“Jeddah Ghair”: Jeddah is different
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s magnificent coastal city, tells an enchanting tale of old and new. Its unofficial slogan; "Jeddah Ghair", which translates to "Jeddah is different," gives an intriguing glimpse into this influential city with its juxtaposition of folkloric fantasies and modern wonders. It is a spiritual gateway to Makkah and Madinah, a dynamic cosmopolitan centre for investment and wealth, and an emerging Red Sea holiday destination offering a diverse range of unique experiences.
Effervescent and dazzling, it surveys the shores of the Red Sea, beckoning tourists to explore its endless waterfront entertainment options, resorts, shopping districts, outdoor art sculptures and much more. Despite being the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah is a city of firsts; it holds multiple Guinness World Records and is a pioneer in engineering, architecture and entertainment facilities. Whatever type of holiday experience you are seeking, Jeddah caters to all curiosities and desires; from those looking for tranquillity and peaceful reflection to adrenaline junkies and history buffs.
Historic Jeddah - Gateway to Makkah
Jeddah's rise in importance began in the 7th century when the 3rd Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (RA) made Jeddah the official gateway to Makkah. This would shape the future of the city and make it an axis of continuous multicultural influx. Muslims from all over the world came to the shores of this thriving Islamic port, bringing trade and ideas with them. Even today, Jeddah is a key Umrah Plus destination for those who want to extend their stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia beyond the holy cities - the high-speed Haramain Express train service connects both Makkah and Madinah, quickly and easily with Jeddah Airport Station, which is located inside King Abdulaziz Airport.
Jeddah's architecture is an outstanding example of the enormous influence of international merchants who travelled between Asia, India and Europe. This site of Islamic excellence has thrived over the centuries. Visitors can now stay in lodgings built to welcome the great arrival of pilgrims. The city was built around multicultural and social interactions and retains that warm, welcoming atmosphere to this day.
Some believe that Hawwa (عليها السلام), or Eve, the first and only wife of Prophet Adam (AS), is buried in Jeddah and that the city was named after her since Jeddah means ‘grandmother’ in Arabic.
Top attractions in Jeddah
- Jeddah Waterfront & Corniche
- South Corniche
- King Fahd’s Fountain
- Al Tayebat City
- Abdul Raouf Museum
- Jeddah’s Beaches
- Al Shallal Theme Park
- Atallah Happy Land Park
- Bay La Sun Marina & Yacht Club
- Fakieh Aquarium
Jeddah Waterfront & Corniche
The Jeddah Waterfront is the vibrant 30 km stretch of seaside life in Jeddah. The waterfront has been designed to attract everyone, with bathing coves, lush, manicured landscapes, a selection of restaurants offering delicious fare, smooth bike paths and sparkling piers.
The South Corniche is the least frequented bay and is 45 kms from central Jeddah. The coast of Jeddah is divided into three sections due to its 110 km span. Along the South Corniche you will find restaurants, parks and even flamingos. This is a great place for those looking for quieter beaches and peaceful seascapes, sea and sand.
King Fahd’s Fountain
King Fahd's Fountain is the tallest large water jet in the world. It is a focal point of the city’s nightlife, drawing both tourists and locals to see the fountain lit up until midnight.
Bustling, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Al-Balad is a historic neighbourhood in the centre of the modern capital whose ancient walls, quaint streets and charming restaurants retain the authentic sense of rustic tradition that has borne witness to many centuries of history. Al-Balad is home to a number of carefully protected, colourful historical buildings. The best way to explore this time capsule is on foot. Meander the streets infused with the smell of rich coffee beans, syrupy lokum and the heady scents of incense. Browse the stalls displaying silk wares, heaps of dates, and goods from across the Islamic world.
Al-Balad is a beautiful place, fitting to its central role throughout history. Signs mark the "Historical Hajj Route" for today’s visitors highlighting the position which Jeddah occupied as a stopover on the journey of Hajj and Umrah for the visitors of olden times. Today’s Muslim visitors can feel connected to Muslims of the past, who could often start travelling to Makkah up to 6 months before the Hajj period, hoping to arrive on time.
This fascinating old city is home to eight historic gates or doors (‘bab’ in Arabic), which would have been closed at night to protect the narrow streets within, and more than ten historic houses. The historic Makkah Gate (Bab Makkah) is a popular attraction which was an important landmark for pilgrims on their way to the holy city. Passing through Al-Balad was an emotional relief, as they were finally close to their destination.
Here are some of the other must-see sights of Al-Balad:
- Nassif House Museum (Bait Nassif) - The Nassif House Museum is a marvellous treasure trove of historical and cultural artefacts. The museum and cultural centre is made up of 40 rooms, transformed into galleries and cafés, housed in the building which is the first Arabic house of oriental design in Jeddah.
- House of Jeddah and Our Good Days Museum (Bait Sallom) - This captivating museum allows visitors to imagine what it was like to live in Jeddah in the past, preserved as a time capsule of a former way of life. With furniture from India, cotton from Egypt, sweet treats from Europe and Hijazi-style seating, the house is a fine example of how multicultural Islamic exchange influenced everyday life.
- Bab Jadid - Start your tour around Al-Balad at Bab Jadid (New Gate), which was once the main entrance to the neighbourhood, built at the beginning of the 1940s. It stood guard, protecting the bustling old centre of Balad.
Al-Balad cafés - The Al-Balad cafés are a great way to unwind and soak up the historic atmosphere. Whether you sit in a cafe on the street in the middle of the action or on a rooftop overlooking the skyline of rainbow buildings and hazy skies, it is bound to be an unforgettable experience.
Al Tayebat City
The International Tayebat City of Science and Knowledge is a museum complex in the Al Faisaliyah district of Jeddah. The complex, which was once a palace, showcases its cherished traditional Hijazi architecture in hundreds of rooms across several buildings. The use of the word "science" in Islamic scholarship and teaching was much more than the scientific subjects we recognise today, it was a holistic approach to knowledge. The museum brings Islamic history to life with the Islamic Heritage House, the International Heritage House and the Heritage Public Exhibition. Visitors can explore everything from manuscripts to weapons to clothing.
Abdul Raouf Museum
The Abdul Raouf Museum displays Jeddah's history and knowledge. It showcases the city's long history, dating back 2,500 years, as well as ancient archaeological, Ottoman and Saudi history. The museum's building is an excellent example of Rawashin architecture, characterised by latticed wooden windows that let in light, but block heat.
The hot temperatures, clear skies and warm waters make Jeddah a perfect beach holiday destination. The turquoise waters of the Red Sea lap pristine golden sandy beaches. Jeddah's coastal bay offers endless beaches open for swimming, picnicking, extreme water sports or simply lounging.
King Salman Bay Beach - A tranquil beach considered one of Jeddah's most beautiful beaches, ideal for watching the sun set over the sea.
Thuwal Beach - When one thinks of beaches, one rarely thinks of mosques. Thuwal Beach is named after the neighbouring seaside mosque, which is open for your daily prayers after a day in the water.
Private beaches - Numerous private beaches offer aesthetic amenities such as golf courses, water parks, beach villas and easy access to water sports. Makarem Annakheel Hotel on HalalBooking.com offers a private stretch of beach.
Al Shallal Theme Park
Opened in 2005, Al Shallal Theme Park is not just an ordinary theme park, but a complex that attracts over a million visitors each year. It has it all, thrilling rides for adrenaline seekers, family rides for all ages, fine dining restaurants, ice skating rinks, arcades and fun filled nights. Ladies Nights are every Wednesday from 5pm to 1:30am. The park is divided into 3 areas: an Amazon jungle themed area, a European village and a Far Eastern village.
Atallah Happy Land Park
Atallah Happy Land Park is one of the largest amusement parks in Jeddah. Easily accessible and offering great views of the Red Sea, it offers a range of outdoor activities such as bungee trampolines, climbing walls and indoor activities such as bowling, ice skating, air hockey and billiards.
Bay La Sun Marina & Yacht Club
Bay La Sun Marina & Yacht Club is the place for all water sports, tourists can dive, snorkel and even fish with rented fishing gear. The Marina is home to Aqua Fun, a unique water experience with a floating park for the whole family. For those looking for something a little more relaxed, Yam Beach is a beautiful swimming experience with coral reefs, clear water and all the facilities to make a day at the beach enjoyable.
The Fakieh Aquarium is a unique visit to Jeddah, offering visitors an insight into the exotic flora and fauna of the Red Sea. The aquarium's tunnels allow visitors to get up close and personal with over 7000 exotic sea creatures. The daily dolphin and sea lion show is a great way to experience the skill and beauty of God's underwater creatures.
Top Jeddah experiences
Your trip would not be complete without a full immersion in the culture of Saudi Arabia.
Coffee culture in Saudi Arabia is a symbolic display of hospitality and a form of communication. Be sure to try the Saudi coffee, which is infused with cardamom and spices to warm the soul. However, if you are looking for a taste of other specialty coffees, coffee shops offer a huge variety of coffees from around the world. Every country has a special connection to its local drinks and in the Muslim world, coffee or tea are often the heartiest way to socialise.
Arabia is home to the famous Oudh, which dominates the perfume market. Oudh is the resin extracted from the agar tree and its strength and depth come from the ageing process. A trip to Jeddah would be incomplete without igniting your senses with the scents of this liquid gold. A tour of the traditional bazaars can highlight the many uses of Oudh. The traditional form of oil or perfume spray are popular souvenirs, but you can also buy bakhoor, the wood chips from the tree that are burned to release the enticing smell. This is traditionally used on Fridays due to its sacred meaning and on feast days.
Moon Valley is a pearl of mystery. Despite being referred to as a valley, it is a tranquil stretch of desert that provides the perfect canvas for sunsets and stargazing. It is an ideal campsite and a favourite spot for locals looking to escape the urban hustle and bustle for a spiritual connection with God and nature.
Dune bashing is an adventurous and unforgettable way to experience the dunes and the special character of the Saudi desert. It is possible to book a tour online or at tourist centres. Each tour is unique and offers different experiences including camping, desert night shows, hiking, rock climbing, sand skiing, 4x4 jeeps, buggies or mountain bikes.
Shopping in Jeddah
Shopping in Jeddah can be spectacular. There are countless international chains and shops offering everything you could possibly need. The malls with their impeccable architecture envelop shoppers in a maze of shops. The markets and counters sell simple women's fashions, halal treats and the latest technologies.
Mall of Arabia
The largest mall in Arabia has over 300 shops, services and entertainment venues, with a Kidzania to tempt children and is very close to the airport for last minute shopping.
Red Sea Mall
The Red Sea Shopping Centre is home to Jeddah's first 12-screen, multi-class cinema. The Mall welcomes its visitors with one of the largest indoor water fountains and a wide selection of restaurants and fast food outlets.
This classic market revolves around the Shatee Mosque. The market is an open-air shopping bazaar with street food and hundreds of shops ranging from everyday essentials to luxury items. Due to the heat during the day, the market comes alive in the cooler evenings.
Mosques in Jeddah
Hovering on Jeddah's coast, the Al-Rahmah Mosque, also known as the ‘Floating Mosque’ is an architectural marvel. The basic structures of the mosque were designed under the sea surface, giving a wondrous effect of the mosque merging into waves and water. The mosque accommodates 21,000 worshippers with a stunning white marble interior, modern and classic Islamic art and a domed turquoise dome. Access to this beautiful site is free and open 24 hours a day.
King Saud Mosque
This impressive mosque, is the largest in the city of Jeddah, designed by the renowned Egyptian architect, Abdel Wahed El-Wakil, the contemporary master, who has designed more than 15 mosques in Saudi Arabia. This gleaming white mosque is spread over some 9,700 square metres, with its prayer hall alone being almost 2500 square metres in size. In fact, everything about this mosque is constructed to grand scale: the largest of its domes is around 20 metres in diameter and over 40 metres in height, and its minaret stretches 60 metres into the sky.
King Fahad Mosque
This mosque is built in typical Moorish style and bears a striking resemblance to the grand mosques of Morocco and in particular the Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakech, its architecture setting it apart from other mosques in the Kingdom. The interior is equally impressive with polished floors, delicately crafted columns and Moorish arches topped with triangular domes.
Also known as the Taneem mosque, this contemporary mosque has refigured the traditional iconic elements of mosques to offer a new architectural vision with its conical shape and crystal-glass minbar. It is used as a miqat station by pilgrims beginning their Umrah or Hajj journey and is known to have been the place where the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Aisha, prepared to enter Ihram.
Al Shafei Mosque
This mosque is listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage site and is a classic example of Hejazi architecture. The original building with its marble pillars dates back to the time of Omar Ibn al-Khattab (RA), the second Caliph, with the minarets having been added afterwards.
This architectural masterpiece sits on the shores of the Red Sea and its dazzling golden dome, one of the largest in the Middle East, is one of the most recognisable landmarks of the Jeddah coastline. It is known for its intricate turquoise tiles, splendid chandelier, multicoloured mosaics and complex calligraphy.
Halal food and restaurants in Jeddah
All food throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is halal and no alcohol is served anywhere, which makes it a wonderful destination for halal-conscious travellers. Muslims will enjoy the diverse variety of food on offer - both local specialities and international cuisine.
As a historic port city, Jeddah is all about the seafood and fish, with flavours influenced by the traditions of the seamen and merchants, who came from across the world to trade here.
Local fish, such as the fried grouper (najil), with its soft, white meat and sijan, which is served fried to a crisp, are popular. You should also try tasty dishes with prawns or crabs; fish kofta - which are a local fish cake, cooked with spice and fried to a golden crisp; mashramel - which is baked in the oven with tahini, lemon juice and garlic and sprinkled with pine nuts and parsley; or Matfi Samak - a sour fish dish cooked with tamarind sauce and served with rice.