As the main point of entry, by air and sea, to Saudi Arabia, the flashy city of Jeddah is more cosmopolitan than Saudi's capital, Riyadh. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims making the traditional pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina pass through two enormous, futuristic special terminals with a fibre-glass tent-shaped roof at the international airport during the Hajj season. Other visitors are few and far between, since Saudi Arabia has extremely strict entry requirements.
Those who do gain entry to this splendid modern metropolis are rewarded with experiencing a city where luxury is the norm. Fabulous seven-star palatial hotels give on to wide boulevards, encircling the ancient central city, Balad, which is filled with colourful souqs (bazaars) and mysterious medieval buildings built of Red Sea coral.
The Red Sea shoreline is lined with a seemingly endless corniche, which spills onto gorgeous sandy beaches. While Jeddah's restaurants and shopping malls will keep visitors suitably occupied, perhaps one of the most unmissable sights in Jeddah is the King Fahd Fountain in the harbour, which is spectacular at night when it sends illuminated coloured jets of water 853 feet (260m) into the air.
Its name meaning 'grandmother', Jeddah is named after Eve. According to legend, she is buried near the historical old city, although the actual site of the tomb is not marked by the Saudi government.