From Tabuk in the north to Abha in the south, Saudi’s Red Sea coast represents an epic 1,835km stretch of wild beauty, dramatic landscapes and blurring cultures.
The journey runs from the northwest of Saudi Arabia, down along the turquoise coast beyond Jeddah to the misty mountains of the Asir region, close to the Yemen border. Along the way are some of the most dramatic natural sights in the kingdom, from the sandstone columns of the Al Disah Valley to the bleached white-sand atolls of Umluj.
The trip is a living history, visiting the one- time home of Lawrence of Arabia and the mountainous southern villages of the ancient Aseri tribe, whose men wear floral headdresses and bright costumes. It takes in Al Balad, Jeddah’s evocative historic quarter, but also the gleaming new King Abdullah Economic City to the north. From shimmering seas to golden-lit mountains and spectacular winding roads, the route captures Saudi Arabia at its richest and most beautiful. Here’s how best to explore it, including where to stop, where to stay and what you’ll see along the way.
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The northeastern city of Tabuk has long been a resting point for Jordanian and Egyptian pilgrims, with a rich Bedouin culture that can be felt in the bustling Souq Twaheen, which still supplies patterned rugs and goat-hair tent covers for modern nomads.
The coastal city of Wajh is famed for its unspoilt beaches to the north and south, and its Hijazi-style old town, which is like an uninhabited equivalent of Jeddah’s famous Al Balad.
It doesn’t take long to work out why this small coastal town and region is often referred to as the Maldives of Saudi Arabia.
The port of Yanbu, just a few hours’ drive west of Medina, is really two distinct cities: the new city to the south, with its oil refineries and plants, and the old town to the north, an ancient spice route staging post where T.E. Lawrence lived.
Jeddah’s unofficial motto is Jeddah ghair, or ‘Jeddah’s different’. No Saudi city has been more open to outside influences over the years than this ancient port.
Just reaching Taif is a thrill. From the hollow of Makkah, a beautiful serpentine road winds up through the mountains to the plateau where Taif sits, passing fruit markets, rose farms and deep valleys.
A journey to Al Baha is a journey to a different Saudi Arabia. In a Kingdom that’s often characterized by ochre desert, this high-altitude city is a place of ancient towers, lush forests and winding valleys.
With its stone houses and minarets, high-altitude Tanomah is encircled by juniper trees and craggy peaks, with a cascading waterfall right in the middle of the city.
At 3,000-meters, perched on the side of Saudi Arabia’s highest mountain, the juniper-covered village of Al Soudah blends historic charm with outdoor appeal.
The southern endpoint of the Red Sea coast, Abha is the culturally rich capital of the Asir region, and a great base for exploring this mountainous part of the Kingdom.
The summer season in Saudi Arabia is characterized by high temperatures, but the weather is more moderate in the cities of the south near the Red Sea coast.