What’s happening right now in Saudi is groundbreaking — literally and figuratively. Huge developments, so massive they’ve been dubbed “giga projects,” are transforming the country like nowhere else in the world, bringing in new attractions, opening next-level luxurious hotels, and even creating entirely new cities.
The incredible diversity of things to do in Saudi — and the increasing ease of getting to and exploring the country — promises to dazzle travelers, and those who make the trip in 2024 get to experience it first. Here’s why you should plan a visit to Saudi now.
1. There’s a new way to see the colorful Red Sea.
Saudi has more than 1,000 miles of coastline on the Red Sea, the longest of any of the surrounding countries. Think the distance from Houston to Phoenix or San Diego to Portland, Oregon. And this body of water shelters one of the most important but least shouted-about ecosystems in the world. Researchers think the reefs of the Red Sea could wind up being the last stands of coral anywhere on the planet because they’re already well adapted to warm waters. Scuba divers and snorkelers, on the other hand, are simply mesmerized by the hypnotic colors of the coral and schools of fish.
One of Saudi’s giga projects, the sustainability-focused Red Sea Project, has just started to welcome travelers. Red Sea International Airport, designed by renowned British architects Foster + Partners, saw its inaugural flights in September, and new high-end hotels are opening their doors. Six Senses is debuting its first property in the country, its design a nod to the area’s Nabataean history — that’s the civilization that carved the iconic architecture of Petra in Jordan and Hegra in Saudi. Also opening soon are the St. Regis Red Sea Resort, accessible only by boat or seaplane, and Nujuma, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve with exclusive Maldives-style overwater bungalows.
2. New public transportation connects the capital.
Getting around the Saudi capital city will be easier than ever before with the opening of the Riyadh Metro in 2024, one of the largest such projects in the world, which has been in the works for more than a decade. The public transportation network’s six lines will extend nearly 110 miles with 85 stations across the city, including connections with the airport and downtown, and the driverless trains will be fully automated. The metro will link up with an extensive bus network to reach even farther into the city.
3. You can celebrate at Saudi’s unique festivals.
Saudi’s spirited festival scene fills the calendar year-round. The town of AlUla is a particular hot spot for unusual events, and in 2024 it’s hosting a handful of travel-worthy happenings. These include the AlUla Skies Festival, which will see the region filled with hot-air balloons for 10 days in April, and AlUla Desert Blaze, an extreme endurance race for runners held during the height of summer. And Desert X, started in California’s Coachella Valley, is returning with new contemporary installations as part of the AlUla Arts Festival that runs from February to early March.
AlUla certainly isn’t the only place in Saudi for festivals. Many Saudi cities have their own “seasons” that showcase live music, culture, heritage, and sports across the country. In winter, Riyadh Season puts on comedy nights, WWE wrestling, and pop-up shopping boutiques from local designers. Seaside Jeddah takes its season to the water with shark cage diving and jet-boat rides, as well as an art promenade on the Corniche. In 2024, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix zooms back to Jeddah as well.
4. Saudi is the Middle East’s new stopover destination.
In March, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the creation of a brand-new national airline for Saudi Arabia, called Riyadh Air. The flagship carrier plans to serve more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030 from its strategic position at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Riyadh Air bills itself as the first digital-native airline, promising a smooth travel experience for passengers.
Earlier this year, the Saudi government also launched its first-ever stopover visa, allowing visitors to stay in the kingdom for free for four days. (A tourist eVisa for longer stays costs 535 SAR, about $140 US). If you book through Saudia, you can also get a free night in a hotel.
5. There are maiden-voyage cruises on the Red Sea.
From the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, cruises are booming, and the first recreational cruises are now setting sail in the Red Sea from Saudi. Plans for a new cruise terminal are underway in Jeddah. In 2023, Saudi launched its own cruise line brand, AROYA Cruises, and luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent has announced a new cruise itinerary for 2024 that links Greece, Turkey, and Saudi, sailing through the Mediterranean and into the Red Sea via Egypt’s Suez Canal.
6. You can glimpse the future at NEOM.
Perhaps the most iconic of Saudi’s giga projects, NEOM is completely reimagining urban living. The Line, part of NEOM in northwestern Saudi Arabia, is a planned car-free and carbon-free smart city that will stretch out along 110 miles but won’t have any roads. While The Line is still in the works, travelers will be able to visit Sindalah Island, slated to open in 2024. It’s poised to be a big hub for yachties, with an 86-berth marina and 75 offshore buoys, plus posh shops, spas, and a beach club.
7. Saudi history and heritage is being revitalized in Diriyah.
On the edge of Riyadh but a world away, UNESCO-listed Diriyah was the original home of the Saudi royal family and is a must-visit for history buffs and lovers of traditional architecture. Founded in the 15th century, this area is home to palaces, museums, and other cultural attractions that highlight Diriyah’s important role in the development of the modern Saudi state. More parts of the district are becoming accessible as the government continues to restore buildings in the area, and hotelier Aman plans to open two properties inspired by historic Najdi architecture.
8. Saudi hotels are truly unforgettable.
New upscale hotels are sprouting in unbelievable locations around the country, guaranteeing unique sleeps no matter where you stay. Beyond the overwater villas and Nabataean-style dwellings on the Red Sea, Saudi will also soon see one-of-a-kind properties elsewhere along the coast. In Jeddah, Al Hamra Palace is being converted into a lavish hotel, and further inland, sci-fi-looking hotels are coming to futuristic NEOM. At Trojena — the first outdoor ski resort in Saudi (yes, really!) — luxury brand Anantara is building a property near a freshwater lake that’s nearly two miles long and surrounded by mountain peaks.
Near AlUla, The Chedi is opening a location inside the ancient archaeological site of Hegra, converting some existing historic structures such as Hegra Fort and a train station. Dar Tantora, an upscale ecolodge, will soon welcome guests in AlUla’s old town. Wherever you look in Saudi, things are changing fast — plan your trip for 2024 and be a part of it.