Al-Balad, which literally translates to “The City”, is the historical area of Saudi-Arabia’s second largest city Jeddah. Founded in the 7th century, Balad historically served as the city center of Jeddah until the big oil boom when most families started moving out the area. Al Balad Historical District, which was just recently added into the UNESCO World Heritage sites list, is my absolute favorite part of Jeddah. I will never become bored of wandering in the narrow alleyways, discovering brightly colored Mashrabiat and rawashaan, the specs of color, the friendly people, the smells and sounds of Balad. Al Balad will literally tickle all your senses.
Here are ten reasons why you should not miss a visit to this unique heritage site! For the best info on the history and background of different areas and buildings, it’s recommended to take a tour of Al Balad district with an experienced and knowledgable local guide. When mom and I last visited Jeddah, we were fortunate to have the awesome ‘Susie of Arabia’ who writes the blogs Susie’s Big Adventure and Jeddah Daily Photo, as our personal guide. Susie is, like myself, a self-proclaimed door addict, we share a love (or obsession?) with the colorful doors and windows of Balad. I think we spent a good three hours just looking at different kinds of doors (poor mom)! We walked around for the entire morning until early afternoon, Susie showing us around her favorite spots in Al Balad. Susie is an American woman married to a Saudi, she’s been living in Jeddah for almost the same period of time that I’ve been in Riyadh (soon 7 years! ). This is my mom posing with Susie:
Top Ten Things to Do in al Balad Jeddah
1. Do some real life time traveling and discover the rich history of the Balad district. The two gates to the Old City, built in typical Ottoman style, are the Gate of Medinah (Bab al Madinah) and the larger more well preserved Mecca gate (Bab al Makkah). Beautiful, intricately designed old merchant houses can be found all over the area, the most famous being Al Naseef House (Beit al Nassef). This stunning building has been fully preserved and is now open to public as a museum. Another museum worth visiting is the Jeddah Municipality Museum. The very first school-now museum, in the entire Arabian peninsula is located in Al Balad (Madrasa Al Falah).
Al Shafei mosque which is also known as the “Ancient Mosque” dates back to 7th century AD. This mosque is undergoing a huge restoration project because over the decades it has ‘sunk’ into the ground which makes it look like it’s being swallowed by the earth. Sadly many if not most of the residential buildings have been neglected. If restoration and preservation projects are not urgently undertaken in the area, most likely this architectural gem will slowly perish. Some of the houses have suffered extra damage from the floods and entirely collapsed into the streets. What is most unfortunate is that government seems to be more focused on developing other areas of tourism and skyscrapers and other modern buildings are making their way into this historically unique and invaluable heritage site. Hopefully action will be taken before this treasure is lost forever.
2. Practice your photography skills. Whether its street photography, architecture, food, portraits or even macro, Balad offers something of interest for all photo enthusiasts. The best time to visit would be early weekday mornings. If hustle and bustle is what you’re looking for, a Friday afternoon will surely deliver just that.3. Meet the friendly and welcoming people. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, you won’t regret it! Saudi families and lots of different nationalities still live in the old houses of Al Balad.4. Explore what the famous Balad souk Al- Alawi has to offer. Find shumagh, abaya and scarves in all colors imaginable, leather bags, shoes and sandals, jewelry made from coral. Oud, frankincense, Arabic perfumes, oils and incense burners to use them all in. Sample the dates, spices, Arabic coffee beans, fresh fruits and vegetables. Or how about some fresh hibiscus flower tea known locally as ‘Karkade’?5. Sample the food of Al Balad’s small food stalls. Delicious, cooked on the spot snacks and Arabic breads can be found at every corner. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Prices start from 1sr for a shawarma!6. Shop for authentic Saudi Souvenirs. If you’re not the tourist type that goes for plastic camels or burkha clad bopple-heads, Al Balad’s souk is the place for you. Some items of interest would be frankincense, which comes in several different forms and varieties and the ‘Saudi style” incense burners to use with it. There’s huge blocks and little cubes which can used like chewing gum, frankincense essential oils are famous for their healing properties and can be used both internally and externally. You can also find other Arabic perfumes and Oud here. Exotic spices and dates can be found in abundance as well as beautiful lanterns, colorful scarves, Saudi style leather sandals and much more.
Check out Inspired By Arabia for al Balad inspired home decor, accessories and art.7. Marvel at the mosques. Some of the tiniest and dare I say cutest mosques you’ll ever encounter can be found in Balad’s narrow alleyways, nestled between houses, shops and walkways.8. Climb to the rooftop of Al Naseef house just before Maghreb prayer time to catch the sunset over Al Balad’s rooftops. the sound of the beautiful Athan (call of prayer) being called out from all over the city will overwhelm your senses. An experience you will never forget.9. Obsess over doors and windows. Balad is a dream come true for all kinds of architecture lovers but especially captivating for those of us who just can’t get enough of all kinds of doors! The historical area is famous for the bright colored window and door covers called Mashrabiya and Rawashaan. The window covers were designed to catch the breeze and cool the houses but at the same time to allow the womenfolk inside some privacy by blocking the views. 10. Relax and unwind at a Sheesha cafe. Stop by one of the small outdoor sheesha (also known as hookah)places or if the hubbly bubbly is not your cup of tea, try some Arabic coffee instead. (unfortunately these places are for men only..) More ideas of Thing to do in Jeddah here: Jeddah Staycation with Kids- Why you should visit Jeddah
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Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 75 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram: instagram.com/blueabaya
I LOVE the architecture there! I one day HAVE TO GO….
Yes, it’s so unique! I hope you get to go there soon!
Excellent photographes once again ms Layla! You are a spokesperson for the Saudi Kingdom.
People like me would never find out about these place if not visiting your site.
Thank you and keep sharing!
Thank you Gracie!
Thanks for sharing these ideas for travel Laylah, I’ve added them to Pinterest so I can begin exploring when I arrive :)
you’re welcome! thanks for pinning them :)
Thanks so much ! I leave tomorrow for my first trip here and very impressed by your blog. I am thrilled to be able to experience this. I LOVE YOUR BLOG… wonderful.
Thank you so much for the compliment, how exciting about your first trip! Please let me know how it went :)
Hi. I lived in Ras Tanura (Aramco compound ) back in the seventies.I’m trying to buy what was originally called a Taif wedding dress which were formerly sold in Jiddah. Can you please send me any websites of Jiddah (or any) vendors who sell these dresses, preferably that we can see and order online? The classic one is a long, black velvet dress with circular machine embroidery around the sleeves, a few lines down either side of the dress, and another thick embroidered design around the neck and down to about the middle of the front. They also come in different colors, and I believe, other kinds of materials, but I’m interested in the black (or burgundy) velvet if they still make them. Thanks.
I’ve seen these dresses in some souks in the south of Saudi Arabia, mainly Najran and then some people were selling them at the annual Janadriyah festival. Other than those, I’ve never come across any websites selling them, sorry :( Maybe you could have a replica made, try and find some pics online and give to the tailor?
[…] 15. TEN THINGS TO DO IN AL-BALAD HISTORICAL DISTRICT, JEDDAH […]
I am In Jeddah for a couple of days as my husband is working and I was interested in doing some sight seeing of the Al – Balad district and came across your website the Blue Abaya (love the name).
Hi Julia! I hope you enjoyed your Jeddah trip and got the chance to experience Al Balad :)
Hello, I am impressed by the way you described Old Town in Jeddah. I live in KSA and we plan to visit Al Balad next Friday, can you please tell me which is the best way to enter Al Balad? Is it the south part? Can you just tell me the name of the street or area where the best entrance is (I am afraid we do not have enough time to spend, so we really want to get in the most beautiful and popular area). Many thanks!
You should tell the taxi driver to drop you off at the entrance, bab al mecca and walk in from there! Enjoy!
love your site !
Can you tell me if it is worth getting a guide for Al Balad ( we don’t have much time) – and if so any recommendations /contacts
Or if it is ok just to wander ourselves
Suzanne, thank you for the comment.
I would advise to get a guide to get the most out of it, especially if you will be wanting to visit the merchant house and museum. The area is quite large and it’s easy to get a little confused of where you came in from, which is normally not a problem of course but since your time is limited, it’s not something you want to be dealing with. I recommend you contact Nomad arabia: https://www.nomadarabia.com/ please mention you were referred by me ;)
Thank you so much for the referrals!! :)
can you advise on contemporary jeddah fashion designers? I like to shop independent rather than brand names – is there a particular area in Jeddah where these boutiques are located?
hi there, I’d advise you to check instagram with the relevant hashtags and you’ll find some real gems that don’t necessarily have their own shops other than on IG :)
Hi! I love your blog! Such a beautiful information and I appreciate it. Im just wondering if there is any entrance fee to visit the museum and how much does it cost? And is the museum big? I would love to bring my family here! ^^
[…] miss Jeddah which is a city with quite a different vibe and atmosphere than Riyadh and a beautiful historic district al Balad (also UNESCO world Heritage […]
YOU. ARE. AN. AMAZING. WRITER.
I’ve been to three provinces in Saudi Arabia already and I’ve based all those trips from this website of yours <3 Much love from this Filipina!
Thanks a lot Danette! That’s great to hear! keep exploring :)
Hi Laura. Great blog! I love it. We are a mexican family living in kaust ( we arrived one month ago).
We want to visit al balad but with a guide. Do you have any suggestion?
Is Al Balad open during week at nights
hi yes it’s kind of always open, it’s a big area you can wander around. The souks and stores open in the afternoon and during ramadan later at night .
Jeddah is a city full of life.
We the expats shall miss this city, especially our children who spend their childhood and school days.