Coastal retail

Shop along the Red Sea

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The Red Sea coast is a stretch of richly varied cultures: from the port city of Jeddah into the fertile mountains of Taif, via the turquoise-fringed coast around Yanbu. The shopping is just as diverse, from the laden stalls of Al Hada’s farm markets to the high-gloss boutiques of Jeddah’s Boulevard.

In the northern city of Tabuk, venture to Souq Twaheen in the city’s old quarter. Still used by Bedouin nomads, some of the delights on offer include camel saddles and goat-hair tent covers, alongside ornate crafts, dates and trinkets, all sold in a gloriously hectic atmosphere.

More modern shopping can be found at Prince Fahd Bin Sultan Avenue, a pedestrianized shopping street packed with boutiques and gold stores, or the Park and Al Hokair malls, with their mix of high street brands, designer outlets and good places to eat.

In Yanbu, the port city six hours down the coast, the best shopping experiences are found around the evocative harbor. The Souq Al Layl, a maze of traditional coral stone buildings by the harbor, stays open until midnight: a nod to the fishermen who once frequented its stalls late at night to buy mulukhiya and rotba dates, as well as coffee beans that had crossed the Red Sea from Africa. The fish market nearby has raucous auctions of the day’s freshest catches. But there are also less traditional places to shop, including a branch of Jarir, the famous Saudi bookstore, and the slick Yanbu and Dana malls, the latter an airy space, home to the likes of H&M and other global brands.

In Taif, a lush mountain area a few hours inland from Jeddah, shopping tends to revolve around the area’s delectable natural produce. The central market has a whole section devoted to the sweet honey from the surrounding mountains, and a perfume section where you can buy the famous Taif rose oil beloved by regional royalty. Elsewhere, the fruit market in scenic Al Hada is a popular spot where local vendors sell the apricots, figs, pomegranates and more that the area is known for. And, away from modern malls like the Valley Centre and Taif’s Heart Mall, the Cultural Roshan Gallery near the central market is a hidden gem. In a three-story traditional building filled with retro bric-a-brac and serving Arabic coffee, the eclectic work on the packed walls is all by local artists and available to buy.

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When it comes to shopping, Jeddah is the pick of the Red Sea. The maze-like Souq Al Alawi in the magical Al Balad historic quarter is a must-visit. The largest historic souk in Saudi Arabia, it is abuzz with mostly stallholders and shopkeepers selling everything from oud to spices, jewelry and mutabaq stuffed pancakes along coral stone lanes.

At the other end of the time spectrum, Jeddah has some of the best stocked malls in Saudi Arabia, from the giant Mall of Arabia, with its arcade and food court, to The Boulevard, where beautiful modernist flagship stores of brands like Prada, Loewe and Gucci are lit a shimmering gold at night - the cube-like Gucci store is especially beautiful.

Perhaps Jeddah’s biggest point of difference is its world-class designers and concept stores. Most of the malls feature Jeddah designers like Nora Al Shaikh, known for her strikingly modern architectural dresses, or Lillian Ismail, who handcrafts beautiful heritage-inspired jewelry. Designer Safiah Alaquil’s Badawiah brand sources fair-trade abayas, cover-ups and jewelry, with a portion of profits going to children’s charities.

Cool concept stores include the bright Homegrown Market, a faintly hippie-ish love letter to Middle Eastern design, from linen kaftans and abayas to upcycled beach bags, local scented candles and whimsical art; and Crate, a warehouse-like space to support local independent makers, with products including slogan caps, hip shirwal trousers and cheeky Crate brand t-shirts by artist RexChouk. There are many more in a dynamic city bursting with ideas – and great places to shop.

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