Jeddah travel guide
As the main point of entry, by air and sea, to Saudi Arabia, the flashy city of Jeddah is more cosmopolitan than Saudi's capital, Riyadh. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims making the traditional pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, just a few hours away inland, pass through two enormous, futuristic special terminals with a fibre-glass tent-shaped roof at the international airport during the Hajj season. Other visitors are few and far between, since Saudi Arabia has extremely strict entry requirements and is 'blacklisted' as a terrorism hotspot by Britain and the USA.
Those who do gain entry to this splendid modern metropolis are rewarded with experiencing a city where luxury is the norm. Fabulous seven-star palatial hotels give on to wide boulevards, encircling the ancient central old city, Balad, filled with colourful souks (bazaars) and mysterious medieval buildings built of Red Sea coral. The Red Sea shoreline is lined with a seemingly never-ending corniche, giving on to beautiful sandy beaches. Jeddah's restaurants and shopping malls are legendary. One of the unmissable sights in Jeddah is the King Fahd Fountain in the harbour, which is spectacular at night when it sends illuminated coloured jets of water 853 feet (260m) into the air.
Jeddah is named in honour of the Biblical Eve. 'Jadda' means 'grandmother' in the context of Eve, who according to legend is buried near the historical old city, although the actual site of the tomb is not marked by the Saudi Government.
Souq Al Alawi
The Souq Al Alawi is certainly an establishment in Jeddah. The
oldest and most traditional market in Saudi Arabia, the Souq is a
wonderful way to immerse oneself into local culture and see how
shopping among traders and pilgrims is truly done in this unique
part of the world.
Visitors will find anything from beautiful Islamic art, to one of a kind Arabic jewellery in this bustling market. Crowded and abuzz, the market has made a name for itself and is truly a site to behold. Visitors are encouraged to bargain; haggling here is the name of the game.
Address: Al Alawi Lane
Mecca is the holiest city in the Muslim world and is the
direction towards which the world's Muslims pray five times per
day. The pilgrimage to Mecca as part of the Haj is the centerpiece
of Islam's Five Pillars and a peak experience in the life of any
devout Muslim. The city, birthplace of the prophet Mohammed, cannot
be visited by non-Muslims.
The key sites in Mecca are the Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the world and can accommodate one million worshippers; Jabal Rahmah At Arafah, the tall white pillar marking the place where Adam and Eve met after 200 years of separation; and Muzdalifah, where pilgrims pray and collect stones to be used in the Haj rituals. Hira is another important landmark, a cave on the mountain Jabal Al-Nûr where Mohammed received his first revelations from the angel Jibreel.
Mecca is located in the Sirat Mountains, 45 miles (72km) from Jeddah. The city's entire economy depends on the Haj, and the large number of pilgrim immigrants from all over the globe has made it one of the most diverse in the Muslim world. The area is also considered an important archaeological site, with fossil discoveries nearly 30 million years old.
Located in the mountains near Mecca, Ta'if is a popular summer
holiday resort in Saudi Arabia. One of the few places in the region
that is open to non-Muslims, Ta'if is a fertile region known for
its rose farms, as well as grapes, pomegranates and honey
production; there are said to be more than 3,000 gardens in the
area. The fragrant valleys are good for hiking, and there are cable
cars to the top of the mountain in Al Hada.
There are some good restaurants and shops in Ta'if, and a popular souvenir is the rose water and perfume made from the rose farms in the area.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Ta'if, including Al Rudaf Park, a large natural park with interesting rock formations and a small zoo, and the Rock Carving Site 40km to the north that was the site of a huge pre-Islamic souk. Another interesting place is Wadi Mitna, which was a sanctuary for the Prophet Mohammed in the year 662. Visitors to Ta'if should also be sure to visit Al Shafa, a small village high in the mountains with incredible views.
Non-Muslim visitors to Ta'if should be aware that they will need to take the non-Muslim Bypass when driving from Jeddah, which adds a few miles to the journey.
Shopping in Jeddah is a serious sport. As there aren't many entertainment options for women in Saudi Arabia, shopping malls have turned into 'destination malls': enormous structures with not only hundreds of shops, but full-scale amusement parks, ice skating rinks, and dozens of restaurants. The facilities are ultra-modern, and most importantly completely air-conditioned, allowing both men and women in Jeddah to beat the heat while they enjoy themselves.
The newest and largest mall in Jeddah is the Mall of Arabia, which has more than 330 shops, and a Snow Village where guests can cool off and enjoy themselves in the snow. The mall has plenty of entertainment for children as well, including puppet shows and children's theatre. Other popular malls in Jeddah include the Red Sea Mall, the Heraa International Mall, and Roshan Mall. The selection of shops at the malls is huge, with many international brands that visitors will recognise, including Diesel, Nike, Banana Republic and much more. Most shops in Jeddah are open from 9 or 10am to 1pm, and then from 5pm to 10pm.
For a more authentic Middle Eastern shopping experience, the old town centre of Jeddah is home to a number of crowded souqs (bazaars) where touts are waiting to haggle over leathergoods, gold jewellery and textiles, as well as knock-off designer goods. The most popular bazaar in Jeddah is the Souq Al Alawi.
King Abdulaziz International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 12 miles (19km) from Jeddah.
Time: GMT +3.
Contacts: Tel: +966 (0)2 684 2227.
Transfer between terminals: There is no free transport provided between terminals. Passengers are required to pay for a taxi.
Getting to the city: Taxis are available and fares can be negotiated with the driver. There is a bus service connecting to the city but this tends to be crowded and unpleasant and is usually avoided by visitors. Construction will begin soon on a new high-speed rail link to connect the airport to the city.
Car rental: A number of car rental companies are represented at the airport, including Avis and Budget.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available and fares can be negotiated with the driver.
Facilities: Although it has been extended and renovated several times, Jeddah's airport remains crowded and chaotic. There are three terminals, with the North Terminal being used exclusively for international flights. There are money exchange facilities, a restaurant, a cafeteria and shops in this terminal. There are also two restaurants in the South Terminal. The vast Hajj terminals contain prayer and rest areas, markets, a clinic, banking services, and a mosque.
Parking: Parking is available outside each of the terminals.
Jeddah does not have an extensive public transport system and the easiest way of getting around the city is by private vehicle. Women are not allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia and are therefore reliant on male members of their family or a driver for transport. It's relatively easy for male visitors to rent a car and a number of well-known international car hire companies are located at the airport and in the city centre. Most hotels and expatriate compounds also offer shuttle services to the airport and the main shopping and business districts.
Public buses are available, but are mostly used by foreign workers for travel within the city. There are plenty of taxis in Jeddah, which can be hailed from the street or pre-booked by telephone. These offer the best means of transport for those not wanting to hire a car.
Jeddah features an arid climate, and unlike many other Saudi Arabian cities it retains its warmth during the winter months from November to February. Summer temperatures see the mercury reaching extreme temperatures, sometimes soaring above the 104°F (40°C) mark in the afternoons and hovering around 86°F (30°C) in the mornings and evenings. Dust storms from the Arabian Peninsula's deserts or from North Africa punctuate the summer months. Rainfall occurs infrequently, even in winter, but is most likely in the month of December when thunderstorms are common. Don't expect minimum winter temperatures to drop below 68°F (20°C).
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