or less than SR 2/min.

And yes, you can bring in your own phone: despite grumblings from the clerics, both camera phones and multimedia messaging (MMS) are now legal.

Post

Saudi Post has a good network of post offices around the country, but offices are closed Thursday and Friday. Stamps for postcards to anywhere in the world cost SR4. The bigger problem is actually finding postcards, as the mutawwa periodically crack down on the celebration of non-Islamic holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas or even birthdays, causing all cards of any sort to disappear from bookstores! Your best bet is thus gift shops in major hotels. Mail coming in to the country from overseas is notoriously unreliable. Stories abound of things arriving months after they were sent or never arriving at all. There are branches of DHL, FedEx and UPS operating throughout the kingdom, so a good rule of thumb is to have anything important sent through those channels.

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This is version 4. Last edited at 9:11 on Aug 4, 17 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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