Date: 22 Jan 2019

The bustling coastal city of Jeddah is full of surprises. Whether you are there for umrah, hajj or just a quick visit, you are certain to be surprised with every trip.

Although it is most famous for being the gateway to Mecca and Madina, Jeddah is a beautiful and holy city in its own right. Easily the most cosmopolitan (and liberal) city in Saudi Arabia, it is bursting with busy souqs, modern malls, stunning mosques and historic buildings.

It is well worth taking a few days to explore and experience the magnificent sights of this coastal city that’s full of surprises…

1. Walk along the beaches

A lot of people are surprised to learn that Jeddah has some of the most stunning beaches in the Middle East. Towards the north of the city, there is a cluster of private beaches attached to upmarket resorts which are particularly popular with the local expat community as women can wear bathing suits (for a price).

Or if you want to indulge in a relaxing walk along a deserted beach, the sandy coves towards Almojermah are just a short drive to the south.

2. Search for the Garden of Eden

Every scholar knows that Saudi Arabia is home to countless holy places, but not many people realise that the Garden of Eden is one of them. According to Babylonian legends, the Garden of Eden was situated in Ancient Mesopotamia, and modern day theologians have narrowed this down to north-west Saudi Arabia.

Eve is believed to have been buried in the north of present-day Jeddah, now called ‘The Tomb of Eve’. Once a popular pilgrimage site, it was destroyed by Prince Faisal, Viceroy of Hejaz in 1928, and concreted over by religious authorities in 1975.  

3. Visit the Souq Al Alawi

If you want to experience the ‘real’ Jeddah, this is a must-visit.

The enormous souq is bursting with colour, smells and music. It is believed to be the largest souq in Saudi Arabia, so set aside a full day to wander about, sample the wares, and haggle for a bargain with the stall-holders.

4. See the Old Coral Houses

Once the home of Jeddah’s wealthiest merchants, these old coral houses have fallen into disrepair – but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful.

Situated in the Al Balad district next to the port, these tall, intricately carved houses were made out of coral from the Red Sea, giving them a peachy façade which glows pink in the sunlight.

Naseef House was recently restored, and tours are sometimes offered to visitors during Hajj season.

5. Go under the sea

Unlike other Red Sea resorts such as Hurghada and Sharm El Sheik, Jeddah’s reefs are still in pristine condition. In fact, professional divers will claim that some of the best diving in the world can be found just off the coast of Jeddah.

However, seasoned divers should be aware that PADI membership is not valid in Saudi Arabia – you will have to obtain a Saudi-issued version once you arrive, but most dive operators can arrange this on your behalf. It’s well worth the extra effort, as you will have access to some of the diving world’s best kept secrets: the shark-filled Boiler Wreck; Ala’s Reef (where you can frequently see predators hunting shoals of fish); and the vibrant corals of the Redmah Wall.