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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Oasis of Ancient & Futuristic Wonders

The enigmatic kingdom of Saudi Arabia is poised to be the hot new destination for 2023 – be one of the first to experience this country of contrasts with A&K

While Saudi Arabia is a destination for millions of people who make the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, this enigmatic kingdom tends to be a road less travelled for western visitors. Until now.  

You can be one of the first to explore this vast oasis of sun, sea, sand, and snow (yes, snow) with one of A&K’s knowledgeable guides – many of whom are women – who will showcase the country’s ancient, natural, and futuristic wonders from the fragrant spice souks of Jeddah to the shimmering skyline of Riyadh.  

“Saudi Arabia is the next go-to destination for pioneering adventure travellers, with a slew of archaeological wonders, like AlUla, an archaeological treasure poised to become the next Petra,” said A&K Founder Geoffrey Kent.  

A country more than nine times bigger than the UK, Saudi Arabia lies between the azure reefs of the Red Sea and warm waters of the Persian Gulf. It is fringed by the Empty Quarter (Rub al-Khali) the largest sand desert in the world famously crossed by the great British adventurer Wilfred Thesiger.  

Saudi’s rich heritage and traditions have been shaped by its position as a historic trade hub and the birthplace of Islam. In recent years, this homeland of the Bedouin has undergone a significant cultural transformation, evolving century-old customs to fit the contemporary world.  

The kingdom sparkles with 350 sites of historical importance, spanning the ruins of ancient towns to Jeddah’s magical Al Balad, and the spectacular beauty of AlUla, one of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula.  

Natural wonders include the red dunes of Al Nafud Desert, and Wahbah Crater, created following a prehistoric volcanic explosion. Soaring, juniper-clad mountains of the Asir lie to the south-west while the date palm oasis of Al-Hofuf is in the east.  

It may come as a surprise to hear the country’s highest mountain range, the Sarawat, has just been awarded the Winter Asian Games in 2029. Home of the Arabian leopard, it promises ‘a destination like no other on Earth’, with plans for the Gulf ’s first outdoor ski resort at Trojena which is part of a $500 billion so-called ‘giga-project’ Neom. Anchoring its green city project is The Line, a 100-mile metropolis clad in a mirrored façade that reflects the desert. This futuristic city plans to accommodate nine million residents who would live vertically and move horizontally via a ‘belt’. 

As you can see, Saudi Arabia is a kingdom with a vision, and this is the perfect time to visit. 

Join us on a voyage of discovery from the palm-fringed port of Jeddah to the treasure trove of rock-carved tombs at AlUla and the sleek skyline and ornate mosques of Riyadh. Staying true to our pioneering spirit, we run our own operations in Saudi with our team constantly researching new and cultural experiences. With our ability to open doors, a Saudi itinerary with A&K is guaranteed to be unforgettable.

AlUla

Swathed in a traditional abaya lying on a Persian carpet stargazing is an experience you will never forget when you visit AlUla, the heritage heart of Saudi.  

Home to one of the Kingdom’s finest UNESCO World Heritage Sites, AlUla is located deep in the desert of the north-west. AlUla has all the makings of a bucket list-topping global destination – ancient tombs, the legacy of 7,000 years of human civilisation, stunning natural rock formations and canyons, a plethora of adventure sports options and cutting-edge art installations. 

Civilisations have risen and fallen in these storied sands – from the Nabataeans to the Lihyanites – leaving behind archaeological treasures. Cliff-carved tombs to rival Petra, labyrinthine citadels, and Neolithic rock art: there is plenty to tempt history enthusiasts. As you explore, our expert guides will bring these ancient attractions to life.  

Enjoy your first taste of the desert landscape dotted with date palm plantations from the viewpoint at Harrat or by helicopter. After dining at Okto Restaurant, enjoy the stunning sunsets while huddled by the flickering firepits sipping a coffee with a touch of cardamon. 

During your time in AlUla, visit Hegra, the second largest city of the Nabataean Kingdom after Petra, which is brimming with striking rock-hewn tombs dating back some two thousand years. 

In Dadan, formerly the Lihyanite capital, admire the Lion Tombs. These 2,500-year-old burial niches were carved directly into a cliff face and are guarded by relief-sculpted lions. You also visit AlUla’s Old Town, where labyrinthine alleyways connect a sprawl of ancient houses built out of mud and stone. 

Maraya, meaning mirror or reflection in Arabic, is the centrepiece of AlUla’s growing cultural scene and set in the desert canyon of Ashar Valley. Designed to blend into the surrounding landscape, it rises from the sand like a mirage. 

The entertainment space is covered in 9,740 mirrored panels reflecting AlUla’s beauty, making it the largest mirrored building in the world, according to Guinness World Records. From concerts to art residency programmes and arthouse films, AlUla is emerging as a cultural centre on the global stage. 

Stay: Banyan Tree AlUla 

Embark on a multi-sensory experience when you stay at Banyan Tree AlUla, a desert retreat inspired by the natural surroundings of the Ashar Valley.  

Hear the silence and feel the power of the towering rock formations when you arrive at this sanctuary.  

This oasis offers a selection of luxury villas in the style of Nabataean architecture under the shade of a tented canopy. A private swimming pool, fire pit and alfresco dining is included in most and all have panoramic views of the mountains and shifting sand dunes.  

You can choose from two dining venues, including Saffron, Banyan Tree’s signature Thai restaurant, offering contemporary cuisine. The rustic restaurant Harrat offers a multi-sensory experience and is decorated with locally made handicrafts.  

The renowned Banyan Tree Spa offers carefully curated wellness experiences that combine Asian traditions and local elements. You can take a dip in a rock pool – the ideal spot to relax after a day exploring the valley. 

Jeddah

Cosmopolitan Jeddah is the historic crossroads of pilgrims and traders, and the gateway to Mecca. Today, you will find a palm-fringed port with old-world medinas next to modern skyscrapers.  

Lying along the coast of the Red Sea, known for its pristine reefs, this is one of the most welcoming cities in the Middle East. Join Jeddans (as the locals are called) in a coffee shop or head to Souq al-Alawi in the heart of Al-Balad to pick up authentic souvenirs in the spice stores. Nestling amongst this warren of ancient buildings, you’ll also find the teetering coral houses that Jeddah is renowned for. 

Luxury private beach clubs are popular with locals and visitors. Swimsuits are permitted but photography is not to ensure the privacy of guests. 

Stay: Shangri-La Jeddah 

Enjoy uninterrupted views of the Red Sea when you stay on the new Jeddah Waterfront in the luxurious Shangri-La Jeddah. Choose from 203 stylish rooms and suites or 17 serviced apartments which have floor-to-ceiling windows seamlessly inviting the outdoors in. The exquisite interiors reflect the azure waters and golden beaches at your feet.  

The hotel restaurants – including the Shang Palace, The Waterfront Kitchen and Copa – serve a menu of traditional dishes blended with local influences. A dedicated kids’ club and supervised play area allows parents space to relax in the spa which has separate facilities for men and women. Asian traditions combine with cutting-edge techniques to create a menu of therapeutic and results-driven treatments. 

Riyadh 

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, is a fascinating blend of old and new. The sprawling city we see today has certainly come a long way from its humble origins as a small oasis in the desert. It is a melting pot of atmospheric souks, museums, and ancient architecture.  

Impressive skyscrapers dominate the skyline while wide tree-lined streets and futuristic buildings jostle for attention with glitzy shopping malls. Most international designers and brands have stores in the impressive Kingdom Centre known for its skybridge.  

Riyadh is a city of contradictions. It’s a thoroughly modern city but you’ll still find glimpses of its rich history if you head for the old quarters of Al-Bathaa and Al-Dirah. 

Stay: Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh  

Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh is located over 20 floors within the iconic Kingdom Centre, one of the capital’s tallest and most famous buildings with easy access to the famous skybridge.  

Long before you arrive at this five-star hotel, you will be awed by it. The top of this gleaming, glass-covered monolith sweeps up into twin ‘spires’ connected by the public skybridge – an unmistakable feature of Riyadh’s skyline. During your stay, you can cool off in the cloistered outdoor pool, and dine at an eclectic array of restaurants – one of which features a lively semi-open kitchen.  

For a little extra magic, we recommend the private candle-lit dinner for two at the Kingdom Centre’s high-altitude skybridge: three gourmet courses paired with the ultimate view over glittering Riyadh, and a professional photographer on hand to capture the experience. 

Banyan Tree AlUla

Saudi Arabia, North Africa & Middle East

The Banyan Tree AlUla perfectly blends with the landscapes and the heritage of its majestic setting in the Ashar Valley

Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh

Saudi Arabia, North Africa & Middle East

Set within the iconic Kingdom Centre – one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers – Four Seasons Riyadh is a five-star retreat in the heart of Saudi Arabia’s capital

Classic AlUla

5 nights from £11,150 To £13,375

Explore world history woven into the desert landscape in AlUla. From past kingdoms and civilizations to eco-resorts, experience the unseen of Saudi Arabia

Classic Saudi Arabia

7 nights from £10,860 to £12,375

Experience the ancient and modern highlights of this desert kingdom with a privately guided journey, beginning in the affluent capital, Riyadh, and ending on Jeddah’s vibrant waterfront

Shangri-La Jeddah

Saudi Arabia, North Africa & Middle East

Set on the shores of the Red Sea with spectacular views over the water, the Shangri-La Jeddah brings Asian elegance to Jeddah’s vibrant waterfront