Saudi Arabia Holidays

Saudi Arabia Holidays

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become a growing tourist destination, ideal for those seeking Arabian tradition, culture, and heritage, combined with sensational cuisine and iconic outdoor experiences. Offering a unique journey to every traveller, Saudi Arabia enables a truly individual experience, from Bedouin desert days in AlUla and mountain treks in Taif to souq shopping in Jeddah and reef dives in the Red Sea. Experience Arabia in all its glory when you choose to holiday in Saudi.

Saudi Arabia Destinations

Featured Saudi Arabia Hotels

Travel Information

Currency: Saudi Riyal (SAR)
Time Difference: BST +2 hours
Flight Time From UK: Approximately 7 hours
Weather: Temperatures ranging from 20°C - 40°C
Language: Arabic, with English widely spoken
Ramadan: 13th April – 12th May 2021
Dialling Code: +966
Religion: Islam

When to Visit

Saudi experiences all four seasons very distinctly. With a Koeppen-Geiger classification of BWh, meaning hot desert climate, Saudi should be avoided in the summer months of May-September due to intense heat and humidity, with common highs of 54°C. The winter months bring chilly winds and the region of Asir is often hit by the Indian Ocean’s monsoon season, occurring between October and March. The recommended holiday period is either during spring or autumn when the weather is cooler with averages of 29°C, making outdoor activities more comfortable.

What to Pack

If visiting in the summer months, lightweight clothing is vital for both temperature regulation and sun protection. Breathable cover-ups are advised when spending extended periods of time outdoors and sunscreen is essential, especially when visiting in-land areas. When travelling along the west coast during the monsoon season, rainwear is advised, as is warmer clothing during the winter months.

Culture and Heritage

Arabia will always be a country shrouded in tradition, offering travellers an abundance of culture-rich experiences influenced by its Islamic heritage. Visit AlUla and take in Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, explore the pearl of Saudi Arabia known as Diriyah, originally a well-travelled trade and pilgrimage route. Visit the National Museum to embark on a colourful and historical journey, or travel to Riyadh’s famous Al Masmak Fortress, a majestic castle enveloped in Saudi culture. Ancient Arabian heritage can be experienced in the heart of Najd in the traditional Ushaiger Village, whilst more modern culture can be found in the Eastern Province at King AbdulazizCenter for World Culture.

Saudi Arabian culture is greatly represented by The Two Holy Mosques, which the Saudi government named as poignant landmarks emphasising the importance of national heritage. Holy traditions such as Ramadan and Hajj are widely celebrated, with Mecca attracting millions of Muslims from around the world every year. Alongside traditional dance, art and poetry, Arabian cuisine showcases true Arabian culture, of which Arabian coffee served in small cups with a side of sweet dates is a hospitable gesture traditionally offered to guests, family & friends.

What to Expect

In 2019 the kingdom of Saudi Arabia opened its doors to foreign tourists, with a new visa scheme available for 49 countries. With newly opened luxury resorts and scenes of stunning natural beauty, Saudi is building a strong presence in the tourism industry. However, it is by no means a holiday-makers hotspot, making it perfect for that craving exploration, authenticity, and breath-taking culture. As a nation of hospitality, the famous Arabian spirit is known as “hafawah” welcomes tourists through generosity and inclusivity, with native Arabians encouraging visitors to try the regional cuisine and adopt local behaviours. When visiting Saudi, a custom Arabic greeting is that of “As-Salaam-Alaikum” meaning peace to be with you, for which the standard response is “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” meaning and unto you.

If you seek a taste of Saudi spirituality there are many holy mosques to visit, however, only Muslims can enter Medina and Mecca. The most popular tourist states are Jedda, Riyadh and the Red Sea, with a collection of newly opened luxury resorts. It is important to note that Arabia is one of the most conservative countries and the purchase and consumption of alcohol are illegal. However, although the Kingdom is an absolute monarchy many customs are changing to become more appealing to foreign tourists, for instance, the 35-year ban on cinemas ended in 2018, women are now allowed to drive, and mixed-gender celebrations are accepted.

Although times are changing it is still important to respect local customs, therefore dress code should be considered when visiting Saudi. Regardless of your gender, you should avoid showing as much skin as possible, many wear loose opaque clothing to keep cool but remain respectful. When visiting religious buildings women should wear a headscarf and an abaya, whilst all tourists should avoid clothing or accessories embellished with political or religious symbols.

The kingdom is an extremely exciting destination offering scenes of exquisite natural beauty, 11,000 archaeological sites, and fascinating culture. Experience a holiday like no other when you choose to visit Saudi Arabia.

Where to Stay

Al Ahsa

Pronounced al-Hasa and named after the Al-Ahsa Oasis, Al Ahsa is the largest governorate in the kingdom’s Eastern Province. Besides the World Heritage Site that is the oasis, it also includes part of the expansive Empty Quarter, a desert spanning across Oman, Yemen, Saudi and the UAE. There is plenty to do in Al Ahsa, such as visiting the Land of Civilization within the Al Qarah Mountain, winner of a ‘Travelers’ Choice 2020’ TripAdvisor award, or alternatively discover Al-Ahsa after dark with a visit to Souq Al Qaisariya. This ancient historical market with over 400 stalls is both a shopaholics and culturists dream due to its World Heritage status granted by UNESCO in 2018.

Al Baha

Situated in the west of Saudi Arabia, Al Baha is one of the countries more popular tourist areas. Providing a sharp contrast to the dry desert, the Al Bahah Region is awash with green, surrounded by over forty forests, offering ample shade and comfortable temperatures. Explore a different Saudi, and visit the renowned 1,001 stone qasbah towers, built to provide the Ghamid and Zahran tribes with an unrivalled vantage point. When visiting Al Baha, make sure to plan a trip to Dhee Ayn, often referred to as the marble village, the scenic route through the evergreen is a highlight of many traveller’s trips.

AlUla

Experience the beauty of the Arabian desert when you travel to AlUla, home to a collection of the world’s masterpieces, combining heritage, culture, and natural beauty. Visit Alula’s living museum, created through intelligent natural rock formations, and walk through the Jabalalfil Elephant Rock, a geological wonder soaring three stories up. If you desire luxury desert adventure from your Saudi holiday, look no further than Alula, from the old town to the Sharann Nature Reserve, this city provides you yearly dose of escapism.

Asir

Named after the Asir tribe, bordering the neighbouring country of Yemen, Asir sits along the southern end of the Red Sea coast. As a mountainous region, the city offers an abundance of must-see and must-do attractions including the Shada Palace, ancient villages such as Nasb and Al Basta, as well as more contemporary delights like the Abha Palace Theme Park. If you are looking for tradition mixed with modernism, visit Asir.

Dammam

For those that dream of both beach and city destinations, Dammam is one of Saudi’s coastal cities in the Eastern Province. If you are looking to visit the kingdom over winter, Dammam is the perfect location, with daytime temperatures over 20°C dropping to around 10°C at night. Enjoy a multitude of entertainment facilities, including an original street art exhibition in Al Khobar’s Bayoonya district or mingle with locals at the Share Al Hob Souq, a lively hub of hustlers, musicians, and performers.

Diriyah

Bursting with culture and heritage, Diriyah historically acted as the original intersection between pilgrims and traders, whilst its At-Turaif district served as the first seat of power for the countries Al Saud family. During the Wahhabi war, Diriyah was reduced to ruins and was marked as a World Heritage Site in 2010. Many tourists choose to reside in the nearby city of Riyadh, with plans to travel to the cultural gem of Diriyahto experience the variety of heritage sites open to the public.

Hail

The city of Hail is largely agricultural and known for its fruit and grain production, however, it was once the capital of the Arabian Desert and famous for the tale of the Arabian Nights. Many festivals and international events are hosted in Hail, whilst it is also a common passthrough for Muslims during their pilgrimage to Mecca. If you want adventure interlaced with tradition, visit Hail on your trip to the kingdom.

Jeddah

Jeddah sits on the coast of the Red Sea and is one of the more industrial cities of Saudi Arabia due to its busy port. Its idyllic location has transformed Jeddah into a popular tourist destination, inclusive of luxury resorts, white-sand beaches, and iconic landmarks such as King Fahd’s Fountain. Alongside the modernisms of the western world, Jeddah provides its fair share of culture in the Al-Balad district, home to coral crafted houses dating back to the 7th century.

Mecca

Mecca is the holiest city in Saudi Arabia and is only accessible to Muslims. Home to the Sacred Mosque Masjid al-Haram that encompasses the holiest shrine: the Kaaba, Mecca is where the annual Hajj ends, and the Islamic religion began.

Medina

Much likeMecca, Medina or “The Enlightened City” is one of the three most holy cities in the kingdom with some parts inaccessible to non-Muslims. Medina is largely known for the Prophet’s Mosque, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in which poignant Islamic leaders, Prophet Muhammed and Abu Bakr are laid to rest.

Riyadh

Another tourist favourite and a modern metropolis. Alongside the contemporary skyscrapers and intricate transport routes, Riyadh is where old meets new, offering visitors the comforts of the western world coupled with traditional souqs, fascinating cultural hubs and historic landmarks. For those with a taste for art, a trip to the Mono Gallery and Noqtah Studio is a must, combining the best of medieval and millennial, depicting the story of how Arabia began, and its plans for the future.

Tabuk

For those who crave a traditional Saudi experience, Tabuk encapsulates the true Arabian culture, home to many historical sites that tell the story of Prophet Moses’ stay in the city. Visit Souq Twaheen and shop patterned rugs and goat-hair accessories or walk along untouched beaches at the edge of coastal towns Haql and Sharma.

Taif

Taif is a city within the Mecca Province, renowned for its Shubra Palace, a majestic building now known as the Taif Regional Museum. Offering visitors a more suburban stay, Taif is known as Saudi’s Summer capital due to its cooler temperatures, and blossoming flora – famously referred to as the City of Roses for this such reason. In addition to the appealing altitude and temperatures, Taif plays host to the cultural festivals Souq Okaz and Crown Prince Camel Festivals, offering tourists both tradition and natural beauty.

 

Things to do

• Adventure

- Desert

When visiting Saudi Arabia, adventure enthusiasts are faced with a large variety of desert activities to choose from. Whether you enjoy stargazing or Hiking in AlUli, horse riding in Khobar or desert camping in Dammam, the kingdom has got you covered. It doesn’t stop there, sign up for an action-packed Jeddah desert safari tour inclusive of Quad biking & Bedouin camp making, or hike to the Edge of The World – Arabian Night style.

- Sea

Boarded by the Red Sea on the West and the Arabian Gulf on the East means a trip to Saudi offers more than just desert adventures. Set sail and experience a variety of activities above and below the water from water sports to underwater wonders. Jeddah offers diving enthusiast the chance to explore the ancient shipwreck Staphonos at Air Tabur, whilst a trip to Yanbu allows you to get up close and personal with sharks, tuna, and barracuda. For those seeking a tamer water activity, a boat trip to the Farasan Island offers unparalleled natural beauty, snorkelling opportunities and a birdwatcher’s dream, due to its large population of pink-backed pelicans and flamingos.

• Culture

- Mosques

As previously mentioned, the kingdom is saturated with tradition, heritage, and culture – of which can be partially resembled by the 94,000 mosques, 11,00 archaeological sites and 5 World Heritage Sites. Visit some of the countries most famous mosques, all distinctly unique and utterly breath-taking.

Al Rajhi Grand Mosque

As one of the largest mosques in Riyadh it is a well-recognised landmark. It is not just a place of worship but also that of community for social events such as Eid. The mosque houses two libraries, with an 18,000-person capacity men’s hall and 2500-person capacity women’s hall.

Al Rajhi Mosque

Located in Hail, many refer to the Al Rajhi Mosque as one of the most beautiful structures in Saudi Arabia. The attention to detail is exceptional with four 80-metre-high minarets and 50 vermillion red domes, accompanied by one of the largest chandeliers in the world – this is a must-see cultural icon.

Al Rahma Mosque

Otherwise known as the floating mosque, the Al Rahma is situated in Jeddah and is distinctly built on concrete stilts above the Red Sea. Many make a stop at the floating mosque before embarking on Hajj or Umrah due to its unique location and stature.

• Museums

- The National Museum of Saudi Arabia

Found in the city of Riyadh, the National Museum displays a colourful tale of Saudi’s history in a variety of forms, ranging from ancient manuscripts to documents from the erstwhile era. A must-see when visiting Riyadh.

- The Antiques Museum

Home to the kingdoms most treasured collection of antique artifacts, the antiques museum can be found in King Saud university. The relics showcased here were uncovered from three excavations that took place from 1970 – 2004, with items including keys, rings, coffins, and pottery dating as far back as 3BC.

- King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Claiming to unleash the most important energy in the world – that of human potential, The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture seeks to provide a vision for the future by transforming the next generation through engaging hearts and minds via award-winning programs. Its message is as powerful as the architecture and is an impressive institution to visit.

• World Heritage Sites

- Al Ahsa Oasis

Referred to by UNESCO as an evolving cultural landscape, Al Ahsa Oasis is a truly mesmerising property. The area contains a selection of gardens, natural springs and historical buildings that give representation to those who once settled there. Home to 2.5 million date palms, Al Ahsa Oasis is the largest Oasis in the world and a bucket list visit.

- Al-Hijr Archaeological Site

The Hegra marks the first World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia and is the largest protected site of the Nabataeans. The ancient, untouched tombs date back to 1BC and feature original cave drawings and water wells.

- Al-Turaif District in Diriyah

Situated in Riyadh, the At-Turaif District is considered one of the most important ancient political provinces in the kingdom, due to housing to the Saudi Royal family and becoming the countries first capital city in 1744. For a taste of historical politics make sure to stop off in Al-Turaif.

- Historic Jeddah

Known as The Gate to Mecca, Al-Balad originally acted as the centre of Jeddah and was a major port for Indian Ocean trade whilst also the common docking place for Muslim pilgrims starting their journey to Mecca. Historic Jeddah gives visitors an accurate reflection of Red Sea architecture and acts as a window into the historic pilgrimage and trade routes.

- Rock Art in the Hail region

The rock art comprises of two elements found in the desert of Hail, Om Sinman mountain at the city of Jubbah and al-Manjor and Raat at Al-Shuwaymis – these components revealed ancient human creativity involving many petroglyphs signifying man’s struggle against the environmental catastrophe. The rock art provides both a humbling and harrowing visit, but one we would certainly recommend.

Cuisine

As previously mentioned, hospitality is a common trait in Arabians and being able to provide food to travellers is seen as an honour. It is customary to eat from a platter placed in the centre of the table, traditionally involving rice topped with roast meat. As in many places, food is a reflection of the region or terrain, therefore Saudi’s vast desert landmass is indicative of the local cuisine and has remained much the same for generations. Rice combined with strong, fragrant herbs and spices is a Saudi staple due to their ease of growth and transport. Similarly, dates and camels milk featured in the historic Arabian diet, of which dates are still widely consumed along with Qahwa, a spiced coffee and traditional combination used to welcome guests.

The prohibition of alcohol in the kingdom does not limit the range of soft drinks locals have to choose from. Fresh juices are extremely popular and are available in a variety of flavours from herbal to fruit. Non-alcoholic cocktails are also common, a traditional Arabian Ramadan Refresher combines barley, brown bread, cinnamon, cardamom, and sugar, and is often sold street-side during the holy month.

Events and Festivals:

- Diriyah Tennis Cup

The Diriyah Tennis Cup is the first professional tennis tournament to be held in Saudi Arabia and is due to take place from the 12th - 14th December 2021. The outdoor event is played on state-of-the-art hard courts, recently fitted in the centre of the city. The event is highly popular attracting both locals and tourists wanting to watch some of the world’s best players battle it out on Saudi soil.

- Diriyah ePrix

The epic single-seater ABB FIA Formula E World Championship is a unique event. Watch professional electric race-car drivers reach the highest speeds in the historic surroundings of Diriyah for the fourth year running. The 2021 event took place in February, however, if you are feeling the need for speed choose Saudi for your 2022 getaway.

- Janadriyah Festival

Attracting over 1 million visitors a year, the Janadriyah festival celebrates culture and heritage, held in the city after which it was named. The annual festival was created by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and runs for two weeks generally falling over February and March. Opened with a camel race, selling artisan arts and crafts, and encouraging traditional folklore dances, the festival thrusts Saudis back in time to remember their roots and celebrate their past.

- Riyadh Shopping Festival

From the 10th of November to the 09th of December 2021, malls across Riyadh will welcome guests with discounts, deals, and events for the whole family to enjoy. The festival is known as an economic phenomenon in Saudi and attracts both locals and tourists from around the world. Celebrate the act of shopping - treat yourself, gift others and support the local community.

themes

Adventure

Saudi offers awe-inspiring natural phenomena and exciting, unique ways to explore its diverse terrain, making the kingdom worthy of a spot on any outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. The kingdom boasts quite an itinerary, from desert and water adventures to camping and hiking through caves and craters.

Desert Adventures

Part of what’s special about the Arabian Peninsula — and specifically Saudi — is its desert. In fact, Saudi Arabia is home to the largest sand desert on earth. From adrenaline- packed excursions like dune bashing and sand boarding to more serene, history-inspired activities such as camel riding and Arabian camping, the desert in Saudi serves as a canvas for more than just adventure travelers.
Dune bashing – Camel riding – Arabian camping.

Hiking Adventures

Saudi’s diverse topography is a delight for hiking enthusiasts. With striking lookout points atop cliffs and an oasis in the desert, there are plenty of adventures to embark upon on foot.
Edge of the World – Al Ahsa Oasis – Jabal Abyad.

Water Adventures

Saudi is bordered by the Red Sea to the west and the Arabian Gulf to the east — making an adventure on or in the water an ideal way to explore.
Red Sea Scuba Diving and Snorkeling – Visiting a Desert Lake – Exploring on boats and cruises.

Culture

Saudi culture is as rich as it is diverse. Visit the Kingdom’s many mosques and traditional markets to experience a rhythm of life that has little changed over the centuries.

Explore the different regions to experience the multi- cultural variety of foods, lifestyles and customs. And, for a taste of modern Saudi, don’t miss the urban districts and entertainment centers where people meet to shop, dine or just spend time with friends.

From traditional dances and handicrafts to gleaming skyscrapers and thriving cities, Saudi is a destination in which history and modernity are inextricably linked and endlessly beguiling.

Mosques and Spirituality

While Saudi is home to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, a pilgrimage route around the country doesn’t have to stop there. Travelers can venture to other holy — and less crowded — spots to enjoy the mosques’ calm atmosphere or pray in peace and to check out other sites of historical significance. Makkah and parts of Medina are accessible only to Muslims; however, other architecturally noteworthy mosques and historic sites across the country are accessible and can provide a firsthand glimpse into the intriguing religious roots of Saudi.
Al Rajhi Mosque – Al Rajhi Grand Mosque – Al Rahma Mosque

Museums and History

With such a rich history, it’s no surprise that Saudi is home to a plethora of museums, castles and cultural institutions around the country. Visitors can immerse themselves in exhibitions and displays that not only highlight the ancient past but also bring to light more contemporary works by local and international artists.
The National Museum in Riyadh – The Antiquities Museum – King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

Souqs and Shopping

From old-world souqs to modern malls to boutique concept stores, Saudi has a wealth of shopping options, offering everything from traditional wares to designer items to creative collections and offbeat décor.
Share Al Hob market – Souq Al Qaisariya – Personage

Heritage

Experience a land where the past comes to life. From the labyrinthine streets of ancient cities, to the intricate rock carvings of early civilizations, the kingdom’s rich history is written large across the landscape.

When you explore the ancient ruins and rock-carven tombs of Nabatean Hegra or walk the narrow winding streets of Al-Turaif, surrounded by beautiful Najd architecture, you are opening a doorway into Saudi’s rich and fascinating history.

Since the days of antiquity, Saudi has occupied a pivotal position at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe.

Today, there are more than 11,000 archaeological sites throughout the Kingdom, telling the story of the civilizations that lived over the years. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is proud to have five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

  • Al Ahsa Oasis
  • Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Hegra)
  • Al-Turaif District in Diriyah
  • Historic Jeddah
  • Rock art in the Hail region

Nature

Whether you are sailing the crystalline waters of the Saudi Red Sea, exploring one the country’s many national parks or hiking through the green hills of Al Baha, Saudi will surprise and delight you with a wealth of natural treasures.

From seas teeming with exotic fish, rare marine animals and thriving corals to lush oases, verdant farmlands and even desert areas that are rich with life and raw natural beauty, Saudi is a kaleidoscope of unique natural experiences

Desert

Saudi is made up of a predominantly desert landscape, with desert tourism possible over three seasons of the year and varying from region to region. The desert experience is the perfect starting place to discover the culture, customs and nomadic way of life.
Empty Quarter – Hail – Al Jouf – AlUla

Mountains

Saudi has no shortage of mountainous landscapes and breathtaking views. From the highland region of Asir, known for its abundance of heritage sites and outdoor thrills to the north-western city of Tabuk, perfect for travelers looking for old ruins to inspect and new places to explore, there is something for everyone.
Asir – Tabuk – Taif

Coastal

With a coastline stretching more than 2,000 kilometers, Saudi offers some of the world’s most stunning stretches of golden sand and tranquil blue waters, mostly untouched coastline and rich nature and marine habitats, perfect for swimming, diving and water sport activities.
Umluj – Yanbu – Jeddah

Food

Traditional Saudi cuisines use fragrant spices and the freshest of local ingredients inspired by the trading heritage of the country. The different types of food are largely tied to the terrain, with many traditional dishes reflecting the ancient trade caravans and nomadic lifestyles of desert dwellers.

To this day, while dates and aromatic coffee are central to the culture of hospitality, there is a diversity and richness to cuisines across different regions to be explored.

Breakfast in Saudi

Kick off your day with a traditional Saudi breakfast. Opt for a classic, simple spread, such as flatbread, cheese and date jam, or try the savory shakshuka or the sweet Saudi banana masoub

Lunch in Saudi

In Middle Eastern culture, lunch is the main meal of the day, with a cold, liquid yogurt called laban traditionally consumed at lunch (especially in central Saudi Arabia). In addition to drinking laban, midday is the ideal time to try some of Saudi’s most popular entrees, including its national dish: kabsa.

Dinner in Saudi

Traditionally, dinner is a lighter meal, however with both men and women working, and workdays getting longer, dinner is becoming more like lunch with the two most traditional dishes to finish off the day being areesh (also known as harees) and thareed.

Dessert in Saudi

In Saudi, there is a wide variety of traditional sweets, from pastries to buttermilk cookies.

Coffee

Arabian coffee —or qahwa, as it is known in Saudi Arabia — generally (though not always!) refers to coffee made of arabica beans.

Although it’s often compared to Turkish coffee, Arabian coffee is known less for its thickness as it is for its richness in taste because of the use of spices and the manner in which it’s served.

destinations

Al Ahsa

A trip out to Al Ahsa’s undulating sands offers a chance to climb the popular Al Qarah Mountain and explore the rock-hewn caves that weave through it, or just to gaze over the oasis from its summit. If you’re feeling adventurous, hire a four-wheel drive and head off road to explore the looming dunes. As evening falls, Al Ahsa’s bustling Souq Al Qaisariy comes alive, ringing with street hawkers and the timeless sounds of this historic port city.

In Al Hofuf, the city’s commercial hub, visit the country’s first royal school and the Eastern Province’s first masjid, Jawatha Mosque. Browse the hive of handicraft stalls and locally produced art, and sample the homegrown dates the region is famed for – both the Al Khalasah and Barhi varieties are farmed here. Other local delicacies to try, include the red-grained Hesawi rice the region is known for, and dishes such as Thareed (a breaded soup), Marqooq (a lamb- infused stew), and the saffron-tinged rice dish Majboos.

What to see

Al Ahsa Oasis

A desert oasis of shady palm groves and crystal clear springs, Al Ahsa Oasis stands as a dazzling haven against the untamed plains of the Rub› Al Khali (Empty Quarter). For millennia, this region’s fertile land made it a hub for traders and caravans crossing the region’s ancient trade routes, forging links across the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, and providing a stopping place for early pilgrims en route to Makkah.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a nod to the city’s many archaeological landmarks, which show traces of human settlement all the way back to the Neolithic period – Al Ahsa Oasis is rapidly gaining appeal as one of Saudi Arabia’s most captivating tourist destinations.

Jawatha Mosque

Built by the region’s Bani Abd Al Qays tribe in the seventh century, Jawatha Mosque is believed to have been the first mosque in eastern Arabia. It’s also where the second Friday congregation prayer was held. Much of the original building has been destroyed over the centuries, but the mosque was recently restored. Now Friday prayers are regularly recited there again.

Al Baha

A journey to Al Baha is a journey to a different Saudi Arabia. In a kingdom that’s often characterized by ochre desert, this high-altitude city is a place of ancient towers, lush forests and winding valleys.

The ancient Ghamid and Zahran tribes forged a unique cultural identity in the area, building 1,001 stone qasbah lookout towers that are only found here, as well as setting up a bustling souq. But the real joy is driving out of the city on hairpin mountain bends, past apricot and pomegranate orchards, into the 40 or so forests that surround the city. The road to the famous marble village of Dhee Ayn — through Tolkienesque valleys and past ruined towers — is almost as spectacular as the site itself.

What to see

Dhee Ayn

Built on a white marble outcrop in the epic Bidah Valley, south of Al Baha, Dhee Ayn looks like an Arabian citadel on a Tuscan hillside. Often called the Marble Village, the cuboid buildings were made of stone and slate more than 400 years ago, and abandoned sometime in the 1980s. Exploring its narrow pathways today is an eerily beautiful experience, especially during the golden hours, when the light reflects on the white marble and the colorful mountains in the background.

Raghadan Forest Park

In the cool Sarawat mountains west of the city, Raghadan Forest Park was once a wilderness area but has been sensitively adapted for visitors, with a paved trail up into forested hills populated by impish baboons. From the top of the path, there are beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including the winding road that leads to Dhee Ayn. Food stalls and barbecues mean it’s possible to do as the locals do, and dine up in the hills as the sun goes down.

Sheda Village

Nestled halfway to the peak of Jebel Mussala Ibrahim is the hidden village of Sheda, offering dramatic views across the green cliffs and valleys of the Sarawat mountains. The picturesque drive up its slopes passes ancient, stone-made houses that dot the roadside, offering a glimpse of a time and communities past.

Al Dar’i Quarter offers one of the most enjoyable tourist experiences and an opportunity to visit and explore the ancient town of Dumat Al Jundal, which dates back to the early Islamic period. It contains buildings, sites, and one or two yards surrounded by vast squares. It is located in Dumat Al Jundal next to Omar Bin Al Khattab Minaret, a mosque that was established back in 16 AH and named after Omar Bin Al Khattab. The mosque follows the ancient Islamic architectural style.

Visiting Olive Farms

Tourists can enjoy visiting any of the 3,000 small and medium sized agricultural businesses and farms, which make this area the biggest olive farm in the world. They can also visit oil presses in addition to packaging and distribution centers and get to know a part of the Kingdom’s Food Basket, containing more than 30 million olive, date, and fruit trees. Visits can be arranged in coordination with tour operators who offer several tourist programs to visit the famous farms in Al Jouf.

AlUla

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been a crossroads of ancient civilizations — a place of deep history that is continuously evolving.

Positioned in the northwest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, AlUla is a stunning example of the country’s wonderful heritage. Its main city of the same name is located on the original pilgrimage route to Makkah, approximately 325km north of Medina. A place of extraordinary human endeavor, visitors to AlUla are immersed in a land of ancient civilizations spanning more than 200,000 years of human history.

Centred around its famed oasis and framed by sandstone mountains, AlUla’s geography, geology and climate have enabled successive civilizations to flourish here. Today, AlUla is rich in both human heritage and natural beauty, acting as a home for a wide range of flora, fauna and a living museum of human societies spanning thousands of years.

What to see

AlUla’s Historical Sites: Hegra, Dadan, Jabal Ikmah and More

The wind-swept expanses of AlUla are a true living museum spanning hundreds of years of Arabian history. Visit the rock tombs of Hegra, the ancient capital of Dadan and its Lion Tombs, the “open library” of inscriptions in the rocks at Jabal Ikmah, the labyrinth of mudbrick houses in the 12th-century AlUla Old Town, the 18th- century Fort of Hegra, the Hijaz Railway Station.

AlUla Old Town

Located in the narrowest part of the AlUla valley, the Old Town is built on a slight elevation, and is overlooked by the Musa bin Nusayr Castle, a citadel dating to at least the 10th century. The Old Town is a key cultural site to understand the continuity and evolution of the AlUla historic routes for trade and pilgrimage, and for the development in terms of agriculture and water management.

Nabataean Oasis

The ancient Oasis of Hegra was a lush garden consisting of three layers of vegetation. The first protective layer was formed by the date palm trees, providing shade and shelter to the numerous fruit trees below. Peach, apricot, grape, pomegranate, olive and fig trees filled the second layer while in the third layer wheat, legumes and cotton were grown.

Asir

Known for its mountainous environment and breath-taking views, the highland of Asir is the southern endpoint of the Red Sea coast and a treasure trove for adventurous souls looking for excitement.

With an abundance of heritage sites, outdoor thrills, and vibrant traditional markets, Asir is a culturally and geographically rich destination with plenty of places for the whole family to explore.

There are vibrant traditional markets in Abha, the culturally rich capital of the Asir region and sister city Khamis Mushait, and historic neighborhoods like Al Nasb and Al Basta. More broadly, this is a place to get immersed in the unique culture of the Asir region, whether exploring the Al Muftaha art village or learning about the customs of tribes in the spectacular nearby villages of Al Habala and Rijal Almaa.

What to see

Green Mountain

One of Saudi Arabia’s more curious landmarks, Jebel Thera — better known as the Green Mountain — is a peak in the south of Abha, lit at night by neon green lights that emit a warm emerald glow across the city. The best way to get to the summit is by cable car, where there is a Lebanese restaurant and cafe with a terrace and panoramic views.

Al Habala

The hanging village of Al Habala is a curious wonder. A series of sandstone houses perched on the ledge of a sheer cliff, it was built almost 400 years ago by the Qahtan tribe, who reached the village by rope ladder (the name comes from ‘habal’, the Arabic term for rope). They lived here self-sufficiently until the 1980s, working small terraced farms.

Al Muftaha Village

Abha’s bohemian arts center, Al Muftaha Village is a beautiful little quarter around a mosque daubed with calligraphy. Little galleries showcase the work of regional craftspeople and artists, whose work is often colorful and figurative. Walls are daubed with bright murals, many nodding to the geometric patterns that Asiri women would traditionally paint their homes with. Small museums either side of the mosque tell the story of Abha’s artistic heritage, including how the status of local families was defined by the quality of the murals in their homes.

Dammam

Boasting endless views of a tranquil Arabian Gulf, Dammam is a modern metropolis that thrives on its coastal location. Along with nearby Al Khobar and Dhahran, these ‘triplet cities’ are tailored to a lifestyle in the open air, brimming with lush green parks, airy waterfronts and sandy beaches.

The region also has a growing reputation for arts, sports and entertainment. It is home to the kingdom’s first street art exhibition in Al Khobar’s Bayoonya district, and a range of cultural hubs and museums. Dip into science and innovation at SCITECH or get a dose of pop culture at the quirky Taybeen and Alfelwah and Aljowharah museums. As evening falls, wander the walkways of Damman’s Share Al-Hob souq, where a lively theatre of traders, performers and street musicians awaits.

What to see

Half Moon Bay

A short drive south from Dammam, Half Moon Bay is a glorious pocket of beach resorts ideal for a family getaway. Dana Beach Resort offers watersports including jet-skiing, wakeboarding, sailing and diving, while the aqua play area features three water slides. Go-karting, horse riding and cycling are among the activities available back on land. The Radisson Blu Resort has boat trips and a palm-lined outdoor pool while Palm Beach Resort comes with tennis, football and volleyball courts along with beach-facing villas with an ocean view.

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture

The iconic monolithic design of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as Ithra, has become a symbol of Saudi’s cultural renaissance. The sprawling building houses a theater, library, cinema, galleries and museum, alongside a wealth of interactive activities for children. The Ithra Journey Tour, a -30minute guided walk, offers an ideal overview from where families can then plot their own extended route.

Al Khobar waterfront

Dancing fountains and landscaped gardens make this seafront stretch a family favorite, where kids can frolic in playgrounds as adults take Instagram-worthy snaps of the historic water tower and remarkable King Fahd Causeway. For a bite among the sights, discover a range of dining options on the new Ajdan Walk south of the new corniche, or immerse yourself in Al Khobar’s cafe culture at one of its dozens of waterfront coffee shops. Catch the sunset with a private boat trip across the waters.

Diriyah

Diriyah is the birthplace of the Kingdom and a symbol of the beauty, generosity and resilience of the Saudi nation and its people. The source of hundreds of stories, Diriyah is a vibrant destination filled with wonder and discovery for explorers traveling from near and far.

Founded in 1446 in a region surrounded by fertile agricultural land on the banks of Wadi Hanifa, Diriyah soon grew to become the center of knowledge on the Arabian Peninsula. The population of the Arabian Peninsula formed the nucleus of growing societies over hundreds of years and united under the umbrella of the first Saudi state between 1744 and 1818.

The topography of the area, with a fertile river valley offering shade and sustenance, meant that Diriyah became a natural resting point for traders, travelers and pilgrims from the Eastern and Northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula who were bound for Makkah and Medina.

What to see

Al-Turaif

Within Diriyah lies the UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Turaif. The city of Al-Turaif, built in 1744 and recognized as one of the world’s largest mud-brick cities, has been carefully restored to offer visitors a chance to walk in the footsteps of kings and heroes and explore Saudi history and culture in an authentic environment.

Museums of Ad Diriyah

Various museums are set to open in Ad Diriyah. They include: The Museum of Al Saud House, which will showcase the history of the ruling family and the kingdom’s heritage; The Museum of the Saudi State and Arabian Peninsula; The Museum of the -100Stories Journey, where visitors can learn about Saudi history and culture, and Misk Heritage Museum, an educational institute aimed at encouraging young people to get involved with the nation’s history and heritage.

The Al Bujairy Quarter

Situated about 12 miles northwest of central Riyadh, this newly renovated quarter is easy to navigate thanks to its many pedestrian walkways. Tucked into the alleyways, you’ll find numerous eateries where you can sample Arabian cuisine, as well as coffee shops, a juice bar, an ice cream parlor and a dessert shop. Set to connect to Al-Turaif by bridge, the quarter comes alive every Thursday night with a traditional Saudi ardha (sword-dancing) performance. The hour-long show starts at 9 p.m. and takes place under the Al-Turaif ruins.

Hail

Nestled between Mount Shammer to the north and Mount Salma to the south, the city of Hail was once the capital of all the Arabian Desert and home to legends like Hatim Al Tai, the Arabian poet whose altruism earned him spots in stories like “One Thousand and One Nights” (also known as “Arabian Nights”).

Today it’s the capital of the north-central region of Saudi Arabia bearing the same name and a popular stop during the pilgrimage to Makkah. The city of Hail is also known for hosting international events, including a Desert Festival celebrating the area’s culture and the Hail International Rally, where rally cars, quads and motorcycles race through the Nafud Desert and through Hail, Baqaa, Al Ghazalah and the village of Umm Al Qulban.

What to see

Explore Al Nafud Desert

Sitting on the edge of Al Nafud Desert, no trip to Hail would be complete without a visit to these majestic red sands. The Hail region is home to rock art now classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discover traces of what life was like more than 10,000 years ago through the inscriptions and petroglyphs just outside of Hail in Jubbah at Jabal Umm Sinman and Shuwaymis at JabalAl Manjor.

Castle Hop

If you see three castles, you’ve made it to the center of the city. A’arif Fort, Barzan Castle and Al Qishlah Castle are each worth stopping by, but if you have to pick only one, look up. Perched atop a peak, A’arif Fort is the oldest of the three and offers the best viewpoint over the city. A’arif has also been used as the meeting place to view the Ramadan moon and fire the iftar cannon to signal an end to the day’s fasting.

Souq and Market Shopping

Also directly in the center of town, the Hail Souq sells fruits, vegetables and the kingdom’s favorite – dates - as well as handmade crafts such as clay pots and woven mats. For those seeking souvenirs, this traditional souq should be on your itinerary. Alternatively, head east of the city’s center to search for hidden treasures at the Hail Flea Market—one of the kingdom’s last proper flea markets.

Jeddah

Jeddah’s unofficial motto is Jeddah ghair, or ‘Jeddah’s different’. No Saudi city has been more open to outside influences over the years than this ancient port, whether traders, international artists or Makkah-bound pilgrims. Today, Jeddah is Saudi’s buzzing cosmopolitan hub, home to gleaming hotels and big-ticket events like the Red Sea International Film Festival.

The city’s heart is still intact in Al Balad, the magical historical quarter that has undergone a renaissance in recent years. And the Red Sea is still central to it all – for trade, for diving among pristine reefs and fishing for the seafood Jeddah is known for. The city where Eve was laid to rest is a beguiling mix. It remains gloriously different.

What to see

Al Balad

Jeddah’s UNESCO-listed old town is one of the Kingdom’s most evocative quarters, with narrow alleyways between ancient merchant’s houses leading to spice-scented souqs and glowing traditional bakeries. Many buildings have been restored in recent years, including the grand Nasseef House where Abdulaziz Ibn Saud stayed in 1925, before becoming king of a unified Saudi Arabia. Empty spaces have become quirky cafes or art galleries, as a district built in the seventh century looks to the future.

Jeddah Corniche

Jeddah’s 4.2km corniche has been transformed into a place of piers, swimming bays, restaurants and lushly landscaped walking and cycle paths. Iconic sculptures by the likes of Henry Moore and Joan Miro, which first arrived in the city in the 1970s, are dotted along the waterfront. For many, coming here is about watching the sun set over the Red Sea, then seeing the launch of the -300meter King Fahd’s Fountain, the world’s tallest, with its great jet of water lit until midnight and visible across the city.

Tayebat City

Jeddah has a rich -2,500year history of fishing tribes, early Arabian trade, and later, pilgrims. Tayebat City tells this story, and that of the wider Arabian peninsula. Built in traditional Hijazi style, with roshan window screens and ornate minarets, the vast complex is set over four floors and 18 wings, with more than 60,000 items on display. Explore ancient coins and manuscripts, traditional Saudi costumes and a recreation of the Kaaba, the sacred black cube at the centre of Makkah’s Grand Mosque.

Makkah

For many Muslims around the world, an opportunity to visit Makkah is the ultimate blessing. This is the holiest city in Islam: the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the city where the Quran was first revealed to him. It’s also a fixture in observant Muslims’ daily lives, as they orient themselves toward Makkah to pray five times a day. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to the city is one of the five pillars of the faith, but millions of people journey to the city year-round to perform the shorter Umrah pilgrimage as well.

Since the vast majority of the visitors are pilgrims—non-Muslims aren’t permitted to enter the city— most travelers spend as much time as possible within the opulent complex of the Grand Mosque, which is a lively hive of activity at all hours of the day. But if you have time to spare once you’ve completed the required steps of the Umrah, the historic city has much to offer to complement your understanding of the region and the faith itself, from museums to landmarks that were backdrops to some of the most pivotal moments of Islam’s earliest days.

What to see

Masjid Al Haram

At Makkah’s heart is the expansive Grand Mosque, which can accommodate as many as 4 million worshippers. Its focal point is the Kaaba, the cube swathed in black silk with gold calligraphy at the center. The holiest mosque in Islam, this is where pilgrims perform the Umrah, by donning the appropriate attire and performing prescribed steps like the tawaf (walking around the Kaaba seven times) and strolling between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. If you have any questions about the steps, ask your travel agent for a pamphlet or pick up a book before you go.

Museums

Makkah has a host of fascinating, intimate museums that shed light on the city’s history as the birthplace of Islam and a crossroads for travelers from all over the world for centuries. The Exhibition of the Two Holy Mosques guides visitors through the construction and many phases of the Masjid Al Haram in Makkah as well as the Masjid An Nabawi in Medina—browse intricate marble arches, reclaimed wooden doors and much more, saved and restored from previous iterations of the mosques. You’ll have to do some wrangling to get permission to visit the Kiswah Museum next door—though it’s still well worth the effort to see where the kiswah, the -670kilogram black silk cloth draped on the Kaaba, is made by hand, and woven with calligraphic inscriptions done in threads made from real gold and silver.

Medina

Medina is Islam’s second holiest city, making it a key destination for millions of pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah. The city is centered around Al Masjid an Nabawi, also known as the Prophet’s Mosque, which was constructed by the Prophet himself and is also where he is buried.

Medina is where the Prophet Muhammad lived and taught after the migration from Makkah in 622 A.D., called Hijrah. This year is so important in the history of Islam that it marks the start of the Islamic calendar. Although the city’s name is usually written as Medina in English, its full name is Al Medina Al Munawwarah, meaning “the Enlightened City.” Because of the city’s pivotal role in the Prophet Muhammad’s life, making a trip to Medina is a lifelong dream for many Muslims.

What to see

Al Masjid an Nabawi (The Prophet’s Mosque)

The final resting place of the Prophet Muhammad is in this stunning -10minaret mosque, which can accommodate 1 million visitors and is open 24 hours. The Prophet’s tomb is located under the mosque’s only green dome, in its south-eastern corner. After his arrival in Medina, the Prophet Muhammad helped construct the mosque, originally an open-air building, which has since been expanded numerous times by subsequent city rulers. The area between the minbar and the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb is known as Rawdah ash Sharifah, or the Noble Garden, which is one of the Gardens of Paradise. Tradition says that prayers uttered here are never rejected.

Quba Mosque

On the migration from Makkah to Medina in 622, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers stopped in the village of Quba and put down the foundation stone of the world’s first mosque. Worshippers have gathered here ever since, though the current building is a more recent construction. Once outside the boundaries of Medina, the mosque and the surrounding area have been fully absorbed by the city, and Quba Mosque sees a steady stream of visitors. Nearby Quba City Market sells dates, perfumes and other local specialties.

Mount Uhud

A major pilgrimage site, Mount Uhud is the place where Muslim forces led by the Prophet Muhammad battled troops from Makkah. The mountain rises about 3,500 feet (1,077 meters), and it can be climbed to better observe the battlefield. Nearby is the Uhud Martyrs Cemetery, where 85 of the slain Muslim soldiers are buried. Mount Uhud is northeast of Medina’s city center.

Red Sea

The Red Sea coast is a stretch of richly varied cultures: from the port city of Jeddah to the fertile mountains of Taif, via the turquoise-fringed coast around Yanbu.

The Red Sea is home to an abundance of flora and fauna including rare species such as dugongs and green and hawksbill turtles. As the world›s fourth largest barrier reef system, home to untouched corals and a significant number of endangered species, the Red Sea is a haven of natural beauty and one of the few destinations to have such diversity so close to each other.

Inland from the coast, the area around the Red Sea features miles of sweeping desert and dramatic landscapes that include dormant volcanoes, rich natural environments and ancient archaeological sites. The area is crisscrossed by trading routes that date back to the Nabataean civilization, reflecting the history of the region as part of the Incense Trail and the maritime spice route.

What to see

Shopping

The shopping is just as diverse as the landscape from the laden stalls of Al Hada’s farm markets to the high-gloss boutiques of Jeddah’s Boulevard. In Tabuk, venture to Souq Twaheen in the city’s old quarter, still used by Bedouin nomads. Yanbu, the port city six hours down the coast offers the best shopping experiences around the harbor with Souq Al Layl, a maze of traditional coral stone buildings, a fish market and less traditional places to shop. In Taif, shopping tends to revolve around the area’s

Cruise the Red Sea

For travelers seeking a getaway that blends culture, adventure and balmy summer sun, a cruise is the ultimate luxury experience. Escape to culinary feasts, elegant spas, and boundless skies, as you drift between islands and sail for the horizon, taking in a world of wonder, of white sand atolls, lapping waves and shoals of jewel-bright fish. The best way to gain an overview of this beautiful and diverse coastline is by ship – and particularly from the opulent upper deck of a sleek, luxury liner.

Riyadh

Riyadh is at first glance a modern metropolis, its highways hives of activity amongst urban high- rises. But delve beneath its shiny new façade and the city’s fascinating centuries-old history can still be found within its atmospheric souqs, compelling museums and ancient architecture.

Throw in a burgeoning art scene with contemporary settings like Mono Gallery and Noqtah Studio, and this blend of medieval and millennial makes for a beguiling cultural union, one where Arabia’s first roots can be traced, and where its bold future can be envisaged. It’s the perfect setting for a staycation or weekend break, exploring the best of the capital’s cultural appeal.

What to see

The Saudi National Museum

The Saudi National Museum has over 3,700 antiquities on show, documenting the grand history of Arabia over millennia. Beginning with pre-historic skeletons and a meteorite from the vast Rub Al Khali desert, through pre-Islamic Arabian kingdoms, it portrays the birth and rise of Islam, and the creation of the modern kingdom, following the 1902 capture of Riyadh. The famous battle behind this birth centres on another must-visit location, Al Masmak Fortress.

Built in 1865 and superbly preserved, the fort houses a collection of photographs charting the city’s evolution over the years.

Souq Al Zal

Located only a few minutes’ walk from the Masmak Fort, the Souq Al Zal remains as noisy and vibrant as when it first emerged back in 1901. Filled with the scent of burning oud and the din of cheerful hawkers, the crackle and hubbub here is at its peak on Friday evenings during the Haraj auction, when merchants display their rarest goods of the week. Everything from gold coins to quirky handcrafts and dusty antiques can be found here, with traditional Saudi items such as dallah coffee pots, hooked jambiya daggers and mabkhara incense burners making for excellent souvenirs.

Sample Saudi cuisine

Perhaps the best way to experience Riyadh’s cultural fusion is through its cuisine, with combined dining and heritage experiences like that at Najd Village. Here, faithfully recreated Najd architecture creates a traditional environment and authentic recipes like kabsa, jareesh and hashi are served in a setting ideal for group dining, with its plentiful platters the best way to sample the full menu. More contemporary takes can be found at the sophisticated Takya

Tabuk

The northwestern city of Tabuk has long been a resting point of for Jordanian and Egyptian pilgrims with a rich Bedouin culture that can be felt in Souq Twaheen, which still supplies patterned rugs and goat-hair tent covers for modern nomads.

Today’s Tabuk marks the Northern point of the Saudi coast, but is also a base for exploring wild beauty spots and the story of the Prophet Moses, who is believed to have lived east of the city for a decade. It’s possible to visit the carved tombs of Maghaer Shuaib in the desert, or the Moses Spring near Maqna, where natural springs still flow under the date palms.

Nearby is the stunning Tayeb Al Ism, a steep granite massif separated from the turquoise-fringed Gulf of Aqaba by only the road. For clear seas and sun-swept-beaches, explore the charms of local coastal towns Haql and Sharma.

What to see

Tabuk Castle

There are spectacular fortresses all around Tabuk, but this imposing castle in the center of town might be the oldest. Known to date from 1559, some claim there was a fortress here as early as 3,500BC. Inside its walls, two mosques are linked by courtyards, stairwells and watchtowers and there’s a small museum detailing the history of the castle and the wider city – from the great explorers that visited, like Ibn Battuta, to the caravans of pilgrims who would stop to drink from its wells on their way to Makkah and Medina.

Al Disah Valley

At the crossroads of three valleys south of Tabuk, the wildly sculpted sandstone columns of Wadi Al Disah (Valley of the Palms) look like a mix between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley in America. While much of the landscape is ochre desert, there are oases of pools, tall grasses and palm trees running through deep canyons, creating an otherworldly feeling, especially during glowing sunsets. It’s possible to hike through much of the valley, or visit on a 4WD drive tour.

Maghaer Shuaib

The Maghaer Shuaib seems to appear from nowhere in the reddish desert west of Tabuk – its elegantly carved facades and tombs built into the sandstone rocks recalling Petra in Jordan and Hegra at Al Ula. According to tradition, having fled Egypt, Moses lived here for a decade under the patronage of the Prophet Shuaib, who had been impressed by Moses’ chivalry and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Moses eventually returned to Egypt, but it’s easy to imagine that this beautiful place stayed with him.

Taif

Just reaching Taif is a thrill. From the hollow of Makkah, a beautiful serpentine road winds up through the mountains to the plateau where Taif sits, passing fruit markets, rose farms and deep valleys. Taif is often referred to as the City of Roses, for the famously fragrant flowers that grow in the wadis and mountains around it. It’s also known as Saudi’s unofficial summer capital.

Because of its altitude, Taif is a cool escape from the summer heat, especially in the beautiful nearby mountains of Al Shafa, where baboons frolic in front of plunging valleys. While the roses bloom in April, the city really blossoms in August, where the Souq Okaz cultural festival and the Crown Prince Camel Festival are just a few of the attractions around town.

What to see

Al Hada Mountain

High above the valley that runs towards Makkah, Al Hada is a place of comedic baboons, rose fields and natural vastness. A curving road sweeps elegantly down the mountainside, as do ancient zig-zagging camel trails. As the sun sets and locals gather at lookout points, the rows of mountains on the horizon are cast in a greyish ombré. Saudi’s longest cable car runs between the mountaintop and the wadi floor, where there’s a water park and toboggan slide at the Al Khar Tourist Village.

Taif Central Market

Taif’s central market is a labyrinth of narrow alleys through sand-colored buildings to peaceful plazas. Laid out in themed areas, there are colorful, fragrant sections devoted to rich local honey, perfume (especially rose water and oil), Islamic dress and jewelry. Street jewelers with blow torches work on silver rings inlaid with Yemini agate, while nearby shops sell elaborate body pieces made of gold mined near Medina. Sellers of ghee milk, oud, decorative swords and healing herbs are all part of a quintessential Taif experience.

Taif’s Rose Fields

Every year, Taif turns pink and red, as the city’s famous -30petal damask roses scent the air. In the City of Roses, more than 900 rose farms produce well over 300 million flowers, which are harvested to produce the world’s most expensive rose oil, or attar. See the mechanism first-hand with a guided visit to one of the city’s rose factories, or visit Taif’s central market to browse and buy rose-scented oil, water, fragrance and soaps.

Future of Saudi Arabia

Red Sea project

The Red Sea will be an exquisite sanctuary offering indulgent experiences, seamlessly customized to the unique needs of each visitor. Setting new standards in sustainable development, the Red Sea encompasses an archipelago of more than 90 pristine islands, miles of sweeping desert and dramatic landscapes that include volcanoes, and canyons.

The Red Sea is the world’s most ambitious luxury tourism development, offering an exclusive experience of unparalleled diversity for discerning global travellers. Smart technology will deliver innovative, tailored services from the moment visitors begin to research their trip to the time they return home and for years to come.

The Red Sea will welcome its first guests by the end of 2022 and will attract 1 million overnight visits per year by 2030.

AMAALA

Opening in 2022, AMAALA will be an ultra- luxury resort destination spanning three sites, a first for the region. Its pristine natural environment and temperate climate will provide a magnificent backdrop to premium facilities, diverse offerings and engaging experiences.

Hidden in plain sight on Saudi Arabia’s north western coast, AMAALA will be a place of self-transformation, inspired by the arts, wellness and the purity of the Red Sea.

Qiddiya

Qiddiya will be the capital of Entertainment, Sports and the Arts in Saudi, an integrated destination offering immersive experiences and memorable moments of delight.

Qiddiya will be a place of inspiration, discovery and engagement for a youthful Saudi society to fulfil ambitions. Qiddiya is being built around five cornerstones: Parks & Attractions, Sports & Wellness, Motion & Mobility, Arts & Culture and Nature & Environment and will be a place where Saudi youth can enjoy, appreciate, aspire, advance and nurture their potential and stimulate interest in new professional pathways that help build a stronger future.

The first phase of Qiddiya’s master plan is scheduled to open in 2023, including the Six Flags Qiddiya Park.

NEOM

NEOM will become the world’s most ambitious futuristic and sustainable ecosystem for living and working, over 33 times the size of New York. With an ambition to be the home and workplace for more than a million citizens from around the world, NEOM will be home for people who dream big and want to be part of building a new model for sustainable living, working and prospering.

Solar dome technology will produce carbon neutral desalinated water for Neom, a city of zero emissions projecting a progressive model for healthy lifestyles and urban living. Work on NEOM has already started, and construction will begin as soon as the research and planning phase is finalized.

The bulk of the construction of NEOM is scheduled to be completed by 2030.

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