Saudi Arabia – Jeddah
Jeddah is probably one of the most cosmopolitan and liberal cities in Saudi Arabia, however, the Western traveler needs to be aware of the cultural differences that impose a particular attitude in the country, Jeddah included. As a foreign woman, you are not required to wear the traditional head square, but doing so would avoid potential incidents with the religious police or pestering from Saudi men who are keen to singularize women in breach of these traditions. At the same time, alcoholic beverages are not sold in public places, and pork is also off the menu. Above all, never insult the Saudi royal family – in fact, stay away from any discussion about the royal family, national or international politics in general.
With these basic rules in mind, Jeddah is definitely a beautiful city to be enjoyed. The Old Town (al-Balad) is the most representative part of the city and where your tour should start. Other than just walking around, taking in the atmosphere and 2,000 years of history, as it blends with the modernism of new buildings, there are two notable things one should experience in the Old Town.
One is the numerous markets, including a fish market where you get a chance to witness all parts of the trade. One of the most fascinating things about the markets in the Arabic world is their liveliness, the way everybody seems to be involved in some way in this big organism that the market represents. Haggling is not only a business practice, but a way of life and some have pointed out that salesman will see it as an insult if you refuse to haggle. Another worthy tip is that the markets usually are open through the evening and well into the early hours of the night, which might appeal to you if you prefer to do yours hopping when it is a little cooler outside.
The other worthwhile experience in the Old Town is the coral houses. They have not been maintained too well, but the Naseef House should give some idea of the grandeur of the establishment in the past, especially since it has been renovated in the 1990s. Watch for the expressive work around the windows, quite often in beautifully carved wood.
One word about a local event you should not miss: the Food Arabia, which in May of each year, is a great opportunity to try many of the different Arabic dishes. Of course, you should not wait until May to do that, but enjoy these opportunities at restaurants and small café shops throughout Jeddah.