Jeddah, a city of four million and a gateway to Makkah (also spelled Mekka or Mecca), Islam’s holiest place, is a perfect juxtaposition of ancient history and glitzy modernity. While the so-called Bride of the Red Sea is also the perfect base from where to explore further afield within Saudi Arabia, there’s more than enough to keep you riveted while you’re in town.
1. Get lost in Al Balad, the Old Town
The Old Town of Jeddah, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a unique neighbourhood of small lanes flanked by towering houses decorated with delicate and ornate mashrabiya-style doors, balconies and windows. Al Balad, Jeddah’s historical centre, was founded in the 7th century and was part of a trading port. Spend the afternoon wandering its cobbled streets, admiring a clutch of restored centuries-old houses and dusty, sepia-hued structures. Pop into a café, such as Historical Nights, and park yourself at the rooftop terrace for a coffee and a different, but just as striking, view of the district.
2. Travel back in time at Nassif House Museum
Bait Nassif is a grand, four-storey mansion built in the late 1800s for Omar Nasseef Efendi, Jeddah’s then governor. The building is noted for its size and stunning architectural details, as well as the fact that King Abdul Aziz, the first king of Saudi Arabia, lived here for three years during his reign, which lasted from 1926 to 1932. It has since been turned into a museum, and an arts and cultural centre right in the heart of Al Balad. Here, visitors may catch a glimpse into what life was like within these magnificent mansions.
3. Stroll along the Jeddah Waterfront
The Jeddah Corniche and Waterfront is a 30km stretch alongside the Red Sea, and a popular meeting point for locals. For the best first impression, walk up from the Jeddah sign to the beautiful little Island Mosque, and stop for an ice cream in one of the many cutesy food stalls. Then head up to Al Rahma Mosque, which is magnificent at sunset.
4. Dive into the Red Sea
The Red Sea is a fantastic and unique marine environment. Teeming with aquatic life, it’s a superb scuba diving and watersports destination. Have a look at what lives in the sea first in the Fakieh Aquarium, before heading to one of the many western-style beach resorts along the coast, such as Silver Sands Beach with its white, sandy beaches hemmed by palm trees and plenty of watersports activities on offer.