Iran’s second-holiest city after Mashhad, Qom (Ghom) is home to both the magnificent Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine and the hardline clerics who have ruled the country since 1979. Shiite scholars and students come from across the world to study in its madrasehs (schools) and browse in its famous religious bookshops, pilgrims pay homage at the shrine and locals are conspicuously pious. Travellers need to be mindful of the city's religious nature when visiting and dress conservatively. Discreet behaviour is particularly appreciated around the Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine.
Qom is one of Iran’s fastest-growing cities (the population has doubled since the revolution) and the outskirts are being transformed by a sprawl of apartment blocks. While the new infrastructure is rather unattractive, the population growth has at least brought new life to the old centre. Qom can be visited in an easy day trip from Tehran or en route to Kashan.