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Written by Savi, No comments

A once-insulated country, Saudi Arabia is going through a renaissance of sorts. As the country gradually opens up to leisure tourism, we keep getting more and more requests for planning a trip to Saudi Arabia. We visited the country a couple of months ago and thought this would be the perfect time to share our experience here. We hope this guide will help you plan a perfect trip to Saudi Arabia

Discovered such beautiful hidden gems on this trip

Visas

Unlike a few years ago, tourist visas are now being issued for people who want to visit Saudi Arabia for tourism purposes. You can find all the details here: Saudi Arabia Visa and can also peruse MakeMyTrip website for visa assistance, hotel bookings, and flights for Saudi Arabia. That’s what we did!

Getting Around in Saudi Arabia

We love travelling independently. However, in this particular instance we would recommend booking a cab with a driver/guide for your time in Saudi Arabia. This is for many reasons – but primarily because locals know the best viewpoints, self-driving in the desert is not always the best option, and also many menus and hotel listings in the countryside villages are not in English. For these reasons, it is best to have a local accompanying you when you explore Saudi Arabia. You can contact Abdulrahm (+966 55 033 3350) for Riyadh and Abdulaziz (+966 50 122 6668) for Abha / Al Baha areas. Both of them were extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

Saudi Arabia offers some beautiful panoramas and drives

Packing for Saudi Arabia

You will need regular summer clothes – linen trousers, cotton shirts, maxi dresses etc – along with light woollens for this itinerary as it includes mountain villages as well. It is not mandatory for women visitors to wear abayas or cover their hair, except when they are visiting mosques. However do make sure your shoulders and knees are always covered to respect local customs. You can pack a range of free flowing kaftans, maxi dresses, trousers, and flowy full-sleeved shirts for your trip to Saudi Arabia.

Carry comfortable clothes

Day 1 – Land in Riyadh

Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia is well connected to most major hubs across the world. We took a direct flight from Delhi to Riyadh – it was short and convenient.

Upon landing, we checked into our hotel Hilton Riyadh Hotel. We really enjoyed our stay here rooms are spacious and the hotel is really well located for exploring the city. The breakfast spread is incredible and you’re bound to fall in love with local delicacies at the breakfast buffet.

 

Day 2  – Explore Riyadh

It is easy to spend a couple of days exploring Riyadh. However if you’re short on time and have just a day or two to explore Riyadh, we would definitely recommend the following things

  • Start your day with a visit to the iconic Masmak Fort – it provides a succinct and interesting history lesson, which is the ideal way to start your trip in Saudi Arabia
  • Next head to the adjoining souk – the local marketplace is crammed full of shops selling everything from clothes and carpets to desserts and vintage cassettes. Try sampling Saudi coffee at a traditional coffee shop or buy souvenirs for friends and family back home
  • If you enjoy chasing sunsets, head to a viewpoint often called Edge Of the World outside the city in the evening. However the End of the World is open only on weekends. If you’re there during the week, we suggest heading to a similar view point – the offbeat Abu-al-qud route in Tuwaiq Mountains for a magnificent sunset.
  • Spend one evening at Riyadh Boulevard – this entertainment venue has dozens of shops, restaurants, and rides. It is incredibly popular with locals and tends to get quite busy during the evenings. Enjoy the fountain show and have dinner at one of the many restaurants at Riyadh Boulevard World. Make sure you try the national dish, Kabsa, and also order some kebabs and grilled veggies along with that.
Enjoy coffee in a traditional cafe right outside Masmak Fort
Also known as the Camel Route / Edge of the world 2 😉
Must visit The Boulevard!!
Al Fresco dining at the Boulevard

Day 3 – In & around Riyadh

Wake up super early on Day 3 for a little excursion – leave your hotel at 5 am to head to the red sand dunes of Riyadh.The city of Riyadh is surrounded by sand dunes on practically all sides. If you’re in the city even for a short weekend, we’d suggest waking up early one day to see sunrise over the red sand-dunes. Enjoy the watch the sky change colours, and follow it up with a traditional breakfast at a local coffee shop Upon getting back, spend the afternoon relaxing at your hotel.

Reserve the evening for exploring Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia’s charming ancient capital, that is also at the centre of a huge tourism project. Here you can witness the remains of the ancient capital, walk around the by-lanes, and once it gets dark, enjoy a light and sound show overlooking Ad Diriyah. Highly recommended!

Beautiful morning light at the Red Sand Dunes near Riyadh
Spend an evening at Ad Diriyah for sure
Looks even more beautiful once its dark – there’s a music laser show right here as well

Day 4 – Fly to the mountains

Saudi Arabia is a fairly large country. So it is commonplace to take a domestic flight from Riyadh onto other popular tourist destinations in the country. The national airline (Saudia) and many low-cost carriers such as Fly A Deal offer competitive fares for domestic flights, making this option much better than driving long distances in the country. You can choose from a number of destinations – AlUla is one of the most popular options at the moment, due to its iconic rock formations.

We chose to fly to a place that is very popular with locals – Abha. And we’re so glad we did! Abha Palace Hotel is the best accommodation option we could find in the area. Once you’ve checked in and rested, head out to explore Abha. The souk here is lively and home to a number of hep restaurants, where you can spend hours talking to locals and sampling local delicacies. You should definitely have a traditional meal at one of the local restaurants.

Abha is known for its iconic sunsets and the views of the clouds descending to the valley

 

Day 5- Day Trip to Rijal Almaa

The village of Rijal Almaa, which is an hour’s drive from the hill station of Abha in Saudi Arabia is over 900 years old ! It is utterly fascinating and truly unique. It will be the highlight of your trip to Saudi Arabia. You can have a meal at one of the scenic cafés here and enjoy the surroundings but it is also possible to stay in one of these little houses, with coloured windows, overnight if you wish

Beautiful Rijal Almaa

Day 6 – Al Baha & Thee Ain

Continue your exploration of the mountain villages of Saudi Arabia by driving from Abha to Al Baha. The 4 hour drive is home to dozens of quaint mountain villages, that countryside life, winding roads and scrumptious Saudi food. Upon reaching Al Baha, check into your hotel. Accommodation options are a bit limited here and Swiss Spirit Hotel is the best available of the lot.

Al Baha is famous for its honey, so don’t forget to sample some and maybe pick some for friends and family back home. My favourite part about Al Baha? The village in these photos! The village of Thee Ain, dates back to the eighth (yes eighth!) century. You can walk around the village, drink in the panoramas, and even unwind at a small cafe. Try visiting it in the evening because it looks absolutely magical when its all lit up at night.

The village of Thee Ain
With our friendly guide AbdulAziz 🙂

Day 7 – Drive to Jeddah and fly back to your home country

A 4 hour drive from Al Baha will get you to Jeddah. Jeddah is the focal point of religious tourism in the country and the gateway to Mecca and Medina, if a religious pilgrimage is your reason for visiting Saudi Arabia.

If not, we would still recommend taking a guided tour of Jeddah’s historical centre – Al Balad. It is home to bustling marketplaces, historical buildings, and beautiful mosques. Learn more about the fabric of Saudi society on this tour before you board your flight back home.

Jeddah’s Airport is also well-connected to most major hubs across the world. For this reason, you needn’t fly back to Riyadh. Try looking for a convenient connection from Jeddah itself – we took a direct flight from Jeddah to New Delhi.

You must visit Al Balad
The floating mosque of Jeddah – beautiful at sunset

There it is – a detailed overview of what you can expect in Saudi Arabia. We love travelling but this was a particularly interesting and educational trip for us because we were utterly fascinated by the conversations we had with locals, the historical and natural wonders we saw, and most importantly, all the amazing food we ate!

 

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