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As a country still new to international tourists, Saudi Arabia offers a bouquet of unique experiences. The land and its diverse and beautiful culture are deep, and thus any attempt to experience it all within a few days would be superficial. Going through history books or an encyclopaedia is one rudimentary way to get a sense of culture; attending an event is another. So here is World Travel Magazine’s list, in a particular order, of the various events you can visit in Saudi Arabia to better understand the country and have the experience of a lifetime.
The Experiences & Events that showcase Saudi Arabia’s culture
1. Saudi Design Festival 2022
Are you someone who appreciates design in all its forms? Does scrutinising architectural art give you a sense of relaxation? Then the Saudi Design Festival is the thing for you. In fact, it is one of the top things to do in Riyadh in 2022. This design festival is the first of its style in Saudi Arabia, presented by the Architecture and Design Commission. It is currently taking place in Riyadh, a city that has been transformed into a centre for creative dialogue. The Design Festival is organised by the Oasis Company and aims to introduce the transformational powers that design possesses.
It celebrates design and creates Arabia’s presence on the world’s design map. You can stroll through the festival and take in the magnificence of local artists in their element. Several exhibitors will be presenting at the festival, from Prince Sultan University to Elixir Bunn and Sa Stockholm Studio. You can visit the exhibits between January 10 and January 29 and purchase tickets on their official website.
Location: Jax, Diriyah, 7120 Muhammad Ibn Rashid Al Uraini, Al Diriyah Al Jadidah, Riyadh 13732, Saudi Arabia
2. The Diriyah E-Prix 2022, Saudi Arabia
Have a taste for both speed and history? What if we told you there was a way to combine the two? Now, wouldn’t that be exciting! The Diriyah E-Prix 2022 is here to make that dream become a reality. An ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, the Diriyah E-Prix, will take place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, on January 28, 2022. The race is an all-electric street race, with a 2.495km circuit that runs around historic town walls. The track has 21 twists and turns and is located around a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The track tests energy management as the race runs at night, with only LEDs lighting up the circuit. Past winners include Antonio Felix da Costa in 2018, Sam Bird and Alexander Sims in 2019, and Nyck de Vries in 2021.
Location: Diriyah Circuit, Ad Diriyah 13711, Saudi Arabia
3. Winter at Tantora, Al Ula
The ‘Winter at Tantora’ festival is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s very first music and arts festival. Held in Al Ula each year since 2018, the festival runs for eight weekends from December to March. The 2022 festival is currently underway, and it was kickstarted by a harmonious Symphonic Concert performed at Hegra in the candlelight.
In 2018, Winter at Tantora hosted Italian Singer Andrea Bocelli and French violinist Renaud Capucon. At Al Ula, you can experience various concerts from artists all over the globe, a hot air balloon festival and even a horse race.
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The 2021-2022 edition includes the Citrus festival – for when you feel like enjoying the local produce at the Harrat Uwayrid volcanic field. At the Al Ula Arts Festival, you can immerse in performative talent at Maraya Concert Hall and cinema excellence from Saudi’s own industry.
If you prefer your arts festivals with more adventure and wellness, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides with views of the Madakheel rock formations are also an option. Al Ula skies also give you the chance to take a vintage plane tour. If you’re aiming to be more health-conscious, enjoy the Al Ula Wellness Festival from March 17 – March 27 with yoga and fitness.
Location: Al Ula 43562, Saudi Arabia
4. Al Janadriyah Festival, Riyadh
Al-Janadriyah is Saudi’s biggest and most famous cultural & heritage event, held in Janadriyah each year. The festival is the highlight of Riyadh for two weeks when it draws nearly two million visitors each year. Janadriyah celebrates local and regional heritage – it showcases local Saudi artisans while also being a platform for the heritage of the entire Arabian Peninsula. It is your chance to experience the Middle East at its most vibrant within two weeks.
You can visit the various stalls and view artisans creating their art. If you’ve been interested in animal races or enjoy camel races, well Janadriyah gives you the chance to do that too – the camels open the festival. It is definitely one of the best things to do in Riyadh if you travel here during these two weeks. So sit back (or stroll, really) and enjoy Saudi Arabia through folklore, dance and traditional craft.
Location: 550, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
5. Riyadh Spring Festival
There’s always something going on in Riyadh that you can enjoy. What’s not to love about a place that celebrates flowers? The Riyadh Spring Festival will make your trip feel like a refreshing start to the year. 150,000 visitors come here every year to take part and enjoy this beautiful event with all its vibrant colourations on display for everyone.
Although the dates for this year’s festival have yet to be announced, this is the place to be if you are a flower or landscaping enthusiast. The displays include everything from flowers to ornamental plants to landscape architecture. In addition, the festival is a time to enjoy the outdoors with family. Step into beautiful landmarks in Saudi Arabia and stroll along these displays in the evenings.
Location: Al-Bijairi Quarter in Al-Diraiyyah and Al-Jazirah District, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
6. Riyadh Season, Saudi Arabia
Imagine the fun that we have at New Year parties or perhaps at Christmas. Now multiply that fun over five months of an absolute party. That is the ‘Riyadh Season’ – a celebration that spans five months and salutes the city of Riyadh. If you want an in-depth sample of Riyadh in 2022, this five-month window is the cumulative list you need.
Nearly 100 events, concerts and adventures are spread all over Riyadh, celebrating the city and Saudi Arabia. BTS performed at the 2019 Riyadh Season, and it even had a Comic-Con. The most elongated party of the year is here.
The Riyadh Season began on October 20, 2021, and will continue until March 2022. Nearly 20 million people will be attending the festival, with the city being divided into 14 zones, each with a particular focus. To sample the local cuisine, Boulevard Riyadh City is the place to go. The Winter Wonderland zone is for amusement and fun for the whole family – the perception that Saudi is all desert and monotonous take a back seat.
If musical concerts are your thing, there is a wide variety to choose from – there are nearly 70 Arab and six international concerts happening this year. So what event will you be attending during your five-month stay in Riyadh?
7. Souk Okaz Festival, Taif
Arab culture, poetry recitals, craft exhibitions, and a “cultural incubator’ – this is the Souk Okaz Festival. Popularly known as the cultural heartbeat of Taif, this festival is one with cultural significance that transcends borders. The festival aims to garner a legacy of knowledge, culture and literature through its 70 events that range from philosophical to poetic. A definite tourist destination in Saudi Arabia, the Souk Okaz has been held for more than a decade while tracing its roots to the pre-Islamic era and is a celebration of Arab culture from all over the Middle East.
Each year, Souk Okaz is held at Taif, a city that has historical significance as an artistic forum for intellectuals and artists to share their work. If you’re an art enthusiast, whether the literary and poetic arts or the cultural arts, this is a landmark in Saudi Arabia that you cannot miss. From lectures and seminars on the role of Taif as a historical arts hub in Arab culture to a full-blown award show – this festival represents the soul of Arab culture. The dates for the 2022 festival are yet to be announced (possibly during August).
Location: Taif, Saudi Arabia
8. Historic Jeddah Festival, Saudi Arabia
If an entire district of a city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, you can be assured that the city takes pride in its heritage and celebrates it. Jeddah hosts the Historic Jeddah Summer Festival each year in Al Balad. The festival usually kicks off right before Ramadan and goes on for ten days, celebrating the old town, its people, culture and legacy.
You can take a trip into history and roam around Al Balad, taking in the sites of a town that has incorporated modernity for thousands of years. It is a town celebration, so the events and activities are always in abundance. The entire event has various sections that you can explore, each with its own art, culture and story. Exhibitions, shops, food stalls and international shows such as aerial acrobats & concerts are all a part of the festivities.
Location: Al-Balad, Jeddah Saudi Arabia
If you want to experience Saudi Arabia’s culture in all its depth and richness, consider attending one or more of the following events. Each event offers a unique perspective on the people and customs here, so be sure to choose wisely depending on your interests. The Riyadh Spring Festival is perfect for those who love history and traditional arts, while the Souk Okaz Festival will satisfy your appetite for Arabian food and culture. If you prefer modern art, then don’t miss out on the Saudi Design Festival, and finally, if motorsports are your thing, make sure to attend the Diriyah E-Prix 2022! No matter what you choose, we promise that you won’t be disappointed – this country is full of surprises. ◼
© This article was first published online in Jan 2022 – World Travel Magazine.