A short Arabic phrase – ‘Jeddah ghair‘ – is often used by locals and visitors alike to describe the city. Simply put, it means ‘Jeddah is different’, which is really is. Saudi Arabia’s oldest, biggest and busiest city is bustling with beaches, art galleries, restaurants and cafes. Here are 11 of the best things to see and do when you’re visiting.
For centuries, Jeddah served as an important seaport. In fact, its ports were always so full of life that it became known as the ‘bride of the red sea’. Today, the corniche is still an integral part of life in Jeddah – families and groups of friends flock to this point during the evening for barbecues, walks, or just to catch the sea breeze.
This waterfront got a facelift in 2017 and now comprises around 730,000 kilometres of beaches, restaurants, parks, resorts, and mosques. And you can expect plenty of concerts (now that they have been legalised!) and festivals here pretty much every weekend.
Al Baik, Saudi Arabia’s most famous local fast food chain, has most of its branches in Jeddah and is a must-try dining experience (yes, fast food can be an experience). Although its menu has evolved in recent years to include more options, the classic, consisting of just some fried chicken paired with Al Baik’s special garlic sauce, still remains the local favourite.
Most people prefer the take away option since most branches just have dining areas for men and are extremely crowded. So, simply order a meal, take it back home, dunk a piece of what the locals believe is the best fried chicken in the world into some delicious garlic sauce, and repeat. It’s also pretty affordable – roughly US$4 for a hearty meal for one.
The summer heat can be pretty intense in Jeddah so most people prefer to spend as much of their time in air-conditioned indoor areas as possible. This may be why malls are such an integral part of this city’s culture. They’re so much more than just places where you can shop.
Red Sea Mall, for instance, features a history section that has traditional decorations and paintings of historical Saudi figures as well as boutiques that sell local items and dresses.
Newcomers are often pleasantly surprised by Jeddah’s strong cafe culture. Some of the best food, conversations with strangers, and coffee can be found in the city’s most popular cafes. Brew 92, Gailah Hub, and Medd are easily among the favourites.
It is easy to say that there is a shawarma or falafel place on just about every commercial street of Jeddah. No two shawarmas or falafels are ever the same, so make sure to try as many as possible!
There is a thriving art scene in Jeddah and Athr Gallery is the perfect place to get acquainted with it. It is one of Jeddah’s leading contemporary art spaces and regularly hosts exhibitions of photographs, montages, ink drawings, scripture, sculpture, abstract work, and the likes to provide a great platform to Saudi and Arab artists.
Also known as the Jeddah Fountain, this iconic structure situated on the coast has been towering at 1,024 feet for over three decades now and can be seen from most places in Jeddah. At night, hundreds of lights illuminate the fountain.
Al-Balad is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Jeddah. Literally translating to ‘the town’, it was founded in the seventh century and served as the sea port of the region. Most of the streets and houses have remained fairly unchanged since, which is why this is a must-visit for the days when you want to get away from the malls and traffic.
The Floating Mosque (also known as Fatima Al Zahra Mosque) attracts millions of visitors every year, especially during high tides. The beautiful white mosque is constructed on pillars that are rooted underwater, giving it the impression of floating in the sea. The building is fully functional and used by many for prayers, but is also open for tourists who want to take pictures or just look around.
Located by the Red Sea (just like most of Jeddah’s best things), Al-Shallal is more of a resort than a theme park and attracts hundreds of residents and tourists every day. There are man-made lakes and waterfalls dotting the grounds with roller coasters and other rides spread out between them.
And because the park is located so close to the sea, the views from the highest point of any ride are always a treat. If the heat starts to become a problem, visitors can always recharge at one of the several restaurants or the two-storey mall (which includes a bowling alley and an ice skating rink).
If you want to enjoy the desert in and around Jeddah, any time of the year is perfect. There are many desert safari operators that offer 4×4 adventures, camel tours, and dune bashing trips into the desert (including overnight stays).