Many expats find the lifestyle in Jeddah to be more vibrant and satisfying than in neighbouring provinces and the religiously strict capital, Riyadh.
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.
Its sparkling beaches, seemingly endless waterfront promenade, public art and foliage make for outdoor spaces that are an appealing combination of natural and manmade aesthetics.
But expats should be aware that the lifestyle they can expect when living in Jeddah is still similar to the rest of Saudi Arabia. There are no nightclubs or bars, and many restaurants in Jeddah are still gender-segregated.
Shopping in Jeddah
Widely believed to be the number one Saudi pastime, there’s a multifaceted realm of shopping in Jeddah.
Traders hawk jewellery, clothes, fabrics and oriental foods at the bustling old souqs 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 souqs, 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. Most traders are honest because they want repeat business – so expats can haggle hard and enjoy the experience.
Some expats become exhausted by the constant consumerism. In the end, the largest indicator of the quality of life for many is the entertainment provided and the relationships cultivated within their compounds.
Eating out in Jeddah
Expats will be more spoiled for choice than they may have expected when it comes to restaurants in Jeddah. A large portion of eateries do serve Middle Eastern fare, but 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 high standards in a familiar setting. Alternatively, multinational fast food chains are also well represented.
Expats should remember that most 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 in 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 expats can hire boats and jet skis. About 12 miles (19km) from the city centre are a number of private beach clubs with swimming areas, restaurants and cafés. They 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 dive locations. Its warm water is home to numerous 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 dive boat operators 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 just under the surface. Snorkelling gear can be rented or bought at dive shops or most beach clubs.
An active sailing club operates out of the Silver Sands beach club and hosts weekend races. Silver Sands is also a centre for windsurfing and expats can hire boards locally.
►For more on what to enjoy in your spare time, read See and Do in Jeddah
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