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24 Hours In

Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s beguiling gateway for millions of pilgrims en route to Mecca, as well as traders and business executives arriving for meetings in what has become Saudi Arabia’s commercial capital. These visitors are greeted by a diverse array of attractions, including ancient structures with histories that stretch back thousands of years. Some remain steadfast reminders of the region’s devout Islamic heritage, while others serve new purposes in the new millennium and join a growing number of modern amenities.

Day

1

MORNING
  • Market Days.

    Jeddah’s known as “The Bride of the Red Sea,” and every day the morning catch goes on sale starting at 5 a.m. at Central Fish Market. Everything from blue crabs to squid is sold by the kilo — but no photos are allowed, owing to the market’s proximity to the Coast Guard and port. Watch the hubbub, then walk down the Corniche to one of the breakfast spots with a more relaxed pace and diverse menu.

  • Worship on Water.

    The white marble mosque on the North Corniche is built atop pillars that disappear underwater at high tide, which is why it’s called the Floating Mosque. The sights along the Corniche are particularly splendid at sunrise.

  • Art Walk.

    See more than two dozen sculptures by Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Victor Vasarely and other international artists at the open-air Jeddah Sculpture Garden. There are an estimated 600 statues throughout the city, but along the Corniche is the highest concentration — especially this garden.

  • See a Real High Flyer.

    The Jeddah Flagpole, the world’s tallest unsupported flagpole, stands 560 feet high in King Abdullah Square. The flag unfurled at the top is 162 feet long and 108 feet tall and weighs more than 1,250 pounds.

MIDDAY
  • Coral Gables.

    Houses in the old district of Al Balad date back centuries — many are made from coral stones with palm wood supports. Meander the neighborhood to admire these relics.

  • The Mother of Civilization.

    Muslim lore says that after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, Adam went to Mecca while Eve came to Jeddah, where she was eventually laid to rest in one of the oldest cemeteries in the Al Balad neighborhood. The actual tomb was neglected because of fears of idolatry, then destroyed in 1928, but visitors still gather among the rows of unmarked graves, and a small sign on the cemetery gate reads “Our Mother Eve.” 

  • Roam Royal Hallways.

    Camels used to carry supplies between the five stories of Bayt Nassif, built for Sheikh Omar Effendi Nassif in the late 1800s. The 106-room house became the home of King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud when he entered the city as a conqueror in 1925. It’s now a cultural center that hosts lectures and exhibitions.

AFTERNOON
  • Step Back in History.

    For a sense of Jeddah’s 2,500-year heritage, head to the Abdul Raouf Khalil Museum, where exhibits explain the city’s varying heritage, with different buildings devoted to Saudi, Islamic, international and public history.

  • Take the Plunge.

    Desert Sea Divers offers both group and private dive tours in the Red Sea and boat trips for snorkelers. Save space in your suitcase and rent the necessary equipment from the on-site dive shop before your excursion begins. 

  • Drive a Hard Bargain.

    Be sure to be at Souk Al Alawi at sunset, when the ululations of the call to prayer fill the market. You can find genuine Arabian jewelry and Islamic art and traditional spices and foods that make ideal mementos — and bargaining is expected. 

EVENING
  • Take Your Pick.

    The chef’s menu at Saltz restaurant includes four or six courses creatively prepared by Chef Thomas Pendarovski, with entrées such as filet mignon with Swiss chard, shallots and chimichurri sauce, or black cod with baby vegetables and plum tomato coulis. The signature beverages are equally enticing, such as the Ibn Sina Avicenna (rose water, pomegranate sumac and chili infusion, sparkling hibiscus and cilantro soda) and the aptly named Arabian Nights (cold brew coffee with cardamom- and saffron-infused cream and date syrup).

  • Sea the World.

    The Fakieh Aquarium hosts dolphin shows at 7, 9 and 11 p.m. daily, and there’s even a 1 a.m. show during holidays. Saudi Arabia’s only public aquarium also houses more than 200 other species, including sharks, stingrays and seahorses. 

  • The Spray Display.

    King Fahd’s Fountain, the world’s largest seawater fountain, propels water more than 1,000 feet into the air — about as tall as the Eiffel Tower — at more than 230 miles per hour. After dark, more than 500 high-intensity spotlights illuminate the plume, making it a landmark day or night.