Planning a vacation to Saudi Arabia? With the recent issuance of travel visas for several countries, folks aspiring to visit ancient cities with internationally acclaimed sanctuaries will find this Western Asian nation an ideal holiday destination. Saudi Arabia has been a center of pilgrimage for many years. Known as the birthplace of Islam, the country is home to the religion’s most sanctified mosques: Masjid an-Nabawi and Masjid al-Haram, but that's hardly the limit of things to see in this historic region.
Mada’in Saleh was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, the first site in the whole of Saudi Arabia to receive this recognition. The city was the second-largest of the Nabataeans before their empire was conquered and absorbed by the Romans in 106 AD. However, most of what they built survived and is still well-preserved. Visitors experience one of the true wonders of the world; the site’s ruins comprise over 130 tombs, ancient sandstone mountains, giant boulders, and small, pre-Islamic altars.
Masmak Fortress is one of the most historically important sites in Saudi Arabia. Believed to have played a vital role in the recapturing of Riyadh City in 1902 by an exiled Saudi royal, Ibn Saud, the fortress went on to become the base where various realms united to form what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The fortress is now a museum that delivers a sneak peek into the history of Riyadh and the Saudi Kingdom. The fort's architecture is a sight to behold, and the well-preserved artifacts inside the building tell the story of Ibn Saud’s conquests and quest to unite the region.
Want to see forever? Drive off to Jebel Fihrayn — only half an hour from Riyadh city. The natural rock formation is one of the most popular attractions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Tourists enjoy the majestic, picturesque views of sandy flatlands spanning as far as the eye can see, hence the moniker "Edge of the World." Hikers and campers can take a tour of the area, and selfie lovers will take delight in the striking sunrise and sunset views.
You may be forgiven to think that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is mostly desert, but the desert and semi-arid biomes are home to some of the best beaches and diving locations in the Middle East, including the Ann Ann shipwreck in Jeddah, Jabal Al Lith, and the Farasan Banks. The nation’s coastal waters provide visitors with the perfect cooling spot after some playtime in the sand dunes. You can also take the time to explore the ocean’s beautiful coral reefs and marine life.
A trip to a desert country isn’t complete without a visit to one of its major oases. The Al Ahsa Oasis is one of the largest in the world, scattered with serene palm trees and lush vegetation. Therapeutic hot and cold springs make Al Ahsa a choice destination, whatever your goals, and contribute to its station as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region is one of the oldest settlements on the Arabian Peninsula, with plenty to do. Join trips to the salt marshes of Asfar Lake, where thousands of beautiful birds reside, or visit the honeycomb caves of Al-Qarah Mountain. Don’t miss a chance to taste the region’s famous khalasah dates or tour the date-producing farms.
For spectacular views of Saudi’s capital from above, schedule a visit to the Sky Bridge observation deck at the Kingdom Center. The fifth tallest building in Saudi Arabia and standing at about 300 meters above ground, the Kingdom Tower provides panoramic views of Riyadh city. The iconic landmark is shaped like a bottle opener and has a bustling mall at the base, packed with world-class shopping. Night views take the cake, as you can gaze down upon the whole city glowing in stunning lights.
If you’re an arts and culture enthusiast, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture has plenty to offer. The hub is a modern celebration of art, culture, science, literature, and innovation. Its design is a sight to behold, and its architecture draws from the Kingdom’s history and tries to symbolize its future. Absorb a ton at the knowledge center and comprehensive archives, then visit the cinema, theatre, and museums.
Go further down history lane with a visit to the old city of Jeddah. Considering many of the coral stone buildings are 700 years old, you’ll be astonished that most are still in great shape. Locals still reside in the buildings, many of which have undergone only minor restoration since construction. Life here moves slowly, in high contrast with the new Jeddah City, just a few miles away.
Al-Masjid Al Harim and Masjid an-Nabawi are likely on many tourists must-see list, but there’s a catch: you have to be Muslim to enter these holy places. The mosques stand alone globally as the only two that can accommodate a million people at a time, and they hold deep significance for Muslims all over the World. Al-Masjid Al Harim hosts the Holy Kaaba, covered in black and gold cloth, the holiest structure of all Islam. Masjid an-Nabawi is also known as the Prophet’s Mosque; it is said to have been built by Muhammad and serves as his final resting place.
End your tour of Saudi Arabia with a visit to the world’s tallest fountain, King Fahd’s Fountain in Jeddah. The water feature shoots saltwater sky-high, with various accounts promising the highest streams reach 850 or 1000 feet high. The best time to visit is in the evening and into the night when the fountain is lit by more than 500 spotlights.