Al-Balad in Jeddah is a bustling souq area, with a good balance of indoor and outdoor souq. Get a taxi to drop you off at the Queens Building in al-Balad. There are indoor souqs across the road, to the left and right, opposite the Queens building, selling perfumes, cheap watches, electrical devices, cheap clothing etc. Facing the Queens building head left for about 400 metres to reach the Municipality Museum (on the left) in the restored Merchant House. It's made from Red Sea coral and was restored by the British and used during WWI; TS Lawrence (of Arabia) stayed here in 1917. Get your hotel to phone ahead and make an appointment so that you can go inside.

More interesting is the outdoor covered souq area which is accessed through the restored gateway found to the right of the Queens Building. At the time of writing (July 2010) the area was undergoing restoration, crates of cobble stones were dotted about ready to be set in the sandy pedestrianised roadways, when it's finished it will be far more comfortable to walk on and hopefully less dusty. Heading straight through the gateway there are air conditioned shops to the left and right mainly selling Arabian and Indian style gold jewellery.  Walk straight ahead for about 200 metres and you'll reach the crossroads of the covered souq area, great for exploring, fantastic atmosphere, it's both safe and appropriate for a lone woman traveller as I am to visit this area. Abaya best worn and keep an eye on your bag.

If you go straight ahead at the 'crossroads' mentioned above, after another 200 metres you'll find yourself heading into the most fascinating and historical Souk Al-Alawi area walk under the the underpass (see pic below) and keep going straight ahead the other side of the underpass. Wander around the fascinating souq which probably hasn't changed a great deal for many decades, many of the buildings are in need of renovation and some appear to have been condemmed, however, the Hejazi architecture is clearly visible. Check out the intricate wooden 'rawashan's', some green painted ones too. Their design allowed the cool breeze in whilst maintaining privacy for the women and children inside. When the market is open, the area is very busy on most of the streets. There will be street vendors throughout but be sure to check out the stores on the sides as well. While it is not easy to find "souvenirs" there are shops that specialize in a wide variety of dates and perfumes. Ask for a sample as the dates vary greatly in texture and flavour. Perfumes can be similarly tested.

There's a terrific museum on the right, inside Naseef House. Some of the exhibits have been rehomed here from the Municipality museum. There's a simple but effective artist's impression of Mecca through the ages, and a number of splendid photographs marking historical occasions in the life of King Abdul Aziz and his many sons. Lot's of rather dull pottery and weapons, and an interesting collection of photographs of ancient architecture in Iraq! On the first floor is the room that King Abul Aziz used until his Palace was finished. Ascend the grand staircase to the very top of the House, there's an open rooftop area which affords terrific views of the area.

  Underpass marking entrance to historical area