A Trip to Jeddah: Inside the Middle East’s Most Surprising Tourist Destination
13 February 2017
Jeddah, the Gateway to The Holy City of Makkah, is an ancient city that has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. With a long corniche cooled by the breeze of the Red Sea and myriad sites and attractions to explore, the city has long been popular with regional and religious tourists, but the opening of the Assila Hotel is creating a new destination for Western visitors in Saudi Arabia. Combining Middle Eastern hospitality, opulent facilities and spectacular views, this landmark hotel in the heart of Jeddah is a new world of luxury and comfort. Ahead of your trip to Jeddah, we lift the lid on life in the Arabian city and unveil the top things for visitors to see and do.
Not dissimilar to many coastal cities around the world, the Corniche is the social heart of Jeddah. A hive of local life, the boulevard stretching along the Saudi Arabian coastline is lined with hotels, apartment blocks and restaurants overlooking the Red Sea. It’s where local families come to relax, play on the beach or enjoy a long meal of Arabian cuisine. A focal attraction is the landmark King Fahd’s Fountain, which draws crowds with dramatic light shows every evening. The beautiful Floating Mosque (Fatimah Az-Zahra Mosque), which appears to hover over the water, is another highlight to gaze upon, whatever your religion.
A trip to the historic quarter of Al-Balad is a highlight for history and architecture enthusiasts. It’s home to a plethora of ancient buildings and structures, including sections of the Jeddah Wall, which once encircled the city. A distinctive attraction on the outskirts of the city is the Makkah Gate, a giant gate signifying the border into Makkah. The giant ‘book stand’ structure crosses over the highway, meeting in the middle to hold up an oversized Qur’an. Jeddah is also home to many beautiful mosques, including the Island Mosque, King Saud Mosque and Abdul Raouf Khalif Mosque.
While Jeddah is increasingly becoming more commercial, the history and traditions of the city are preserved in its many museums. The four-floor Al Tayibat City Museum for International Civilisation showcases a sizeable collection of artefacts dating from pre-Islamic to modern Arabia, including manuscripts, weapons, furniture, traditional dress, and much more. Another leading museum is Beit Al Balad, located in the former British Legion’s headquarters, which tells the history of Jeddah through photos, artefacts and exhibits. Visitors can also discover art at the Castle Museum of Arts Heritage or archaeology at the Jeddah Regional Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography.
Jeddah is home to a number of traditional souqs (Middle Eastern markets) which provide excellent opportunities to shop and experience local life. Souq Al Alawi is the largest in the city. The buzzing market is filled with stalls offering everything from Islamic art to spices and traditional dress. For jewellery and antiques at competitive prices, seek out another local favourite, Souq Al-Sagha. Remember, haggling is not only encouraged in souqs, it’s expected.
Outside of the souqs, Jeddah is full of shopping opportunities. Mall of Arabia is one of the largest malls in the city and is packed full of international high street stores. Likewise, Red Sea Mall showcases Middle Eastern brands alongside Western names such as Mango and Moschino. El-Khayyat Centre, meanwhile, caters towards a more affluent clientele with luxury fashion boutiques including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Dior, and jewellers such as Tiffany & Co and Chaumet.
Middle Eastern dining
Jeddah is one of the most multicultural cities in Saudi Arabia and its culinary scene reflects this. From traditional Middle Eastern fare and contemporary Lebanese cuisine, to flavours of Asia and the West, there’s plenty to sample. Discover fresh seafood in the restaurants of the Green Island complex built over the Red Sea, just off the Corniche. For Arabic-Mediterranean flavours head to Aubergine at Assila Hotel, or book a table at Pampas to experience Argentinean dining.
When enjoying a trip to Jeddah, stay at the new Assila Hotel by Rocco Forte Hotels, where the concierge will be happy to organise a private tour of Jeddah for you.