As Saudi Arabia is now open to vaccinated travellers, there has never been a better time to explore the diversity that lies amongst the coastal pathways and jaw-dropping canyons. Religion, tribalism, and indefinable wealth have fueled the county’s living history, and as well as being a spiritual haven, Saudi has something to offer for anyone and everyone.
1. Old Town – Al Ula
Dating back to the 12th Century, Al Ula Old Town is best known for its maze-like streets, mud-brick homes, shops, and town squares – a historical masterpiece situated in the heart of a cultural oasis. Since closing its doors in 2017, it has only recently opened with restored streets, buildings and attractions, and the entrance is free!
Al Ula Old Town has been inhabited from the 12th Century up until the 1980’s, when it’s last residents left their ancient village for modernised homes. As you stroll through the winding alleyways, you can envision the life that was once lived up until recent times, and if you time your trip during a Friday, you can catch a glimpse of Masjid al-Izlam during its busiest prayer time– the restored mosque visited by Prophet Muhammad.
There are many restaurants to dine in and market stalls to shop at, either indoor the mud-brick buildings, or outside with a view of the ancient site, and lucky you if you make it in time for an Arabian sunset!
2. Elephant Rock – Al Ula
If you’re intrigued by history, Al Ula, situated in the north-western region of the country, provides the perfect retreat for those who enjoy historical site seeing and time away from fast-paced city life. With an abundance of stunning rock formations, canyons, and impressive art installation surrounded by untouched desert – this is the ideal time to unwind and enjoy the blissful silence.
You can find Elephant Rock just 11km northeast of Al Ula – a structural masterpiece and science lecture in one. You can visualise the power of natural forces – water and wind over a period of millions of years, producing an elephant-like wonder that reaches 171ft into the air. Entry is first-come-first served and it’s free to enter during the summer months. With access to comfortable chairs, you can quite literally kick back, relax, and take in the beauty of the natural surroundings.
3. The Edge of the World – Riyadh
Just like many parts of Saudi, The Edge of the World (Jebel Fihrayn) is an unexpected, uninterrupted part of the land that easily entices tourists with its picturesque view that requires no filter.
Situated 90 kilometres Northwest of Saudi’s capital; Riyadh, the natural wonder speaks for itself – once you reach the top, you do quite literally feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
The towering architectural stone takes around 20-35 minutes to hike, with a display of wildlife and desert weaves in replacement of the once lived riverbed. If you enjoy a practical element to site seeing and fancy a hike – make sure you plan your trip carefully with a 4-wheel drive, reliable GPS, and lots of water!
Whilst Saudi defines itself as The Kingdom – we all seem to know it for two things: oil and its vast stretch of desert, so that’s why it’s hardly surprising when travellers discover Caribbean like sands and turquoise seas. Most of the area is an untouched natural aquarium and, with thanks to the Red Sea Project, it remains untouched as local restrictions are in place to prevent large ferries or ships from passing through to preserve the marine life. It’s not widely known as a tourist attraction just yet (so shhh – we want to keep it that way!) but for those who visit, it’s rated one of the best diving locations globally, so throw yourself in the deep end (quite literally) and capture those deep-sea snaps! Oh, and its much quieter than other Red Sea hotspots like Sharm El Sheikh, plus you will see four times as many fish species as you would in the Caribbean (you can thank me later!)
If you’re anything like me and can’t travel anywhere without a market stall stop, this is a must visit in Saudi. Whether you’re after the perfect souvenir, textile take-away or antique keep safe, you can quite literally find everything under one roof. Souq-al-Zal can be found in the Ad Diriyah community and is one of the oldest and biggest antique marketplaces in Riyadh – making it one of the most popular attractions for both locals and tourists. Its rich cultural history dates right back to 1901, and the tradition can be seen, heard, and smelt as you hustle your way through the cosy walkways. You will see the endless array of beautifully handwoven carpets from Saudi, Iran, Kashir and Afganistan, so it completely makes sense to discover Souq-al-Zal means ‘Carpet Market’ in English. Tip: wear comfortable shoes and practice your bartering techniques as like most markets, vendors expect to negotiate.