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 in a typical Hijazi building between 1915 and 1916. Many of the attractions are found in the historical area around the harbor, which comes alive at night, with locals eating Red Sea-caught fish overlooking the water. Nearby are the glowing lanes of the recently restored Souq Al Layl night market, originally open late to serve local fishermen, where local dates and green mulkhiah leaves are just a few of the traditional products.
To the northeast of the city, Radwa Mount is a colossal icon, its jagged peaks and curious reddish color inspiring many Arabic poets through the years, including Hassan Ibn Thabit, one of the sahaba, or companions of the Prophet Muhammad. At 2,282 meters, Radwa is the highest point in the Al Nakhil range, known for its honey and wild nature, with wolves, lynx and ibex roaming the landscape. There are regular tours from Yanbu to explore this place of poetic beauty.
Surrounded by evocatively crumbling coral-stone buildings, the home where Lawrence of Arabia once lived has been restored as a museum to the English officer’s remarkable story. A young Lawrence lived here in 1915 and 1916, with views out to the Red Sea, before heading north to take part in the Arab Revolt. Until its renovation, locals had left the house to decay, fearing it was haunted. Today, it is a place to soak in the story of a complex man who changed the Arab world forever.
Some of the best diving in Saudi Arabia can be found in the warm, rich waters off Yanbu, with a handful of dive centers in the city catering to underwater adventurers. Popular sites include Seven Sisters, best-known for its hammerhead sharks but where tiger sharks and tuna are often seen around the walls of coral; Abu Galawa, a paradise island surrounded by coral grottoes, sharks and schools of barracuda; and the wreck of the SS Iona ship, now a beautiful living reef.
Where to stay: Choose from the five-star Mövenpick Hotel, with its stunning lagoon pool; the slick, business-friendly Novotel close to the corniche; the motel-style Holiday Inn, with its striking desert architecture; or the brisk and modern Ibis.
Where to eat: For fast food, Patch Burger does quality American-style burgers, while Al Zaeem is a classic Saudi fried chicken joint. Yanbu’s famous seafood is best eaten at Al Marsah and the Najil Arab Family Restaurant.
Learn more: Yanbu is a top destination for serious divers. The Saudi Dive Center provides both PADI training and diving tours of the reefs and wrecks in the crystalline waters around the city. Amazing Tours can support with a bespoke itinerary.
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.
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.
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.