Saudi Arabia's main commercial hub and a place where pilgrims and traders have been converging for many centuries, Jeddah is known as being the most relaxed city in the Kingdom and is considered by many to be the most attractive. Traditionally a trading port, the city's heritage is reflected in its diverse mix of inhabitants from a wide mix of ethnicities and backgrounds. As a convergence point for pilgrims and traders, the city also boasts an impressive range of shops, cafes and restaurants. At the Corniche (waterfront area), you'll find a range of beaches and some of the most exclusive party spots frequented by the richest families in the region and celebrities. Jeddah is also used as the main entry point for pilgrims undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage to the iconic sites of Mecca and Medina, the two most sacred cities of the Islamic Faith.
The city offers a well-balanced holiday destination with a range of activities and places of interest to suit all tastes. History lovers won't want to miss the historic Al-Balad (old quarter), which is set apart by its bustling souqs and coral stone buildings, while the Corniche area's exclusivity and opulence will appeal to those looking for a more upmarket holiday experience. Jeddah is a great choice of holiday destination for those from different cultures as it is more liberal than the capital city of Saudi Arabia Riyadh, meaning women are not required to cover their hair in public (although it's worth remembering that they must still wear an abaya (cloak), and travel with a male chaperone).
As a conservative Muslim country, alcohol is illegal, making this a good choice of destination for those that embrace a clean lifestyle and prefer not to be disturbed by drunken revellers at night. Jeddah also hosts the most tourist-friendly annual festival each year between June and July, the Jeddah Festival, which attracts tourists from across the globe with more than 200 thrilling events.
Things to Do
A city for families, history lovers and shoppers; everyone will find something to enjoy in Jeddah.
Go bargain hunting
Of course, no trip to Saudi Arabia would be complete without a shopping trip to one of the country's bustling markets, traditionally known as souqs. The most famous in the city is the Souq Al Alawi, which is run off Al Dahab Street and offers the most comprehensive selection of goods in the Kingdom. You can spend many hours here searching for authentic Arabian goods including Islamic art, traditional jewellery and authentic clothing and textiles.
Picturesque coral houses
The historic Naseef House is famous in the city as it's the best-preserved old coral house, making it a must-see attraction for history buffs. The restored Naseef House used to belong to one of the region's most powerful families of traders, and it's set back from the Souq Al Alawi with wide ramps, which were installed to allow access to camel-riding messengers.
For history lovers
One of the top attractions for history enthusiasts is the Al Tayibat City Museum for International Civilisation. This is a privately-owned collection of ancient artefacts, Islamic manuscripts, weaponry, coins and traditional Saudi Arabian clothing that is spread out over four-floors. History fans will love the in-depth information panels that accompany the exhibits here, and there's the opportunity to take a private tour, so you can take your time studying the displays.
Best for families
The Fakieh Aquarium has a huge range of fish species including favourites such as sharks and turtles. This is a family-friendly attraction with a buffet-style restaurant that overlooks the Red Sea and there's excellent facilities including an ice-skating rink, a kid-friendly arcade and ladies-only nights on Wednesdays.
Shop for seafood
If you're looking to immerse yourself in Saudi Arabian culture during your visit to Jeddah, head to the Fish Market, a daily market that runs between 5am and 9pm. This vibrant and bustling market is located to the west of the Corniche and offers at least 50 types of fish and seafood including squid and parrotfish. Make sure you arrive early (5am to 9am) to get your pick of the early morning catch.
Learn about Jeddah's heritage
Another great historic attraction in Jeddah is the Beit Al Balad, built in the early 20th century to serve as the British legation's headquarters in the area. Beit Al Balad has been reinvented as a museum showcasing photographs and artefacts that document the city's rich heritage.
Calendar of Events
At first look, Saudi Arabia seems to many visitors to have a limited range of festivities, as the country's only official holidays are the Islamic holy days of Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as well as just one secular holiday, the Unification of the Kingdom Day. However, as Jeddah is renowned as the most laid-back city in the Kingdom, it has a more fun-loving atmosphere here whilst maintaining the decorum and conservatism that Saudi Arabia is famous for.
- Jeddah Festival. The most tourist-friendly Saudi Arabian event, this festival was first held back in 2000 and has been a runaway success, steadily growing over the years to now boast a roster of more than 200 exciting attractions and events. The festival presents an ideal opportunity for those from foreign cultures to sample traditional Saudi food, browse souks for hand-crafted goods and congregate near the Corniche to see the stunning opening fireworks exhibitions.
- Food Festival. Thanks to its blossoming tourist industry, Jeddah has recently started running the Jeddah Food Festival each April. The festival boasts more than 114 restaurants and food vendors that offer everything from traditional Saudi cuisine through to international offerings including Asian foods. The event has more than 35 different attractions and activities for all the family, including live cooking demonstrations, stand-up comedy routines and shadow puppet theatres.
- Unification of the Kingdom Day. Saudi Arabia's only non-religious public holiday takes place annually on 23rd September, the anniversary of Saudi Arabia's founding in 1932. While many Saudis still celebrate this low-key holiday in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, increasing numbers of young Saudis choose to show their national pride by waving Saudi Arabian flags, singing and dancing.
- Eid ul-Fitr. The most important event in Saudi Arabia, Saudis mark the last day of the fasting month of Ramadan with this three-day long religious celebration. Eid ul-Fitr commences with a small morning meal and quiet reflection and prayers, continuing later on with bigger meals, often with friends and family. During this festival, Saudi children are gifted with money and intricately-decorated gift bags from adults and many shopkeepers give free gifts away with purchases. There is a real sense of community spirit in Jeddah at this time, as Saudi men leave large bags of food on the doorsteps of strangers to mark this important time of year.