King Abdullah Economic City, on the coast 100km north of Jeddah, is a new city with big ideas. Conceived in 2005 to attract international business, leisure is also a big part of KAEC’s offering. International tournaments have been played at the Royal Green Golf Club, one of the best in the Middle East, while a motor sports park is being built as part of the Lagoona leisure area. The expansive waterfront is a key part of the city’s appeal, from the bike-friendly Beach Walk to the soft-sand Yam Beach, and the wide range of watersports, especially fishing and diving in the clear Red Sea.
Like much of the Red Sea coast, the area around KAEC is great for waterborne exploration, whether just being out at sea, or snorkeling and diving the shallow reefs not far from the coastline. Boats can be hired at the marina for everything from 30-minute cruises to serious full-day fishing adventures, in waters that host the Red Sea International Sport Fishing Tournament during the summer.
The white-sand Yam Beach, on the shores of the Bayla Sun district, is a hub for fun in KAEC. A shallow natural pool surrounded by coral reefs, it’s popular with kiteboarders and snorkelers, as well as families relaxing under thatched cabanas. There are kayaks and pedalos to hire, and modern food trucks lining the bay. The beach is close to the elegant Views Hotel & Residence, and not far from Aqua Fun, a floating water park at the marina.
Motor sports are a big part of KAEC’s plans, and the easiest way to tap into that is at Juman Karting, a high-speed 700-meter track near the city’s K-Max Theatre. It’s possible to kart whenever, but many come at night, when the air is cooler and the floodlit track lends the experience a futuristic videogame feel.
Where to stay: Options include the slick Bay La Sun Hotel overlooking the marina, with its grand, cruise-like atrium; or the sleek Views Hotel & Residence, with its marble lobby and sea-facing balconies, close to the fun of Yam Beach.
Where to eat: Stop by Casper & Gambini’s for great burgers and pizzas; Bhar for Middle Eastern meat and mezze; Al Safeer for clean, fresh Red Sea fish dishes; and Seasons restaurant at the Bay La Sun Hotel for finer dining.
Learn more: Amazing Tours includes a KAEC boat trip as part of its eight-day human history tour from Riyadh to Jeddah. Shamal offers full-day snorkeling trips to the area’s gorgeous reefs, which are well suited to beginners.
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.
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.
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.