The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is a country in the Middle East making up most of the Arabian peninsula. It is flanked by the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and shares borders with Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam, and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are visited by millions of muslim pilgrims every year. The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (known as The Haj) is a requirement of every muslim who can physically and financially make the journey at least once in their life.
With so many travellers pouring into the country every year there are flights from all over the Islamic world serving pilgrims. Saudi Arabian Airlines are the national carrier airline of Saudi Arabia, and you can find cheaper rates on Saudi Airlines via Cleartrip,
Saudia (as they are also known) have their main hub at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, with bases in Damman and Riyadh. They offer domestic and international flights in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.
Up until recently non-Muslims were not able to travel to Saudi Arabia as a tourist. Most westerners were there working in the oil business. The country is starting to open up in an effort to diversify itself away from oil revenue. There is very strict Sharia law, and non-Muslims are still not forbidden from entering holy sites. It’s a big country though, so for worldly travellers who are looking for something a bit different from your usual travel destination, then the KSA offers a new adventure. Visit Saudi (the official travel website of Saudi Arabia) has details on what you can see and visit as a non-pilgrim tourist.
The capital of Saudi Arabia is Riyadh, which is the biggest city and where you will find foreigners working for international firms.
If you are a muslim then of course you can’t go past Mecca and the Great mosque of Kaaba,
Medina is the other most holy site, being the location of the Prophet’s Mosque, and where he is buried.
On the Red Sea is the city of Jeddah. For pilgrims it’s the closest city to Mecca, but it’s also a city worth visiting in its own right. Its waterfront and old town make for a welcome respite from the desert interior.
The city of Al-Ula has a picturesque old town where you can see the old station from the Hijaz Railway, which was built during the Ottoman period to connect Damascus to Medina.
From here you can visit the nearby archaeological site of Mada’in Saleh, This historic site features well-preserved rock-cut monumental tombs from the Nabatean kingdom. The site became Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site in 2008
If you find yourself in Saudi Arabia during the hot summer months then head for the mountains. Taif is the historical summer capital where royalty built their palatial summer residences. Another summer mountain resort city is Abha.
If you are looking to visit beyond a stopover then get the Lonely Planet Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula (Multi Country Guide) to help plan your trip.