Jeddah has been a port and trading city for centuries, which is reflected in its cosmopolitan mix of inhabitants. Today, it is a major commercial center in Saudi Arabia. It also has many government offices. Jeddah is known in the kingdom for its shopping districts, restaurants and cafes. It also hosts the Jeddah Corniche (waterfront area), which is the largest in the Kingdom with a great bunch of hotels, beaches and resorts clustered around it. To the north of the city, a string of beach resort compounds are known as party spots where many of the social mores of the rest of the country are flouted, especially by rich, liberal families from Jeddah.
Jeddah is a huge city that sprawls along the coast of the Red Sea, connected together by the Corniche, a seaside avenue full of bizarre sculptures and nearly 30 km long. The old city or al-Balad, on the southern side of modern Jeddah, is a crumbling but fascinating warren of multi-story houses made from coral. The main thoroughfare Medina Road starts from the northern side of al-Balad and runs all the way to the city.
King Abdulaziz International Airport, (IATA: JED), is the largest airport in the Kingdom and is well served by airlines from around the world.
Unfortunately, despite its importance and the Kingdom's wealth, the airport has been known for being in miserable shape with dust, flies and poor to nonexistent signage. In 2011 renovations to the airport were completed.
There are two regular terminals and they are located on opposite sites of the massive apron and are nearly 8 km apart. The only formal access between the two terminals is by taxi.
Used by all other international flights.
There are also two special terminals, used exclusively for Hajj pilgrims heading directly to Mecca, which are basically enormous tents of fiberglass fabric on reinforced concrete poles and steel cables. Driving to the normal non-Hajj terminal, you pass between the two. In season, this lets you admire rows of 747s parked alongside the Hajj terminals.
Connections to the city
A taxi to the city from either will cost between SR60 to SR130, so agree on the fare before you set off. It is cheaper to go with one of the locals at arrival terminals who will be offering his services.
Also there are many bus routes to neighboring countries, especially Jordan. Usually bus trip starts in Syria down to Amman, Jordan then to most Saudi major cities. However, make sure before booking your seat that you don't have a "by air only" entry visa. Most bus companies in Amman are located in Abdali. Ticket price is around 25 JD, some companies have daily trips to large cities like Jeddah. Make sure to check buses before booking, as some companies have old and small seats buses (this is a long trip, so make sure to pick a company with "business class" buses, some companies offer business class buses at a price cheaper than "normal buses" companies!). Trip is about 18 hours nonstop through Medina route (there are two routes for the trip, sea route passing by Yanbua which is a rough one but short, and Medina route)
Travelers coming from Egypt and Sudan, precisly Port Sudan, have a choice to take a ferry.
Many of the hotels chains have a "water taxi" or a small minivan that will take you to the mall and main shopping areas. Taxis are very inexpensive, with most 10 minute rides costing about SR10-20 (about USD $3-6). There are two types of taxis: one is yellow and will have a sign that says, simply, TAXI. They are usually cheaper, but a little "rougher" on the inside and out and and usually are not air conditioned. But they are very rare in Jeddah now. And the other is the more common white, air conditioned, better quality taxis locally known as "Limousines". There is a rule in KSA that a Limousine must not be older than 5 years. So most Limousines are either new or fairly new. Most Limousines are Toyota Camry's, Hyundai Elantras and Hyundai Sonatas, but it is not uncommon to see more high end Limousines which will be privately owned, licensed taxis. Limousine taxis are about USD $1-3 more expensive. There are also "unlicensed" taxis, those are normal cars (usually a Toyota Camry) without the "TAXI" sign. Those taxis are cheaper than a "Limousine" but these Taxis are not legal. Police take strict actions against such Taxis but but the passenger is usually just left to take another taxi. Try to avoid getting in such taxis, besides, you will most probably not be saving more than SR10(about USD $3). Normally they honk or flash their lights when they see you standing by the road.
Take note that you can negotiate with a taxi driver for a fixed price, which is much cheaper than using the meter. Hardly any resident of Jeddah asks to use the meter. Though this needs some "experience" with Jeddah and its streets. Sometimes a taxi driver will pretend to be "lost" so he would turn on the meter or make you pay extra in exchange for his "lost time". Whatever the case, never pay more than you agreed to pay at the beginning of the ride. The average taxi fee is SR10-30,depending on how far your destination is and the traffic crowd. Also take note that some Saudi drivers ask for higher prices but if you need to get there fast and aren't faint of heart, then a Saudi driver is your best bet. On the other hand, if you want to get there cheaply and safely, then go for Indian or Pakistani drivers.
Many rental agencies, like Avis or Budget, will rent you the latest mid-size car for the price of SR100-140 (about USD $30-50) per day. You'll also find a bargain when it comes to fuel, as Saudi Arabia has some of the cheapest petrol prices in the world (USD $0.36 a gallon for 91 octane gas, and USD $0.48 for 95 octane gas). The streets are wide, but often crowded due to numerous roadworks throughout the city, and signs are written in both Arabic and English. Look for maps in the libraries or big supermarkets.
If you have access to the internet you may book a car/limo using applications such as UBER, Careem or EasyTaxi. The cars provided are clean, the drivers are friendly and the fare is cheap. Plus, you don't have to worry about communicating directions, most of these apps are joined with google maps.
Buses are not a commonly-used means of transportation in Jeddah even though you can ride one for SR1-2 from certain main streets to Albalad (downtown). It is, however, a very interesting way to enjoy traditional Arab music and the sound of people mixing together all while enjoying sights during the ride. Smaller buses are mostly private so the owner is responsible for cleanliness. Larger buses are provided by the government, which are big and clean but don't follow a schedule, so consider using the smaller buses if you're on a specific timetable.
Boats are not particularly a means of transportation, but rather a way to enjoy the views of the Red Sea. You can catch boats in Obhur north of Jeddah at the marina; a one hour ride in a small boat is around SR200 (US$55).
Al-Balad (Old Town)
Jeddah's top sight is al-Balad, or the old town. The city wall has long since been torn down, but the old gates still mark where it once stood. Within you'll find a warren of ancient buildings and traditional souqs (markets), and the teetering, multistory coral houses that Jeddah is famous for. Unfortunately, coral is not a very durable building material, and most of the buildings are in disrepair. Spend time wandering around the old city and get lost in the seemingly endless souks. You will find yourself in another world and entirely 'in' the world, surrounded by people form all over the arab world, Asia and Africa. Here you will see many forms of dress that are colorful as well as the traditional black. Many of the shops and stores are cut into the sides of buildings and offer stacks of colorful clothing.
The Jeddah Corniche offers spectacular views of the Red Sea. Check out the main shopping street on Tahliya for interesting wares, and if you're looking for good quality gold, try the Gold Souq where you can bargain for 18k and 24k gold by weight. The King Fahd Fountain is not only the tallest water fountain in Jeddah, but also the world.
Scuba diving is a major draw for expats in the Kingdom, although the Saudis themselves seem oblivious to the treasures that await offshore.
Visibility can be spectacular (30-40m is common) and the corals are virtually untouched. There are plenty of interesting sites to explore like the Chicken Wreck, a boat carrying tons of frozen chicken that hit the reef and sunk at a depth of 10-18m. Most of the better dive sites are around one hour out to sea by speed boat.
The Red Sea gets chilly in the winter, with water temperatures dropping to 22°C, so you'll want to use a 5 mm wetsuit with hood. In summer, temperatures climb up to a much more balmy 29°C, and 3mm shorty or 1 mm diveskin is plenty.
Jeddah is flourishing with the number of expats from the philippines. With basketball being the number one sport for filipinos, it may come as a great surprise for basketball enthusiasts, the number of ball parks present in Jeddah.
There are many places to find work in Jeddah and jobs are plentiful, but unemployment among Saudi nationals remains high especially among the youth population. One must obtain a visa to work in Saudi Arabia and the complicated process can only begin with a sponsorship from a company or individual already located in the Kingdom. Western expats cannot simply arrive in Saudi Arabia and then look for employment; needless to say, Western women will experience great challenges in finding employment.
There are a number of shopping malls in Jeddah to shop.
Jeddah is full of restaurants with almost every cuisine imaginable and eating out is part of the city's culture. All the restaurants have separate sections for single men and for families. Dating is theoretically forbidden but widely practiced, and most restaurants will allow a couple into the family section without question. All businesses close for prayer for about half an hour at noon and at sunset. They close again an hour after sunset for about 45 minutes. If you like to eat early, you can often stay in a restaurant during prayer time. Saudis tend to eat late, well after the evening prayer.
The standard cheap meal is the shawarma - giant layers of beef or chicken turning on a vertical spit. Thin slices are cut off and served with vegetables, garlic, and sauce in pita bread. You can also find a few falafel shops or eat at boofias (cornershops). Another thing that is very cheap is Homus, which is the paste of white chickpeas mixed with olive oil, and is very tasty. Try the Filipino Souk near Saudia City. Ask for the Pakistani area Kababish. There's a group of shops and restaurants with very low prices. Most of the American Fast Food franchises can be found in Jeddah, including McDonald's, Applebee's, Subway, and numerous others.
Like all Saudi Arabian cities, you aren't going to find much nightlife revolving around alcohol in Jeddah, since Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country. What you should be able to find are shisha cafes and a large variety of coffeeshops such as: Java Lounge, Vertigo, Starbucks, Mugs & Beans, Costa Coffee and Second Cup. Non-alcoholic beer is available in restaurants as are non-alcoholic cocktails and other drinks.
Outside Hajj season, hotels in Jeddah are generally cheaper than those in Riyadh. The usual international chains are well represented.
While not as strict as Riyadh, Jeddah still falls under Islamic law. Read, understand, and follow the guidelines in the Saudi Arabia article to stay out of trouble. Don't be fooled by how laid back this city is, any offenses against Sharia Law can still get you penalties up to death.
Local women normally wear a hijab (headscarf) and abaya (long black overgarment) to cover their heads and entire bodies. Abayas are also required for Western women, however, this is not strictly enforced.
While you may be able to find alcohol at private parties, it is still forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Corporal punishment for Westerners happens.
Most shopping malls have Internet cafes. Coffee places such as Costa Coffe, StarBucks Coffee, Barnies, Second Cup and many more provide WiFi access to customers.