So I spent 10 days in Saudi Arabia backpacking in April 2018 as part of a Business Trip with Young Pioneer Tours. My friends, family and followers were unsure if I would still find time to explore these places and go backpacking in the country as I was here on business. Well, I milked it and I backpacked it hardcore like a business backpacker eager to explore a country often dubbed “The Forbidden Kingdom”!
In the ten days, I managed to work at the hotel show, backpack Jeddah’s UNESCO listed old town, swim in the Red Sea, attend a Rose Festival in Taif, wander through the sandy Arab desert (textbook style), stay in the desert city of Hail, explore the capital city Riyadh and backpack on an overland train from Hail to Riyadh. But I kicked things off in trendy Jeddah, it’s a hard city to navigate so try and rent a car to help you out.
Jeddah is a 4million person holding beast. But over one million of this beastage is formed by immigrants. Think taxi drivers from Pakistan, waiters from the Philippines, barbers from Turkey, business whackpackers from Northern Ireland and maids from Indonesia. Amidst all the drama of a country which doesn’t issue such a thing as a “tourist visa”, I managed to backpack this gigantic city with the other 5 guys to a point where we were loving it. While everyone might have their own top 12 in Jeddah, baby, these are mine and I encourage you to check them out when your wandering heart ends up in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea gem.
Officially the Cornich in Jeddah is separated into the lower, middle and upper corniche. But such a list has no space for a similar hat-trick so I am bunging them in as one sight. The Corniche is a magnificent seafrontal esplanade and promenade by the coast. You can wander at your leisure, which I did all too often. By day and by night. For sunset it is magnificent, many local females and their offspring mingle here with food and drink. Fishermen wait for their daily catch and joggers trot nonchalantly by. It is so safe and peaceful.
Also on the Corniche is a sculpture garden and a flower garden – all very pleasant on the eye to admire and photograph.
You feel happy here – don’t miss the Corniche.
Our Hotel, the Hotel Mercure Al-Hamra was situated on Aleksandria Street and I loved exploring this district. There were loads of hotels, mosques and restaurants and just quiet streets. Outrageously there was an Addams Family style building, which looks desolate, deserted and lonely on my daily stroll. You can also buy postcards, fridge magnets and other souvenirs at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel in Al-Hamra.
3.The Floating Mosque
If you’re looking for false advertising, then the Floating Mosque us it! My travel buddy Eduardo and I were expecting a Mosque which was actually on the water and floating. However, on arrival at this Mosque, it was clear that this is merely a Mosque built on large pillars that sits over the Red Sea, rather than floating on it. Still, an impressive building to admire. Only Muslims are allowed inside.
Part of the Corniche features an impressive area with flags of Saudi Arabia, a long garden with tall trees and a pleasant boulevard down to the seafront.
5.Hasan Anani Mosque at Flag Avenue
In a city with “thousands of Mosques”, picking one or two for a top 12 can be tricky. Yes, I loved the brace of Mosques near our hotel in Al-Hamra but the most impressive one we saw was the seafront Mosque at the top of flag avenue, Hasan Anani Mosque. Again, Non-Muslims are unallowed inside.
6.King Fahd Fountain
It’s not everyday you will be sleeping just a 10 minute walk from a viewpoint of the world’s highest fountain. I always used to laugh at Singapore claiming to have the world’s largest, the world’s biggest, the world’s slimmest, the world’s only, the world’s first etc. But the King Fahd fountain is officially the world’s highest/tallest. It squirts its water nightly to a height of 370 metres, which is higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
You can go up close to it on the side it is on, but actually most people go to the side opposite it as the view is better there, so seriously take my advice and just admire it from the Corniche side. You can get great photos and say you backpacked to the world’s highest fountain’s best viewpoint. The fountain only operates from 18.00 onwards. It is not squirting water all day or night – it’s an evening thing only otherwise it would be wasting water.
7.Beach and Red Sea
Not since 2013 (when I backpacked Aqaba in Jordan) had I been in the Red Sea so this was a welcome return. There are many beaches which allow swimming but check with the locals. Some beaches have large red signs saying no swimming, so be aware of that. We headed to one of Jeddah’s northern beaches for a swim. As a man, you can go in wearing your swimming trunks no problem. Nudity is obviously completely forbidden on the beach and in the sea. You might end up in prison, it also wouldn’t be a good idea to wear a mankini or tight briefs or speedos. A banana hammock will raise eyebrows from the lifeguards. It may also be highlighted by the many ladies in black here.
Ladies wear all black with only their eyes and part of their nose showing as that is the rule, but just because you cannot see them, doesn’t mean they cannot see you. There are many ladies and families here. So act sensibly, enjoy the swim and don’t break the law!
8.Al Tayibat City Museum for International Civilisation
In the top 12, but arguably the most important sight is the Al Tayibat City Museum for International Civilisation. This is also sometimes referred to as Al Tayibat International City. It is an absolutely stunning and memorable museum that I encourage you not to miss. It could be an entire blog post on its own but I just don’t have the time anymore.
The amazement of the museum to me came from more than just being inside it and reading and understanding the Saudi Arabian history – it was the sheer magnificence of the building and complex itself. Sitting on Rayhanat Al Jazirah Street, the museum is in an enclosed courtyard featuring a maze of rooms and outdoor sections. However, once inside the main building, the real treat begins.
Here there are four well designed, immaculate floors which take you through Saudi Arabian history and world history. Each room is very well designed and decorated. During my adventures around the world, a place like this could easily merit a long blog article of its own. But my depression aside, if I was to write individual articles about every museum (like I could), life would never get done and I would never finish all the blogs I wanted. In simple terms – the Al Tayibat City Museum for International Civilisation is magnificent and has to be explored. I loved it.
9.Saudi Arabia’s World’s Highest Flagpole
Standing at a height of 171 metres here is Jeddah sits the world’s tallest / highest flagpole!! It was only about 15 minutes walk from our hotel in Al-Hamra. Seeing this flagpole up close and personal was brilliant and also completed a nice hat-trick for me. The reason being, I had seen the world’s highest flagpole (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), the second highest (Dushanbe, Tajikistan) and the third highest (DMZ, North Korea).
10.Jeddah Old Town
I have already written a separate article about the beautiful Old Town of Jeddah so within this top twelve, you can lump the UNESCO listed Old Town into one sight. To backpack it though, you’ll need a few hours as I recommend working your way through my top 7 sights.
Only recently installed and joining the world’s list of cities that have a “welcome to INSERT OUR CITY’S NAME” sign is the Jeddah Sign. It’s not an “I love Jeddah” or a “Hashtag this Jeddah” type sign, but on a hot seafront boulevard, head here for a photo opportunity and chill out by the Red Sea.
12.Jeddah Fish Market
The main Fish Market in Jeddah is also not to me missed. I’d probably go as far to say that this is the most incredible fish market I have seen, and for many reasons. Firstly – we were the only tourists and visitors. Secondly photography is completely allowed everywhere. Thirdly, the locals are also very friendly, welcoming and talkative. Fourthly, there are over 50 species of fish here. They are all caught freshly from the Red Sea by the local fishermen.
Wander at your leisure and admire the many stalls. It opens from 5 am and I recommend going around 9 am in the morning to get the freshest fish from the sea. Later that evening we went to a fine fish restaurant for dinner – all fresh seafood from Jeddah’s fisherman. As a bonus, you can walk from the Fish Market across a bridge to the Old Town and it’s a great stroll.
13.The Ritz Carlton Hotel
This hugely impressive building is a work of art all on its own. Through all my travels the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Jeddah might just be the most prestigious, elaborate and special hotel I have ever seen. The architecture is stunning from the outside – an art gallery of its own.
Security will let you in no problem to admire the building, have a coffee or snack and take photos. As I am a budget backpacker, I toured the bottom two floors and exterior of the hotel but decided not to buy a coffee. However my travel buddy Eduardo consumed what looked to be a tasty cappuccino, which at 39 Riyals (almost 11 US Dollars) beat my budget. Had it been a Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel, then I may have pushed the boat out to afford it…
14.The Tallest Building in the World (To Be)
OK so in 2009 I backpacked Taipei in Taiwan and went to the top of the Taipei 101 (then the world’s tallest building). In 2013, I backpacked Dubai in United Arab Emirates and was able to get as far as Floor 13 of the Burj Khalifa. Here in 2018, We were able to see the beginning of the construction of what will be the world’s tallest building. Architects have designed for this one to eclipse the Burj Khalifa and this building is estimated to be over 1 kilometre high.
Those are just my personal top 14 in the city of Jeddah and of course there are many more things to see and do. There is a large football stadium, many parts and monuments, an aquarium and a load of other museums. Not to mention listening to the Call to Prayer every night from the Mosques.
Here are some videos from my time backpacking in Jeddah while touring Saudi Arabia, more are on my YouTube channel: