Expert-Led Group Tour

Saudi Arabia Group Tour - Behind the Veil

12 days

from £4,895pp
  • A rare opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia in the company of author and Saudi expert, Peter Harrigan
  • Visit the spectacular site of Madain Saleh, the largest Nabatean settlement after Petra
  • Meet the Flower Men of Tihama and visit the cliff-side village of Habala
  • Visit the old city of Jeddah and the historical sites around Riyadh including Diriyah

Steppes has had Saudi Arabia in its sights for some time now. The prospect of travelling in the footsteps of Richard Burton, T. E. Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger is a tantalising one.

In more modern times, Saudi has become an emblem of everything most inexplicable to the West and therefore carries an aura of mystique and intrigue that is a compelling drawcard for the curious traveller. Having found a reliable partner on the ground and an exceptional western leader with the knowledge and experience required to give insight into the Kingdom we are excited to offer this new group tour.


One of the most important archaeological sites in the whole of Saudi is Diriyyah. A UNESCO World Heritage site located just outside Riyadh, Diriyyah has a history that goes as far back as 627 AD, during the era of the Prophet Muhammad and served as the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty from 1744 to 1818. Our Tour Lecturer, Peter Harrigan serves as an advisor to the Arriyadh and Diriyyah Development Authority providing counsel on a restoration project which includes five major museums on the site of the capital of the First Saudi State.

The trip starts in Jeddah – a city with a history that can be traced back to more than 2,000 years ago. There will be time spent in the old town and the Abdul Rauf Khalil Museum which not only represents the rich Islamic heritage of Jeddah but also the city’s pre-Islamic past, with artifacts on show that can be traced back to the fishermen tribes who first inhabited this region. Saudi cities are full of fascinating sites with major historic significance, often juxtaposed with very modern, high-tech architecture and infrastructure. This is most noticeable in Riyadh – a city that forty years ago had a population of 100,000 people but is now home to over 7 million people. 


Outside of the cities, Saudi is equally as evocative. Visit the highland province of Asir and feel the fresh mountain air of Soudah – the highest peak in Saudi at 2,995 metres. Take a cable car ride to the hanging village of Habala, built into the side of a vertical cliff face, and once only accessible by ropes. The story goes that the villagers of Habala fled the Ottomans and chose to live an isolated existence until they were discovered by a Saudi army helicopter in more recent times. For all its commercialisation, Habala is still worth the visit, not only for its history but for its natural splendour. Other highlights outside of the cities include the 7th century Sakaka Fort and the mosque of Domat Al Jandal close to Al Jouf; Nafud Desert and Jubbah to see the magnificent rock carvings and the imposing forts of Oraif and Qishla in the city of Hail.


No trip to Saudi would be complete without a visit to Madain Saleh. Accessed from the oasis town of Al-Ula, Madain Saleh, Petra’s twin, was Saudi’s first World Heritage site. With its well preserved, ancient, rock hewn tombs set amongst a dramatic desert back drop, it is easy to see why Madain Saleh was chosen as a World Heritage site. The settlement of the site took place during the 1st century AD, when the Nabateans made Madain Saleh the kingdom's second capital, after Petra in the north. The sense of history at Madain Saleh is palpable in the rock art and sculpture that can be seen all over the site, giving fascinating insight into the lives of the Nabateans over 2,000 years ago.


There are few places left that can be said to represent the last frontier of tourism. Follow your curiosity and put experience before prejudgment.


Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places does provide security and peace of mind. We handle all of the arrangements for you and there will be a local tour guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed, as well as the expertise of a Tour Lecturer.

If you are willing to share, we will always do our best to match you up with another solo traveller of the same sex so that you do not have to pay for a single room.

If you would prefer the privacy of your own room and would like this guaranteed, then the single room price supplement will apply.

Departing on:
  • 3rd November 2017

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

DEPART UKARRIVE UKPrice Excluding Flights (£)Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour LecturerStatus 
3rd Nov 2017 14th Nov 2017 £ 4,895 £ 700 £ 685 Peter Harrigan Limited
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • Accommodation as detailed
  • All meals throughout
  • All transfers
  • Domestic flights
  • Entrance fees to all sites
  • Fee to cover visa authorisation in Saudi
  • Gratuities
  • Services of Tour Lecturer and local guide

what is excluded

  • Drinks
  • International Flights
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visa fees in your country of residence


Itinerary at a glance

Collapse all
Day 1

Fly London to Jeddah

Day 2

Morning at leisure

Half Day Sightseeing of Jeddah Old City and Abdul Rauf Khalil Museum
After lunch at a local restaurant visit some of the cities traditional buildings, many of which were previous homes of mercantile elites. These distinctive properties combine Red Sea coastal coral building traditions with architectural elements, as well as influences and crafts from along the ancient maritime and overland trade routes. One of the most well-known is Nasif House, built during the 1850s by the Nasif family, an influential trading family in the history of Jeddah. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the house was among the most important buildings in Jeddah. It was here that King Abdulaziz spent his first night in Jeddah, after he led his victorious army into the city. Continue to visit Abdul Rauf Khalil Art Museum, which displays significant as well as unusual collections. Stop along the corniche of Jeddah. The seaside promenade has views over the Red Sea and is lined with an array of modern sculptures and from sunset becomes a popular and bustling social gathering place for families.

Located on the Red Sea, Jeddah is the second largest city in Saudi Arabia and the country's commercial hub. It is also the main gateway for pilgrims travelling to the Holy City of Mecca. The thriving, cosmopolitan port city offers shopping, scuba diving and has an attractive corniche, modern open-air sculptures that include Henry Moore and Miró, numerous restaurants offering multi-ethnic cuisine that includes excellent seafood. Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the old quarter of the city, Al Balad, is home to historic buildings and bustling souqs.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Hilton Jeddah

Day 3

Morning Visit to the Fish Market
Enroute to the airport a short stop will be made at the colourful fish market, with its daily sale of the morning's catch.

Fly Jeddah to Abha

Half Day Sightseeing to Muftaha Village Art Gallery and Shada Palace
Visit the traditional market selling locally made handicrafts including baskets, leather goods and goldware as well as herbs and spices. Continue to visit Muftaha Village Art Gallery, and Shada Palace.

Abha is located 2,200 metres above sea level and is the capital city of Asir Province. Set in a green and mountainous region, Abha is known for its mild climate during the summer months making it a popular retreat for Saudis and tourists from the Gulf States.

Evening visit to a Saudi home
This evening, visit a typical Saudi home and see how local families live.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Abha Palace

Day 4

Full Day Sightseeing in and around Abha
Today explore sites in and around the city of Abha. This remote and mountainous south west region of Saudi Arabia is home to a distinctive cultural heritage. Perched at the highest point accessible by road, a cable car will take you on a 7km ride at an altitude of 2,500 metres up to Mount Souda. One of the most interesting aspects of the area is its distinctive local people including the colourful Flower Men of Tihama. These tribal people live in the foothills of the Habala Mountains and are known for their beautiful headwear in the form of fresh flowers or herbs which are picked daily from the mountain sides. Competition is fierce to create the most beautiful garland although not all are worn purely for aesthetic reasons but for medicinal purposes too. Herbs such as fresh basil and jasmine are believed to ward off headaches and other ailments.

Khamis Mushayt is an industrial city about 25 kilometres east of Abha and has a wonderful silver market.

Also visit Al Hamsan traditional village, a stone tower and buildings; including a museum that is a replica of a traditional Asir home. The mountain village of Al Habala is located on a steep 400 metre cliff. Now uninhabited, the inhabitants of this village once lived in stone dwellings clinging to the cliff-face and so sheer was the cliff side that the villagers had to lower themselves down the ravine on ropes.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Abha Palace

Day 5

Please note today will involve a full day of travelling by air and then by road.

Fly Abha to Jeddah

Fly Jeddah to Madinah

Travel overland from Madinah to Al Ula

The journey will take 4 to 5 hours.

Located on the ancient incense trade route, the now modern settlement of Al Ula is still home to an impressively preserved old town, originally inhabited by the Lihyanites some 2,000 years ago. A short drive from Al Ula lies the ancient Nabataean city of Madain Saleh.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Arac Hotel

Day 6

Full Days Sightseeing including Madain Saleh
Visit the old town of Al Ula home to many traditional Arab mud brick and stone buildings, as well as a small museum. Visit the Hejaz Railway Station - originally built to transport pilgrims from the city of Damascus in Syria to the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. The railway was completed in 1908, but was severely damaged during the First World War by Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt. Parts of the Railway survived and some of the sections are still functioning today.

Travel on to Madain Saleh, the first site in Saudi Arabia to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once known as Al Hijr this ancient Nabataean city served as an important stopover on a very prosperous trade route. What now remains include iconic rock carved tombs, inscriptions, excavated remnants of the old city and ancient water wells and channels that reveal the remarkable hydraulic and architectural expertise of the Nabataean people.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Arac Hotel

Day 7

Travel Overland from Al Ula to Sakaka visiting the ancient oasis town of Tayma en route.

The oasis town of Sakaka is the capital of the northern province of Al Jouf. Enclosed by sandstone hills this fertile region is renowned for its olive oil production with the largest organic olive plantations in the world, date palm groves and traditional handicrafts. Strategically located on ancient trade and pilgrimage routes the area historically provided summer pasture and camping ground for desert nomads in the region.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Al Nusl Hotel

Day 8

Travel overland from Sakaka to Hail with sightseeing

Begin the day with a visit to Sakaka Fort. Located on high ground overlooking the town from the northwest, Sakaka is at the centre of many legends and it is widely believed that this fortress was built in the 7th century B.C. Continue to Al-Rajajil - the site of a group of enigmatic standing stone pillars that date back to the Chalcolithic period. Visit the famous well, fort, and mosque of Domat Al Jandal. The ancient stone fortress, also known as Marid Castle, is over 600 metres high and occupies a hillside location overlooking the old city from the south. Also visit Omar's mosque, named after the second Moslem Caliph: Omar Ibn Al Khatab.

Continue to Hail crossing the Great Nafud sand desert and stopping to view the remarkable rock art carvings at Jubbah, recognised in 2015 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fringed to the north by the Great Nafud desert, surrounded by the rugged granite peaks of Shammar mountain, valleys, oases and ancient paleolakes, Hail is a region of dramatic and picturesque landscapes. It is also home to the largest corpus of petroglyphs in the country including those found at the archaeological site of Jubbah.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Golden Tulip Hail

Day 9

Visit Oraif & Qishla Forts.
Today explore the Oraif and Qishla forts before continuing to the airport for the flight to Riyadh.

Qishla Fort was built in the 18th century to be a military castle of the Ottoman army. The word Qishla is a Turkish word meaning barracks.

Fly Hail to Riyadh

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Radisson Riyadh

Day 10

Full Day Sightseeing
Visit Diriyah, the 18th century oasis capital of the First Saudi State. It was here in 1744 that the enduring pact was forged between Mohammed bin Saud as ruler and Imam and Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulwahhab, founder of the Islamic Reform Movement. Al-Turaif District of Diriyah is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the mudbrick treasury, citadel, palaces, mosques and homes of the district are now part of a major restoration project.

Diriyah is located on the banks of Wadi Hanifah and a 120 kilometre stretch of this ancient watercourse has been rehabilitated in a wetlands project that has received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

In Riyadh visit the National Museum, composed of eight galleries, which presents the story of Arabia from pre-history, to the coming of Islam and to the modern era. Also visit Murabba Palace built in the traditional Najdi style for King Abdulaziz in 1937. Explore the lanes of the Dira Souq with shops offering everything from gold and silver jewellery to textiles, garments and carpets.

Riyadh, meaning 'The Garden' is Saudi Arabia's capital and with a population of six million the largest city on the Arabian Peninsula. Once a simple and compact walled, mud-brick town located on the desert trading routes, Riyadh has grown at an astonishing pace to become one of the most affluent cities in the world. The city covers an area of 1,500 square kilometres and boasts varied and exciting architecture. Work is currenlty in progress to complete a 160-kilometre, six-line metro system.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Radisson Riyadh

Day 11

Full Day Visit to Shagra and Ushaiger
Today visit the towns of Shagra and Ushaiger located around 200 kilometres north-west of Riyadh. The ancient Nejdi town of Ushaiger was a major stopping point for pilgrims coming from Kuwait, Iraq and Iran to perform the rites of Hajj or Umrah. Over the centuries, it has also been home to various Islamic scholars, teachers, poets and historians. The town which is made up of some 400 mud houses, 25 mosques and markets interlinked by narrow alleys is proud of its heritage and has been restored to preserve the traditions and ways of life within its walls. Surrounding the town are 600 orchards and around 80 freshwater wells featuring engravings dating back hundreds of years. The local museum showcases Ushaiger's history.

Late Check Out
Return to the hotel where rooms will be available to rest and freshen up before departing for the airport at 21:00hrs.

Lunch at a local restaurant and dinner at the hotel

You will be staying at Radisson Riyadh

Day 12

Fly Riyadh to London

Destination Experts

Our experts have unrivalled firsthand knowledge of Saudi Arabia

Paul Craven, Travel Expert

" I spoke to five different companies, but Paul was by far the most knowledgeable and empathetic."

"The service which I received from your Travel Expert Paul Craven was excellent, he was able to answer any queries I put to him."

"Paul must be congratulated on his expertise and great patience in dealing with all my programme changes. He must dread my phone calls!! A big thank-you from both of us to Paul and Carol."

Read More

For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Tour Lecturer

Peter Harrigan

Peter Harrigan
Peter Harrigan is founding director and commissioning editor of Medina Publishing and senior contributor to Aramco World Magazine. He has travelled extensively in the region and writes on the culture and history of Saudi Arabia. He is author of the book Riyadh: Heritage and Vision, (September 2016) which is the first detailed and illustrated history of the Saudi capital up to the present time.

Peter has been study leader of alumni tours to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States including Stanford and University of Washington, World Leaders Symposium and a private jet trip, Crossroads of Eurasia.

Peter is a board member of the Saudi British Society and in 2013 received of the Rawabi Prize for “Exceptional contribution to Saudi-British relations.”
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Group Size:

Min 3 / Max 15

Tour Expert:

Peter Harrigan

Departure Date (S):

  • 3rd November 2017 - Guaranteed to run

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