Last Updated on by Rodrigo @ OutofYourComfortZone
Have plans to visit Jeddah, perhaps on a cruise stop or a flight layover? Wondering how to spend your time in Saudi Arabia’s most “liberal” city? Read on for recommendations & other tips in our 1-day Jeddah itinerary for all the details.
I’m going to start today’s article with a bit of honesty: I didn’t exactly enjoy my short visit to Jeddah.
It was an interesting place, to be sure. And I was glad to have had the unique chance to “peel back the curtain,” even if just for a day, on life inside one of the most closed-off countries in the world: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
But as a woman, it was also a pretty surreal (if not a somewhat uncomfortable) experience to be in a place that I knew cared so little for me as a person. To be in a place where men wouldn’t speak to me but rather, only to my husband (despite the fact that I spoke Arabic and could address them in the language, while my husband could not.)
Now, I don’t really want to go too far down that rabbit hole for today’s article.
So while I only had a day in Jeddah and I’m certainly not an “expert” in the country, I did think I could offer up some tips n’ tricks in this article. Especially since tourism is still in its infancy in Saudi Arabia, so I know it can be hard to get accurate info.
All that said, let’s dive in.
Can tourists even get into Jeddah or Saudi Arabia?
Yes, tourists can visit Saudi Arabia!
However, do be aware that tourism is still a relatively new industry to the country.
Previously, tourism was almost strictly religious based, meaning that non-muslims were required to undergo a lengthy tourist visa process and could not visit the country independently without a guide. And women, of course, weren’t allowed to visit without a male accompaniment.
Over the past few years, this has been changing. Some parts of the country remain firmly closed to non-Muslims (like Mecca).
But in general, non-muslim tourists can now visit many parts of the country freely. And in 2019, Saudi finally launched a new tourist visa program that lets the citizens of 49 countries apply for an e-visa or visa on arrival.
How can I get a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia?
If you’re coming to Jeddah by cruise ship as we did, then your ship should send you visa application instructions by email before you embark.
However, I will note that the visa process for our ship was incredibly chaotic and disorganized. Many passengers didn’t receive their visa in time to disembark (we only received ours the night before we arrived in Jeddah). So I do recommend checking with your ship ASAP and see about applying in advance if possible.
Otherwise, take a look at the Saudi government website here to see what type of visa you qualify for.
And if you’re from one of the 49 countries that qualify for an e-visa (including the U.S., most of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of countries in Asia), then you can apply here.
What to wear in Jeddah as a woman?
As a foreigner, you’re not required to cover your hair or wear an abaya (the long, flowing garment that you’ll see most women wear).
But despite Jeddah being Saudi Arabia’s most “liberal” city, you’ll still be required to cover up and dress very conservatively, regardless of the 90+ degree heat.
This means a skirt or dress that goes down to your ankles and a 3/4 sleeve or longer t-shirt that fits loosely and fully covers your chest. If you choose to wear pants, make sure you pair them with a shirt long enough to fully cover your backside.
To give you an idea, you can find a picture of what I wore and felt comfortable in. (Full disclosure: I forgot to take a picture of exactly what I was wearing in Jeddah, so here’s me wearing something similar while in Tunisia, though it was about a gazillion degrees hotter in Saudi. The other difference is that I kept my sleeves unrolled so they went down closer to my wrists, and then kept my shirt untucked and added a thin scarf so I didn’t show any shape.)
What to wear in Jeddah as a man?
Generally, men don’t wear shorts. But other than that, any kind of pants and a t-shirt are just fine.
That said, most local men will opt for a thobe: a traditional, flowing white garment made out of linen or cotton.
How to get to the Jeddah city center from the Jeddah cruise terminal
Without traffic, the Jeddah cruise terminal is about a 15-20 minute drive away from Al-Balad, the historic center.
That said, this can be MUCH longer if there’s a lot of traffic. Which we found out the hard way, as we were desperately trying to get back to our ship before it left. So, make sure to give yourself plenty of extra time!
As far as we can tell, there aren’t any buses in and out of the port. So your best bet is a taxi.
Fortunately, they’ll be a ton of taxis waiting for you right at the port. Unfortunately, they are VERY pushy and will try their very best to get extra money out of you…so make sure you’re prepared to negotiate and stand your ground.
We paid something like $20-25 USD for the ride to Al-Balad. Though it will probably be a bit more if you go straight to the corniche, as we recommend in the article below.
If possible, see if you can share a ride with some of your other cruise passengers to divide up the cost.
You could, hypothetically, walk from the port to the old town in about 50 minutes. But with the heat, I’m not sure you’d want to!
How to get around Jeddah for this 1-day itinerary
When we only have a limited stay somewhere, we often like to rent a car to help us make the most of our time. And in our articles, we often recommend other travelers do the same. (Such as our 1-day Mauritius road trip itinerary or our 1-Day Guam itinerary by car)
However, although we rented a car in Jeddah, we do NOT recommend you rent a car in Jeddah yourself.
Although we’ve often rented cars in places with pretty crazy drivers (*cough cough* Armenia *cough cough*) and absurd traffic, Jeddah was on a whole new level.
And that’s coming from Rodrigo, who was driving, and has tons of experience driving in these types of places (including his home city of 20 million inhabitants).
Our experience renting a car in Jeddah was, in a word, terrible. The drivers were basically insane and had little to no disregard for safety, we got terribly lost, and the traffic was horrendous, causing us to almost miss our ship. (I wish I was joking.)
Realistically, it’ll probably be easiest if you grab a taxi (just don’t forget to negotiate!) between each of your itinerary stops. Taxis are easy enough to find, so you probably don’t have to worry about booking a driver for a day or having them wait for you.
Other than that, there are some public buses, but the system doesn’t appear to be that extensive. However, I imagine it could get you between the two major itinerary stops (the old town and the corniche) if you were to give it a try.
If you do manage to figure out the bus system, drop us a comment underneath the article and let us know how it goes!
Can you use Uber in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?
So, Uber technically exists in Jeddah and other large cities in Saudi Arabia.
When we tried to use it ourselves to get from the rental car office back to the port, it was a fiasco. We ordered several cars that never came. And then the one who said he was there we were never able to find.
In our desperation to get back to the ship on time, we couldn’t wait any longer and just had to grab a taxi off the street.
That said, the prices on Uber are definitely better than normal taxis. Plus, you get to skip the pushy negotiation that you get with the normal taxi drivers.
So hopefully, you’ll have a better experience than we did if you choose to try Uber. Just make sure you don’t do so if you have somewhere time-sensitive to be!
What to do with 1 day in Jeddah (1-day Jeddah cruise ship itinerary)
To be honest, we didn’t feel like there was a ton to do in Jeddah, at least at the moment.
Currently, Jeddah is undergoing a LOT of construction in what appears to be an attempt to transform into a glittering, modern city that can rival extravagant Dubai.
Unfortunately, this construction seems to include destroying many of the city’s traditional medinas and winding historic neighborhoods. So it’s hard to say what the city will look like in a few years.
But for now, I’m going to start by recommending the two “must-see” parts of Jeddah that I would dedicate most of your day to: the famous Jeddah Corniche/waterfront and Al-Balad, the old town.
Afterwards, you’ll find a list of some additional top attractions that you can add to your Jeddah itinerary however you like.
1-DAY JEDDAH ITINERARY PART 1: MORNING WALK (OR BIKE!) ALONG THE CORNICHE
Jeddah’s Corniche is a popular waterfront promenade that stretches along the coast of the Red Sea for more than 30 kilometers (18 miles). A stroll along the corniche will take you past sea views, green parks with families picnicking in the shade, and several important city landmarks.
Since Jeddah is painfully hot no matter the time of the year, I recommend heading here first thing in the morning while it’s still a bit cooler.
We were also told that it’s possible to rent a bike on the corniche, which could be a breezier alternative than seeing the sites on your own two feet.
Unfortunately, we didn’t figure out exactly how this might work since we had our own car. But perhaps pop into one of the fancy hotels in the area and see if they can direct you to a bike shop.
There’s tons to see and visit along the waterfront, so you can easily entertain yourself for an entire day. But to make things a little easier, here’s a quick summary of the 7 top attractions and spots to visit on Jeddah’s corniche:
- The King Fahd Fountain
- Fakieh Aquarium
- North Corniche Park
- Island Mosque
- Red Sea Mall
- Jeddah Art Promenade
- The Floating Mosque (Al Rahma Mosque)
Note: you can find each of these spots easily by typing them into Google Maps, though I put them in order from closest to the city center (The King Fahd Fountain) to farthest (The Floating Mosque) to help you plan.
1-DAY JEDDAH ITINERARY PART 2: EXPLORATION OF AL-BALAD, JEDDAH’S UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE PROTECTED OLD TOWN
Although many tours and tourists hit up Al-Balad in the morning…we’re going to recommend heading there a little later in the day, when the shops are open and the local souks are bustling with shoppers.
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of specific “must-do” landmarks or places in Al-Balad.
Rather, simply lose yourself among the narrow streets and alleys, admiring the intricate designs and craftsmanship of the traditional wooden architecture and tranquil historic mosques as you go.
1-DAY JEDDAH ITINERARY: A somewhat odd recommendation…
If you get the chance, try to fit in a visit to one of the big malls, whether The Red Sea Mall on the corniche, or the Mall of Arabia (the biggest mall in Saudi Arabia, apparently).
Though I’m not a big shopper myself, whenever I’m in a new country, I always love doing a quick stroll around the local mall to get a good pulse on the local life & social culture.
As expected, our trip to the Mall of Arabia gave me just that, as it was one of the strangest mismatches of tradition and modernity I’ve ever seen.
They had just about every international chain store and restaurant you could imagine – from H&M to Gucci to Dunkin’ Donuts to TGI Fridays. (And yes, the clothing stores had trendy, up-to-date clothing like you’d find anyone else…still not fully sure who wears it here in Saudi!)
But alongside this mass display of modernity and commercialism, you also have local women browsing the shops and eating with their families – totally covered up, save for a small slit in the fabric for their eyes.
An odd contrast, to be sure.
Other optional attractions to add to your 1 day in Jeddah
Beyond making time for the corniche and Al-Balad, the rest of your day in Jeddah is open to whatever you’d like to do.
So, here are some other ideas of places to visit while in Jeddah:
- Al Tayebat International City (note: we only saw this from the outside as it appeared to be closed, and we’re not totally clear on whether or not you have to book a tour in advance….but as you can see in the photo above, this museum complex looks beautiful!)
- Fakieh Aquarium, right on the Corniche
- The Red Sea Mall or The Mall of Arabia
- Atallah Happy Land Park or Al Shallal Amusement Parks
- The Jeddah Planetarium
If you have just one day in Jeddah, I recommend you visit, at minimum, the corniche and Al-Balad, the city’s historic UNESCO old town.
From there, you can add on whatever interests you, including:
- Al Tayebat International City (a beautiful museum complex)
- Fakieh Aquarium
- The Red Sea Mall or The Mall of Arabia
- Atallah Happy Land Park or Al Shallal Amusement Parks
- The Jeddah Planetarium
And that’s all there is to it, folks!
Have you ever been to Jeddah before? Or do you have any questions before your trip? Let us know in the comments area below, and we’ll get back to you.
Planning your next trip?
Already reserved your hotel or hostel? If not, we recommend Booking.com. They have a huge selection of hotels and hostels all over the world. Plus, in most cases, you can cancel your reservation without any costs up to a few days before the check-in date!
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And finally, will you need to rent a car during your trip? Then check out Rentalcar.com to search and compare car rental companies from all over the world in a single website. Then, you can find the cheapest price for the best car!