What makes Saudi Arabia so appealing as an international holiday destination? We think it’s the idea that Arabia had not been open to tourists for as long as one can remember. In addition, the uncharted landmarks in Arabia are a wonderful delight for anyone interested in experiencing new things.
From beautiful coral reefs and desert rock formations to historical ones like Mada’In Saleh and old Jeddah – there is a treasure trove of discoveries to be had in the Middle East. Although the list of tourist places in Saudi Arabia and Arab wonders is extensive, here is World Travel Magazine’s selection of the ten most incredible experiences to be had in Saudi Arabia.
What are the 10 Incredible Experiences in Saudi Arabia?
1. Eve’s Tomb, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
In the ancient city of Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia, is a cemetery known for the burial place of the first woman, Eve. So legendary is this tomb that the city it rests in has been named after the woman who rests there. Eve is widely considered the grandmother of humanity, and Jeddah means Grandmother in Arabic.
The tomb has been the stuff of legends since nearly the 12th century when Ibn Jubayr mentioned its presence in his travelogues. Eve Tomb is, obviously, one of the most famous places in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, a part of the cemetery was destroyed by Prince Faisal, the Viceroy of Hejaz, in 1928.
The prince did not want to promote idolatry, and in 1975, it was sealed with concrete by religious authorities. Nevertheless, the tomb is roughly 130m long, three metres wide, and six metres high before it was neglected to prevent idolatry. The tomb even finds mention in the original translations of the Book of One Thousand Nights and A Night.
Today located in one of the oldest cemeteries of the Al Balad district in Jeddah, Eve’s tomb is undoubtedly one of the top 10 places to visit when one wishes to experience Saudi Arabia.
2. Thee (Zee) Ain Ancient Village, Bidah Valley, Saudi Arabia
This historic village located in the Bidah Valley in Western Saudi Arabia is nothing short of an ancient paradise. The polished stone houses surrounded by mountains on three sides have remained mainly the same since the village was settled in the 8th century CE.
It had witnessed many a tribal battle in its time before King Abdul Aziz unified the Kingdom, and this makes it one of the only UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this list. This heritage village, named after a water spring that flows from the nearby mountains, is one of the best tourist places in Saudi Arabia.
Famous for its crops like bananas, Kadi, basil, lemon and palm, the Zee Ain village comprises 49 houses built on the Medamik wall system. Of these 49 houses, nine have only one floor, 19 have two floors, 11 have three floors, and 10 have four floors.
Each house is roofed with Sider wood. Zee Ain is located 24 kilometres from Al-Baha. Visit Zee Ain’s heritage village to experience an extraordinary example of traditional architecture adaptive to the environment. The Thee Ain Village is one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia.
3. Dune Bashing in Qasim, Saudi Arabia
If Dune bashing Safari is not on your list of Arabian adventures to be had, perhaps you need a new list. Dune Bashing is a thrilling experience across the desert sands abundant in the region.
This is your chance to hop into a 4×4 and combine off-road mud and hill driving with a course guide. So sit back and enjoy your dandy (sandy) ride! It certainly is one of the top adventurous activities to do in the desert.
A winter sand dunes bashing adventure involves combing the 4×4 action with a bit of camping to embrace the tradition of Kashta. First, go camel riding, then sleep amongst the dunes under the soft glow of the winter starlight. Then, wake up to a nice cup of Arabic coffee to go sandboarding and dune bashing!
Finally, wrap it up with a lovely firelit evening around a campfire with traditional food and drinks to keep you company. You could even visit one of the desert oases if you fancy.
Read More: Green Side Of The Desert
4. The Al Wahbah Salt Crater, Saudi Arabia
Did watching the ‘Silent Sea’ on Netflix make you yearn to visit the moon? Was ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ your go-to when you needed to feel some comfort? Well, the Al Wahbah crater is the spot to visit if you have a penchant for space adventures without leaving Earth. The crater makes the list of famous places in Saudi Arabia due to its lunar resemblance.
About 250 kilometres away from Ta’if, Al Wahbah is a volcanic salt crater about 780m deep and 6.9km in diameter. Al Wahbah is a maar crater formed due to volcanic activity underground (think magma meets subterranean water and cause a gigantic steam explosion) and is covered with white Sodium phosphate crystals at the bottom.
The local story of its creation is the stuff of legends. Before the crater, there used to be two mountains, Tamia and Cotton. One night, illuminated by a lightning flash, Cotton looked so beautiful that Tamia was instantly in love. She vowed to uproot herself in pursuit of her beloved, but before she could, her cousin Shelman struck her with an arrow. Where she fell, the crater was formed.
Climbing down to this spot will take you about an hour, but climbing back up might take a bit longer. Either way, pack for a picnic. There are loads of picnic shelters at the rim where you can sit with your loved ones, enjoying the lunar landscape!
5. The Edge of the World – Jebel Fihrayn, Saudi Arabia
Think of the scene from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Lizzie Bennet stands at the edge of a cliff, contemplating her life. The ‘Edge of the World’ is the Saudi equivalent for your contemplations with a view of luscious golden desert sands.
This geological wonder is located in the northwest of Riyadh, the capital city, and is surrounded by the rocky desert. The view from the edge is what gives this location its name. Standing on the cliff gives you an uninterrupted view of the horizon. Visiting the ‘Edge of the World’ definitely tops Riyadh’s list of things to do as it is one of the top attractions in Saudi Arabia.
You could even make a game out of it, spot the various dried river beds and fossils while making your way to the ‘window’. Here, climb down onto the lower plateau to go a little closer to the horizon, into the longer Tuwaiq Escarpment that drops down 1,000 feet into an ancient ocean bed.
Of course, the way to get to Jebel Fihrayn is via SUVs and careful driving. But once you’re at the edge of the world, lifetime contemplations will come to you organically.
6. Mada’In Saleh – Al Hijr, Saudi Arabia
Situated close to Al ula in the Medina Province is Mada’In Saleh, a city of ancient tombs carved into Sandstone. Mada’In Saleh was historically known as a Hegra by the Nabataean People, who carved these tombs – an archaeologists delight.
The community began as pastoral nomads who practiced oasis architecture and are believed to have come from the Hejaz region of northwest Saudi Arabia. The second UNESCO world heritage site on this list, Mada’In Saleh, consists of 131 monumental rock-cut tombs – ancient treasures of a world gone by.
The lesser-known cousin of Petra consists of tombs that are all finely carved facades with uniform styles. The tombs are also littered with various inscriptions that are the gateway to modern knowledge about Hegra. These silent historical artifacts and Al Ula earn Saudi Arabia points as a major tourist destination for history buffs.
Finally, Qasr al-Farid is the stand-alone unfinished tomb that is representative of Mada’In Saleh. The city is known as ‘The Capital of Monuments’, and its extensive historical importance grants it a spot on the list of famous landmarks in Saudi Arabia.
7. Outdoor Activities in the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia
The Saudi government only completely opened its doors to foreign tourists in 2019. This means that the Saudi coastline along the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf coast is mainly uncharted for the international travel community and, as such, offers a wide variety of activities to do and new marine parks to explore.
Perhaps you could charter a boat at the Red Sea Marina. Go snorkelling or scuba-diving, maybe take a sunset cruise over the weekend to the middle of the sea. Really, the entire Red Sea is your oyster. You could even go seaside camping (with permission from the coastguard, of course) or kitesurf at beaches in Jeddah.
But the true spot on this list belongs to the deep-sea diving experiences in the Red Sea. Visit the underwater landmarks of Saudi. The first is at Abu Galawa, to witness the unexplored Galawa reefs. Here you can see schools of Barracuda and even have the odd encounter with hammerhead or tiger sharks.
Next, visit the biggest shipwreck in the Jeddah area between two reefs. The Ann Ann sank in 1977 and now exists in perfect harmony with nature – its rudder is home to blue-spotted stingrays. Another shipwreck to visit is the Cable Wreck, which is the wreck of the Staphonos from 1978. Here you can see the guitarfish at this shipwreck.
8. The King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival, Saudi Arabia
Falconry refers to the hunting of wild animals utilizing trained birds of prey. It is a sport practised in many middle-eastern countries, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is no exception.
The King Abdulaziz Festival of Falconry is an annual international festival organized by the Saudi Falcons Club. Participants at the festival include falcon owners from the Kingdome and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
It makes our list of the things to do in Saudi because of its cultural and international significance. This is the world’s largest falconry festival organized to promote and preserve Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural heritage.
In the past, Falcons were trapped and trained by nomads to help in the hunt and feed their families. They were then released into the wild at the end of the season. This festival has set multiple world records and is a must during a winter visit to the Kingdom. Here, you can witness the true spirit and culture of Saudi Arabia.
9. Al Balad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Al Balad is the centre of the historic city of Jeddah. The entire area of the old town is a UNESCO world heritage site, owing to its presence since the 7th century. From gorgeous mosques to traditional and historical houses, Al Balad is a living homage to Jeddah’s history.
The city is divided into various districts. The Al-Nassif House and the Al-Jamjoom House are some of the city’s most famous and oldest buildings. This trip down memory lane is one of the oldest and best landmarks of Saudi Arabia.
The old city is home to 600 heritage buildings nearly 500 years old, with more than 30 mosques and five souks – the shopping malls of yester years. Give yourself the chance to immerse in this gorgeous and colourful adventure as you venture through the narrow lanes, multi-storied mud-brick houses and stone buildings.
For example, you could start at the village majlis near the replica of the Jeddah gate, then take a trip to the Saidi bakery that locals swear by for fresh bread. Next, visit the pilgrimage road to view the cylindrical rowshan and then make a detour to the Baeshen House to see the typical coral stone and wooden building common in Al Balad.
Read More: Exploring Tel Aviv & Jerusalem Through Food
10. The Judah Thumb and the Yellow Lake, Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia
The Devil’s Thumb or the Judah thumb is an exquisite rock formation that stands alone in the An Nafud region of the Arabian Desert. It is located about 160km from Dhahran, close to Judah (the town). The rock sticks out like a sore thumb in the expansive desert.
The trip can easily be made with an SUV, and around the thumb are various escapements that you can visit while making your trip to be wowed by rock formations and caves. Maybe, if you’re someone who enjoys desert camps and the gorgeous night sky, you could even camp out at night.
The Yellow Lake is located on the outskirts of Al Ahsa city and is an important wetland shallow lake formed from the runoff from the 22,000 farms that surround the region. Although it is fed from the runoff, the lake is a historical landmark known for its wildlife with various plant species and visits from migratory birds twice a year.
Rent an SUV and drive down to the lake for a picnic with the free sides of birdwatching and exploring the hills that overlook the lake!
If you are looking for an unforgettable international holiday destination that still offers plenty of discoveries and new experiences, Saudi Arabia should be at the top of your list. With a wealth of landmarks both ancient and modern to explore, Saudi Arabia has been closed off to tourists for far too long – meaning there are plenty of surprises in store for visitors. ◼
© This article was first published online in Jan 2022 – World Travel Magazine.