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Book a flight to Mashhad with Qatar Airways and find out why the city is so popular with pilgrims. Iran's second-biggest city, and its holiest one, was once a stopping point for traders en route to Turkmenistan. Today, the city, capital of Iran’s north-eastern Razavi Khorasan Province, draws visitors to the Haram, a shrine complex dating back to the 9th century. It is the most important place in the country, the largest mosque in the world by area and second-largest in terms of capacity.
Almost 20 million pilgrims come here each year to pay their respects to Shia Islam's eighth Imam. Fly to Mashhad during the spring for the coolest weather and take an excursion into unspoiled Khorasan, or spend your time exploring the Haram and haggling for carpets in the city's bazaars.
The Imam Reza Shrine houses the mausoleum of the eighth Imam of Shia Islam. Ghoarshad Mosque is also here. Take a guided tour before picking up some souvenirs. Dress appropriately to enter the shrine's centre, normally reserved for Muslims. The magnificent arches and courtyards of this city-within-a-city may well take you a whole day to explore.
On your trip to Mashhad, you can also explore 72-Martyr Mosque, just outside the shrine complex. This beautiful mosque dates to the 15th century, and is famous for its tile work; a perfect, peaceful and serene spot in the heart of the city.
Families can enjoy a day out at Mellat Park, home to Iran's tallest Ferris wheel. The city zoo is located at Koohestan Park and is well worth a visit on sunny days.
Take a bike tour or guided walking tour through the city with an English-speaking guide when you travel to Mashahd. The Main Museum is home to artefacts from the shrine complex, as well as more contemporary items from Iran's sporting past. Head for the basement to see an unusual stamp collection. You will also find sculptures dotted throughout the city, many of which can be found in the Sajjad neighbourhood; each tells its own story of the city’s past.
Try to avoid visiting the city during the summer months, when pilgrims visit the shrine, as it can become hectic. Spring is by far the best time to experience life in Mashhad.
Most visitors to Mashhad find Iranian cuisine full of flavour but a little less spicy than many other types of Middle Eastern food. Popular dishes here include shishlik (barbecue ribs) and chelo gosht (mutton with rice) and you will find you can eat well for an affordable price.
A visit to one of the city's traditional teahouse restaurants is highly recommended when you travel to Mashhad. Here you will find sumptuous décor, beautiful antiques and live music, most nights. For a real treat, try an Iranian breakfast, which is served at many local eateries. Walnuts, raisins and local cheese served with bread and tea provide a great start to your day in Mashhad.
Don't miss out on the chance to try majoun, a blended dessert made with pistachios, walnuts, bananas, honey, cream and ice cream – an indulgent experience.
The city is home to three large bazaars where you can buy everything from jewellery and perfume to local handicrafts and fabric. Bazar-e Reza is one of the city's main shopping centres. Here you can find jewellery made with turquoise, mined at nearby Neyshabur. For rugs and other textiles, head for Sara-ye Bazar-e Reza or Saroye Saeed carpet market.
Head for Sajjad Boulevard on your trip to Mashhad, and you will find several of the city's more expensive shopping centres, offering international brands and designer goods.
Essential facts about Mashhad
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip