10 Unique and Exciting Places to Explore in Saudi Arabia

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World-class historical sites.  Vibrant Culture.  Amazing sea life.  Desert adventures.

Is this what comes to mind when you think of Saudi Arabia?  If it’s not then it should be.

Saudi Arabia just opened it’s borders to tourists, and right now is the perfect time to visit Saudi Arabia (before it gets too many tourists)!

Here are 10 amazing places that you should visit in Saudi Arabia

Our family was fortunate enough to live as expats in Saudi Arabia for several years.  We definitely had our share of challenges, but the amazing things that we got to see and experience made this the best time of our lives.  Here, I’m going to share with you the very best things to see and do when you visit Saudi Arabia.

On the surface, there may not be much for foreign visitors to do in Saudi Arabia. In fact, if you ask most locals, they won’t have many suggestions for what you can do during your visit (other than shop and go out to eat).  While we lived there, we took full advantage of the opportunity to explore, including 4 major cross-country road trips (Saudi Arabia is about 3 times as big as Texas so getting across the country was no small feat).

There are only a few major cities in Saudi Arabia, so to really see and experience the country, you need to get off the beaten path.

We’ve had some great adventures, and some that were just horrible, but in the end, these are at the top of our MUST DO list for visitors to Saudi Arabia.

If you’re a foreign visitor to Saudi Arabia, make sure to read this article all about how to get a visa AND what you should know before you visit Saudi Arabia.  

1. Snorkel or Dive in the Red Sea

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We’ve gone snorkeling and diving all over the world, and no where else is better than the Red Sea.  What makes diving in the Red Sea so great?  The Red Sea is wonderfully clear, there is an abundance of fish, and there’s almost never anyone there.  Most Saudi’s do not swim, so although the beaches can get very polluted with trash, the reefs are very protected and pristine.

2. Visit the ancient tombs of Mad’ian Saleh.

Located just outside the town of Al Ulah, Mad’ian Saleh is one of the best preserved gems in all of Arabia.  Carved by the Nabateans (the same people who created Petra), these ruins have remained largely untouched for decades.  Unlike Petra where you have to walk a few miles to see the tombs, at Mad’ian Saleh you can drive really close to most of the tombs.

Photo by David Ketcheson

3. Explore the Old Town Jeddah in Al-Balad

Jeddah’s Al-Balad has been remarkably well preserved with it’s ornate doors and intricate windows.  It has an incredible feel to it that will make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.  To fully appreciate this area, a guided tour is your best option.

 

4. Go on a Dune Bashing Desert Safari

Saudi Arabia is largely sand, so instead of avoiding it, you might as well embrace it and head out on a 4×4 dune bashing trip.  As you’re flying up and down the sand dunes, the drive will likely feel part roller coaster and part rugged adventure.  It’s probably the most adrenaline filled activity in all of Saudi Arabia.

5. Attend the Janadriyah Festival in Riyadh

This annual cultural festival in Riyadh is the highlight of any visit to Saudi, as it gives visitors a chance to fully immerse themselves in the Saudi culture.  The festival takes place for two weeks during the winter and is one of the few times when conservative Saudi’s let loose and party!  Sample the foods, enjoy the dances of different regions of Saudi, shop for traditional handicrafts, and even learn about falconry.  This event is not to be missed (and is worth planning your visit around).

 

6. Attend a Camel Race or Camel Beauty Show

Yes, Saudi has camel races (the camels are ridden by robotic monkeys), and even beauty shows for camels.  No, it’s not a joke, but a great tribute to their Bedouin roots.  Just a few generations back, and you’ll find that a Saudi’s wealth was largely determined by how many camels they owned.  Today, with most people dwelling in cities, these camel events attract large crowds, and even some scandals.  In 2018, several camels were removed from the beauty show when judges learned that they had been given botox injections to enhance their lips!  These are things that are unique to Saudi, so don’t miss the camel events!

 

7. Stroll the corniche in Jeddah or Al Kohbar

The corniche is the waterfront area in town and both Jeddah and Al Kohbar have beautiful corniche areas.  These areas come alive later in the day as the sun sinks low in the sky and the temperatures start to cool.  In the evenings you’ll find food vendors, people selling light up toys for the kids, and lots of families out enjoying the area.  If you visit the corniche in Jeddah, make sure to go all the way to the floating mosque for some great photos.

8. Visit the Mountains and Valleys of Tabuk

Tubuk is up in the northwestern side of Saudi Arabia, right next to the Jordanian border.  Here you’ll find massive rock formations, deep canyons, and tall mountains, that are remarkably similar to the Southwestern United States.  Except that there are camels, goats, and Bedouins!  Stay in the town of Tabuk and spend your days hiking and exploring the desert!

9. Stay in a Bedouin Camp

To get a peek at what traditional life in Saudi Arabia was like, there’s no better way than to stay in a Bedouin camp overnight.  Eat like a local on the floor and with your hands, sleep in a canvas tent, learn about traditional cooking and end your night with the best stargazing you’ll ever experience in your life.  My husband and sons went on one a few years ago where they had the option to catch, kill, and cook a goat, and it was one of the coolest experiences that they’ve ever had, and they still talk about it years later!

 

10. Tour the Marble City of Dhee Ayn

Located in Al Bahah province, where you can find hundreds of towers along the roadside and dotting the hills, Dhee Ayn got it’s name from the shiny white marble that it’s built on.  The government is currently restoring the 400 year old city and about half of the city had been renovated at my last visit in 2017.  While you’re in the area, spend some time in the mountains of Al Bahah, as this is one of the few areas of Saudi where you’ll find forests and waterfalls.

Photo by David Ketcheson

 

2 thoughts on “10 Unique and Exciting Places to Explore in Saudi Arabia”

  1. Thank you for this informative post. My only concern is – Do they allow tourists to visit these places on their own (like self drive tour) or do we have to go with an operator? Also do they allow female tourists to drive around in the country?

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