Things to do in Qom: the religious face of Iran
In this post about things to do in Qom Iran I would also like to share my experience visiting Qom in Iran. Qom is a city only 2 hours south of Tehran and one of the most religious cities in Iran.
Not every Iranian I met during my trip appreciated the fact I went to Qom. Some told me they would never visit this city of fundamentalists. I was also a bit nervous about my visit as a female travelling alone.
Why visit Qom in Iran?
Qom is one of Iran’s most religious cities. It is home to several theological universities and Khomeini himself finished his education here. There is also the shrine of Fatemeh, the daughter of the seventh imam and sister of the eight imam, that attracts hundreds of pilgrims every day.
Shia muslims believe that there were twelve special people who are the divine processors of the prophet Mohamed. They worship the 12 Imams and their immediate family members. They also believe the last Imam is still alive, but is hiding from us. One day he will reappear as the Mahdi together with Jesus, who will assist the Mahdi in ridding the world of evil.
Qom fascinated me and I wanted to understand more about Iran’s interesting religious life. First of all, the shrine of Fatemeh is not a mosque. The Azam mosque is in fact right opposite the shrine, but few people visit it. Most pilgrims head straight to the shrine of Fatemeh.
Throughout my journey I noticed that shrines where people that were holy relatives of one of the 12 imams were buried were way more popular than mosques. People often believe that the shrines have certain powers. Either your prayers will be answered, your dreams will come true or your illnesses will be cured.
Shrines and not mosques are at the centre of Iran’s religious life. Next to Mashad, the shrine of Fatemeh, is one of the most important shrines in Iran.
My experience in Qom Iran
My journey started that morning with me deciding what to wear. Should I choose my blue manteau that I bought in Qazvin or was that too colourful and was it better to wear my black Indian top that was maybe too tight and too short? Both outfits were on the conservative side in fashionable Tehran, but I knew Qom was a different matter.
Once I left the bus several taxi drivers started shouting ‘haram’ ‘haram’ at me. I did not know that haram in farsi also means shrine. All I knew was that haram in Islam means something that is not allowed by religious law.
I was very confused and thought I made the wrong decision to wear my black tunic, when I slowly figured out that it must mean the shrine. My initial worries disappeared when the taxi driver refused to take my money. It was an honour for him to bring a foreigner to the shrine of Fatemeh.
Qom turnmed out to be a very interesting place to visit and I had no problems at all as a solo female traveller. Despite Qom being such a religious city I felt people were friendly and polite towards me as a foreigner. On my way back I had to almost fight again with my taxi driver to pay him. He too, refused to take my money.
The tradition of taarouf is a custom of politeness. People will invite you over, or offer services for free. To be polite in return, the offers shouldn’t always be accepted. In both cases I really insisted on giving the money. My first driver kept refusing, but the latter finally took it.
Things to do in Qom
1. The shrine of Fatemeh
The shrine of Fatemeh is the most important thing to do in Qom and hundreds of pilgrims visit it every day. Even though foreigners are not allowed inside on their own they are more than welcome to visit. You will even get a guide and tour around the premises for free.
At the women’s entrance I was asked to sit down and wait. They gave me a chador and called the guide for foreigners. An older humble man appeared to show me the shrine of Fatemeh. He was a supporter of the Islamic revolution, but also believed that Islam should be a religion of peace and tolerance and he was troubled by recent events in the world.
My guide also encouraged me to take pictures, although that was quite the challenge considering I also had to keep my chador in place. Iranian women walk gracefully while hiding their handbags and groceries under them. I was holding on to it for dear life with gravity that kept pulling it back.
It was a very interesting and worthwhile visit. The shrine is huge and the decorations are beautiful.
2. Azam mosque
Opposite the shrine is the Azam mosque with four prayer halls and three towering balconies. The construction of the mosque was finished in 1961 and ayatollah Khomeini once gava a lecture here.
It might be busy on fridays, but on a regular day it is very quiet and all pilgrims head straight to the Fatemeh shrine.
3. Qom bazaar
In front of the Fatemeh shrine is a bazaar with everything that the pilgrims might want to buy. From chadors, to carpets and lots of food and sweets. And there are lots of juice shops where you can have delicious pomegranate juice.
4. Traditional homes
Qom is of course much more than its religious buildings alone. Besides the old bazaar there are also old Qajar era traditional homes. If you have some extra time it may be worth it to go on a historical houses of Qom tour.
5. Trying Sohan
Qom is known for Sohan. A saffron brittle candy with pistachio nuts that is as good as it sounds. Don’t leave without trying it.
Things to do near Qom
6. Howz e Soltan lake
Howz e Soltan lake is a natural salt lake near Qom. A scenic sight in the middle of the desert that makes for an easy morning or afternoon trip from Qom.
How to get there: There is no public transport so you will need a tour.
7. Hiking to Fordo village
Not far from the hustle and bustle are the peaceful mountains that surround the city. From Qom it’s possible to book a hiking tour to Fordo village. A perfect day out away from the city where you get to explore rural Iranian life.
8. Historic Kahak village
Kahak is an off the beaten path village near Qom. It has some ancient houses and makes for a nice day trip from the city. On the 1stQuest Kahak tour you get to taste some local icecream as well.
Where to sleep in Qom
Booking hostels in Iran online is rather difficult. Because of the sanctions, most regular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb won’t work.
To book your hotel beforehand you either need to contact them directly or use 1stQuest
Although it is probably possible to stay in Qom it is actually much better to visit Qom as a daytrip from either Tehran or Kashan.
Kashan is full with traditional houses converted into hotels. Ehsan House is a very good hotel with a delicious breakfast buffet included. Other places I heard good stories about from other travellers are Noghli house, Kamal Al Molk house, Sayeh Saray & Manoucheri house.
Where to eat in Qom
It’s easy to visit the shrine in 2 or 3 hours and continue your way to Tehran or Kashan. However, it is worth it to stay at least for lunch in Qom or try some of it’s delicacies in the bazaar.
It’s maybe not the cheapest restaurant, but Yazdan Panah House is an old historical house that is 120 years old that serves good food, including my favourite stew fesendjoon. If you want to read more about Iran’s food Read my Persian Food Guide.
How to get to Qom
It is easy to visit Qom as a day trip from either Tehran or Kashan. From both cities it is an easy two-hour bus ride. As it is midway between Tehran and Kashan it is also possible to stop in Qom on your way from Tehran to Kashan. Visiting the shrine takes between 2 and 3 hours.
You can check the bus times and book your bus tickets on the 1stQuest booking system.
Is Qom safe for solo female travellers
If you have read my story I think you know my answer already. Yes, despite its religious significance Qom is a friendly place for foreigners, whether you are a woman travelling alone or not. When visiting Qom it is better to dress a bit more conservative than in other places in Iran. To know more about what to wear in Iran as a women read my guide on Solo Female travel in Iran: know before you go.
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Last update: January 2020