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Your Saudi odyssey: Curating the perfect summer expeditions across its cities

Your Saudi odyssey: Curating the perfect summer expeditions across its cities
PHOTO: Pexels

Welcome to Saudi, where each city tells a unique story that collectively unveils the past, present, and future of the country.

Every city in Saudi offers its own charm and a variety of experiences. For Muslims, the land is the holiest for the ultimate spiritual and religious experiences.

Meanwhile, nature lovers can marvel at the magic of an ecologically diverse land, and history buffs can explore ancient sites and learn about the revolutions that have shaped modern Saudi.

There are lots of great experiences to be had this season with the Saudi Summer Program. Different vibes, warm and cold weather, mountains and beaches, extensive gardens and historical buildings can be found in Saudi destinations this summer. Visitors to Saudi can experience a diverse range of activities and immerse themselves in the country's authentic culture all year around.

For those with an insatiable wanderlust, why not indulge in a sampling of everything Saudi has to offer? To maximise your visit, consider grouping cities and sites based on your interests-each itinerary is easily accessible through weekend getaways, day tours, and road trips.

Here are a few ideas on how to group different cities in the country and what to do there, along with some events to explore:

For those seeking a peaceful retreat

Saudi is a mosaic of diverse landscapes, defying conventional perceptions. While parts of the country have old historical buildings, a region adorned with lush green forests and cascading waterfalls also exists within Saudi.

Aseer — Al Baha — Red Sea trifecta on your itinerary will show you exactly that. The sequence of the following destinations can remain the same in your itinerary, as they are close to each other and easily accessible.

Aseer – find your summer of delight

Nestled in the southern reaches of Saudi, Aseer offers a haven of natural beauty and cool breezes that defy the scorching summer sun. With temperatures rarely exceeding 24 degrees Celsius, it’s a cherished retreat even for people seeking respite from the heat.

Rich in history and steeped in tradition, Aseer holds a special place as a historic trade route from Yemen and a vital gateway for Hajj pilgrims. At its heart lies the village of Rijal Almaa, a living testament to ancient architecture and a treasure trove of museums for history buffs to explore.

Yet, it is the provincial capital, Abha, that is full of wonders. Dubbed the tourism capital of Saudi, Abha boasts a vibrant scene of restaurants, cafes, and accommodations to suit every taste. For a taste of authentic Saudi cuisine and breathtaking views, venture to Abha High City, where culinary delights await amidst panoramic mountain vistas.

Nature enthusiasts flock to Aseer National Park, home to diverse species of birds and offering a playground for outdoor adventures. From cycling to hiking, the park invites visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s natural wonders.

No visit to Aseer is complete without sampling its culinary delights, with local honey reigning supreme as a must-try delicacy. Seek out Souk Al Thulatha for an authentic taste of Aseeri honey, along with an array of souvenirs to commemorate your journey.

To glimpse Aseer vibrant culture, venture off the beaten path to discover the region’s tribal communities. Colourful and celebratory, these tribes preserve ancient traditions with houses adorned in bright hues and men adorned with floral garlands. Engage with local tribes to uncover stories and traditions endured through generations.

Al Baha – find your summer of charm

Venture westward from Aseer into the captivating Al Baha region, whether as a standalone adventure or a complement to your Aseer itinerary. With its mild summers, refreshing winter rains, and veils of mist, Al Baha offers a refreshing retreat.

Nestled within the Sarawat Mountains, Al Baha stands as a premier tourist destination in the province, boasting an array of attractions. For a thrilling perspective of the region’s splendour, soar through the Raghadan Forest on a zip line, traversing verdant landscapes teeming with hikers.

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Dhee Ayn, a historic mountain village perched atop the rugged terrain. Before bidding farewell, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Al Baha city’s bustling souk, where unique souvenirs await.

The mountainous terrain of Al Baha beckons adventurers with an abundance of hiking trails, including the scenic Ain Jamal route leading to a picturesque waterfall. Indulge in a cup of steaming coffee beside babbling streams, and for hassle-free exploration — opt for organised hiking tours.

Accommodations in Al Baha seamlessly blend with the natural surroundings, offering the experience of leaving the hustle and bustle behind in favour of closeness to nature.

Indulge your palate at Fifth Season Restaurant, renowned for succulent lamb chops and barbecue served alongside creamy hummus and tahini. For a dining experience immersed in the wilderness, venture to Soul Restaurant. Alternatively, tantalise your taste buds with the exquisite eggplant dish and kebab at Shubak Shami restaurant.

As your mountain odyssey draws to a close, bid adieu to the lofty peaks of Al Baha and transition to a vastly different landscape — one enveloped by the tranquil embrace of the Red Sea. Immerse yourself in the serenity of its azure waters, concluding your journey with a rejuvenating seaside retreat.

The Red Sea – find your summer of luxury

In recent years, Saudi has directed significant efforts towards the Red Sea region, embarking on ambitious projects such as "The Red Sea Project" aimed at bolstering tourism in the area by opening more than 50 hotels by 2030. The plan is being executed in parts, with many hotels already open on the islands.

The Red Sea currently spans an area of 28,000 square kilometres and is adorned with over 90 untouched islands, providing a haven for both nature enthusiasts and island admirers. Encircled by the world’s fourth-largest reef system, its vibrant waters are abundant with diverse marine species.

Imagine the experience of journeying by ferry, speedboat, or even helicopter or seaplane, venturing far from the urban clamour to remote islands boasting luxurious resorts catering to every need. This idyllic escape is the stuff of dreams for many, and the Red Sea delivers precisely that.

Selecting the right accommodation is paramount for a fulfilling Red Sea experience. Consider looking at the luxury of Six Senses Southern Dune, nestled amidst desert sands with the majestic Hijaz Mountains as a backdrop. Alternatively, soak yourself in opulence at the St. Regis Red Sea resort, boasting 90 grand villas and unparallelled dining options.

No Red Sea journey is complete without sampling the culinary delights of the region. From the authentic flavours of Al Sarab restaurant to the panoramic views and exquisite cuisine of Nesma and Tilina, dining experiences here are as memorable as the landscapes themselves.

After exploring the verdant mountains of Aseer and Al Baha, partaking in activities like trekking and marvelling at breathtaking vistas, conclude your vacation with the ultimate retreat: floating in the tranquil waters of the Red Sea, detached from the mainland hustle and bustle. Depart Saudi rejuvenated, with a renewed sense of tranquillity and a burning desire to embrace life’s adventures to the fullest.

For those who crave a blend of tradition and innovation

You’ll find modern luxury comfortably set alongside cultural heritage by exploring Riyadh — Taif. The pairing allows you to peek at the different facades of Saudi, studded with cool spectacles and cultural events.

Riyadh – find your summer of fun

Serving as the gateway to Saudi, Riyadh offers a blend of modern amenities and age-old gems that reflect the nation’s journey in history.

Begin your exploration in Diriyah, the birthplace of Saudi, where the lavish Bujairi Terrace offers a glimpse into the city’s rich history. Dive into Souk Al Zal, an old market sprawled across 38,000 sq m, promising an authentic retail experience unlike any other in the country.u

Throughout the year, Riyadh hosts a variety of captivating events and festivals. Among the most popular is Riyadh Season, a six-month extravaganza spanning the last quarter of one year to the end of the first quarter of the next.

Look out for the Esports World Cup, a groundbreaking tournament running from 04 July 2024 to 24 August 2024, poised to establish Riyadh as a global gaming hub.

Here are some other events happening in Riyadh to look forward to:

  • June 22: UFC Fight Night.
  • July 15 – 18: International Opera Festival.
  • Sept 26 – Oct 5: Riyadh International Book Fair.

For a taste of authentic Saudi cuisine, Najd Village welcomes you with traditional hospitality and flavoursome dishes crafted from time-honoured recipes. Alternatively, Via Riyadh offers a fusion of upscale shopping and gourmet dining, ensuring a premium experience.

After immersing yourself in Riyadh’s city ambiance, venture southwest towards the tranquil mountains of Taif to embrace the serene side of your journey.

Taif – find your summer of discovery

Situated just a one-hour flight away from Riyadh, Taif is renowned for its consistently cooler temperatures and thriving rose gardens. Here, you’ll discover Saudi’s largest and deepest volcanic crater, framed by the Al Luhayan, Umm Rilan, and Zabna mountains, offering an incomparable scenic panorama.

The temperate climate makes it an appealing destination for travellers, especially during summer vacations. Outdoor lovers must not skip embarking on a hike along the Al-Hada mountains, a beloved path linking Taif and Makkah. For a faster, equally scenic way to the top, take a cable car ride and enjoy the awe-inspiring views of the expansive mountain landscape and Taif cityscape.

Consider visiting other noteworthy attractions, such as the Al Kar Tourist Village with its water park and toboggan slide, as well as the historic Kaaki Palace. If your visit aligns with the right time, you can also experience iconic festivals like the Souk Okaz Festival and the Crown Prince Camel Festival, which typically take place during the summer from July to August.

Discover the rich heritage of the Shubra Palace, blending Islamic and Roman architectural influences. Find unique souvenirs at Tera Mall and indulge in the sought-after rose perfumes or oils, a hallmark of the Taif region, available at local markets and shops.

Delight in a culinary adventure at Boho restaurant and café, where local and international cuisines harmoniously blend. Alternatively, savour a similar gastronomic journey at Al Safy Restaurant & Café. For a truly unique dining experience, step into Mezo Restaurant, a haven of grilled specialties set in the enchanting ambiance of an old village.

For those seeking a well-rounded journey

Saudi holds an important position as the holiest site for Muslims and the birthplace of Islam, one of the globe’s most influential religions. While Hajj stands as the paramount and mandatory pilgrimage for every capable Muslim, Umrah provides an additional, optional spiritual journey.

With Mecca acting as a central hub, effortlessly linking to all vital cities in the nation, pilgrims visiting this sacred site can effortlessly extend their journey to explore diverse cities, enriching their odyssey in the country. Below, discover nearby cities and the enriching activities they offer:

Jeddah – find your summer of cool

With its captivating blend of rich history and modern landscapes, Jeddah emerges as the perfect complement to your Umrah journey in Saudi, conveniently located just 50 minutes away from Mecca.

In Jeddah, the simplest of activities offer the greatest experiences. A leisurely stroll along the Jeddah Waterfront is a must, where a sea promenade, cycling and jogging paths, and a sculpture park await, providing a picturesque setting for enjoying the mesmerising sunset over the expansive and divine Red Sea.

Al Balad, Jeddah’s Unesco-recognised historic district, is an essential stop on your itinerary. As the second largest city in Saudi, Al Balad’s historic streets lined with traditional Hijazi houses offer a glimpse into the lives of ancient Arabs. The souks and traditional restaurants beckon visitors to immerse themselves in authentic local offerings.

For shopping enthusiasts, Jeddah boasts popular malls housing both local and international brands. The Red Sea Mall is a standout destination, offering a comprehensive range of products for casual and luxury shopping alike.

Don’t miss the opportunity to savor native dishes before departing the country. In Jeddah, seafood lovers can indulge in the freshest catch at Twina Obhour, known for its sea-to-plate concept. For a fusion of coastal and Japanese flavors, Kuuru restaurant is a must-visit, beloved by locals and tourists alike for its delectable offerings.

King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC)

This serene enclave is adorned with lavish beaches, tranquil spas, aquatic adventures, and peaceful accommodations, creating an ideal sanctuary for solo travellers seeking serenity and families in pursuit of recreational joy.

Yam & Pure beach awaits as the perfect setting for families to unwind, engage in playful activities, and bask in the city’s beauty, with the gentle sea breeze caressing their skin as they gaze upon the turquoise waters. For those yearning for aquatic escapades, Bay La Sun Marina & Yacht Club offers a serene retreat from the urban hustle, providing opportunities for swimming and various water-based recreations.

Golf aficionados can enjoy a round at the 18-hole golf course and clubhouse of the Royal Greens Golf Course, where the majestic Red Sea serves as a breathtaking backdrop. With the refreshing sea breeze invigorating each swing, golfers can easily become captivated by the stunning scenery, losing themselves in the moment.

Satisfy your culinary desires at the city’s upscale restaurants, like Seasons Restaurant, renowned for its sumptuous buffet selections and elegant dining featuring an array of local and international cuisines. For a more relaxed dining experience with captivating Red Sea vistas, Beach Walk offers a variety of popular branded cafes along its scenic promenade.

Enhance your culinary journey with a leisurely stroll along the Marina Promenade, where picturesque views await, before indulging in delectable fast food offerings from nearby eateries and outlets.

In KAEC, worldly concerns fade away as you immerse yourself in the city’s comforts, culinary pleasures, and entertainment diversions. Let the city pamper you, rejuvenate your spirit, and leave you ready to tackle the world anew as you bid adieu to your vacation haven.

How to travel to Saudi?

With 11 international airports, Saudi offers seamless connections to and from destinations far and wide. Recent strides in the tourism sector have seen the country bolster its infrastructure, poised to welcome tourists with enhanced connectivity.

Upon touchdown in Saudi, travellers are greeted with a multitude of airports and domestic airlines, catering to a spectrum of preferences ranging from economy to first-class accommodations. This network ensures effortless transitions between diverse cities, presenting a hassle-free travel experience within the country.

Securing the appropriate visa stands as a pivotal step before entering the country. Saudi extends a spectrum of visa options meticulously tailored to meet the varied needs of travellers:

  • Embassy/consulate visa application: eligible nationals can seek entry through the Saudi embassy or consulate in their home countries
  • e-Visa: citizens from 66 countries can apply for an e-Visa, simplifying their journey into Saudi
  • Stopover Visa: passengers opting for national carriers can seize the opportunity for a 96-hour (4 days) stopover visa
  • GCC Resident Visa: residents holding valid permits from any GCC country can apply for the GCC resident visa online
  • US, UK, EU Resident Visa: those with valid residence permits in the US, UK, or EU can opt for a visa upon arrival or apply online
  • US, UK, and Schengen Visa Holders: holders of valid visas from the USA, UK, and Schengen countries can obtain a Saudi visa upon arrival or through online channels
  • Visiting Family Visa: Saudi nationals and residents can extend invitations to family members residing outside the country, facilitating their entry with the visiting family visa

Navigating through these visa options ensures that every discerning traveller finds a fitting category.

 With the visa in hand, a realm of experiences awaits exploration — from the fragrant blooms of Taif to the invigorating sea breeze of Jeddah, from riveting golf matches at KAEC to serene moments by the Red Sea’s shores.

Saudi beckons, promising an adventure brimming with untold tales and unforgettable memories. Visit Saudi and enjoy a fantastic trip with the Saudi Summer Program offers.

ALSO READ: Morocco at a glimpse: A family-friendly itinerary of the mesmerising country

This article was first published in Wego.

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