Balad is covered in greater detail in the section on Old Jeddah but suffice to say it is primarily the major collection of traditional souqs - with new developments on the periphery it truly offers the best of both worlds. To go on a weekday morning or on a Thursday night is to see two different places entirely. Although people do shop on a Thursday evening, it is better to just soak up the atmosphere - the sights, sounds and smells combine magically to transform you to a time that spans thousands of years. Mind-boggling if you think about it too hard so perhaps best not to - just inhale and enjoy. Gabel/Qabil Street is identifiable as a wide pedestrianised thoroughfare that goes off to the left as you drive through the one-way system around the old city, directly opposite the Mahmal Centre. Before you dive straight into exploration, stop at theCafeteria Al Roshan for a refreshing fruit cocktail and delicious shiwarma to get you in the mood! Carry on up Gabel Street, passing the Gold Souq on your left and through a covered section that seems to sell everything - shoes, fridges, watches, televisions, clothes, food ….! At the top of Gabel Street is the underpass to the Alawi Souq where you walk further back in time with every step. If you turn right and head south you will come to one of the two restored gates to the Old City - Bab Sherif, surrounded by carpet shops. East and up the hill from here takes you to Bab Makkah Souq, famous for spices and silks. If at any point you feel unsure of your location either walk uphill and you will eventually find yourself at …. (what's at the top!) or ask any passerby. They might not speak your native language but are friendly, will understand you are lost and gladly point you back to civilisation - I'm speaking from experience.
There is a surprising amount of car parking available in Balad - an underground car park that is signposted on your left just as you are parallel with the Corniche Commercial Centre, a multi-storey mall that is linked to the Mahmal Centre and an open air car park outside the Corniche Commercial Centre. Street parking is limited to the side streets but be warned - it is very easy to forget where you put it, especially on a first visit!
There are other newer souqs dotted around the city that still engage a frisson of excitement at the possibility of finding something truly spectacular!
The Afghan Souq (S7) just off Sitteen Street near Al Hindiweyah, is renowned for a fantastic choice of reasonably priced carpets. It is one narrow road of shops, selling new and old rugs. There are several that have genuine, good quality old Turkoman rugs and other tribal rugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as small woven items such as bags, rucksacks, cushion covers etc.
Bawadi Souq (K4), north of the Satellite roundabout on Prince Fahd (Sitteen) Street is a colourful souq selling clothes, luggage, perfume and some great outfits for the children's dressing up box!
Haraj Souq (V7) translates literally to Junk Souq and it is not a modest description! It is where the contents of misloaded or damaged containers from the port end up to find a buyer at any price. You have to be prepared to really hunt though to get a bargain but that is part of the fun! Find it on the South Corniche, south of the Petromin Refinery.
The Old Airport Souq on King Khaled Street (R4) - my favourite! No prizes for the source of the name but the collection of former airline and travel services offices have become overgrown with what can only be described as 'stuff', a secret garden that relinquishes treasures with every turn …. and a certain amount of goodies of distinctly dubious origin it has to be said! None of the shops specialises in any one thing and the phrase 'one man's junk is another man's treasure' springs to mind, but for mementos of your time in Jeddah this is the place to come. There is furniture of varying ages - some old, some made to look old, some new and proud of it - for all uses. Some argue that a lot of it is imported but that too makes it authentically part of Jeddah's history as a trading post. There are old books, prints and photographs, rugs old and new, table linen, coffee pots, water carriers, tribal yashmaks, ancient trunks, beautifully made rosewood furniture from Pakistan and India, camel stools, tribal daggers and swords either framed or loose, things whose use has long since been forgotten but still fascinating by their very existence.
The shop at the far left of the parade as you face it, Abdullah BR Zahrani Est, is particularly interesting. It has wooden bins just inside the door full of old coins, ancient pistols and daggers while antiquated telephones sit next to unusually shaped glass bon-bon dishes on the shelves behind. A bizarre pile of wind-up gramophone bases wobbles gently on a crate in the breeze of the fan, while their respective horns lie on the floor nearby. Not far above your head hang fantastic chandeliers. Walk through and the shop opens out with a Chinese enamel and glass display case on the left and some more common steel and glass cases on the right. Follow these to the end and on your right will be a very narrow door that looks as if it might lead somewhere you'd rather not go. Trust me - through the Narnianesque door is a partly covered warehouse full to the brim with coffee tables made from old doors and twisted metalwork, cupboards of all sizes and shapes, chairs, desks, screens and all sorts of weird and wonderful things that defy definition! This is one shop where the bargaining process does not seem to work so well - experience has shown a very swift fall in price of about 20% and then nothing further, even over a period of several visits. Another shop similar to this but not as large can be found round the corner at the far right of the parade. There are other smarter shops in Jeddah that sell the same merchandise - for their pre-cleaning and more elegant surroundings expect to pay double!
The Macarona Souq (O4) on the northbound carriageway of Macarona Street, after the Al Rajhi bank, (opposite Lebanese Fruit Juice on the other side of the road), is where to go for the best choice in dress fabric, threads and general haberdashery. Some of the fabric shops are tremendous value with everything SR10 a metre and not just grotty polyester but a wide selection of good quality linens, cottons, voiles, satins - even velvet. Also available are cosmetics, perfumes, shoes and a good lingerie shop. Unless you are a whiz with the sewing machine you will need to find a tailor - personal recommendation is the best way to find a good one who will either copy an existing piece of clothing or construct something from scratch, the only limits being his talents and your imagination.
The Petromin Souq is not as far south as the Junk Souq, but don't go in a local taxi unless you are absolutely certain of its location. It is a vast collection of units in open warehouses with textiles, furniture, luggage, household goods and clothing. Textiles for curtains and upholstery are an absolute bargain at truly incredible prices - SR10-15 per metre that would cost SR100+ back home. Set aside a good couple of hours unless you know exactly what you are going for and where to find it. The market doesn't open until 11am and then is open all day (apart from prayer times) until around 10pm.
The Philipino Souq (L7) is known as Saudia Market by Philipinos and its official name is Khalidia! Whatever it's called, it's on Prince Abdullah Street, west of Prince Sultan and north of Saudia City and it is the place for well-known brands of clothes and sports shoes that they promise are the real thing but cost less than the price you would expect. Sounds too good to be true but they look OK! It's also great for luggage, watches and handbags.
The Syrian Souq (L1) on the northbound carriageway of Prince Mitab 'Petromin' Street and south of Tahlia Street is good for Filipino fashions, pots and pans and, apparently, made to measure curtains in 24 hours!
The Tent Souq (L4) is also known as 'Old Mahmood Saeed' on the Northbound carriageway of Sitteen Street near the Bicycle Roundabout - it does not sell tents. A labyrinth of mostly open-air shops selling textiles, clothing, furniture, toys, carpets, gold and jewellery, it gets its name from its roof - made of tents!
To confuse things there is the unofficial Tent Souq (N3) on Tahlia Street, eastbound, just after the junction with Macarona Street, which has much more claim to the title selling, as it does, tents! Beautiful may not be quite the right word but they are handmade, sturdy canvas and made-to-measure from pup size to a marquee fit for a wedding. You can choose your choice of pattern from the rolls of canvas on display - big bold red and white stripes has certain appeal! They will also handmake 2ft long and 1/2 inch in diameter steel tent 'pegs' (and a denim bag to carry them in!) that look strong enough to hold a tent fast in a hurricane!