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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Things to do in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

After our time near Al Ula in Northwestern Saudi Arabia, we headed back to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. We have been to a fair share of Old Towns around the world; however, Jeddah was one of the most unique we have ever visited. In fact, the city’s actual motto is ‘Jeddah’s Different”, or “Jeddah ghair” in Arabic; we definitely found this to be case. Part of the uniqueness of Jeddah is that because it is a major port city for Saudi Arabia and is the main port for those coming on their pilgrimage to Mecca. Therefore, it has been influenced by a variety of traders and artists over its history. These are some of the top things to do in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah Old Town – Al-Balad

This historical part of the city is an UNESCO World Heritage site and dates back to the 7th century AD. Jeddah grew in importance due to it being a major port for the trade routes, especially channeling goods to Mecca. It was also the arrival location for the Muslim pilgrims arriving by sea to complete their pilgrimage to Mecca. Therefore, its look and feel was heavily influenced by the crafts and traditions from along the trade route.

Man in thobe walking through the narrow alleyway of Al-Balad with the traditional houses surrounding him. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Exploring the quaint alleys of Old Town Jeddah

The traditional buildings of Jeddah are those that have a Red Sea coastal coral building tradition that used to be common along seaside towns on both sides of the Red Sea. The houses are tower-like and have large wooden Roshan built on them. There are also several gates that led into the historical city. This used to be the part of the city where the elite lived.

Two children watching the pigeons fly away at the Jeddah Al-Balad gate in Saudi Arabia
Watching pigeons at one of the Jeddah Old Town gates.

Today, the Old Town is mainly inhabited by immigrants from some of the other surrounding countries who aren’t as well off. However, as we wandered around the streets of the Old Town you could see the restoration work being done. Several of the buildings have been carefully restored, while others haven’t been attended to yet and are being held up by various braces. It was a little dirtier than what I had imagined it would be and there were lots of stray cats, but it was definitely worth checking out. It will only be a matter of time before this historic area of Jeddah is fully restored, due to the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 and the work being done to build the tourism sector.

We honestly just enjoyed walking around and taking it all in. There are several shops in parts of the Old Town, but we were walking in the early afternoon and they all seemed to be closed. If looking for more excitement or shops, then coming towards the late afternoon/evening might be your best option.

However, one of the greatest parts about exploring the Old Town was the people we met. We were on the search for a coffee and saw a little stand open. We asked if they had coffee and they invited us to come down and sit inside the 300+ year old building. However, after we sat down we realized that they were still working on the coffee shop and it wouldn’t be opening for another couple of days. However, they still brought us coffee and waters for the kids, and treated us on the house. One of the men there was from Palestine and we chatted with him quite a while learning about his family and his business as an artist. If we would have had room in our bags we would have gotten something!

One place I wish we would have visited was the Nasseef House, which has 106 rooms and was home to the former king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz. It has been restored to its former glory and is supposed to be reminiscent of what a house would have looked like nearly a century ago. However, we explored Jeddah in the days prior to the Red Sea Film Festival and there was lots of construction going on in the area, and we ended up missing in it our canvasing of the Old Town.

If you’re looking for a more structured exploration of the Old Town, then check out this itinerary from Visit Saudi.

Jeddah Corniche | King Fahd Fountain & Al Rahma Mosque

This seaside promenade is a great place to go for a walk to see the Red Sea coastline. Several higher end hotels are along this stretch and we found a great playground for the kids to enjoy. There are even a few beach access points. We were visiting during the weekend of the F1 Grand Prix so part of it was closed to pedestrian access due to the race track and viewing areas being right up against it.

King Fahd Fountain

This fountain is unique in that it uses sea water to spew up in the air 312 meters high at a speed of 350 kph. It even boasts as the world’s tallest fountain. This site is best visited after dark as it is lit up and is a popular place for people to come and hang out at night enjoying their tea or dinners. The fountain is named after King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who donated it to the city of Jeddah.

King Fahd Fountain shooting up sea water along the Jeddah Corniche in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
King Fahd Fountain that shoots sea water up over 300 meters high!

Al Rahma Mosque

This mosque also sits along Jeddah’s waterfront. It actually sits out away from the shore, so during the high tide, it looks like it is floating in the water since it sits on stilts. Since we were there during the F1 Grand Prix race weekend, we weren’t able to access the part of the sea walk where the mosque jets out from. However, Alex got tickets to the inaugural Jeddah Grand Prix race, so as he was walking around between races he was able to snap a few photos of it! However, normally it is open to all visitors and is open 24 hours/day.

Al Rahma Mosque accessible from Jeddah Corniche in Saudi Arabia.
Al Rahma Mosque sitting out over the Red Sea from Jeddah Corniche.

Red Sea Mall

While it may seem odd to head to a mall in a new city, malls are big in the Middle East so it gives you a good glimpse at local culture. Plus, all the malls are quite nice and extravagant and a great place to keep cool during the hot hours of the daytime.

This particular mall was huge! But the highlight for our family was that it had an indoor amusement park and indoor soft play area. The kids had been missing the indoor play places from home, so we hit it up one afternoon. It was a little more expensive than what we’d pay at home – 70 SAR ($18.66 USD/$23.58 CDN) but they were so happy and literally were here all afternoon.

Other Places to visit:
Al Tayebat International City

This is actually a museum that highlights some of the history of Jeddah, including some of its historical artifacts and highlights the traditional architecture of the city. There is even a mosque on site. However, the museum is only open from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. and unfortunately we arrived during the closed period and didn’t have any other days left in Jeddah to explore it.

Jeddah Heritage Museum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
There is even a functioning mosque at Al Tayebat International City Museum.

Diving or Snorkeling in the Red Sea

This is another popular thing to do while staying along the Red Sea. We went snorkeling on the opposite side of the Red Sea in Egypt, and really enjoyed the snorkeling there so I imagine it is amazing on this side of the Red Sea as well. However, we don’t have our own snorkel equipment and it was a bit costly for us to go out on a boat tour, so it didn’t work out for us at this time. If you are planning to snorkel here on your own, one thing to keep in mind would be swim attire, as a bikini wouldn’t be acceptable here in public areas.

Taif | Possible Day Trip from Jeddah

If you are unable to explore further south into the mountainous regions of Saudi Arabia, but are looking for a mountain experience, then Taif might be a good option to explore. Just over 2 hours drive from Jeddah, this mountain town gives you a glimpse of the Asir mountain range that stretches across the southern portion of Saudi Arabia into Yemen.

The road that takes you from Jeddah to Taif actually passes right through Mecca. However, if you are non-Muslim there will be various signs to guide you around the city on a ring-road so you do not enter the holy city. From the ring road we could actually see a checkpoint along the main highway.

Road Sign with directions for non-Muslims around the city of Mecca.
Sign along the highway between Jeddah & Taif that directs non-Muslims around the holy city of Mecca.

There are a variety of things in to do in Taif, as it is a big getaway place for people from Jeddah. There are amusement parks galore, a gondola that takes you from the base of the mountain to the top and even Saiysad National Park. We didn't make it to the National Park during our stay because we ran short on time, but from the reviews we read it sounds like it best visited during the wet season.

One of the biggest surprises for us as we ascended up the mountain to Taif was finding baboons on the side of the road! These are Hamadryas baboons and are native to the Asir Mountains and this area of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. However, they seem to like to enjoy hanging out on the side of the road, assumingly because people often throw garbage or food scraps at them. However, just be aware that because they have become dependent on human food, they aren’t afraid to approach vehicles. As we were pulled over to watch them on a roadside turnout we actually had one large male one jump on the front of our vehicle.

There is also a large parking lot filled with food vendors and Taif Park Rudaf, which is a really large green space park in the center of the city. They literally had about 10+ playgrounds, an evening light display and a fountain show.

We enjoyed our time in Jeddah, even having a couple of days to take things a bit slower. This city was a great mix between historical and modern and it offered so much. After taking the time in Jeddah and a day in Taif, we continued heading south to Abha & more of the Asir Mountain range.

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