Tourism in Saudi Arabia is very new! The first batch of tourist came for the international event of Formula E that happened on December 13th to 15th in 2018 and the next batch came in the middle of January 2019 for the Italian Supercup.
Tourism started only recently and given the large size of the country; it could be overwhelming to decide which part of the country to explore when the time is limited.
There’s also a lack of information on places to visit, things to do and ways to go around Saudi Arabia.
So I’m going to help in highlighting on must-visit Saudi Arabia cities to plan your trip in the best way possible. In the meantime, keep a lookout for the next available E Visa to Saudi Arabia. I am personally very eager to know when the next international event will happen so tourists can visit Saudi. You could subscribe to my blog to be the first to know on tourist visas!
Everyone knows and talks about Petra in Jordan as the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. However, not many know that the second biggest capital is Madain Saleh which is located in the Northern Part of Saudi Arabia. It is about 700km away from Petra. It is also the first UNESCO Heritage site in Saudi Arabia.
Given that the city of Al Ula was the capital of the Lihyanite Kingdom and a couple of other civilizations, there are many historical sites to visit other than the majestic Madain Saleh.
- Madain Saleh
- Jabal Ikmah; it is also known as the open library
- Old Town of Al Ula
- Elephant Rock
- Daedan Kingdom; also known as the Lion Tomb
- Sheikh Khaled Al Harbi Guest House
The small town has many sites to explore in the area and many of them are undiscovered and buried. Most historical sites are currently closed for excavations and further studies by a team of researchers. Rumors have it that it will be open again to the public by mid-2019. However, the official statement states that it will be open again in 2020.
Despite the sites being closed, it remains a must visit city due to its unique landscape of rock formations and soft sand that makes it look like you are in Mars.
I would recommend spending at least 3 full days in Al Ula to get the most out of it. The best way to go around is to rent a car and the roads do not require a 4×4. It can be easily accessed with a small sedan.
Tabuk is located further North of Saudi Arabia and only 100 km away from the border with Jordan (another stunning country, by the way. Check some gorgeous Jordan pictures here). The places to visit are pretty sparse outside the city. It is possible to explore with a small car, however, having a 4×4 will be a better option and more convenient.
- Catalina Ship Wreck
- Giorgios Plane Wreck
- Wadi Disah
- Al Badae
Umluj falls under Tabuk Region. It is about 500km South of Tabuk and 300km South West of Al Ula. There are a few active volcanoes in the area. The city was evacuated for 2 months in 2014 due to an expected explosion. Many of the volcanoes erupted millions of years ago and these volcanic materials create beautiful black sand dunes which are a must visit!
The coast of Umluj is popular for dives and snorkels. It is where the Red Sea Project is set to start up to the coast of Sharma (Tabuk Region)
I would recommend visiting these sites while it is still in its natural form.
- Black Sand Dunes
- Explore caves and volcanoes
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Jeddah may not have many sites to visit but what’s special and unique is the social life and culture. It is the melting pot of many cultures and walks of life. For many years, millions come from all over the world to perform pilgrimage in Makkah and a large number end up staying in the country.
Here are the main things to do and see in Jeddah
- Al Balad – A UNESCO Heritage site which is also the old city of Jeddah where you can still see the old structures and finely carved wooden balconies known as the Roshan.
- King Fahd Fountain is the highest fountain in the world. The fountain goes on right before sunsets until midnight and some days, it may not run for maintenance reasons.
- Jeddah Waterfront is great for jogs, walks along the corniche or simply people watch.
- Jeddah Sign
- Sami Anggawi House is a masterpiece that’s constantly being updated by the architect himself, Sami Anggawi. He has been working on the house for 14 years and currently, his family lives there. They allow visitors to visit their beautiful home with pieces from all over the world for a group of minimum 15 people and about 50USD/per pax.
- Darwish Salamah House is another family-owned house that is beautifully designed to showcase Saudi’s culture and heritage. They allow visitors to enter and take photos for free.
- Abdulraouf Khalil Museum has stunning architecture. Personally, I’ve never entered the museum because the entrance fee is on the expensive side. It’s 20USD per person.
- Private Beaches are along the coastline of Obhour area. Private beaches are not segregated and women are allowed to wear two piece bikinis. There are many of them, but here are the most popular ones
Silver Sands – My personal favorite because it’s a large area, laid back, very basic, clear and blue water and also, they allow photography as long as the person captured allows it. The entrance fee is also the cheapest among other private beaches and it is open for everyone for 40USD.
Oia Beach – This Santorini inspired beach is beautiful! However, the beach area is rather small and has an entrance fee of a whopping 100USD during the weekends and requires a cabin or locker owner to sign you in.
Indigo Beach – The beach will make you feel like you’re in Bali. It is beautifully designed and has many facilities such as arcade games, bowling, cinema, spa, a variety of restaurants etc. The entrance fee is also 100USD during the weekends and requires a cabin or locker owner to sign you in. So, it might not be convenient for tourists.
- Boat Trips – Almost all dive shops in Jeddah arrange full day boat trips during the weekend for a reasonable fee of 80USD for diving, snorkeling or simply lounging. There are also boat trips arranged by local tour operators.
After visiting the sites mentioned, I would recommend hanging out in one of the local cafes and watch the social life and youth around. Also, feel free to approach them! We have a very hospitable culture. Here are some cafés I would recommend.
- Medd Café
- Cup & Couch
Riyadh; the capital of Saudi Arabia is a bustling city and it’s the city that never sleeps.
The following are the must-visit places in Riyadh:
- Masmak Fort
- Murabba Palace
- Sky Bridge
- Red Sand Dunes
- Edge of the World
- Qassim Route – Drive along Qassim route and you will come across many mud villages. There are two popular ones which are Ushaigar and Shagra.
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Abha is located in the southern region and falls under Aseer Region.
These are the things you should see in Abha:
- Jabal Souda is the highest peak in Saudi and it can be accessed by a cable car if you are not big on hiking. However, cable cars only run during the summer season.
- Rijal Alma Heritage Village
- Habala Village in Arabic means the Rope Village because it is located in a valley that can be accessed only by a rope. Currently, there’s a cable car that can take you down, however, it operates only in summer.
- Shada Palace
Jizan is the closest you’ll get to Yemen if you haven’t been to Yemen. Despite being very close to the border, it is very safe to visit! As you go along the different region of Saudi Arabia, you’ll notice the diverse culture, tradition, and food.
Jizan is very much like Yemen that I felt like I was in Yemen. It is also the only region where chewing ghat is allowed and you will find terraces of ghat on the mountains of Jazan Region.
Do not miss:
- Fayfa Mountains
- Jabal Aswad
- Wadi Lajab
- Jizan City
- Farasan Island
- Jizan Cultural Heritage
If you’re ever in Saudi, let me know and I will happily provide tips, answers to your FAQs, guidance and if I can, show you around!
Photo credits: Riyadh by @mal2at, Jizan by Mustafa Sahloli, Abha by @robertmichaelpoole, Al Ula by @alertthememory and @mal2at. The rest are Nada’s and Unsplash’s.
I am glad I read your article. I and my sister will visit SA for 3 weeks. Will be very grateful for any help as to planning an itinerary, transportation, hotels, etc.