Jeddah is a Saudi Arabian city located on the coast of the Red Sea. It is Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, a major port and commercial center. It is home to government offices, as well as numerous shopping districts, restaurants and cafes, the largest Corniche (waterfront promenade) in the Kingdom, featuring numerous hotels, beaches and resorts.
Jeddah serves as the main entry point for pilgrims making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the two sacred cities of Islam. Both are a few hours inland from Jeddah, but are off limits to non-Muslims. As a result of being a prominent port throughout history, Jeddah is also the country’s most cosmopolitan city. The 2,500 year old town district, Al-Balad, is now a protected area featuring many ancient houses made of coral. The Corniche is a seaside promenade and open air museum, featuring numerous modern sculptures by famous artists that were commissioned during the oil boom of the 1970’s and 80’s.
The city lies on the shores of the Red Sea and is therefore a great base to explore the stunning underwater life on the coral reefs. The city also offers some great shopping, ranging from modern air conditioned shopping malls and upmarket shops such as those on Tahlia Street; to street markets, the best known being Souq al-Alawi, one of the country’s best bazaars located right in the heart of the old town.
Jeddah has an arid climate, with very hot summers. Temperatures often surpass 40°C. Winters are quite warm, temperatures range from 25°C in the daytime to 15°C at night. Summers are subject to dust storms. Rainfall is sparse, mostly occurring in the winter months, especially in December in the form of thunderstorms.
January average temperature 23 deg Celsius 5 mm rainfall February average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 6 mm rainfall March average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 1 mm rainfall April average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 1 mm rainfall May average temperature 30 deg Celsius, 5 mm rainfall June average temperature 31 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall July average temperature 32 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 32 deg Celsius, 0mm rainfall September average temperature 31 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall October average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall November average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall December average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 31 mm rainfall
Jeddah is served by King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED), Saudi Arabia’s largest airport. There are two terminals; the South is used for domestic flights and the North for international flights. There are two special terminals, specifically used for the Hajj pilgrims who go directly to Mecca.
Taxi fare to the city costs around SR50. Agree on the price before the trip.
Taxis are cheap and widely available. There are two varieties; the yellow cars that show a taxi sign are cheaper and shabbier, whereas the white limousine taxis are nicer and charge higher rates.
Rental agencies abound. Roads are wide and well signposted both in Arabic and English. Maps are available at supermarkets and libraries. Saudi Arabia has some of the cheapest fuel prices in the world. An international driving license is required. Note that it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Smaller buses are privately owned and are easier to use. Large buses are government owned and do not follow a schedule. Busses are usually crowded and have no air conditioning.
Boats are not really used for transportation but more for leisurely cruising and enjoying the Red Sea. You can get boats at the Obhur marina, north of Jeddah.
Jeddah is located on the shores of the Red Sea where scuba diving and snorkeling is very popular. The coral is in very good shape, there are myriads of colorful fish and visibility is amazing, 30 to 40 meters is common. The reefs are easily accessible from the shore. The water temperatures are pleasant, around 29° C in the summer and 22° C in the winter. There are several specialized dive stores that sell most of the top brand gear, as well as offering diving courses. Equipment can be rented from these shops by the day, weekend or for the two week dive classes.
Jeddah has hundreds of shops of all types, from open air markets and bazaars to modern air conditioned shopping malls. Tahlia Street is best for shopping clothes, where most of the famous designer brands are available. Visit the Gold Souq where good quality gold of 18k and 24k is sold by weight. Local products and authentic souvenirs can be found around Gabel Street, which is lined with open air markets. There you can browse for traditional items such as tea pots, rugs and perfumes.
The 2,500 year old town is one of the best things to see in Jeddah. It was once walled but the walls have now disappeared. Remaining are the ancient buildings, souks, and the famed coral houses. Wander around in its streets and delve into the markets. Souq al-Alawi is one of the country’s best bazaars, where it is easy to spend several hours among its numerous wares. The busy market street is situated right at the heart of the old city, lined with ancient coral houses. Sadly the latter are in bad shape. Fortunately one coral house is now beautifully restored, and open to the public as a museum. This national treasure is Naseef House, once the home of a prominent trading family
The Corniche in Jeddah is an elegant stretch of waterfront along the Red Sea. Taking a walk along the 35 km long waterfront is a favored pastime, especially on a warm summer night. Join the locals as they sit around talking, playing, eating, and chatting. The Corniche is also a large open air gallery featuring modern sculptures and artwork by various artists, including a piece by Henry Moore. The cornice also features the King Fahd Fountain: the 312 meters high water jet makes it the highest fountain in the world.
THE FLOATING MOSQUE
One of the most loved and visited sights of the city. This mosque is located right on the coast of the Red Sea thus giving the impression that it floats upon the water. It boasts a shimmering white exterior and a beautifully decorated interior. It is one of the most sacred sites in Jeddah.
Islam’s holiest city is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the religion he founded. The city is home to the Masjid al-Haram, the largest mosque in the world, which surrounds the Kaaba: an ancient stone structure, it is a 15 by 12 meter granite cube, which Muslims turn towards while offering daily prayer. Once a year, the Hajj pilgrimage takes place in Mecca and nearby sites, attracting three million people of all races. Every Muslim is supposed to perform the Hajj pilgrimage once in their lifetime. The city is located around 80 km from Jeddah, in the Sirat Mountains. Note that Mecca and the holy sites in its immediate vicinity are off limits to non-Muslims.
Jeddah abounds in restaurants of all kinds, and eating out is the favorite national pastime. You can find restaurants serving Arab, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Lebanese, Filipino, French, Italian and American cuisines. Fast food chains and cheap local eateries also abound.
The food available in Jeddah is heavily influenced by the Islamic dietary laws, so pork dishes are non existent. Among the most popular local dishes are ‘shwarma’ (lamb kebab), ‘khobz’ (Arabic bread), ful or foul (garbanzo and fava beans), and hummus (garbanzo beans and sesame paste).
Saudi Families love eating out; among their favorite areas are Al Corniche and Maghreb. Among the best restaurants serving local food are Fattah Restaurant, Al-Nakheel, Al-Falah, Al-Zawaq and Al-Baik. All restaurants are segregated into sections for either family or for men only
Ramadan is a month dedicated to fasting. Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink and smoke during the day. Please note, during this time, visitors are also requested to respect the same in public. In addition, please be aware that the majority of restaurants and eateries are closed for this month.
Date: at the end of the Ramadan
The festival marks the end of the fasting month Ramadan, and the whole country celebrates with feasts, holidays and daytrips, and people wear their best clothes. Note that during this time most establishments are closed.
Date: 10th day of the Islamic month of Dhul Hijja
On this day Muslims remember Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael for Allah. It also marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which is made by millions of Muslims. At this time thousands of pilgrims pass through the city as they are returning home.
Jeddah Summer Festival
Date: June, July
The festival has been held since 2000, it features a varied program, including music, local crafts and food, and fireworks. It attracts huge numbers of visitors, as many as 3 million. The festival also serves as a showcase for the local goldsmiths who display their work.
Nightlife in Jeddah is vastly different than in the Western world. Alcohol in Saudi Arabia is expressly forbidden, and there are no bars, nightclubs or discos. Restaurants serve non-alcoholic beer and non-alcoholic cocktails.
There are, however, numerous coffee chops and shisha (hookah) cafes where people gather to sip coffee smoke shishas and chat. Tahliya Street is a popular evening hang out, where the people of Jeddah come to eat in the elegant restaurants and peruse the upmarket stores.
Another popular evening activity is strolling by the beaches, especially along the Corniche.
Jeddah was founded as a fishing settlement in 500 B.C. Its importance bloomed in 647 A.D., when it became the port for the Muslim pilgrims on their Hajj to Mecca. For centuries it was the main port and point of entry for the Hajj pilgrims. As such it was occupied many times throughout history. In 696 it came under the control of the Fatmids, who developed vast trade connections to the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. In 1171 Jeddah became part of the Ayyubid Empire. After the dissolution of the latter, the city became part of the Mamluk Sultanate. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks conquered the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt and Syria, and as a result Jeddah along with Medina and Mecca passed into Ottoman hands. They re-fortified the city walls against attacks from the Portuguese. Jeddah and Mecca were conquered from the Ottomans by the Nejdi forces in 1802. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Jeddah became one of the main ports on the trade route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The city proliferated immensely. Soon the city became home to the European diplomatic legations and rich merchants.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
King Abdul Aziz unified the Kingdom from 1904 to 1925 when Jeddah was taken over, at which time the entire Hijaz Region submitted to his rule. After 31 years he managed to establish the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and declared its founding on September 22, 1932. The last of the city walls and gates were torn down in 1947 and the city was free to expand.
During the 1970s the city expanded well past its old borders to become one of Saudi Arabia’s major commercial centers, with new shopping centers, business districts and apartment blocks that sprang up with breathtaking speed. The city continues to be the major entry point for the pilgrims on their way to Mecca.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country and Jeddah is no exception, although the city is less strict than Riyadh. Dress modestly. Men should avoid wearing shorts above the knee, and women should avoid wearing tight clothes, and instead opt for baggy, loose fitting clothes with arms, legs, shoulders and head always covered.
Most local women wear the traditional headscarf (hijab) and long black garment covering the entire body (abaya). Western women and non-Muslim women are only required to cover their heads but not wear the full abaya.
Respect segregation between the sexes. There is little or no touching between men and women when greeting in public. The standard greeting is Assalam alaikum (‘Peace be upon you') and the reply is Wa alaikum assalam (‘And upon you too be peace').
Keeping face is of great importance, so try not to lose your temper. Avoid conversations on politics and religion. Also, it is considered the ultimate rudeness to show disrespect for ones family name or tribe.
Use only your right hand for greeting and giving or receiving things. Remove your shoes before entering a carpeted room.
Crime rate is low and travelers are faced with petty crime at most; such as pick pocketing in crowded areas. Demonstrations and political gatherings are best avoided.
Homosexual behavior and adultery are illegal and can carry the death penalty. Photographing local people, government buildings, military installations and palaces is not allowed. Women are not permitted to drive. It is illegal to hold two passports and will be confiscated if discovered by the authorities.
Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and the official Islamic religion pervades all aspects of life there. Alcohol is forbidden. There are no bars and alcohol is not served anywhere, regardless of your religious persuasion. It may, however, be found at private parties, but bear in mind that corporal punishment does exist. It is rare for Westerners, but has nevertheless happened occasionally. It is prohibited to publicly display non-Islamic religious articles. Crosses and Bibles are not permitted in the country. Also, pork products are not allowed in the country.
Travel to Mecca and Medina is forbidden to non-Muslims. During Ramadan eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Medical emergency /ambulance: 997 Emergency numbers / immediate assistance: 902, 907 Police: 999 Fire division & rescue: 998
US Consulate in Jeddah
Web: jeddah.usconsulate.gov/ American Citizen Services Public Hours: Saturday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday, 1:00–3:00pm Closed US and Saudi Holidays Phone: (966) (2)667-0080 Fax: (966) (2)669-3098/3078 Email: JeddahACS@state.gov
Summer temperatures can be extreme, reaching as high as 42 degrees Celsius in the summer. To avoid this oppressive heat it is best to visit during the winter when temperatures are around a much more comfortable 25 degrees.