Riyadh, 3 May 2023 – Football icon and Saudi Tourism Ambassador Lionel Messi has returned to Saudi for a second time, this time with his family, to experience the country’s unique blend of old and new, cultural, and cosmopolitan. Messi’s visit to Saudi was packed with exciting activities, with something for everyone in the family.
Saudi is the authentic home of Arabia, and a highlight of the trip was the Messi family’s guided tour of Diriyah, the 300-year-old historical heart of the country, one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the birthplace of the First Saudi State. At-Turaif, a historic city on the outskirts of Riyadh, is one of the most historically significant and architecturally impressive mudbrick settlements in the world dating back to the 15th century.
Messi and his family immersed themselves in the history of this unique destination, taking in the Arabian Horse Museum after interacting with some magnificent purebred Arabian horses. Messi was also enchanted by his encounter with a white falcon that rested on his arm. Falcons are a much-coveted bird of prey and hunting with them has been an integral part of Bedouin history, for thousands of years.
During the visit, Messi’s wife Antonella Roccuzzo wore a traditional Saudi hama – a decorative headpiece historically worn by Saudi women from the Kingdom’s Najdi region. The family enjoyed the opportunity to explore the history of Saudi and learn about the rich culture of Saudi and were charmed by the authenticity and architecture of At-Turaif and the beauty of the Arabian horses.
Before the visit to Diriyah, the Messi family had also enjoyed an authentic Saudi farm experience away from the buzz of the city. The family witnessed a palm weaving demonstration against the backdrop of majestic palm trees – a symbol of prosperity in Saudi. The Kingdom’s palm trees produce over 1.5 million tonnes of dates annually – which are a central part of Saudi cuisine.
One of the highlights of their first day was feeding the indigenous Arabian gazelles that were close to extinction but are now part of an ambitious rewilding and preservation program that has seen the population grow exponentially. Earlier this year 650 Arabian Gazelles and 550 Sand Gazelles were released into the 12,400 square kilometers of the AlUla reserve also famous for reintroducing the Arabian Leopard into the wild.
On the second day of the trip, Messi and family experienced the modern metropolis that Riyadh has become, where ambitious plans aim to make the city one of the world’s most vibrant and dynamic by 2030. Riyadh is widely considered one of tourism’s last frontiers and is mesmerizingly unexpected with its bright city lights, music festivals, and range of cuisine from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants.
The jam-packed itinerary gave Messi and his family quality time together to take in the sights and sounds of VIA Riyadh and Boulevard Riyadh City, experiencing two of the city’s ultra-modern entertainment and retail districts. VIA Riyadh is set to become one of the world’s premier luxury destinations, featuring upscale fashion brands, celebrated international and homegrown restaurants, and seven private, themed cinemas.
The bright lights of Boulevard Riyadh City have also made their mark as one of the most popular visitor family experiences during Riyadh Season, the city’s vibrant outdoor destination that welcomed more than 15 million visitors this year.
Whilst Saudi is known for its awe-inspiring desert, the Rub’ Al Khali (Empty Quarter), the Kingdom has a diverse landscape that can be enjoyed year-round, from the UNESCO-listed oasis of Al-Ahsa, to the pristine coral reefs of Saudi’s 1,700km long great Red Sea coast, which can be enjoyed by divers and cruise liners, and where the first of 16 luxury hotels will be opening later this year, as well as NEOM’s Sindalah island. Saudi also offers the cool, green highlands of Asir where the locals holiday in the summer.
The warm Saudi welcome, known as Hafawa, makes it a perfect destination for families. Riyadh, home to around 8 million people, is also one of the Top 50 Safest Cities in the World according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, making it an ideal destination for families to explore and enjoy.
Visiting Saudi is now easier than ever before with more flights available from more countries across the world. eVisa applications through the easy-to-use online portal are available for international visitors from 49 eligible countries.
Saudi also announced the launch of a new stopover visa earlier this year. Free of charge and available to passengers traveling with SAUDIA and FlyNas, the visa is open to an even greater number of countries than the historic tourist eVisa and allows visitors to stay in the country for up to 96 hours.