Gassim is Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest region and, while it might be predominantly a business destination, it still offers plenty of pleasure. Its capital city, Buraidah, is a colourful, somewhat eccentric city, with a skyline that looks alarmingly like a future Disneyland based on the moon. Whether that sounds appealing or not, Buraidah’s surrounding expanse of historic towns, villages and Bedouin settlements provide many mouthwatering day-trip opportunities.
Gassim lies at the junction of several old trade caravan routes. Needless to say, it has a significant history that dates back centuries and Buraidah has several museums to help shine a light on both the region’s past and its local culture. The Buraidah Museum itself is a fascinating if modest offering, but the Aloqilat Museum offers a more comprehensive insight into the area’s most notable personalities, men and women alike.
Despite its wealth, Buraidah is predominantly an agricultural economy, so enjoying food made from fresh oasis ingredients like citrus, dates and other fruits is an essential part of discovering the Gassim capital’s culture. There are plenty of good restaurants around, but why not pick up some authentic streetfood or snacks at the city’s traditional souks?
People and Traditions
The people of Gassim are a mixed bunch and the ratio of conservative to liberal Muslims varies from place to place. The people of Buraidah are renowned for their curiosity and love of debate, and you’ll find the city’s traditionalists to be as ardent as its progressives. That said, female visitors should wear a headscarf or risk being seen as disrespectful. The people are largely tolerant and hospitality is a core trait of the Bedouin population’s culture.
Gassim also hosts several festivals, particularly through the summer, which offers highlights such as the Buraidah Festival, the Dates Festival and Unaizah’s own Summer Festival.
Gassim’s climate is typical of desert regions, with cool, wet winters and summers marked by intense heat and little humidity. Temperatures in Buraidah usually range from lows of 5 or 6ºC from December to February to highs of over 40ºC from June to September.
Like a lot of Arabian holiday destinations, one of Gassim’s main draws is its desert safaris. There are plenty of desert sports to take part in, but if you try dune bashing just once then this is the place. Known locally as Tat'aees, Gassim is where the exhilarating 4x4 sport originated.
For a family-oriented day out, head to Dream Land – Gassim’s largest theme park and one of the biggest in Saudi Arabia. Or for a more meditative experience, join a tour of the historic pilgrim and trade routes around Buraidah.
Chief among Gassim’s attractions are its many historical sites, most of which are easily accessed from Buraidah. Situated in Bukereyeh, the Al Soweilem Compartment is one of the region’s most important sites. Built by the Prince Abdullah bin Soweilem bin Othman al Soweilem around the 17th and 18th centuries, this immense palace boasts many annexes to explore.
In Uyann Al Jiwa you’ll find one of Saudi Arabia’s most astonishing natural wonders – Hasat Al Naslah, or the separated rock. This huge gravity-defying rock has many ancient inscriptions carved into its surface and is famous for the old folk tales it inspired. It is thought to have been the meeting place for the legendary soldier and poet, Antarah ibn Shaddad, and his true love Abla. While you’re there, check out Al Margab, the town’s old watchtower.
There’s also the town of Unaizah’s house museums. The city was historically an important stopover for Muslim pilgrims journeying from the east to Mecca, so has an interesting past all its own. Al Bassam House and the Historical Hamdan House Museum are modeled on old Arabic residential complexes and provide an immersive look at what life was like in the region over 100 years ago in the pre-oil era.