The Hajj or Umrah requires pilgrims to move from holy site to holy site, and to nearby cities. Find out about public and private transportation in Makkah.
For international pilgrims, a trip to Makkah is thrilling and transformative – with the possibility of intimidating logistics. This section shows you how to get around the city and its surrounding area.
How to Get to Makkah
The vast majority of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims arrive by air. Makkah does not have its own airport, so visitors usually fly into King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED/OEJN) 95km to the west. This airport can get crowded, especially during Hajj season. Another option is Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz International Airport (MED/OEMA). It’s about 500km to the north of Makkah in Madinah, a city on the pilgrimage route.
International pilgrims are not permitted to book flights themselves, but must go through Hajj travel operators with authorization from the Saudi government. Travel agency representatives then meet clients at airports and transport them to Makkah. Currently, the only ways for non-Saudi and non-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) pilgrims to travel to Makkah is with tour groups via governmental or privately owned shuttles and buses.
You can also take a boat from the East African coast to the port city of Jeddah. A ferry trip across the Red Sea from Port Sudan takes about 12 hours.
The drive from Jeddah to Makkah takes 45–60 minutes (longer during Ramadan and Hajj season), and about six hours from Madinah to Makkah. Starting in 2018, the Haramain High Speed Railway will quickly convey travelers between Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah. The Haramain is the world’s first desert high-speed rail line.
Driving to Makkah
Saudi and GCC citizens, as well as non-Saudis with Saudi residence identity cards, do not need special permits to travel for Umrah. They may drive their own vehicles, or rent cars at the airport, and freely enter Makkah. Taxis are another option. However, during the final 10 days of Ramadan and Hajj season (5 to 14 Dhul Hijja), they must travel with authorized tour operators. International pilgrims are not allowed to rent vehicles and drive to pilgrimage sites on their own, but must travel with authorized tour groups. Officials at checkpoints along the roads into Makkah screen travelers, so it’s best to adhere to the rules.
Layout of the City
Makkah is situated in a desert valley surrounded by low mountains. Visitors enter the city via four routes that pass through rocky hills. Modern roads in and around Makkah have signs that are well-marked in both Arabic and English. The enormous Al Masjid Al Haram sits at the center of the city, surrounded by narrow streets that are closed to private cars for one hour both before and after Friday prayers.
Parking in the Old City
Narrow roads and the sheer number of vehicles make it difficult to find street parking near the Grand Mosque. However, the Municipality of Mecca has parking lots and garages in the nearby Old City. While rates vary, the more expensive options lie closest to Al Haram.
Public Transport in Makkah
Makkah has a network of public buses and privately owned microbuses. They operate along routes that run to and from the Grand Mosque. Public buses are inexpensive, widely used and go all over the city, though travel and wait times can be considerable. Fares for microbuses are also reasonable, but routes are limited to areas around Al Haram, such as Aziziyah and Taneem.
Part of a recent expansion project, the planned Makkah Metro will have four lines that service two stations near the Grand Mosque. Currently, Makkah’s only metro system is the Mashaer Railway. Called the Hajj Metro, it operates only during Hajj season, with nine stations and kilometers of tracks connecting the pilgrimage sites of Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah.
Taxis in Makkah
Comfortable and efficient, taxis are widely available for travel in the city. However, they are the most expensive option, especially during Hajj and Ramadan. During these times, drivers don’t use meters, so it’s best to negotiate fares in advance. Most hotel concierges are happy to help pilgrims with taxi service.
Walking around Makkah
The area around Al Masjid Al Haram is highly walkable for people with average-level mobility. For most pilgrims and residents, walking to and from the Grand Mosque is the most practical option. During Hajj, Ramadan and Friday prayers, the area near the gates is often heavily congested, or blocked off to vehicular traffic. Biking is uncommon, impractical and possibly dangerous.