Are you planning a holiday to Saudi Arabia and looking for the best places to visit in Jeddah? From the city’s must-see attraction to some of the more quirky things to do in Jeddah, we have it covered.
Saudi Arabia’s first Formula One Grand Prix, which took place in December 2021, certainly got the city buzzing. But beyond the super-fast racing circuit, Jeddah boasts countless compelling places to explore.
The second-largest city in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah is one of the most liberal cities in the country. Jeddah is a lively centre of commerce with a rich history and a melting pot of cultures. And a distinctly different tempo from the rest of the country.
Traditional houses, incense infused souqs, and ancient mosques comprise are just a few of the memorable things to do in Jeddah. Our guide to the best places to visit in Jeddah during your trip to Saudi Arabia has you covered.
With a population of just under three million, Jeddah is the largest seaport on the Red Sea. Although Saudi’s capital is Riyadh, Jeddah has long been the country’s commercial centre. Its strategic location on the Red Sea means the city’s historic port has been a key factor in Jeddah’s development.
Nicknamed the Bride of the Red Sea, Jeddah was established as a major Silk Road port on the Indian Ocean trade routes as early as the 7th century AD. This vital maritime trading route connected the Mediterranean with South East Asia via the Arabian Peninsula and India, and at the height of activity, silk and cotton, spices, rice, precious metals, gems and perfumes were both passing through and being traded within the city walls.
Jeddah is a historic city that for centuries has been a gateway to both the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, and to Medina, the second holiest city in the Islamic world after Mecca, and has been welcoming pilgrims arriving by sea long before the age of air travel.
This buzzing hub of commerce and melting-pot of culture is one of the most liberal cities in Saudi Arabia and has a notably different tempo from the rest of the country. As the city’s motto proclaims: ‘Jeddah ghair’, or ‘Jeddah is different’.
THE BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN JEDDAH
Without question, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Balad is Jeddah’s crowning glory and is one of the finest surviving Old Towns in the Middle East.
The Old Town of Al Balad is the historical heart of Jeddah. This part of the city was founded in the 7th century AD and was awarded its UNESCO status in 2014. Translating from Arabic simply as the town, today Al Balad is an open-air living museum filled with uniquely designed buildings. The traditional homes are built using coral stone from the Red Sea and are clad in intricate teak wood latticework covering windows and balconies. Many of the wooden roshan screens are painted emerald green, and others are strewn with bright pink bougainvillea blooms.
After passing through Mecca Gate, a walking tour of Al Balad is the best way to discover Jeddah’s old quarter which is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Jeddah. A meander through Al Balad will take you through an atmospheric labyrinth of narrow lanes, into incense infused souqs, to traditional tea shops and ancient mosques. Perhaps the most notable is Shafi Masjid, the oldest mosque in Jeddah. Also known as Al-Atiq Mosque, it was built using the same materials as the traditional houses and dates back to the 7th-century reign of Caliph Othman ibn Affan, one of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s original companions.
In stark juxtaposition to the historical quarter, modern Jeddah has some striking sights, including the partially built Jeddah Tower, expected to be the tallest building in the world when eventually completed (anticipated to be in excess of 1,000 metres).
Jeddah Corniche has always been a draw for locals, and following a regeneration project in 2017, Jeddah Waterfront, as it is also known, is now a major attraction. This stretch of the Red Sea coast is dotted with parks, fountains and sculptures and is popular with local families and visitors alike.
For a taste of modern city life, we recommend taking a stroll along Jeddah’s seafront promenade. The four-kilometre waterfront pathways are perfect for a late afternoon bicycle ride or simply a stroll along the pier to take in the gorgeous Red Sea views and the sunset.
King Fadh Fountain
Situated on an island across the bay from the Corniche is the record-breaking King Fadh Fountain. Visible from all over the city, it jets water at speeds of more than 320 kilometres per hour, and at 312 metres it is currently the world’s tallest fountain. This much-loved Jeddah landmark is best viewed at or just after sunset when its umbrella of mist rises against the backdrop of the Red Sea. After dark, the fountain is illuminated to dramatic effect. Note that King Fadh Fountain isn’t a daytime attraction – it only springs into life in the early evening!
JEDDAH’S BEST MUSEUMS
Jeddah has a wide choice of museums. Many are converted houses, palaces and mosques and provide an insight into life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, past and present.
Our pick of the best museums in Jeddah is the Tayebat Museum, a historic Jeddah landmark. Designed in traditional Hijazi style, the Tayebat Museum houses an eclectic collection of Islamic and Saudi artefacts including ancient manuscripts, coins, weapons, traditional Saudi dress, as well as some prized pre-Islamic antiquities.
Other Jeddah Museums
The Abdul Raouf Khalil Mosque is part of a museum complex that showcases the rich Islamic cultural heritage of the city, similar to Tayebat Museum. Other museums to consider are the Nassif House Museum and the Jeddah Our Days of Bliss Magad Museum for all things retro in Saudi Arabia.
MOSQUE ARCHITECUTRE IN JEDDAH
The Floating Mosque
Jeddah is home to many impressive mosques both historical and modern. After the Shafi Masjid in Al Balad, one of the most striking is Al Rahma Mosque. Known as the floating mosque due to the illusion its stilted location just off the waterfront creates, the marble mosque contains exquisite ornately-tiled prayer halls. At high tide, the mosque appears to float on the water and if this coincides with either sunrise or sunset, the result can be spectacular.
Jeddah is a Guinness World Record-breaking city! In addition to the titles present and future already mentioned, Jeddah holds countless world records. Have fun discovering some of the city’s superlatives including the world’s tallest unsupported flagpole, the tallest lighthouse in the world and the largest fruit sculpture. Other more obscure world records include those held for the largest marble cake and the largest serving of sayadieh, a traditional fish and rice dish.
FESTIVALS IN JEDDAH
A local festival is an excellent way to delve into a nation’s culture and history and Jeddah holds various festivals throughout the year.
Jeddah Summer Festival
Jeddah Summer Festival is an annual extravaganza that will next take place in June 2022. Known locally as Jeddah Ghair, the festival aims to showcase the best of Jeddah.
Red Sea Film Festival
Held in December and showcasing films made in Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world, the annual Red Sea Film Festival highlights both local and global cinema. In fact, as soon as the Jeddah Grand Prix has finished, the Red Sea Film Festival is scheduled to begin. Running for ten days from 6 December 2021, the event is a must for movie aficionados.
Saudi National Day
On 23rd September each year, Saudis celebrate the birth of modern Saudi Arabia. Commemorating the day in 1932 that King Abdul Aziz Al Saud decreed the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz would become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Saudi National Day is celebrated with grand parades and fireworks.
Arguably the most important festival in the Islamic calendar, Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims celebrating the end of the month-long fast flock to Jeddah for a week of sumptuous meals and gatherings with friends and family. Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the lunar calendar and in 2022 the festival of Eid is due to fall on Monday, 2 May.
Historic Jeddah Festival
Launched in 2014, the Historic Jeddah festival takes place in the old Al Balad district of Jeddah. Like many of the city’s festivals, it celebrates the culture and heritage of Jeddah but perhaps the most spectacular sight of the event is the multicoloured laser light illumination of the ancient buildings. The dates for the next Historic Jeddah Festival have not yet been announced.
DAY TRIPS FROM JEDDAH
While there is plenty to keep you busy for a few days in Jeddah, the city’s proximity to both the Red Sea and the desert provide plentiful opportunities for some exciting day trips from Jeddah.
The Red Sea
Jeddah is an excellent place to explore the pristine waters of the Red Sea, where the crystal-clear waters are home to countless colourful fish and corals. Boat trips and snorkelling excursions are easily arranged, and sports enthusiasts will be drawn by kayaking, scuba-diving and deep-sea fishing. Diving enthusiasts who seek out wreck dives are almost spoilt for choice in the waters off Jeddah and British divers, in particular, will be fascinated by the history of the Al-Fahad shipwreck which started life in 1966 as a Townsend Torreson cross channel ferry.
Although the Red Sea laps Jeddah’s shores, 95 per cent of Saudi Arabia is desert. A fantastic option for an adventurous day trip from Jeddah is to take a thrilling 4WD desert safari rounded off with an Arabian meal in a Bedouin-style tent.
A two-hour drive from Jeddah, in the shadow of the Al Hada mountains, is the resort of Taif. The region offers a respite from the summer heat and is renowned for its fragrant roses that thrive in the elevated climes. Dubbed the City of Roses, Taif is especially worth visiting during its annual Rose Festival, usually held in March/April, when the town literally blooms!
Visitors will find Al Hada’s troops of baboons either a menace or a delight but few will fail to be enchanted by Taif’s nighttime illuminations and thrill-seekers will rhapsodise over Saudi’s longest cable car which runs between the mountaintop and the wadi floor.
Further afield (around a 4-hour drive) is the Al Wahbah Crater, a spectacular lunar-like crater on the edge of the Harrat Kishb basalt plateau. The crater was formed by an enormous volcanic explosion and is one of Saudi Arabia’s great natural wonders.
For Muslims visiting Jeddah, a visit to Mecca is unmissable. The birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad is rich in history and culture and is the holiest city in Islam; so sacred that it is strictly forbidden for non-Muslims to enter the city. The city of Mecca is an hour’s drive away from Jeddah and is also connected by a Spanish-built high-speed train that will transport you between the two cities in a little over 40 minutes.
Longer trips from Jeddah
Jeddah is also the best city from which to begin a journey of discovery to the Kingdom’s Nabatean sites such as Hegra (one of the most impressive places to visit in Al Ula), although you’ll need to allocate a few days to do it as a side trip. Chat to one of our Saudi Arabia experts about putting together a personalised itinerary.
With such a diverse choice of things to do in Jeddah, the city’s slogan of Jeddah is different, more than lives up to its promise. Discovering the difference is also a philosophy that we weave into each one of our tailor-made holidays, so get in touch and let us introduce you to the extraordinary Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Whether you want to explore the scenic wonders of Saudi Arabia, discover the Kingdom’s deserts and volcanoes, embark on a thrilling self-drive tour of Saudi Arabia, relax in the Saudi Maldives or see it all on a grand tour of Saudi Arabia, we have an itinerary crafted to match your interests and style of travel.
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