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THE JEWEL OF THE RED SEA

31 Aug

Pillar of Faith: The powerful silhouette of this mosque, one of three set as pavilions along the corniche of Jeddah, facing the Red Sea

The undisputed commercial capital of Saudi Arabia, Jeddah is not only known for food and shopping but also for its warm hospitality

Being brought up in Jeddah and living there for 18 years has made me understand the culture and norms of an Islamic city which is clouded in constant doubt. So this post is an account of my personal experiences over the years and is more of a travelogue for tourists who wish to the jewel of the Red Sea.

Not only the oldest but the second largest city in the Kingdom, Jeddah, when literally translated means “grandmother”. Spread along the coast of the Red Sea and connected by the Corniche which is nearly 30kms long, Jeddah is one of the country’s most liberal and cosmopolitan of destinations. Whether you are taking a stroll down by the seaside or smoking shisha in one of the many cafes, you will find that Jeddah has a very laid-back and relaxed feel. With a major foreign influence, it comes as no surprise that Jeddah offers a wealth of lavish shopping and dining opportunities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO IN JEDDAH

There are a whole bunch of activities to do while you are in Jeddah, whether you are visiting the city with family or friends. Children can never get bored as Jeddah has a variety of theme parks like At­allah Happy Land Park or Al-Sha­llal, which has everything from a double looped roller coaster to an Olympic-sized ice rink. Apart from theme parks, scuba diving is a favourite activity not just for Saudis but for expats as well. Desert Sea Divers in Obhur which is about 40km north of Je­ddah is the oldest and largest diving spot. If you are interested to spend the holidays on the coast, then there are a whole lot of private beaches at Durrat-ul-Arous, Desert Sea Divers, Al-Nakil, Salhia etc.

SHOPPING

A bit of both: The old city of Al-Balad is situated to the south of the Corniche. It is famous for fantastic gold souks, perfumes, latest gadgets and clothes

This one’s for the ladies exclusively! You might think but Jeddah has something for men too. One of the biggest and most famous marketplaces in Jeddah is Al-Balad (Old Town) within which you will find an array of ancient buildings which house tiny markets offering the latest gadgets, clothes and shoes. If you are looking for a more modern shopping experience, it wouldn’t be too hard to find. The city is packed to the brim with extravagant malls like Aziz Mall,Tahliya Mall, Mall of Arabia, Andalus mall etc.

NIGHTLIFE

If you are looking for a nightlife that revolves around alcohol, then you would be highly disappointed. What Jeddah really offers is shisha cafes, lounges and internationally recognised, coffee houses like Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Barnies.

RESTAURANTS

Jeddah boasts of some of the world’s best cuisines and also has most of the American Fast Food franchises like Subway, Applebees, Chillies,Tony Roma’s and Burger King. The most popular of them all, however, is Al-Baik which serves the best crispy-fried chicken in the world! Shawarma is also quite popular. It is chicken/lamb/beef with garlic sauce wrapped in pita bread.

BEST MONTHS TO TRAVEL – December to April

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  1. The Religious Police, or muttawas, do not allow for public displays of religion by non-Muslims. Do not wear any religious symbols or icons, this may find you behind bars.
  2. Foreign men do not have to conform to special attire, but those visitors with long hair should expect to attract unwanted attention.
  3. Insulting the royal family or the king can result in a death penalty. Severe restrictions apply to women including being prohibited from driving, and foreign females are expected to abide by the same rules.
  4. All women (foreign or national) are required to wear an abaya (a long black robe) or a headscarf. The wearing of these items will minimise the amount of harassment you get from the muttawas (religious police).
  5. All businesses close for prayer for about half an hour at noon and at sunset.

HOW TO OBTAIN A VISA TO JEDDAH

Hajj visas are only available during the month of Hajj but Umrah visas are available all year round. Tourists may need to check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at http://www.mofa.gov.sa for guidelines when applying for a visa and the form needs to be filled out in Arabic. However, non-muslims are not allowed in the cities of Makkah and Madinah which are considered as the holy cities by Muslims.