What to Do and See in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Where Is Jeddah?
Jeddah is the main commercial hub in Saudi Arabia and the second-largest city after Riyadh, the capital city. It is located by the Red Sea, and the presence of the port (which is the largest along the Red Sea) has turned Jeddah into an important trading hub for the region.
Relatively speaking, Jeddah is the most cosmopolitan and liberal city in Saudi Arabia, and it is packed with things to do all year long.
Below are lists of quick picks on what you can see and do while in Jeddah.
Old Jeddah: Al-Balad
Al-Balad, which means The City, is Jeddah's oldest and most photogenic location and is home to several museums.
It is also the historical part of Jeddah, but unfortunately, many of these sites were torn down as the city 'progressed' and expanded to include more commercial spaces. Fortunately, the city founded the Jeddah Historical Preservation Society in the early '90s, and what was left is now preserved as the cultural and historical architectures of not just Al-Balad, but also of Jeddah.
Old Coral Houses in Jeddah
These historical architectures are typified by several traders' houses of the 19th century. These traditional houses, the highest being a 5-story building, were built using local corals and limestone. The facade has intricate lattice design using Indian or Indonesian teak, which serves not only as ventilation but also as shades for the street below.
Despite the existence of historical sites that are the real gem of Al-Balad, the area is more known for shopping. Its shopping area has both modern shopping complexes and traditional souks existing side by side.
It is also the best place to find food from many parts of the world and the best place to find bargains on perfumes, toys, electronic gadgets and oud, the ingredient used in Middle Eastern perfume.
The older part of the Al-Balad area with the traditional souks is a warren of alleys. These alleys have names that signify their function, such as Perfumers Alley—the best place in the city to buy perfume.
Parking in this area is practically impossible, so it is best to take a taxi here.
Where to Go in Jeddah
Despite the modernization of Jeddah, it still has those old trading areas and social features that are typically held around souks and mosques. Outside the Al-Balad area, these souks can be seen in several places. The better known and popular are Souk Al Nada, Souk Gabel, and Souk Al Alawi.
Souk Al Alawi is located in the eastern part of Jeddah. It is the largest and traditional of all the souks in the country. It contains a good collection of old buildings and market stalls as well as modern buildings. Despite this proliferation of newer buildings, Souk al-Alawi remains as a priceless historical and cultural asset.
Did You Know?
Souq (or souk) is an Arabic word meaning open-air marketplace.
Many of Jeddah's old coral buildings are badly kept and maintained. The exception is Nassef House, restored in 1990 by the Jeddah Historical Area Preservation Department.
This building once belonged to one of Jeddah's powerful trading families. It is now a museum and cultural center. It houses several treasures from Jeddah's past including a 700-year-old flag mast and a 15th-century cannon. One unique feature of the building is a wide ramp to allow camel-mounted messengers to go all the way up to the top floor to deliver messages and food supplies.
Naseef House, which is located in the Al-Balad area, was built in 1872 and completed in 1881 for Omar Nasseef Efendi, who was the governor of Jeddah then. This building became famous after King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud used it as a royal residence, after the siege of Jeddah in 1925. (King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was the first monarch of Saudi Arabia.) Now, it is also the head office of Jeddah's General Directory for Culture and Tourism.
Admission charge is SR20 and opening hours are from 1700-2100. Call +966 (2) 647 2280 for updated information.
Old Jeddah Architecture
Khaskeyya Market is located in the heart of old Jeddah. Visitors literally turn a corner and find themselves in the middle of this lively market. Many shoppers of several different nationalities will throng these small streets either to buy or eat at the several shops selling foods from several countries.
Khaskeyya Market embodies the diversity of Jeddah and is worth a visit.
Take a trip to the south and see how much wildlife you can encounter. A daylong outing might just trigger a lifetime hobby of bird watching.
There are 528 recorded species of birds, 11 of which are native to the Arabian Peninsula. 133 of these birds breed here, while the other 395 birds are of migratory species.
One of the better places to do your bird watching is just south of King Fahd Naval Base where you will most likely encounter Greater Flamingos.
Kiteboarding and Windsurfing
Kiteboarding or surfing is the latest craze in Jeddah. It involves controlling a kite from a specially adapted surfboard. In addition to being a good bird-watching spot, South Corniche is also a good place for kiteboarding, suitable for both beginner and expert kiteboarders.
When you are in the water, watch out for the coral reefs and rocks. The water is quite shallow for the first 165 feet (50 m) and some places are waist deep. Depending on the wind situation, the water can be flat to choppy.
For information on wind speed, wind gusts and wind direction for South Corniche area, visit the Windguru website.
Just like kiteboarding, South Corniche is also a suitable place for windsurfing. The common and popular spots are between mile 40 to mile 56 (kilometer 70 and 90). At these places, the coral reefs are further away from the shores. The beaches are also relatively less crowded.
North Cornice for Swimming, Walking and Picnicking
South Cornice has an abundance of wildlife; however, North Cornice is relatively quiet. It is perfect for an early morning or late afternoon long walk, seaside picnic or swimming.
North Cornice, stretching over 7.5 miles (12 km) of Jeddah's Red Sea coastline, starts from Tahlia Street, near the desalination plant in the south and right up to Faisal Bin Fahd Street, near the Fatima Al Zahra Mosque, in the north.
The tallest water fountain in the world is located along Jeddah's cornice. Jeddah Fountain or also known as King Fahd's Fountain shots water up to 1,024 feet (312 m). It uses saltwater from the Red Sea and started operation in 1985.
Jeddah's Revamped Waterfront
Jeddah had revamped its waterfront and in late 2017 opened the 4.2-kilometer waterfront with new watersport parks, interactive water fountains, beaches for male and female, children’s play parks, restaurants, and food kiosks. It also has a floating marina dock.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Jeddah
The clear water of the Red Sea is known for its excellent diving and is considered a snorkeler's paradise. Not far away from Jeddah are just several of the prized scuba-diving and snorkeling locations, including sites for shipwreck diving.
The above link will also list out all the dive shops, marinas and dive resorts in Jeddah. This is useful information if you want to get more information on diving including diving courses.
Fishing in the Red Sea
Red Sea Fishing
When you drive along the coast or walk along the north and south cornice, you will see many locals or expatriates working in Jeddah doing shore fishing. You will see these fishermen, both amateurs and professionals, either fishing from the shore or wading knee deep in the water. You will see them at dawn and at dusk.
Some will take an early morning boat trip to go fishing in the Red Sea. My article on shipwreck diving above includes a listing of diving shops and marinas that can help you charter a boat for a fishing trip.
Yachting and Cruising the Red Sea
Living and working in Jeddah offers many opportunities to enjoy one of the best water body in the world. Besides scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, and windsurfing or kite surfing, you can take boat trips up and down the Red Sea and its inlets. Obhur Creek is a popular place for this activity including yachting.
You can also go for a day-long trip outside the immediate Jeddah area.
Golf in the Desert Poll
Have You Played Golf on Desert Sand Course?
Golf in Jeddah
If golf is one of your favorite sports and you want to try desert golfing, then head to Desert Lakes. This is an 18-hole sand course located east of Jeddah airport. Here, you will carry artificial turf to tee off from and play on sand fairways. Despite the lack of grass and trees, the desert course still offers its own version of fairways and obstacles/hazards. Fairways will be in the form of compacted and rolled sand. The green, called 'brown' for a desert golf course, will be a mixture of sand and waste oil bonded together. Do you wonder if they have any water hazard? Well, they do. This is in the form of yellow or red stakes. For trees, they use conical piles. If all these descriptions whet your appetite for desert golfing, then wait on longer.
For an all green golf course in the desert, then it will be the 9-hole Durrah Golf Course & Academy also north of Jeddah at Durrat Al Arus. At each hole, there is an alternate tee position, which when used, can convert this 9-hole into an 18-hole golf course. Build according to U.S. Golf Association specifications; this is currently the only all green golf course in Jeddah. For more information, you can call them at +966(2)6181660.
Shopping in Jeddah
If you are tired of all the sporting activities and keen on some serious shopping, then the souks mentioned earlier will give you plenty of local goods as well as goods from other parts of the Middle Eastern countries and the Indian sub-continent. For bargain shopping, you can also head to Souk Al-Shatee for everything from carpet to glassware.
For designer clothes and accessories or other clothing, Jeddah has many modern shopping malls at your disposal. Some of the notable malls are the Red Sea Mall, Mall of Arabia and the older Al-Khayyat Center. For exclusive boutiques, head to Tahlia Street (also called Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Street) for the latest in fashion. This is Jeddah's equivalent of 5th Avenue Shopping.
For store locations in Jeddah and the shops in each of the malls, visit mystore411.
Opening hours for the malls varies and is also seasonal. Generally, they are opened from 10 am until 10 pm or midnight Saturday to Tuesday. Some mall such as Red Sea Mall will open until 2 am on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Friday, shops are open from 5 pm until 11 pm. Some shops are only open after 5 pm on most days, so you will need to call and check before you go.
Thursday and Friday are the official weekend days, and during prayer hours, stores will be closed for half an hour.
Open Air Art Gallery
Driving around Jeddah, you will see most of the roundabouts are huge and have sculptures and artworks by both local and international artists. These open-air 'art galleries' have turned Jeddah into the city with one of the largest collections of open-air arts in the world.
Here is a great gallery of photos of this open-air art gallery in Jeddah
Future Attraction: Jeddah Tower
Jeddah Tower, previously known as Kingdom Tower was initially planned to be a mile high tower (now 1-km high) but has now reduced in height due to site geological issues. Work started in April 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2020. Built along the Red Sea in the northern part of Jeddah; it will be the city's newest attraction.
This mixed-use development comprises of a luxury hotel, serviced residences, office space, luxury apartments and the highest observatory in the world. At that height and the current pollution level in Jeddah, it will be a miracle if anyone can get a good view from that height!
An American firm, Landtech Design was commissioned to design the irrigation system for 8.5 acres of green space. As with all newer developments, this design will use advanced sustainable irrigation technology. One example is to harvest rainwater and condensate from the building as one source of water supply. Hmm, how much rain from this desert city will be required for this to work!
Compared with other parts of the world, Jeddah tourism is way behind. This is mainly due to the very strict visa requirement. The only way to enjoy Jeddah and the rest of the country is to either get the religious pilgrimage visa, work visa or business visa.
If you have the opportunity to visit this city, give yourself at least one day off to enjoy any of the above attractions.
UPDATE: The Saudi Government has now issued a tourist visa, effective 28th September 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Mazlan