For many, Saudi Arabia is a country shrouded in mystery, a destination that they never dreamed that they would be able to visit. Indeed it is only a recent development that the Saudi government have decided to open their doors to international tourists. Though little is known about Saudi Arabia, it is a country rich in history and culture that offers a unique and fulfilling travel experience.
Have you established that you would like to visit Saudi Arabia but you are not sure where to begin? This article discusses some of the nation’s hidden treasures.
1. Marvel at the Mada’in Saleh
Practically everyone is familiar with the lost city of Petra, Jordan. The mysterious nation lay hidden away for hundreds of years until it was discovered once again by a Dutch explorer in the 18th century, and its grand structures carved into the rocks draws travellers from far and wide. Petra is special, sure, however, there is another, similar city that awaits in Saudi Arabia.
The Nabataeans built many cities and settlements around the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, the Mada’in Saleh ruins demonstrate the best of the Nabataeans distinct architectural style. Most of the carved structures at Mada’in Saleh are grand tombs, much like at Petra. The beauty of visiting this site is that its existence remains relatively unknown. As such, you can enjoy visits that are virtually free of other tourists and therefore provide the perfect travel photo opportunities!
2. Get Spiritual at Al Bayad
Despite being a conservative Islamic nation, Saudi Arabia is home to religious sites that will interest people of all religious backgrounds. As an example, Al Bayad is a huge rock that has been split into two. As per descriptions contained within the Bible, it is believed that this is the rock that Moses divided into two.
3. Visit Mount Horeb
On the topic of sites of religious importance, paying a visit to Mount Horeb could make for an interesting stop on your agenda, particularly if you are religious. Mount Horeb is rumoured to be the site where Moses received the ten commandments. There are many aspects of the site that means it correlates perfectly with descriptions set out in the Bible. Unfortunately it is not permitted to climb the mountain, and it is actually guarded by Saudi Police, however, it is an interesting place to cross off one’s bucket list nonetheless.
4. Tread the Ancient Pathways of Al Ula
Dating back over 2,000 years, Al Ula is a unique Arabian ghost town comprised of buildings made of stone and mud. Navigating through the narrow alleyways in Al Ula and peering inside the ramshackle, traditional housing is like being transported back in time. The town also holds religious significance for Muslims, since it is believed that the Prophet Mohammed passed through here. The town existed on the old incense road and was once an important resting point for traders.
5. Practice Your Haggling Skills at Arabian Souks
Saudi souks are a great place to pick up unique, one-of-a-kind souvenirs. The stalls are filled with everything imaginable – from fragrant herbs and spices to rich tapestries and carpets. Since Saudi Arabia has only recently opened its borders to the prospect of increasing international tourism, you can rest assured that the markets here are authentic and there will be a minimal hassle from touts trying to sell you their tourist tat.
For the creme de la crème of Saudi markets, head to the Souq Al Alawi in Jeddah.
6. Travel to the Jebel Khuraibah
The Kebel Khuraibah is situated extremely close to Al’Ula making it easy for the two sites to be tied in together as part of one day’s itinerary. The unusual structure, carved into the face of a mountain was part of the former ancient kingdom of Lihyan. Here, tombs are carved into ancient rocks. Unusual, lion-headed statues stand guarding the ruins that crumble down around them.
7. Visit the Qasr-al-Farid
Often referred to as “the lonely castle”, the Qasr Al Farid is a Nabataean ruin with a difference. The construction of the castle was never completed. More than likely, it was intended to become a grand structure, much like the Nabataean settlements of Petra and Mada’in Saleh. What was built of the castle is carved into a giant boulder but the fact that it was never finished gives the castle an eerie presence.
8. Sample Saudi Delicacies at the Najd Village
One excellent way to get an insight into a country’s culture is through the local cuisine. The Najd Village in Riyadh is the perfect place to experiment with that. It is a restaurant complex where traditional Saudi dishes are served with a contemporary twist. The unique thing about the Najd Village is the fact that it is designed like a traditional Saudi village. Many travellers are interested about local life when they go overseas, but the reality is that their schedule often doesn’t permit them the time to venture off the beaten track from the major cities and into the smaller towns and villages. As such, Najd Village is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Riyadh.
9. Marvel at the Al Warbah Crater
Situated 254 km from Taif, the Al Warbah Crater is a peculiar natural wonder. The crater is located in the middle of an otherwise nondescript desert. While the desert is barren and arid, plants and trees grow along the edges of the crater. That isn’t the most interesting part though. The most unusual thing about the Al Warbah Crater is the natural salt flats in the middle. Many people travel here to marvel at the natural phenomenon and so what was once an isolated site is now a popular Saudi tourist attraction, with restaurants, hotels and cafes along the banks.
10. Visit Dhee Ayn Marble Village
Nestled in the heart of the Bidah Valley awaits the picturesque, marble village of Dhee Ayn. Here, dark slate houses are built atop a white marble hill, making for a stark contrast. The fact that the village is surrounded by lush greenery makes the scene even more dramatic. The village is over 400 years old, however, it has laid in abandon over the past few decades. The derelict houses present a somewhat eerie feel to the experience of exploring Dhee Ayn.