Traversing through the world is always a great experience. Not only do you get yourself into amazing adventures but you also get to experience colorful cultures and places.
However, if you are a Muslim, there is a lot more to take into consideration when planning a getaway. Will you be able to find halal food? Will you be able to wear the face veil? Are there mosques in the city? How will the locals react to your presence?
The whole of Europe is great for a halal vacation, but some cities are more Muslim friendly than others.
If you have been toying with the idea of a Muslim vacation this year, here are the best Halal friendly holiday destinations you must consider!
Passionate and steeped in history, the old country of Spain needs hardly any introduction. Known for a culture that is more diverse than you know, tantalizing cuisine that has a bit of everything for everyone, and timeless pieces of architecture, Spain is easily one of the top places you could visit.
But, is it suitable for a holiday for Muslims? The answer is a resounding yes!
Spain’s diverse culture and ethnicities means that the country easily accommodates people of all religions. Mosques are commonplace all across the country and you are never too far from a mosque.
Over the years, many hotels in the country have adapted to meet the requirements of Muslim travelers, serving only halal food and refraining from serving alcohol. On the topic of food, Spain’s cuisine revolves around a Mediterranean diet that mainly comprises of vegetables and fish – Most of the dishes are based on or influenced by Arab cuisine. Additionally, the Halal Institute in Spain certifies many products and services with the Halal Certification which essentially confirms they meet the requirements for Muslims. In some cases, a restaurant might be willing to prepare food by keeping to Islamic law if you ask ahead of time.
Kickstart your vacation in Madrid
Where do I visit? Madrid is a good starting point. Known for its expansive boulevards, beautifully manicured gardens, timeless architecture, and art pieces, the city is also home to a significant population of Muslims so you can look forward to a range of Muslim friendly Halal restaurants.
Protip; While at the city, don’t forget to pay a visit to Madrid Central Mosque and the Islamic Cultural Center in Madrid, the largest mosque on the continent.
Granada never disappoints
A visit to Granada is a highly recommended addition to your itinerary. You can begin your trip at the Granada Mosque, a small yet picturesque mosque nestled within the hills of the city. Adjacent to the mosque is Mirador San Nicolas which offers beautiful panoramic views of Alhambra, an ancient hilltop fortress from the Nasrid dynasty – Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The viewpoint has a very carnival-esque vibe to it with musicians performing and local merchants selling an array of souvenirs and other beautifully crafted pieces. It’s worth mentioning that the surrounding area has no shortage of halal diners either should you feel peckish.
Protip; Restaurante Teteria Marrakech will not disappoint! Do give their Moroccan-style crepes a try.
Italy has always had a reputation for not being Muslim or family friendly but that is hardly the case.
The government has made great strides in accommodating Halal tourism and the results show. The Halal International Authority certifies restaurants that meet the Halal requirements while the Italians famous hospitality makes it possible for anyone to feel at home anywhere in the country. All major cities in the country have Muslim friendly facilities and mosques, although they are bound to be a bit scarce when you head away from the urban cities.
With a rich history that stretches back millennia, beautiful Mediterranean coastlines and pristine landscapes, Italy has always been a top place to visit and now it is for Muslims too.
All roads lead to Rome…
The country has an exhausting list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other ancient relics that offer a glimpse into Italy’s rich history, most of them concentrated in Rome.
With stunning palaces, Roman-era structures, artistic treasures and piazzas, Rome is a surreal experience. You can spend days picking your way through the remains of what was once the epicenter of civilization. If you are a history buff, take the time to visit the Rome Mosque; a fascinating structure with a distinct architectural style influenced by traditional Muslim architecture.
Trivia: The Mosque does not have loudspeakers because the minarets had a height restriction placed on them during construction so it would not exceed the height of St. Peter’s.
Just east of the mosque is the Colosseum, one of the most well known remains of the Roman Empire. Built over two thousand years ago, the massive amphitheater measures 155 meters and was once the stage for bloody gladiator fights. The amphitheater’s design has served as an inspiration for many amphitheaters that came after it.
The Cradle of the Renaissance; Florence
Interested in the Renaissance Era? Make a beeline for Florence, the place where it all began. The city still holds signs of its former grandeur, whether it is the cobbled streets or the charming centuries old bridges that connect both halves of the city. A two-hour journey by train, the city that gave rise to the likes of Leonardo da Vinci houses many famous works of art by Michelangelo, Nanni di Banco and more.
Firenze, as it is known to the Italians, has numerous museums, gardens and palaces that are a sheer joy to visit. Gawk at the precious art, sculptures and other creative work that shaped the world and helped it transition from the dark Middle Ages. Things are quite convenient if you are on a halal holiday with Halal restaurants aplenty and mosques available for prayers.
Milan; a mix of old and new
Milan is one of the few cities that have managed to perfectly blend its history with modernity.
Considered the modern face of Italy and the fashion capital of the world, the famed destination has many noteworthy museums like Pinacoteca di Brera, Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Museodel Novecento, and the living quarters of the ruling families in Castello Sforzesco that showcase the city’s history and the many families that governed it. On the other hand, it houses glittering malls and shops that house some of the biggest brands in fashion and regularly hosts events like the Milan Fashion Week.
Halal restaurants aren’t difficult to find in Milan thanks to many (good) restaurants such as Aladino, Kashmire Restaurant, Ristorante Istanbul. For mosques, there is the Islamic Cultural Institute and the Masjid Milan. Milan has everything to ensure a great holiday for Muslims!
When a conversation crops up about the best tourist destinations in the world, the Balkans are hardly ever mentioned, which is quite a shame because they are easily one of the most beautiful regions on Earth.
Tucked in Southeastern Europe, the region comprises of 10 states; Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. All of these countries have united and divided plenty of times over the course of history. Now though, the region is quite safe and great for those who wish to escape to places that haven’t already been plastered all over Instagram!
Islam has a strong foothold in the region since the early fourteenth century so there is absolutely no worry of feeling out of place! The Ottoman Empire is long gone, but its mark on the area is easily visible thanks to the many architectural gems and cultural influences it left behind.
Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia, and Albania are the most Muslim friendly countries and have a sizable population of Muslims to boot, meaning Halal restaurants are a dime a dozen. All four countries boast beautiful untouched (read; human free) landscapes, medieval mosques right out of a history book and ancient relics from a bygone era. What more do you need for a halal holiday?
Sarajevo; The Slavic İstanbul
Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo is well known in history for the bloody Siege of Sarajevo in 1996, but the city looks a world apart now. The Old City houses many buildings from its past, both from the Ottoman Empire and its Austro-Hungarian past.
To explore the country’s violent past, visit the War Childhood Museum, and the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. The museums display a first hand and unfiltered view of the war, its inevitable tragedies and the impact it had on the region. While it is sure to be a downhearted and somber experience, it does teach us a part of history that is often missing from the history books. Don’t forget to have a cup of Turkish coffee at the many nearby cafes before you leave!
Protip; For excellent views of the beautiful sunsets in the city, visit the Yellow Fortress.
Kosovo is a new city in the making
Kosovo is one of the best undiscovered Muslim-friendly countries right now so if you are looking for a vacation spot but without the constant throng of tourists, you know where to go. The country is certainly charming and its Ottoman era town of Prizren being a particular highlight. It lines the banks of Prizren Bistrica river and is a laidback town. At first sight, you would be forgiven for thinking there is nothing worth doing or seeing in the town – yes, it is that laidback. However, for a Muslim, the Sinan Pasha Mosque at the town makes for a great visit. Top off your evening by taking a short walk up to the Prizren Fortress; the ideal place to lose yourself in a bit of history.
Simply put, if you want to turn back the times and take things slow, Prizren certainly won’t disappoint.
But, if you are the more active traveler, opt for Peja towards the north. It offers scenic hiking trails, ziplines through the Rugova Valley and is the base stop to the Accursed Mountains, more familiar as the Albanian Alps.
Albania is Europe’s enigma
Beautiful beaches? Check. UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Check. Friendly locals? Check. Rich Islamic history and culture? Check. Albania has everything one could request for a holiday for Muslims, so it is mind-boggling how many pass up on the country.
Kick off your visit to the country by visiting the National Historic Museum that paints a very clear picture of the country’s history. It is well recommended if you are visiting with your kids. Top off a halal holiday by visiting the eighteenth century Hadji Et’hem Bey Mosque for prayers.
Oh, and don’t forget the Piramida, once the International Center of Culture but has now fallen to the curse of time and sits as a crumbling structure. For those who like abandoned buildings, a visit here is highly recommended (just don’t go inside!) as well to the numerous abandoned bunkers built in the 1940’s – you can find tour companies who organize trips to the bunkers.
Wish to immerse yourself in the local culture? Drop by the Grand Park of Tirana in the evenings for a calming stroll or simply sit down for a coffee at the coffee shops that line the park and watch life pass by!
Lithuania is quite off the tourist trail, but its combination of vivid culture and beauty makes it a great place to visit. Named the European Capital of Culture, the Old Town in the capital of the country, Vilnius, is a goldmine of historical relics.
Recommended visiting; The Gediminas Castle that was built in the fifteenth century. Not only is the castle picturesque but it also offers unparalleled views of the surrounding city.
Halal restaurants are not as easy as to find as, say Albania, but you can find a few if you look around a bit. However, vegetarian options are very easy to find. The capital does also have one mosque that should satisfy your prayer needs.
To properly understand Lithuania’s history, you should visit the many museums scattered over the city. The KGB Museum and the Lithuanian Picture are particularly unique and worth visiting.
The KGB Museum is officially called the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights and focuses on the fifty-year occupation of the country by the Soviet Union. The museum offers broad insight in to the non-violent resistance against the foreign occupation using books, underground publications, and photos. One section of the museum displays victims, photos of executions, personal belongings and more. This collection is ever increasing as many people donate to the museum as a way of preserving the items. The museum is referred to as the KGB Museum because it is located in what was once the KGB HQ.
For a more unique experience, book a hot air balloon that takes you over Vilnius. The experience of flying on a hot air balloon is simply indescribable and the bird’s eye view of the surrounding land will snatch your breath away!
In the mood for more family-centric fun? Spend a day at the city’s many parks. The European Park and Verkiai Regional Park are two of the best parks in Europe and promise a world of fun!
Halal tourism used to be a niche market and for most Muslims, traditional destinations like Dubai and Morocco have long been the go-to spots, due to a lack of facilities elsewhere – like prayer rooms, no casinos, and gender segregated pools – for Muslims.
Today however, Halal tourism has hit a growth spurt, growing at almost twice the rate of the collective industry. The hospitality sector, especially in Europe, has started to take notice and dry hotels and restaurants are now a common occurrence across Europe. Thanks to the influx of information from the Internet and growing awareness among the hotel industry, a halal holiday no longer means being restricted to a Muslim country.