Saudi is a country made for driving; there are thousands of miles of immaculate roads, car hire and fuel are reasonably priced and, with a 4WD, there’s no limit to your adventures. Strike out on a multi-day tour, test the limits of your driving skills navigating rocky mountain roads or flying over sand dunes, feel the salt spray as you whip along the coast or voyage through time across ancient heritage landscapes. The choice is yours. But whatever your flavour, you’ll be sure to find the perfect road trip among these awesome highway highlights.
Coast to craters: Jeddah to Al Wahbah
This journey from the coastal city of Jeddah will take you past the holy city of Makkah, which you can glimpse from the main road. Then, follow the winding tarmac 1,800 metres up to Ta’if, known as the City of Roses for its abundant spring blooms, soaking up the vista of the craggy Sarawat Mountains on the way. Visit the 120-year-old Al Qahdi rose factory and the Shubra Palace Museum before driving on to Al Wahbah crater, one of Saudi’s most dramatic natural wonders. Hike around the rugged rim to enjoy the desert views before setting up camp in the lunar-like landscape.
Beaches, mountains and islands: Jeddah to Jizan
Head from Jeddah to Al Bahah, known for its iconic stone towers, or qasaba. Visit the eighth century Dhee Ayn Village with houses made of polished stone. Continue to mountainous Abha, famed for its local ghee and honey, where you’ll find dense juniper forests filled with birdlife. The city has a wealth of delights to discover, from the mud-walled Shada Palace, now a museum, to Abha Dam Lake and the Abha Palace Theme Park. Shop in vibrant traditional markets and enjoy sampling traditional dishes from the region (Hanith, a delicious slow-cooked mutton, and Mefa, a special type of fermented bread) at a restaurant with an incredible view.
Stop en route at the historic Rijal Alma Heritage Village to see its famous ‘gingerbread’ houses. As well as its fascinating architecture, this area is known for its rich history, pleasant weather, and beautiful landscape. Make sure to drop in at the museum which displays over 2800 exhibits including a wealth of ancient jewellery, while other local attractions include Tanomah Waterfall and Al Sahab Park.
From here, make your way to Khamis Mushaiyt to pick up bargains in the Silver Souq and the Spice Souq before continuing to Wadi Lajab, a canyon rightly called ‘heaven in the desert’ for its greenery and abundant waterfalls. Go hiking, rock climbing, or take a dip. When you reach Jazan, you can take the car ferry to the beautiful Farasan Islands where you can enjoy a boat trip through verdant Mangrove forests and snorkel stunning reefs on crystalline shores. While here, try local specialities such as Samak Mkashan, fish flavoured with spices, and Mahshoosh, pan-fried lamb cutlets.
Coastal Route: Jeddah to Al Wajh
Start your journey in Jeddah and visit historic attractions such as the Tayebat Museum, shop in the city’s souks, taste the freshest of seafood at the Central Fish Market and the street food of Al Balad, and fortify yourself for at one of Jeddah’s speciality coffee shops. From the city it’s two hours to Lagoona Purity Beach, great for adrenalin junkies, with speedboats and jet-skis for hire. Continue your drive along the coast to Yanbu, known as the Pearl of the Red Sea. Among the most important sites in this 2,500-year-old city is the house of Thomas Edward Lawrence, aka ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, the Night Market where you can shop for souvenirs, and the traditional stone buildings of Al-Sour district. Last stop is the ancient port of Al Wahj with its coral houses and centuries-old fort. Hire a boat to visit remote islands, including Dhahrat, famous for its dolphins.
Modern to ancient: Riyadh to AlUla
If you’ve hired a 4WD, you must start this road trip with a drive to Jebel Fihrayn to catch the sunset. From Riyadh, head to Buraidah in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, which is a city famed for its dates. The next day, early risers can catch the bustling, chaotic camel market in Al-Qassim. From here continue to Jubbah, on the edge of the Nafud Desert, where you’ll see ancient rock carvings. Five hours to the east lies, AlUla, where you can camp under the stars. See Insta-worthy sites such as Elephant Rock, the Nabatean tombs of Hegra and the Lion Tombs of Dedan.
In the footsteps of the spice traders: Tabuk to Medina
Explore the ancient archaeological sites of Tabuk, home to the prophet Moses for a decade, and dine in local restaurants serving regional dishes such as mansaf, a flatbread with meat, rice and aged milk, and seafood siyadiah. Drive south to Wadi Al Disah where you can hike in a valley of palm trees to hidden hot springs while marvelling at relics from the Nabataean Empire, before heading to Medina via Khaybar Fort, once an important stopping point on the incense and spice routes. The best way to explore Medina, including its splendid mosques, is with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. You mustn’t leave until you’ve sampled specialities such as Bukhari Rice, garnished with raisins, carrots and nuts, Buraik pastry filled with cheese and mint, and Shorbat Hub, a sort of meat and tomato soup.
From its diverse terrain to its thriving art and music scene, Insta-worthy food and natural wonders to travel for, Saudi is ready and waiting for you to discover. For more incredible, off-the-beaten track ideas for sites to see, experiences to try, and places to stay, check out Visit Saudi