What to see during Saudi Arabia's 'most happening winter' with 17,000 events

Arts, fashion, sports and entertainment taking place across the country in next three months

AlUla Skies Festival returns this year with hot air balloons, helicopter tours and drone shows. Photo: Royal Commission For AlUla
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Saudi Arabia is hosting 17,000 events in what tourism authorities are calling “the world's most happening winter”.

Highlights include major international events in fashion, sports and entertainment, many of which have already begun.

Earlier this week, Saudi Tourism Authority said visitors to the kingdom in the first three quarters of last year spent more than SR100 billion, a 72 per cent increase from the same period in 2022.

Here are 19 major events not to miss this winter.

Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo

The polo tournament will return for its third iteration from January 16 to 20 as part of Winter at Tantora festival. Held at the Equestrian Village in AlUla, the event runs in partnership with the Saudi Polo Federation.

Spanish Super Cup 2024

The popular four-team tournament returns to Riyadh for the fourth time from Wednesday to Thursday. The KSU Stadium will feature matches between Barcelona and Osasuna as well as Real Madrid versus Atletico Madrid.

Balad Al Fan festival

Running until March 9, Balad Al Fan will be held under the theme Past Forward in Al Balad, Jeddah. The festival will feature four art exhibitions, music programmes, theatrical performances, local culinary experiences and interactive events for schoolchildren.

Translating as The Town, Al Balad is the historical centre of Jeddah and dates back to the seventh century. Designed as an ancient trading port and gateway for pilgrims visiting Makkah, it is renowned for its labyrinth of streets and alleyways as well as traditional buildings constructed from coral stones.

AlUla Skies Festival

Taking place from April 10 to 27, the event will showcase the striking landscape of AlUla from the skies. Activities will include rides on hot air balloons, helicopter tours and drone shows.

Saudi Cup 2024

One of the world's most lucrative horse races – with $20 million in prize money – the Saudi Cup will bring together horse lovers as well as celebrities and fashion enthusiasts. The event will be held on February 23 and 24 at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

Layali Diriyah

Starting next Thursday and running until March 10, Layali Diriyah will transform Bujairi Park – an oasis in Riyadh's Diriyah district – into an open-air wonderland. On display will be local and international contemporary art and designs, as well as live musical and theatrical performances and top dining destinations.

Little Asia

Comprising eight recreational zones based on different countries, Little Asia is running at Jeddah's City Walk until March 3. The zones – China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – will showcase the country's culture through food, interactive games and activities.

Boulevard World

The entertainment zone at the heart of citywide festival Riyadh Season, has returned bigger and better.

Like previous years, culture is at the core of this sprawling site, with more than a dozen pavilions dedicated to different countries and regions – similar to Dubai’s Global Village. Spanning 1.2km in length last year, this year’s capacity has been increased by 40 per cent, organisers said. It is now connected to Boulevard City, dedicated to live entertainment and fine dining, via a three-minute cable car ride.

Arabian Horse demonstration

Taking place in Diriyah until March 8, the event is held every Thursday and Friday between 5-11pm. Visitors can also visit the Arabian Horse Gallery to learn more about the animals and their links to the history of Diriyah and Saudi culture.

AlUla Falcon Cup

With a total prize fund of SR60 million ($16 million), AlUla Falcon Cup is being held until Friday, in partnership with the Saudi Falcons Club and the Royal Commission for AlUla at Mughira Heritage Sports Village in AlUla.

The Poets Night

Part of a concert series taking place in AlUla that celebrates the art of Arabic poetry, the event will feature regional artists performing live under the stars. The Poets Night kicks off on Friday, with Saudi musician Abdulrahman Mohammed, who is renowned for his romantic poems.

Concerts at Maraya

The striking concert hall in AlUla will host a number of top-notch acts, starting with Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram next Thursday. She will be followed by Saudi musician Abadi Al-Johar next Friday, the Swiss Orchestra on January 19, Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli on January 26 and British singer James Blunt on February 9.

The Mataya Exhibition

Taking place in Riyadh until mid January, the show will take visitors on a journey of discovery, highlighting the significance of camels in the region. The exhibition is part of King Abdulaziz Camel Festival organised by the Saudi Camel Club.

Concerts in Jeddah

Starting next Friday, a number of musical shows will be held across the city, featuring regional acts as well as international names. Highlights include the Jeddah International Jazz show on January 25 and Balad Beast festival, featuring international artists Russ, Wu-Tang Clan and Major Lazer.

Dakar Rally

Starting on Friday, the popular race runs until January 19 and passes through the Unesco World Heritage site of AlUla. It then travels through Empty Quarter, finishing on the shores of the Red Sea.

AlUla Trail Race

The running event is back for its second year next Thursday and Friday, featuring athletes from around the world. The race includes the gruelling 100km Sharaan Trail ultra-marathon, the 50km Hegra Trail ultra-marathon, the 25km Elephant Rock Trail half marathon and the 10km Oasis Trail. There is also a 1.4km children's run.

AlUla Arts Festival

From February 9 to March 2, art works from celebrated artists will dot the landscape of AlUla as part of the arts festival. There will also be exhibitions, street-art tours, cinema screenings and live performances.

Diriyah E-prix

The annual two-day event will take place on January 26 and 27 at the Riyadh Street Circuit in Diriyah. The circuit features 21 twists and turns across 2.49km. A series of concerts will be held after the races, and international headliner acts will be announced soon.

AlUla Citrus Festival

Set to take place during harvest season on Friday and Saturday and then again next Friday and Saturday, the festival will give visitors the opportunity to tour the farms and buy fruits directly from farmers. Many local family-owned businesses selling citrus-based products such as soaps and confectionery will also be present at the festival.

Updated: January 05, 2024, 8:24 AM