Lying 850km north-east of the capital Tehran is Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city. Known throughout the world as a place of pilgrimage, it’s home to the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia Imam. More than 20 million Muslims convene here every year to commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam. The beautiful and atmospheric shrine is housed within the largest mosque in the world by dimension and the second largest by capacity.
Imam Reza was poisoned in the ninth century, back when the city was no more than a small village known as Sanabad. After his death, many pilgrims decided to relocate to be near his shrine, and Sanabad grew to become Mashhad, meaning City of Martyrdom.
Today, the spirituality of the city attracts honeymooners wishing to bless their marriage in the presence of the Imam, as well as families and travellers looking to explore Iran’s tourist sites. In addition to the glorious shrine, Mashhad has the accolade of Iran’s highest concentration of waterparks as well as a vibrant shopping and dining scene.
Staying in Mashhad, visitors can experience luxury hospitality in the numerous five-star hotels or budget-friendly accommodation in family-run establishments. During major pilgrimage seasons, the city is at full capacity as it welcomes millions of visitors, and advanced booking is essential for hotels and transport.
With the second highest population in Iran, Mashhad is home to more than 3.1 million people, creating a vibrant culture of arts and music. Many of the region’s most renowned poets and writers came from Mashhad, and it’s home to the Middle East’s oldest library, with a history dating back more than six centuries.
Mashhad has a varied climate; during the winter months, its beautiful parks and mosques are occasionally dusted by snow, whereas the summer months soak the city in brilliant sunshine. The all-weather climate also helps provide an enticing local menu, including Iran’s favourite shishlik and barg kebabs. Another local delicacy not to be missed is Mashhad’s very own variety of ice cream, known as ice pack, which can be enjoyed in multiple ice pack bars dotted around the city.
The city is well connected, with its own international airport welcoming visitors from Iran’s other major cities and beyond.