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. Taif is often referred to as the City of Roses, for the famously fragrant flowers that grow in the wadis and mountains around it. It’s also known as Saudi Arabia’s unofficial summer capital. Because of its altitude, Taif is a cool escape from the summer heat, especially in the beautiful nearby mountains of Al Shafa, where baboons frolic in front of plunging valleys. While the roses bloom in April, the city really blossoms in August, when the Souq Okaz cultural festival and the Crown Prince Camel Festival are just a few of the attractions around town.
High above the valley that runs towards Makkah, Al Hada is a place of comedic baboons, rose fields and natural vastness. A curving road sweeps elegantly down the mountainside, as do ancient zig-zagging camel trails. As the sun sets and locals gather at lookout points, the rows of mountains on the horizon are cast in a greyish ombré. Saudi Arabia’s longest cable car runs between the mountaintop and the wadi floor, where there’s an aquamarine water park and toboggan slide at the Hijazi-style Al Kar Tourist Village.
Taif’s central market is a labyrinth of narrow alleys through sand-colored buildings to peaceful plazas. Laid out in themed areas, there are colorful, fragrant sections devoted to rich local honey, perfume (especially rose water and oil), Islamic dress and jewelry. Street jewelers with blow torches work on silver rings inlaid with Yemini agate, while nearby shops sell elaborate body pieces made of gold mined near Medina. Sellers of ghee milk, oud, decorative swords and healing herbs are all part of a quintessential Taif experience.
Every year, Taif turns pink and red, as the city’s famous 30-petal damask roses scent the air. In the City of Roses, more than 900 rose farms produce well over 300 million flowers, which are harvested to produce the world’s most expensive rose oil, or attar. See the mechanism first-hand with a guided visit to one of the city’s rose factories, or visit Taif’s central market to browse and buy rose-scented oil, water, fragrance and soaps.
Where to stay: Options include the grand InterContinental Taif in the desert mountains north of town; Le Meridien Al Hada and Almuhaidb Resort, both near the Al Hada cable car; or the opulent Iridium in the heart of the city.
Where to eat: Visit the iconic Ahlan Wasahlan to eat scoops of rice and chicken like the locals; Mashwee for the best charcoal-grilled meats; Safi for Middle Eastern platters; or Diwaniya café for Arabic coffee, dates and saleeq in traditional surroundings.
Where to have fun: Take the winding roads to Taif’s highest peak, Jebel Daka, where panoramic views and offroad adventures await, or escape to nature in the spectacular Saiysad National Park. A visit to Shubra Palace offers a chance to trace the footsteps of King Abdulaziz: while today a museum, the marble-floored building was once a royal residence.
Learn more: Go Zahid offers two-day tours that include Taif’s famed rose farms and the Al Hada and Al Shafa mountain areas. Palms Land Tours has a similar itinerary, which also takes in coffee on the 30th floor of the Awaliv Hotel.
Cool and green Taif isn’t just about exquisite mountain sceneries and idyllic weather, it has tons to offer to thrill-seekers as well.
Saudi Arabia's west coast has a long and impressive history, and Taif specifically played a significant role in the pre-Islamic era as a city-state.
They say that our most vivid memories are often tied to our sense of smell, particularly through our recollection of scents. If that’s the case, then a stroll through Taif’s rose gardens would give you enough memories to last a lifetime.
Between the local kebda (liver sandwich) hut and the modern rustic inspired specialty coffee houses, Taif has grown to have a plethora of food offerings to satisfy most cravings.
The first thing anyone notices when they arrive in Taif is its scenic sierra. Resting on the slopes of the Sarawat Mountains, it’s only natural to want to explore the peaks that surround this ancient city.
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.