With coastlines on the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, plus swathes of desert in between, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a land of spectacular dunes and mountains, sacred mosques and ultra-modern cities. Home to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, it is the spiritual birthplace of Islam and a deeply conservative society. For visitors, there are important rules to be observed: no alcohol or drugs, and no photographs of official buildings or religious sites.
Most visitors are mesmerized by the country’s contrast of traditional Islamic architecture and gleaming 21st-century skyscrapers. The juxtaposition of old and new is typified in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where the imposing 19th-century mud-brick Masmak Fortress, with its four watchtowers and elegant courtyard is a popular visitor destination. The soaring Kingdom Centre skyscraper, which offers sweeping city views from the 99th-floor skybridge spanning its two towers, provides a striking counterpoint to the fortress.
To glimpse everyday life when visiting Saudi Arabia, the atmospheric old town district of Al-Balad in Jeddah features the ruins of merchant houses built from coral blocks and wood.
Shopping in the souks is an experience not to be missed. You can wander the alleyways of Riyadh’s Souq al Thumairi, packed with vendors selling handcrafted carpets, gold jewellery and spices, or immerse yourself in the bustle of traders and locals haggling over wares on Jeddah’s bustling Souq al Alawi market street. The country’s numerous air-conditioned megamalls offer unparalleled shopping opportunities, plus one-of-a-kind unique entertainment experiences from skiing to aquariums.
To learn more about the culture and traditions while visiting Saudi Arabia, plan to visit the country’s many museums. Riyadh’s National Museum, with its geometric facade, houses interactive digital displays to transport visitors back in time. Nearby, the 1936 Murabba Palace is the former home of the Royal Family. The Abdul Raouf Khalil Museum in Jeddah, housed in a striking building with multiple domes and soaring minarets, traces the country’s heritage to pre-Islamic times.
Among the most desirable of Saudi Arabia destinations are those giving visitors a chance to explore its natural beauty. On its Red Sea coast, Jeddah is a popular starting point for diving the country’s captivating coral reef sites. Inland, the ancient city of Ta’if is known for its fragrant rose farms, which produce world-famous rose oils. To the east, visitors may choose to explore Hofuf’s ancient limestone caves.
From its rich Islamic culture to world-class malls and pristine coastlines, Saudi Arabia destinations are a treasure trove of sights, and the ideal destination for your next family vacation.