Overview

Riyadh- 2 nights
Unaizah - 1 night
Hail - 2 nights
Al Ula - 2 nights
Medina - 1 night
Jeddah - 2 nights

Kingdoms of Arabia

An intrepid journey, inside the kingdom, behind the veil

Join us to discover this land of extreme contrast that has long been inaccessible to the western traveller. From the cosmopolitan cities of Jeddah with its Ottoman influences and the riches of Riyadh to the bustling camel markets, mud settlements and traditional stunning oasis. Discover incredible and remote heritage sites on old caravan routes, spectacular pre-historic rock art ranging from the 3rd millennium BC through the post-Classical period and Lawrence’s Arabian Deserts. One for the intrepid traveller; a land shrouded in mystery, steeped in ancient traditions, yet a land where a cultural shift and reforms are underway.

Since the days of antiquity, Saudi has occupied a pivotal position at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe. Follow in the footsteps of great explorers; Antonin Jaussen, James Halladjian, Harry Philby, Lady Anne Blunt, William Palgrave,  the indefatigable Victorian Charles Doughty and of course T.E. Lawrence. Discover pristine deserts, lava fields studded with volcanoes and behold great ‘cathedrals’ of fabulously weathered rock. Explore labyrinthine streets of ancient cities, where the rhythm of life is unchanged over millennia. Boasting five UNESCO World Heritage sites, the rich history of the land’s kingdoms is recorded across the landscape. Discover Al Ula, capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, the southernmost point of Roman presence in Arabia. Explore incredible Hegra, the southern capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, second only to Petra, explore Ottoman desert castles and Lawrence’s Deserts and visit Medina, a holy city that until very recently was almost entirely inaccessible to westerners.

Key Features

Chauffeur Driven Transfers*
Jules Verne Sightseeing
UNESCO Heritage Sites
Expert Conservationist
Local Expert Guides
Desert Safari
Mosque Visit with an Iman
Gallery Visit with Local Artisans
Price Guarantee
Group Size: 6 – 18

Day 1 Fly to Riyadh, the capital of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Once a desert trading post on the caravan route, this cosmopolitan city is juxtaposed between old and new. A chaotic, sprawling city, yet it maintains a traditional atmosphere and its historical significance as the birthplace of modern Saudi Arabia can be seen in the contrast between the modern, gleaming buildings, its business district, and the many forts, museums and colourful souks that uphold the city's ancient past.

Day 2 Once the second Saudi State, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud conquered Riyadh in the late 1920s, he retook his family's ancient seat and united most of the Arabian Peninsula under the name 'Saudi Arabia'. Learn some of this history in a visit to the splendid National Museum. Continue to Diriyah. Curved along the north-western outskirts of Riyadh, and formed on the oasis that spilt from the banks of Wadi Hanifa, Diriyah’s mud-brick walls once housed a thriving desert city that was a powerhouse of culture and commerce. The area’s citadel was the original seat of power for the kingdom’s Al Saud family and in 1745, was named the country’s capital. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, this ‘Land of Kings and Heroes’ offers a glimpse into the country’s extraordinary heritage. Stroll through its living museum and enjoy a relaxing walk through Al Bujairi. Later, visit Masmak Fortress, the most prominent remnant of the old walled oasis town of Riyadh. From here, we visit the modern part of the city, taking the lift up the Kingdom Tower skyscraper for impressive views. This evening explore the famous Souq Al Zal, discover local produce from perfume, spices, and clothing to gold. (B, L, D)

Day 3 Leaving Riyadh we drive north-west. Hidden in the heart of the Najd, in an oasis-dotted region, explore the winding maze of alleyways and discover examples of stunning ancient Nadji architecture in the mud-brick houses of Ushaiger Heritage Village, providing a glimpse into the slow-paced Saudi society of old. Bedouins first settled here 1,500 years ago, it was a popular stopping point for pilgrims crossing to Mecca, thanks to its springs and low-brimmed olive and palm groves. To walk its narrow lanes, unchanged through millennia, is to enter a living museum. Continue to Unaizah and the Al Malfa Heritage hotel, operated by a women’s co-operative, the kitchens produce the most fabulous regional cuisine.
This evening we explore Al-Musawkaf souq, designed in the ancient architectural style and one of the most important in Al-Qassim, known for trading authentic traditional crafts, it has an auction place for collectables and doubles as a cultural centre where poetry recitation events are held. (B, L, D)

Day 4 Take the short drive to Buraidah, on the outskirts, across two square miles, lies the largest camel market in the Kingdom. At six in the morning, the camel market comes to life as vendors and buyers exchange riyals for camels, sheep, goats, along with saddles, halters and blankets. The whole area gets pretty chaotic but a visit to the market is a truly unique Saudi experience and a glimpse at traditions that haven't changed in hundreds of years. The auctions are loud and theatrical, with the best camels going for many thousands of riyals.
The area is also famous for agriculture, especially its date production, with Buraidah offering a spectacular variety of dates year-round. Enjoy date tasting in a private garden before we explore the markets. Later visit the old Hajj caravan stop of Fayd enroute to Hutaymah Crater with the option to walk around the crater rim or hike down into the basin to a small salt lake at the centre of the crater. Continue through the picturesque landscape of the Jabal Aja to Ha’il. Fringed to the north by the Great Nafud desert and, surrounded by the rugged granite peaks of Shammar mountain, valleys, oases and ancient paleolakes, Ha’il is a region of varied landscapes. (B, L, D)

Day 5 Ha’il gained importance as a major stop on the camel routes that crossed the Arabian Peninsula, north-south from Dawmat al Jandal to the ancient South Yemeni kingdoms of Saba, Hadramawt, and Himyar, and east-west from Mesopotamia to the Red Sea. Much later, during the Islamic period, it was one of the stops on the Darb Zubaidah, the pilgrim route that linked Baghdad with Medina and Mecca. A journey of an hour and a half through the red sands of the Great Nefud Desert will bring you to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jubbah. The oasis was once a huge inland lake, rich in wildlife and plant life, on the edge of the windswept Nafud Desert. Here on the celebrated surfaces of Jabal Umm Sinman, Qattar Cave and Ghouwtah, are extensive panels of petroglyphs, some of the Middle East's most extensive and important ancient rock carvings, with extremely finely executed figures showing great artistic accomplishment that shed light on human activities, and lifestyles during the Palaeolithic period. The inscriptions are in Thamudic, the oldest known script on the Arabian Peninsula, which experts believe to be at least 3,000 years old. Some of the rock art may be as much as 11,000 years old. Lady Anne Blunt, one of the first Europeans to witness Jubbah’s art, wrote in 1879: ‘Jubbah is one of the most curious places in the world, and to my mind one of the most beautiful.’ Enjoy lunch at the 150-year-old Eydah Farm, with its ancient structures and a traditional camel drawn swanee water well. Return to Ha’il. Nestled between Mount Shammer to the north and Mount Salma to the south, the city of Ha’il was once the capital of all the Arabian Desert and home to the legend Hatim Al Tai, of “Arabian Nights” fame. Explore the city, view A'arif fort, the 18th-century mud and clay citadel which sits on a hill on the fringes of the city, the impressive Qishlah Barracks, a vast fortress built by King Abdulaziz, now a heritage museum, we will also see the Barzaan Tower – all that remains of the Ibn Rashid palace. It was at Qeshal, that Ottomans gave the Al Rashid family control of the Arabian Peninsula, and during this time, Ha’il was visited by several intrepid European travellers, including Lady Anne Blunt, William Palgrave, and the indefatigable Victorian Charles Doughty, all of whom wrote about their experiences. (B, L, D)

Day 6 Drive from Ha’il to AL Ula (4 hrs). This scenic journey will first take you through the picturesque Jabal Aja, before once more encountering the wind-kissed desert dunes of the Nefud. Further on, you’ll see volcanic mountains darkened by basalt flows and beautifully weathered sandstone rocks. Located on the ancient Incense Road, Al Ula is the gateway to the famous Hegra, yet has impressive historical sights of its own. The small town is set within a valley and was once an oasis, facilitating its position on the spice trade route between India, Egypt and Arabia in the 6th century the now modern settlement of Al Ula is home to an impressively preserved old town, originally inhabited by the Lihyanites some 2,000 years ago. Explore the wonders of the old town, walking through the narrow corridors between a maze of stone and mud brick ruins is like stepping back in time. Continue to Elephant Rock, an instantly-recognisable geological feature that takes its name from its elephantine shape. This evening we take dinner at a desert camp, listen to a local storytelling and poems from Saudi heritage under the Arabian Sky. (B, L, D)

Day 7 A short drive this morning brings us to the Lion Tombs of Dadan. Pre-dating the Nabatean Empire, the kings of Dadan, and later named Lihyan, ruled from the 6th to the 2nd Century BC. At their capital, Dadan, the remains of ancient tombs have been found hewn into the rockface at different heights and of different sizes. The carved lion sculptures found outside the necropolis entrances denote the importance of its owner. Later visit Jabal Ikmah, described as a huge open-air library, proof that Al Ula was truly a crossroads of civilizations, this mountain has the highest concentration of inscriptions in Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic and Nabataean. From here, we continue to the ancient Nabatean city of Hegra (Mada'in Saleh). Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. This set of ornately carved tombs was constructed in the 1st Century AD by the Nabatean people and was the second-largest city in the Kingdom after the capital, Petra. These magnificent tombs are eerily quiet in contrast to Petra. For the moment, what was once a thriving city at the southern-most part of the spice trade route, and a key part of the Nabatean Empire, is now a deserted outpost, with many buildings partially hidden under layers of sand. Explore some of the 110 remarkably well-preserved tombs set in a desert landscape, while learning about the ancient people and culture of Al Ula. (B, L, D)

Day 8 The desert extends before us, with the Sarawat Mountains flanking us to the left as we travel back in time to the First World War and trace the doomed Hijaz Railway through the desert towards Medina. View two abandoned Ottoman trains and pass close to the spot where T.E Lawrence led his first raid on the railway in March 1917. Exploring the remnants of the Hijaz Railway reveals a magical piece of history that has been frozen in time. Built ostensibly to carry pilgrims between Damascus and Medina, the 1302 km. railway played an important strategic role helping Turkey control her Arabian empire. During the Arab Revolt (June 1916 to October 1918), the allies turned this vulnerable military supply line into Turkey’s Achilles Heel as they conducted a dramatic series of guerrilla operations. Visit Al Ula Railway Station with its extensive buildings, water tower and abandoned Ottoman goods-wagons, drive through the desert to the abandoned Hijaz Railway Station of Hadiyah which was attacked by Major Garland in August 1917. Here in the sandy yellow desert, surrounded by arid mountains, a complete German-built Krauss T0-6-0 locomotive lies on its side along with numerous railway carriages that have now been stripped bare. Just to the north is km 1121 where T.E. Lawrence famously derailed another train. Continuing along the tarmac road, pass the distinctive mountain of Jabal Antar and several Hijaz blockhouses before arriving at Al Buwayr to view the restored German-built Hartmann 2-8-0 locomotive with its tender and wagons. This train was the last to leave Medina station and faces north towards Turkey, but on account of the line being cut by forces loyal to the Arab Revolt, could move no further. Continue to Medina, the second most holy city in the Islamic world. (B, L, D)

Day 9 A day to tease out some of the secrets of Medina (Al Madinah), Islam’s second most important place of pilgrimage, and a holy city that until very recently was almost entirely inaccessible to westerners. Anciently known as Yathrib, the city was renamed Medina by the Prophet Mohammad after he and his followers were welcomed following their flight from Mecca. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter city’s mosques – but can visit some of the central ‘Haram’ area where the main places of pilgrimage are located. We will visit the early battlefield site of Jabal Uhud, viewing the Qiblatain Mosque, seeing the location of the ‘Battle of the Trench’ and visit Medina’s attractive Ottoman Railway Station to see the Hijaz Railway memorabilia and early 20th century locomotives. Enjoy lunch with a view of vast Masjid an-Nawabi (The Prophet’s Mosque) where the tombs of the prophet, as well as his daughter Fatima, and the first caliph Abu Bakr are to be found. Later we visit the International Exhibition and Museum of the Life of the Prophet and Islamic Civilisation before taking the High-Speed Train Station to Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. (B, L, D)

Day 10 Jeddah was the main port for the city of Mecca, an important stop on the north-south inland trade route, long before the coming of Islam. The rapid spread of Islam saw Jeddah's importance increase as pilgrims from all over the Islamic world disembarked in the city's port en route to Mecca. This melding of cultures and openness to outside influence has stayed with the city. Take a leisurely stroll along Jeddah's corniche, which extends alongside the Red Sea coast and incorporates parks, mosques and playgrounds, and is lined with sculptures that culminate at the small open-air sculpture 'museum' in the north of the city. Explore the Rahma Mosque (Floating Mosque) in the company of an Imam, and later enjoy a Hijazi style lunch. As part of the Hejaz, Jeddah was long ruled by the Ottomans and vestiges of their unique style of building are still to be found in Al Balad, (the Old Town) which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We begin our sightseeing in the company of an expert conservationist and architect to get an appreciation of a way of life long gone and the steps that are being taken to preserve the heritage of the city. Discover distinctive signature decorative architecture including intricate handcrafted Mashrabiya woodwork and masterfully sculpted balconies. We explore the modern aspects of the city with a visit to a contemporary art gallery and studio. Saudi Arabia is becoming increasingly known for its talented young artists, several of whom have gained international renown. We’ll spend time with one or more artists at their studios learning about their inspiration and techniques. The day will conclude by listening to the sunset (Maghrib) prayers from a roof terrace in the Old City. Farewell Dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 11 Return flight from Jeddah to London. (B)

  • Key
  • B - Breakfast
  • L - Lunch
  • D - Dinner

Notes

Saudi Arabia is a ‘dry’ country. Alcohol is illegal and should not be brought into the country under any circumstances.

Entry requirements: Everyone travelling to Saudi Arabia is required to obtain a Saudi visa. www.visa.visitsaudi.com

Travel & Accommodation

Clothing: It is no longer necessary for women to wear the abaya (the long black robe worn over clothes). Neither is it required for women to wear headscarves. Clothing should however be modest, Females should wear long dresses and tops with long sleeves. Men should not wear shorts. We will, at the start of our tours, arrange a stop to purchase an overdress for our female travellers. We would recommend that you bring a scarf or shawl for visits to religious sites (the city of Medina is considered a religious place in its entirety).

Touring services: Saudi Arabia is a country discovering tourism. Service levels in hotels may not be the same as you've experienced elsewhere, and sites occasionally close without advance warning. We will do our utmost to ensure the accuracy of the information provided. The order of sightseeing is subject to change depending on local conditions and the decision of your driver-guide. Travelling with an adventurous spirit is essential to getting the most out of this different place. 

Prayer Times: Prayers are an essential part of the Saudi culture. Prayer times are respected throughout the country – by your guides and drivers and by local shops that may close briefly, up to five times a day, to observe prayer.

2022

Wednesdays
per person in a twin room
Saudi Airline from Heathrow (Oct - British Airways)

Date Price
November 2 £4795

2023

Wednesdays
per person in a twin room
Saudi Airline from Heathrow  (Oct - British Airways)

Date Price
February 1 £4995
March 1 £4895
October 4 £4995
November 1 £4895
Great Journeys

A Jules Verne Limited Edition

Supplements per person

Single Supplement

Single supplement £995

Flight Options

Saudi Airline Business Class from £3645

Price Includes
Air travel and taxes, transfers, 10 nights’ accommodation, breakfast daily, 9 lunches & 9 dinners, itinerary as described, services of guides and local representatives. If our specially negotiated airfares are unavailable at the time of booking, a supplement may apply.

Not Included
Travel insurance, visa procurement, optional excursions, overseas airport taxes, tipping, any government taxes or compulsory charges introduced after publication.

Notes
* On all of our Great Journeys, we provide a VIP chauffeur driven transfer for passengers living within a 70-mile radius of the point of departure. For those passengers living outside of this 70-mile radius, we will provide the most competitive quotation for the additional mileage.

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Kingdoms Of Arabia

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