In Jeddah, history is tangible and seamlessly woven into the present. A walk through the maze of ancient architecture will guide you through centuries of trade and pilgrimage. Jeddah has hosted travelers for over a millennium, and in 647 CE, historic Jeddah was named the official seaport for the holy city of Makkah because of its pivotal positioning between the Red Sea and the holy city. Spend a day in the city, and you’re guaranteed to leave with a more holistic understanding of this influential area.
The most intimate way to see any new place, however, is through the eyes of a local. Saad Aldawood is a student of hospitality at King Saud University in Riyadh and has visited Jeddah a number of times, offering a more local perspective to foreign visitors. Here is what Saad recommends for a day in historic Jeddah:
Start your day in Jeddah Corniche and grab a cold coffee at a local cafe. While you’re there, ask around for recommendations. Jeddah is a friendly city, and locals are often happy to guide visitors in the right direction.
Positioned right on the water, you’ll want to take that coffee on a tranquil stroll along the pier and parklands so you’re sure to soak up the coast before heading inland. If a fresh-caught fish dinner might be calling your name later in the day, be sure to stop by the renowned Central Fish Market and haggle your price with a vendor, choosing from a wide selection of fish and shellfish. Take your item to the on-site restaurant and have them save your catch for later.
Next, head to Al Balad — the old town of Jeddah — where you can visit a number of historic homes and museums including the Matbouli House and the Naseef House. Grab a hot tea with mint and roam between the centuries of architecture. I also recommend the Tayebat Museum to gain a deeper understanding of Jeddah’s past and role in Saudi’s development as a kingdom.
Like Saad recommends, visiting UNESCO historical center Al Balad is key to understanding the connection between past and present in Jeddah. Start your tour at the eastern edge of town where you’ll find the towering Makkah gate, welcoming pilgrims into the holy city. Here architects have reconstructed the ancient walls as a tribute to the glorious castle-like entrance that stood before.
Head west from the gate and explore a myriad of homes constructed from Red Sea coral. Notable homes to visit are the Matbouli House Museum — a traditional Hijazi merchant home with antiquated artifacts restored as a museum, and the Naseef House — inhabited by King Abdul Aziz who moved here after his conquest of Jeddah in 1925. The Naseef House was nicknamed the ‘house of the tree’ as it hosted the only tree in all of Jeddah in the 1920’s. The house is architecturally unique with wide ramparts that allowed camels to ride up to the roof terrace where the king would relax.
Once at the Naseef House, you are already positioned at the center of Souq Al Alawi — Saudi’s largest bazaar. Sample some of Saudi’s most satiating street food as you peruse the maze of stands and vendors. Add an element of fun by curating your own street food crawl here. This market has served pilgrims for centuries, making it a necessary (and delicious) stop on your tour through Jeddah’s history.
Once you’ve had your fill of Mutabaq and chewy dates, visit the Tayebat Museum. Through each floor you’ll experience a curated representation of Jeddah’s 2,500-year history. Crafted with Hijazi architectural technique, the building hosts exhibits dedicated to Islamic heritage, pre-Islamic history, and Saudi’s geographical and political history. The museum is open Saturday through Thursday from 8am-12pm and 5pm-9pm with guides available to provide explanations of exhibits in several different languages.
When you get hungry for dinner, visit the nearest fish market, where you can choose your favorite fish, and bring it to a local restaurant. They will gladly cook it for you, and it is an unrivaled dining experience!
If you didn’t get a chance to visit the Central Fish Market early in the morning, stop by in the afternoon and grab an item to bring to the on-site restaurant for dinner.
At sunset, return to the Red Sea with a cold drink and watch the sunset over the cerulean waters while the breeze tickles your face. Maybe even pitch a tent by the sea afterwards and spend the night listening to the gentle swishing of water running up and down the shoreline.
If you’re craving a more intimate Red Sea experience, check out our guide for exploring the Red Sea Underwater! The Red Sea is a hub for every adventurer, whether you are interested in scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, going on a cruise, or island hopping.
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