The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may well be in the top ten most visited countries in the world. Millions of Muslims travel to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina each year for the Haj. However, due to visa restrictions, the Kingdom is still regarded as an inaccessible and rarely visited destination for non-pilgrims. Yet there is plenty to offer those who are able to visit.
The two main cities of Riyadh and Jeddah show the country’s connection between old and new, combining ancient souks and 19th century Ottoman houses with modern high-rise buildings. Further afield you can find mesmerising Nabatean archaeological sites, forts dating back to the 7th century and Yemeni style mud built skyscrapers. Finally if you really want to get away from it all, there is always a trip to the Empty Quarter.
Jeddah’s Ottoman houses are mostly constructed from coral and reinforced with wood so that beams criss-cross the interior walls. The most beautiful and well known is Naseef House, which was built during the 1850s by the Naseef Family, one of the most influential trading families in the history of Jeddah. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the house was one of the most important buildings in Jeddah. It was here that King Abdul Aziz spent his first night in Jeddah, as the guest of Mohammed Naseef, after he led his victorious army into the capital of the Western Province.
The corniche of Jeddah (a sea-side promenade) is a major attraction that acts as an open-air museum displaying an array of modern sculptures. Jeddah has become the Kingdom’s showcase of contemporary, conceptual, traditional and modern artwork of local and international artists.
Asir, with its capital at Abha, is mainly a highland province and includes the entire area of southwest Saudi Arabia up to the Yemen border. Perched at the highest point accessible by road, a cable car takes visitors on its 7km ride at an altitude of 2,500 meters. One of the most interesting aspects of the area is its distinctive local people – not least of which are the colourful Flower Men of Tihama.
Khamis Mushayt is an industrial city about 25 km east of Abha. The city’s antique silver market is its chief tourist draw. An imaginative development, the Al Hamsan Traditional Village on the outskirts of town consists of a stone tower and buildings; including a museum that is replica of an Asir home two decades ago, an auditorium, a traditional restaurant and a gift shop.
A local restaurant in Bin Himsan Al Habala, the location of the first cable car in Asir, is named after an old village located on a steep 400-meter cliff made famous by the people of Al Habala. The inhabitants lived in stone dwellings clinging to the cliff-face for the security and safety found in the rock walls. So sheer was the Cliffside that the villagers lowered themselves down into ravine on ropes.
Diriyah, a UNESCO heritage site, was the first capital of the Saudi royal dynasty from 1744 to 1818, and is an excellent example of the Najdi architecture of that period.
The Musmuk fort and national museum is one of the most important monuments and a historic landmark in the city of Riyadh. This palace was built during the reign of Abdullah bin Rashid in the year 1895 A.D. The reason for building this historic palace was to serve as a military garrison for his army, which operated under a Governor in Riyadh from Hail. Ibn Saud on the 15th January 1902 captured the fort. The National Museum is composed of eight galleries telling the complete story of Arabian History from the creation of the universe to our modern era.
The small town was founded in 6th century BC and is the gateway to the archaeological site of Madain Saleh.
Madain Saleh was known as “Al Hijr” in the ancient times & served as a stopover on a very prosperous trade route. The cities lies in a very small area of isolation about 845 Km from Jeddah in the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia between Tabouk and Madinah.
The vertical sandstone cliffs surrounding Al Ula provide ample surfaces for rock art, making Al-’Ula one of the richer petroglyph regions in the Kingdom.
Speak to the Untamed Borders team for further details.
Desert climate. Hot all year round, particularly dry in summer, winters are mild.
The currency is the Saudi Arabian Riyal. ATMs are plentiful in the cities and accept Visa or Mastercard. Dollars, sterling or euros can be exchanged in country also. For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xe.com
Two prong USA style system (type A and B). Also possible to find European and British style sockets (type C and G).
Most guesthouses and hotels have good Wifi. In cities 4G works well.
Bread is a staple served with most meals. Meat heavy dishes, including poultry. Fruits also commonly featured in dishes such as raisins.
Alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia.
Islam. Sunni majority.
Saudi Arabia is a conservative Islamic country. On arrival at the airport women should wear loose-fitting clothes covering their arms and legs. During the trip women must wear a headscarf, loose fitting clothes as well as a full-length cloak called an Abaya, one will be provided as a gift for all ladies upon arrival as it is important it covers from shoulder to ankle. Men must wear long trousers.
SAFTEY & SECURITY
The FCO considers Saudi Arabia to be a low risk travel region. However it does advise against travel to the regions bordering Yemen. Contact us for information on how we work to minimise risk for our guests and staff
Culture and Customs of Saudi Arabia – David E. Long
Saudi Arabia: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture – George L Harris
The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa’ud – Robert Lacey
Girls of Riyadh – Rajaa Alsanea