The second largest city after Riyadh, Jeddah is a commercial hub sitting to the west along the Red Sea with the second busiest seaport in the Middle East. Jeddah is also the principal gateway to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, and sees over a million pilgrims a year on their way to perform the Hajj. Despite this, Jeddah is perceived to be the most liberal city in Saudi Arabia and is a popular tourist destination, offering the beauty of ancient architecture mixed with the latest luxuries. At its center is Al Balad, a historical Old Town with traditional multistory buildings and merchant houses that gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014. This living museum is undergoing a major restoration project issued by royal decree. In contrast, the Jeddah Corniche, a modern seaside avenue, is the heart of the social scene in the city with a string of beach resorts, open-air art sculptures, hotels, eateries, and recreational spots. Though Jeddah’s robust food culture features almost every cuisine imaginable, its close proximity to the Red Sea puts local seafood at the forefront, unlike elsewhere in the country. The Red Sea also offers opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and fun maritime activities around the colorful corals just off the shore.
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Al Balad Historical District
The UNESCO-protected historical district at the core of the city, Al Balad, is comprised of more than 650 historical buildings made of coral stone, limestone, and wood, dating back at least 200-300 years. A wave of modernity and wealth saw residents move out in the 1960s and 70s in favor of a new suburban lifestyle with modern comforts and conveniences, leaving much of the the once grand multi-story structures to fall into disrepair. The historic district has been recognized for its historical significance and is currently undergoing much needed renovations as part of the country’s grand masterplan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy. The goal is to transform Al Balad into an attractive residential district once again that also exists as a living museum that preserves its past.
The city’s waterfront, the corniche’s 18 mile stretch is lined with restaurants, hotels, an aquarium, gardens, civic sculptures including the famous King Fahd’s Fountain, and the the floating mosque to the north. It is a popular spot during the mornings and late afternoons when people come to congregate with friends and family and enjoy the seaside breeze and views. The Jeddah Corniche is also known as the area for the F1 street circuit which stretches over 3.5 miles along its length, inaugurated in 2021.
Floating Mosque Al Rahma
Famously known as the Floating Mosque, the Al Ahma Mosque sits on the northern tip of Jeddah’s waterfront and appears to float atop the water during high tide. The mosque features classic Islamic design with a distinctive domed aquamarine roof and pearly white minaret. All guests are welcome, both pilgrims and tourists; it is popular to stroll the outdoor courtyard and enjoy the sea breeze and coastal views.
Although modern shopping malls dominate the scene with shiny buildings and international brands, Jeddah’s colorful souqs and their warren of stalls offer a true taste of Jeddah’s culture and history. These storied marketplaces are where locals come to gather, socialize, and shop. While some souqs specialize in certain products such as handwoven carpets and cloths, the majority showcase a variety of goods, fresh baked breads, spices, food and juices.
Al Wahbah Crater
A four-hour drive outside of Jeddah, this spectacular natural wonder beckons visitors with its dramatic size at 2.5 miles wide and 820 feet deep. The crater was believed to be formed by a meteorite crashing to earth but research revealed it to be a maar crater, a shallow hollow caused by volcanic eruptions that occur when groundwater comes into contact with hot lava. The lunar landscape can be enjoyed from above at the crater’s rim as well as from close up where an opaque lake is located at its center. It is a 45-minute hike down, and a more difficult 90-minute hike back up.
Day-trip to Taif
A popular summer getaway from Jeddah, Taif is an evocative mountain city known for its damask roses that grow in the surrounding wadis and mountains. The roses bloom in April and are collected to turn into rose water and perfume, a large industry of the city, though August is a popular time to come as well when its popular Souq Okaz festival and Crown Prince Camel festival occur.
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