A Guide To Jeddah: Bride Of The Red Sea

Saudi Arabia’s commercial hub, Jeddah, offers culture, heritage and natural beauty

Published: 02 July 2018, Text by: Rozina Musthafa, Photos: Josephine Skapare

SEE & DO

Lavish Landmarks

Al-Balad is the historical area of Jeddah, populated with traditional souks, mosques and museums. The Floating Mosque, located on the North Corniche, is built in the sea, giving an illusion of floating on the water. Bicycle Square is one of the largest squares in Jeddah, with a splendid sculpture of a large bicycle, almost 15 metres in height, designed by Spanish sculptor Julio Lafuente. At 170 metres high, the Jeddah flagpole is the world's tallest flagpole, while its giant Saudi flag measures 49.5 metres long and 33 metres wide, weighing 570 kilogrammes. King Fahd's Fountain can be seen from a great distance and, at 312 metres, is the highest water jet in the world.

Get Arty

Nasseef House is a historical structure in Al-Balad. Since 2009, it has been a museum and a cultural centre showcasing special exhibits and lectures by historians. Al-Tayibat Museum is a lovely little museum with 300 rooms filled with fascinating artefacts ranging from beautiful Islamic manuscripts to ancient pottery and furniture. Take a step back in time at Darat Safeya Bizagr for a historical lesson on the kingdom through Jeddawis’ exquisite art. Enjoy the fantastic exhibitions in every medium from oil to watercolour and see real traditional costumes and body adornments on display.

Into The Sea

The Fakieh Aquarium, with more than 200 species of fish, including sharks, groupers, rays, wrasses, seahorses and eels, plus dolphin shows, is a guaranteed aquatic adventure for the family. Sharm Obhur, a shallow and narrow inlet of the Red Sea in the north of Jeddah, offers hotels, restaurants, scuba diving activities, and a nice walkway by the Corniche.  A few resorts have their own private beaches, allowing women to swim, sunbathe and enjoy a day out by the sea. For underwater adventures, join Desert Sea Divers for guided diving or snorkeling trips to the coral reefs of the Red Sea on Fridays and Saturdays.

Beach Don’t Kill My Vibe

Stretching 30 kilometres along the coast of the Red Sea, the Jeddah Corniche is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city, featuring pavilions, mosques, picnic areas and more importantly, the King Fahad Fountain. The corniche is equipped with Wi-Fi, charging stations, food shacks, state-of-the-art lavatories and restrooms, walkways, and playgrounds for children.

For The Kids

The 60,000-square-metre Al Shallal Theme Park is every child’s dream come true, with arcade games, skating rinks and an Amazon jungle ride complete with life-sized animal figures and special effects. But best of all, it has the largest double-loop roller coaster in the Asian continent.

Witness The Nightlife

Jeddah is undergoing a transition to become more modernised and open-minded. Nightlife in Jeddah revolves around dining out, shopping, rambling along the Corniche or chatting over a shisha. The city has plenty of shisha venues and coffee bars that serve traditional Arabic tea and coffee. Cinemas are set to open soon in Jeddah.

For The Calendar

Jeddah has several fun festivals and fairs spread throughout the year, including the International Book Fair every December. Around 500 Arab and international publishers from over 40 countries take part in the fair, showcasing upcoming works from around the region as well as the depth and breadth of Saudi literature. Jeddah Ghair, a summer festival, is one of the largest internationally oriented cultural and tourist events in Saudi Arabia, attracting over five million visitors who come to enjoy activities such as racing, live music and impressive fireworks.

King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC)

Situated on the west coast of the Red Sea, KAEC covers 181 square kilometres of land, approximately the size of Washington DC. It is just an hour’s drive from Jeddah and sets the benchmark for the development of modern communities, including restaurants and cafés, parks and beaches. KAEC is the epicentre of entertainment and events during weekends.

EAT & SHOP

Where To Eat?

Jeddah is a haven for foodies. From fine dining restaurants to budget-friendly street food and cafés, the options are endless. For a taste of authentic Hejazi food, head to Thamarath or Ful21 Restaurant. At the popular budget-friendly Albaik.Khayal, get the metre-long kebab barbecued to your taste, then finish off your meal with an Ottoman kunafa dessert. For authentic Lebanese cuisine, head to Byblos, and for traditional Middle Eastern fare, go to Al Nakheel. If you’re craving delicious French pastries, go to Layla's Gourmet, and to Piatto for Italian fare.

Head To The Souks

Souq al-Alawi is the largest, home to a warren of fascinating stalls selling just about everything imaginable. Wander through the colourful universe of the famous market, where scarves and abayas in amazing colours, jewellery of coral, leather bags and sandals are jumbled up with aromatic coffee beans, Arabic fragrances, oils, dates, and spices. Souq al-Nada in Balad is the main place for exquisite jewellery of gold and silver.

For The Brand-Conscious

Jeddah has scores of malls, the largest and most impressive of which are Mall of Arabia and Red Sea Mall. As Oxford Street is the hub for shopping in London, Tahlia Street is for Jeddah, the place to visit for high-end international brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Versace and others. 

STAY

Where Elegant Meets Exotic

The city is home to international hotel chains such as Marriott, Radisson Blue, Sheraton, Sofitel, Hilton, Holiday Inn, InterContinental, Park Hyatt and more. For art lovers, Assila is Jeddah’s only art-inspired resort. A luxurious sanctuary housing over 2,000 original works by Saudi artists, walking through its halls feels like browsing through an art gallery. For a stroll along pristine beaches and to relax in secluded villas, head to Movenpick al Nawras.

Get Recharged

Take a break from being a tourist and get pampered at any of the top spas in town. Awaken the senses with a wide range of therapeutic treatments and relaxing massages at Assila, Waldolf Astoria or Park Hyatt.

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting Around

The easiest way to get around Jeddah is by car due to a lack of proper public transport. If you don’t have a car, taxis are an inexpensive way to get from point to point. Or download the Uber app to get a ride in minutes.

Know Before You Go

Be sure to respect Islamic laws – Saudi Arabia is a conservative country. Natives are friendly and treat visitors well. It should be noted that restaurants close five times a day for prayers and are divided into two sections – singles (for men) and family (for families and single women). Restaurants are closed during fasting hours in the holy month of Ramadan. It is illegal for a foreign visitor to eat, drink or smoke in public at this time.

Traveller Etiquette

Saudi culture is based on Islam and it is Important for both men and women to dress modestly. Men should cover their knees and shoulders and women should wear an outer robe known as abaya and should always carry a headscarf. Shaking hands and kissing on the cheek are the customary forms of greeting between men but it is considered improper for men and women to greet each other in public.

Best Time To Visit

A seaside city, Jeddah is warm for most of the year, though winter is probably the most pleasant time to visit. Jeddah features a tropical arid climate, and unlike many other Saudi Arabian cities, it retains its warmth during the winter months from November to February.

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