What to do in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

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What to do in Jeddah

What to do in Jeddah, Wreck Dive, Travelling for Fun: Me coming scuba diving through part of a wreckSo you are in Jeddah eh? And wondering what to do on a weekend to see the city as it really is. Well sorry to disappoint you but there isn’t much. Jeddah wasn’t built for tourists and they don’t care too much for them either. The only tourists they get are religious tourists during the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca as Jeddah is the closest airport. I lived in Jeddah for a year so I will try and impart some of my knowledge to you so you can see what the city has to offer. As Jeddah is by the coast and close to some reefs some of the best things to do involve the Red Sea.

 

What to do in Jeddah – What you really want to know, Safety

To address safety first as not many people know what they think when it comes to Saudi Arabia. The first things people think of are oil and terrorism. In a year of living there I had no safety problems at all. Driving though in Saudi brings a whole world of its own problems but more on that down the bottom. I did not live in a compound, I lived in a hotel (for a year!) and went to the local supermarket, mall and badly equipped and badly air conditioned gym. I never had any hassle although on my first week a random car pulled up on the street and asked me to get in to give me a lift for no reason. But I wouldn’t get into a random car like that in Ireland never mind Saudi Arabia. Most people working in shops in Jeddah and Saudi Arabia are Indian or Pakistani so they have some English and are used to foreigners. It is much easier being male than female there and for a foreign female I wouldn’t recommend it unless with your own family in a compound (more on the laws at the bottom).

What to do in Jeddah

What to do in Jeddah, King Fahd Fountain, Travelling for Fun: 16tonnes of water in all its gloryKing Fahd Fountain: This is probably the main ‘touristy’ thing in Jeddah. King Fahd fountain was donated by King Fahd to the city in 1985 and is the tallest fountain in the world. As in it sprays the water the highest, up to 260mtrs (850ft)! That is so high that there are 16tonnes of water in the air at any one time and it leaves the pump at 230mph! It is indeed spectacular. It is located just off the coast off Falastin Street in the centre of Jeddah and only comes on at dusk and runs during the night.

 

 

Obhur: Obhur is a long inlet of the Red Sea in the north of Jeddah. It snakes its way inland for about 12km What to do in Jeddah, Camel Roundabout, Travelling for Fun: One of the many strange roundabout statues in Jeddahand is where most of the high fliers hang out. The inlet is flanked on both sides by fancy houses, hotels, dive shops, compounds etc and where you can take a walk by the Corniche (coastal walkway) and watch some of the locals go mad on jetskiis. Saudi Arabia is a strict Muslim country and operates by Sharia (Islamic) Law. Jeddah though is by far the most relaxed city and why Obhur is such a good place to go. Hotels such as the Sheraton and some dive shops with compounds have their own beach where there is no problem bathing in a bikini which of course is normally forbidden. For these you can pay a fee of around $20 for the day to sunbath without prying eyes.

What to do in Jeddah, Clown Fish, Travelling for Fun: Diving in the Red Sea from ObhurBoat trips and Scuba Diving: As Jeddah is located in the Red Sea you would think it would be a big draw. Well it really isn’t. I had to spend a while looking before I found a dive/boat shop. Having said that once I did it lets you meet others foreigners and gives ideas for other trips. The glorious Red Sea is full of dive sites only 1.5hrs off the coast of Jeddah. Even this far from shore the water can be only 30mtrs deep. There are plenty of reef and wreck (and night) dives among the turquoise sea with loads of coral fish and the occasional dolphin. The accessibility of these reefs means that some are bleached from pollution and also that there are very few large fish as they have all been spear hunted. The biggest fish these days are surgeonfish and parrotfish.

The company I found good in Jeddah was Desert Sea Divers (www.desertseadivers.com). They do scuba diving trips or you can just go for the boat trip and a relaxing snorkel. Bikinis are allowed on board as soon as you leave the coast as it is almost always foreigners that do the scuba diving.  They are located about 8.1km from the Camel Roundabout (A roundabout with two huge camel statues) on the north side of the Obhur creek. The shop is not that easy to spot but is on the left hand side as you head out. They also do PADI courses so you can start to learn scuba diving if you want. Even for people in Riyadh etc they run courses over several weeks (at weekends) to allow people to do it on their own schedule. There are some other dive shops out there and all of them have apartments you can rent if you want to dive for consecutive days if you are coming from Riyadh or further afield. The cost is approximately $80 for 3 dives and all rental gear. Included in this is snacks and lunch on board. This trip is from around 8am to 4pm.

What to do in Jeddah, Coral Houses, Travelling for Fun: The coral houses and the localsAl-Balad: Right in the heart of old Jeddah in a fairly decrepit looking area is Al Balad. Balad meaning ‘town’ in Arabic. Here you will find very historical coral buildings. The buildings are made out of coral reefs from the Red Sea. These sort of buildings may sound daft now but they are still in use. Al Balad used to be the heart of Jeddah and still has traditional souks which are worth visiting especially after prayer on a Friday but with increasing wealth from oil the coral buildings have fallen into disrepair and some are in a dangerous structural state. You can do what I did and wander around them for a while getting strange looks off the locals and the cats. When I sat down with the local men to sip ‘shai’ I got stranger looks than the cats gave me. There is no tourist information in Jeddah and maps are also hard to come by so the best way of describing Al Balad is that it is right in the heart of the city where the sea comes in the furthest. See map below.

What to do in Jeddah, Fish Market, Travelling for Fun: Parrot fish on display at the market.Fish Market: Located in Al Balad in the city centre this fish market is best before 9am in the morning showing all sort of fresh fish from the local reefs in the Red Sea. I am sure that Greenpeace and environmentalists would have something to say if they had a say in Saudi Arabia. See map below for exact location.

Taif: If you are looking for a slightly longer road trip and to get out of Jeddah then definitely the best place to go is Taif in the mountains which is about a 3hr drive away passed Mecca to the east. As I wrote before that disappointingly Mecca is not an option for non-Muslims then Taif high up the mountains with the baboons is the next best thing. Yes believe it or not there are wild baboons in Saudi and they live on the road to and around Taif. They cause many a traffic jam from people pulling in to see them and are cheeky feckers too that look for food from drivers. From a guy that has previously been bitten by a wild monkey for food – be careful. And no I don’t have rabies! Mecca is on the desert plain and in the eye of the sweltering Arabian sun whereas Taif just to the east up a long, spectacular series of switchbacks is actually at 1,800 mtrs (6100ft), 1,500mtrs higher than Mecca. Taif is that much cooler than the rest of Saudi that before a/c the king had his own palace built there so that during the summer he could retreat to the coolness of the mountains so he wouldn’t have to put up with the 50 deg Celsius nonsense below!

Shopping Malls: One thing that Saudi Arabia and Jeddah isn’t short of besides oil is shopping malls. They are everywhere. The normal, the fancy, the small, the large, the dirty, the classy, the obnoxious, no matter what type of shopping mall you are into they have it. A lot of the smaller shopping malls are regular local ones with clothes shops, tub (the Arab male dress) shops, jewellery, food etc but some are uber fancy with every designer label imaginable and all for ridiculous prices.

Practicalities – About Jeddah

€1 = 5 Saudi Riyals, $1 = 3.75 SAR

Strange Laws: Saudi Arabia operates under Sharia (Islamic) Law so rules are very different to what you may be used to. Such as:

  • Women must cover up their hair and clothes and should not be showing any skin on their arms or legs. Covering your face is optional. Obviously to most western women this seems strange in itself but from my estimate about 60% of women in Saudi Arabia cover their face voluntarily. Women also are not allowed drive and have a limited amount of jobs.
    • A woman in Saudi Arabia under 30years of age must be with their husband, brother or father. Unmarried couples are not allowed to travel alone unless you are individuals in a group. Unmarried couples will not be able to get a hotel room together.
    • Alcohol is illegal. Not allowed in hotels (like in other Arab countries), on boats, in your car, nowhere. Having said this, if you are in a compound then a blind eye is turned to people brewing their own beer/wine. As long as it is consumed within the compound you should be fine. Head onto the street when drunk and you could be in big trouble.
    • Islam is the only religion. There are mosques everywhere so you will certainly get used to the prayer time Sala, and its rules. There are no churches, no pagodas, no shrines anywhere in the country, only mosques. (The only church in Saudi is in the Saudi Aramco (the oil company) compound which shows you how important Aramco is!)

Location: On the west coast of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea about 85km west of the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Airport: Jeddah international airport is located very close to the city on the north side. Saudi Arabian Airways are the national carrier and has routes to Europe as well as plenty of other international destinations. Nasair are the local low cost airline. Remember on any flight over Saudi Arabian airspace you are not allowed to drink alcohol.

Car: By far the easiest way to get around Jeddah is by car as there is no public transport. Petrol is cheap and so that means cars are big and mean. I have driven on most continents and Saudi Arabia is easily the worst country. Women are not allowed to drive so everybody on the road is full of testosterone, ultra aggressive and ultra fast. Having 4 litre engines underneath only aids in this farce. Driving in Saudi takes a while to get used to but you become just like them after a while. Then when you see people driving in the hard should at 180km/hr in a line of traffic or a guy sitting on a bonnet of a car texting while on a motorway at 100km/hr (I sh!t you not) then you don’t pay much attention.

Train: There is no train or subway in Jeddah.

Bus: There is no official city bus service. There are individual small vans that transport people wherever the need arises. They go on random routes and I didn’t meet one person who used them or that knew their routes. The best way to get around if you don’t have a car is by taxi.

Cycle: Do not cycle in Jeddah, this is an order. Nobody cycles anyway but with the way they drive in Saudi you would be dead within a week. People don’t even drive motorbikes in Jeddah because it is too dangerous.

Visa: Getting a visa for Saudi Arabia is difficult. They don’t really do tourist visas so most people who are in Saudi are there for religious purposes or for work. To get a tourist visa you need to have at least 4 in your group and get invited by a local sponsor. These are hard to find and I do not know of any unfortunately. To get a visa you need to go to your local Saudi Arabian embassy as you can only get a visa from the embassy in your country of origin (or the nearest one).

Population of Jeddah: 3.4million

What to Do in Jeddah – Map of Jeddah

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What to do in Jeddah - Saudi Arabia

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King Fahd Fountain, Jeddah: 21.515639, 39.145068
Obhur, Jeddah: 21.743216, 39.121956
Camel Roundabout, Obhur: 21.767341, 39.144270
Desert Sea Divers, Obhur: 21.731430, 39.106919
Al Balad, Coral Houses: 21.487992, 39.186519
Fish Market, Al-Balad, Jeddah: 21.488514, 39.173460
Jeddah Airport: 21.670233, 39.150578
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King Fahd Fountain, Jeddah
King Fahd's Fountain, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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Obhur, Jeddah
Obhur, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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Camel Roundabout, Obhur
Obhur, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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Desert Sea Divers, Obhur
Obhur, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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Al Balad, Coral Houses
Al Balad, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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Fish Market, Al-Balad, Jeddah
Al Balad, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
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Jeddah Airport
King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

What to Do in Jeddah – My Photo Gallery

 

 

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Ross Travellingforfun

About Ross Travellingforfun

I have ducked, dived, bungeed, burned, skydived, surfed, volunteered, volcanoed, crossed continents, conquered mountains, got robbed, got sick and got drunk and I hope this website will inspire you to do the same.