7 weeks had gone and although there is still a lot to explore in Riyadh, as a sea lover I knew it would not take me longer to get on a flight and land in neighborhood Jeddah.
It’s definitely not a hidden gem for us Saudi expats, actually extremely popular within the borders of the kingdom but still hidden from the eyes of the world. Take the opportunity now to experience it before tourist visas start to be issue in Saudi. You certainly want to taste it raw with its strong cultural identity without being disrupted by fast globalization process introduced by international tourism. Don’t miss its authenticity!
Located in the center of the west coast of Saudi Arabia, Jeddah also known as Bride of the Red sea is home for some of the most beautiful beaches in the Red sea. It is also a massive urban center, with 4 million people is the second biggest city after Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s commercial capital. It is also the principal gateway to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest cities in Islam.
What to do in Jeddah ?
I am sure if you are in Jeddah you will be looking for enjoyment, water sports activities and a little bit of a more touristic feeling than you can find in most of the kingdom. If that’s you Cornish is the place to be. With more than 120 km of coastal area, Corniche has a lot to offer!
From Al Hamra’a district, the King Fahad Fountain in the south to the most exciting beaches, water activities in the north don’t be surprised if you end up in road trips throughout the coast at least once.
The true is if you want to get the most out of your stay in Jeddah you will be forced to travel up and down the coast but stick to it and take the opportunity to enjoy the great diversity of monuments, malls as well as international artwork and sculptures alongside the coast. Every few meters you will see a masterpiece and every roundabout will come with a great piece of art. Although the art industry is not yet well developed in Saudi you can tell by the Corniche how much Saudis appreciate European art with some big names behind the scenario such as British artist Henry Moore, as well as work by Spaniard Joan Miró, Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen and Frenchman César Baldaccini.
Al Hamra’a district is where you can get the real sense of Old Jeddah. It is never quit but gets crowded after sunset prayers and doesn’t seem to get any less congested as the night goes by. Slowly the small groups of men gathering and students stooped over books are taken over by families and more female groups. Saudis have a bit of a different life style to what I am used to, although it makes totally sense considering the weather condition I could not stop to find impressive to see families heading to the park at midnight to share a picnic. The younger are not excluded from this family activity, after all Saudis are very united as a family, regardless their age anyone is left out and all the activities they do have to be inclusive for all the family members no matter what!
Alongside the coast there are a few fancy restaurants with rooftops and a great view over King Fahad Fountain. Hopefully if you are luckier than us it won’t be close and you will be able to watch the biggest and apparently most impressive fountain in the world. Head there a bit before the sunset to get a good spot and watch the fountain coming to action as the sun goes down while drinking a cup of Arabic coffee, or nibbling some food. Among your options the one I tried was the Culture Cafe & lounge that I highly recommend. Although the food menu is not the spotlight, there is a great selection of coffees, teas and milkshakes as well as cakes and ice creams. The Location, lighting, decoration and spacing combined creates the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the moment!
If you are willing to hang around a bit longer after dinner you will be able to witness the invasion of cats coming to the park to eat the leftovers, people fishing along the shore, as well as the kids enthusiastically running around, riding bicycles and playing games well passed 1 am. Feels like as the night goes by the district gains more and more life and diversity.
If you want to get a closer contact with ancestral Jeddah and contemplate the exquisiteness of its historical heritage head to Al Balad Historical district, also known as Old Jeddah. It is been considered a UNESCO world historical heritage site since 2014. Here you can experience the authenticity and integrity of the traditional old economic market, from retail shops, traditional souks, small cafes, popular restaurants, and street food vendors. This is a surprisingly rich human and material environment place where Yemeni, Sudanese, Somali, Pakistani and Indian migrant workers purchase and market their products in traditional souks. The simplicity of life, the tangible heritage from its history and unique architecture, as well as the multi-cultural social framework where Muslims from all over the world live and work together make it a real time travel experience!
My best advice here is really to go in mind that there is no way you could get lost as it is hard to know exactly where you are. Just wonder around the narrow streets while contemplating the old and distinct architecture of the buildings, engaging with the locals, appreciate the different specs of colors, smells and artwork. Go to the souk and don’t be afraid to ask, try, touch and engage with the sellers they won’t force you to buy anything just practice kindness and they will be grateful for you to stop by. Also, visit the Naseef House museum and head to the top floor for an overview of the city. Although I have not personally done it is supposed to be magic to go there during Maghrib prayer, and listen the call while watching the sunset.
There is also Matbouli House Museum which is a small house where you can visualize and get the feeling of what life was like centuries ago. It is a bit imperceptible as it is just a random house. We were taken there randomly by a friendly local who speak no English but had the kindest smile ever.
The journey on masterpieces continues, laying over both sides of the roads, alongside with fancy malls, huge compounds contrasting with some substandard houses and dry land field where you can see the young generation playing football on bare foot.
It is very popular and ‘’touristic’’ due to its fancy beaches, boat trips, diving, jet sky and many other water activities.
North Cornish was the start point for our diving experience, if you are a newbie in the field of diving and you would like to start by a discovery experience before investing time and money on obtaining a license, here is a great place to start. Desert Sea Divers offer a Dive Discovery Experienced in sea water, an entire day of fun on a boat with all meals covered, great company, good music and highly qualified instructors that will ensure your safety. Just make sure you do not go on a big group of newbie divers as you will need a personal instructor for each one of you and there is just a limited number of them. But do not hesitate to contact them, they are very attentive and I am sure they will do what it takes to accommodate your needs.
To visit desert sea divers and all the offers available go to: https://desertseadivers.com/
Even if you are not keen to dive, the red sea is great for snorkelling. There are tons of corals that you can touch by the reach of a hand with a variety of ocean life than you can witness passing by right in front of your eyes. I personally have done snorkelling in many different countries and continents and so far the red sea offer such an incredible ocean landscape in such clear waters that is impossible not to love above all of the previous experiences.
I doubt you won’t fall in love as soon as you dive into this fantasy-land of vibrant colors, shapes and life. The Red sea is indeed house for surreal stunning coral gulleys and valleys with a wide variety of ocean life.
As it is not advised to flight within the next 24 hours post diving you will certainly be left with a day in hands to enjoy and relax in the beach. Silver Sand beach was the most recommended by friends and another travelers we met on the way. Although I can’t compare to any other private beach in Jeddah, it is indeed a little gem. It is a little oasis of simple beach perfection. If you want to enjoy its tranquility head there early in the morning. It does not ever seem to get crowded but as the day goes by more people come to enjoy this little paradise.
It is a bit tricky to get there as there is no signs indicating it but make sure you follow the GPS (see the link bellow), it will take you to a compound with a big white gate, there will be a window with a security on your left hand side just stop and ask, don’t waste your time trying to find any sign or indication. Private beaches are a bit costly but it is indeed worth the money you pay for it!
Google maps location of Silver Sand Beach: https://goo.gl/maps/f156qEZ2i8U2
If you are a lover of locals’ dynamics take some time to contemplate the life of the public beaches. It can get extremely crowded and is a totally unlike experience!
My last piece of advice, do not leave Jeddah without a great sea food meal. There are plenty of offers alongside the coast. We tried Twina Al-Hamra’a branch, it is a chain of seafood restaurants in Jeddah. As a sea food lover and coming from a country that has more water territory than land it’s hard to impress me when it comes to sea food. But I will give it credit by the restaurant experience on itself. It is well decorated, good service and helpful staff. I personally enjoyed the Arabic coffee they offer at the end so if you are there give it a try but be ready for an intense flavor of cardamom!
Find more information about the menu and locations of Twina restaurants: http://twina.net/
Hope you enjoyed this quick overview of what to do in Jeddah in a short weekend. Although the time in hands was not much to get to know this truly amazing city into details, was enough to experience its beauty and get a sense of its identity. If you would like to know more about Jeddah just drop a comment or email me.