The lifestyle in Jeddah is more relaxed than in many other parts of the Kingdom, thanks to the city's reputation as Saudi Arabia's most liberal city. Being a point of entry into Saudi Arabia, the city has been significantly shaped by the diverse people who pass through it, either for economic reasons or en route to Mecca and Medina.
New arrivals are often taken aback by the city’s greenery and its shoreline promenade that gives way to white beaches. The Corniche sweeping along the coast is one of the most popular attractions in Jeddah, but it isn’t the only way to spend one's free time.
Expats moving to Jeddah will have access to a wealth of history while simultaneously living in Saudi Arabia’s most cosmopolitan metropolis – between these two contrasts living side by side, there’s plenty to see and do in Jeddah.
Many of the events in Jeddah are influenced by Islam. Most notable are the celebrations at the start and end of Ramadan, and the period when the city is filled with pilgrims from around the world in anticipation of the Hajj. The few social festivals Jeddah does have are generally designed to attract tourists and investment.
Shopping in Jeddah
Widely believed to be the number one Saudi pastime, shopping opportunities are plentiful in Jeddah. From traditional souks to vast shopping malls, there's plenty to choose from.
Red Sea Mall is Jeddah's largest mall and a fantastic place to while away a few hours. The Mall of Arabia is another favourite well worth visiting.
Traders hawk jewellery, clothes, fabrics and traditional foods at the bustling old souks of Al Balad. It can be frantic, but it’s a good place for expats to have a local experience and try out their bartering skills. The gold souks, where clusters of shops sell gold by weight, shouldn’t be missed either. These special bazaars can be found in the Al Balad area and in several shopping malls.
Eating out in Jeddah
Expats will have more options than they might have expected when it comes to restaurants in Jeddah. While a large portion of eateries serve Middle Eastern fare, there's a good spread of continental cuisines too.
The city's larger hotels usually feature internationally inspired menus that should satisfy those looking for gourmet food in a familiar setting. Alternatively, multinational fast food chains are also well represented.
Expats should remember that many restaurants in Saudi Arabia are separated into sections based on gender and family arrangement.
Outdoor activities in Jeddah
Weekends in Jeddah are often spent around the Red Sea coast. Picnicking is a popular activity and the cooler climes of winter the Corniche and the city’s parks are filled with families. Expats should go early in the day to avoid evening congestion.
There are beaches just to the north of Jeddah where boats and jet skis can be hired. Here there are several private beach clubs with swimming areas, restaurants and cafés. These beaches are family-friendly, and expats can access them by buying a day pass or becoming a member.
Diving is one of the most popular activities for expats living in Jeddah. The Red Sea is one of the world’s premier diving locations. Its warm water is home to an abundance of fish, turtles, sharks and octopuses. Even those wary of underwater life will find it hard to resist the draw of the deep, and inexperienced new arrivals can learn at one of the city’s diving schools. Expats can dive at most beach clubs, and charters regularly run trips to offshore reefs.
For those who don't have the disposition for deeper water, snorkelling allows for fantastic insight into this underwater world from the surface. Snorkelling gear can be rented or bought at dive shops or most beach clubs.
See and do in Jeddah
There is plenty to see and do in Jeddah, as the city boasts incredible landscapes, cuisine and shopping opportunities. Below is a selection of our favourite attractions.
King Fahd's Fountain
King Fahd's Fountain, also known as the Jeddah Fountain, sprays a jet of seawater reaching up to 1,024 feet (312m) into the Saudi skyline, while the Al Salam Palace acts as a beautiful backdrop. The fountain looks especially stunning when illuminated by its 500+ spotlights at night.
The old quarter’s labyrinth of alleys gives visitors a glimpse into the towns and villages of Saudi Arabia's past. Its coral and limestone buildings also house numerous street vendors, making it a popular shopping destination.
Matbouli House Museum
Situated in Al Balad, the Matbouli House was built in the 1600s and offers a fascinating look at an authentic traditional Hijazi merchant’s home. Constructed from coral, this home is filled with traditional artefacts dating back centuries.
Al Rhama Mosque
Fondly known as the Floating Mosque, Al Rhama Mosque is a must-see and one of Jeddah's most sacred sites. Adjacent to the shoreline, when the tide comes in, it appears to float whimsically on the water below. It’s only made more marvellous by its decor and architectural beauty.
Annual events in Jeddah
Whether expats prefer festivals, cultural or religious events, new arrivals will find that the city is full of exciting gatherings to keep them occupied throughout the year.
Jeddah Summer Festival (June/July)
Known locally as Jeddah Ghair, the city’s summer festival attracts more than a million people every year. Numerous events and activities take place over several weeks. This includes art exhibitions, sports, food and craft markets, children’s entertainment and spectacular fireworks displays.
Jeddah Season (June/July)
One of 11 Saudi Seasons events held throughout the Kingdom, Jeddah Season celebrates the best in the arts – from theatre and music performances to comedy shows and art exhibitions.
Saudi National Day (September)
This public holiday held on 23 September marks the unification of the Kingdom by King Abdul in 1923. The festivities feature airshows, fireworks and parades. Locals and expats alike join in the celebrations.
Eid al-Fitr Festival (the ninth month of the lunar calendar)
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and is by far one of the most popular festivals in Jeddah. People come from far and wide for this week-long celebration, decorating their houses and preparing scrumptious meals for family and friends to break the previous month’s fast.
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"Al Balad – the oldest part of the city – is a fun experience every time I go. It feels like I am stepping back in time. The architecture, the people, the sights and smells – it’s all fascinating and overwhelming in a good way. We also like to go to the Corniche and walk along the Red Sea. And definitely going out fishing and snorkeling on a boat is one of our favorite things to do." Read more of US expat Susie's interview.
Are you an expat living in Jeddah?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Jeddah. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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