Top 10 tourist sites in Saudi Arabia

Farasan Islands.
Updated 30 December 2016

Top 10 tourist sites in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is as diverse in its landscapes as it is in its culture and traditions, from desert fortresses and mountain ranges to magnificent fish and coral reefs. Here are some of the sites and regions that are most popular among domestic, regional and international tourists.
Al-Soudah mountains near Abha are home to the Rijal Al-Ma’a mud brick village, located above the clouds. The beautiful buildings are accentuated with gleaming white quartz and colorful paint. It is a major destination for nature-lovers. Many structures in the village were preserved and restored by the local community, including the 400-year-old Al-Alwan Fortress, a source of pride for the community. Who would not want to ride a cable car, watching picturesque valleys and meadows as you head to a village within the clouds?
Wahba Crater, to the south of Madinah, is one of the most visited sites. It was once thought to have been formed by a meteorite, but geologists found it to be the result of a collapsed volcanic cavity. The crater is accessible to the public. Climbers can climb down to the white phosphate crystal bottom and get a sense of wonder from the surreal and alien landscape.
Al-Qara Mountain of Al-Hofuf, with its famous lime caves, provides the illusion of a castle in the rocks. The area was once an island where centuries of wind and waves have shaped the winding pathways, towering boulders and hidden caves.
Qassim is home to the longest valley in the Arabian Peninsula, stretching approximately 600 km across the desert. It contains more than 8 million palm trees, considered to be the largest date farmland in the world. It hosts the annual date festival between July and October, offering more than 30 types of local dates — a must-visit for those with a sweet tooth.
The Arar region is best known for its historical and archaeological sites that date back to the pre-Islamic era. Many valleys are home to fertile, wild vegetation. Famous ruins include Dukrah Palace and the old archaeological site of Lainah.
Approximately 100 km outside Riyadh, Rawdat Khuraim, also called the King’s Forest, is a great getaway from the busy capital. This desert area is spectacular during winter and spring, where patches of green oasis appear after rainfall. The King’s Forest was named after the late founder, who spent his spring retreats there. The late King Abdullah inaugurated the area as a wildlife park and sanctuary.
Abha is home of the Green Mountain and is one of the top tourist destinations during summer due to its mild weather and lush greenery. It is 2,200 meters above the Red Sea, making the weather pleasant all year round. One of the best areas is the Abha Lake Dam, with a 300,000-square-meter garden, juniper forests, and lush flora and fauna making their way from stone boulders. Many sports activities are arranged by tourist groups in the region. Abha is a gateway to the famous Rijal Al-Ma’a village, which is accessible by cable car.
Najran has to be one of the most colorful sites in the Kingdom. The area is home to one of the richest and most diverse cultures, dating back hundreds of years, with many treasures uncovered and well-preserved by locals and the government of Najran Province. Their clay houses are scattered on clifftops, with distinct white lines painted across the structures surrounded by acres of green forests and farmland. The people of Najran are considered to be some of the friendliest and richly dressed, adorned with marigold, jasmine and fresh herb crowns as part of their cultural dress.
Al-Ula is one of the oldest known towns in the Arabian Peninsula, and home to ancient civilizations such as the Dedan and Lihyan. The town was founded in 600BCE in a valley with a magnificent view of nearby snow-capped mountains and palm groves surrounded by red-sandstone cliffs. Nearby lie the great Nabatean tombs of Mada’in Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was home to great civilizations such as the Thamudis, Lihyan, Dedan and the Roman Empire. The well-preserved archaeological sites still contain many distinct inscriptions and tombstones written in ancient Nabatean scripts, which historians believe was an old form of the Arabic alphabet. Look up at the clear skies and explore the wonders of the stars.
Farasan Islands, in the southwest of the Kingdom, is an archipelago of 84 coral islands that look like a coral from space. They are reachable via ferry from Jazan port. The islands are considered to be a marine sanctuary, with fantastic visibility and an abundance of marine life as well as mangroves, to which one can venture out on water excursions. It is also a great spot for birdwatching.

Saudi Arabia looks to the future — by stepping 5,000 years into the past

Updated 7 min 57 sec ago

Saudi Arabia looks to the future — by stepping 5,000 years into the past

  • Kingdom developing tourism sector as part of economic diversification strategy
  • Vision 2030 foresees 1.2 million new tourist jobs by 2030

LONDON: It is the leading global event for Middle Eastern tourism and it opens on Sunday in Dubai. The Arabian Travel Market attracts the big players of the industry and the wannabes. It showcases 2,800 products to more than 28,000 potential buyers and generates deals worth more than $2.5 billion.

No wonder the world wants to be there, from spas to safaris, from Armenia to Zanzibar and all points between in both the globe and the alphabet.

But this year, one destination is set to attract more attention than any other: Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom’s tourism industry has hitherto centered primarily on the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah; last year’s Hajj attracted around 2.35 million pilgrims, with about 1.75 million of those coming from abroad.

When it comes to non-religious tourism however, it is in the unique position of creating that industry more or less from scratch, which is an enviable place to be.

“It means we are able to learn from the mistakes of others and we can take the best from everywhere,” said Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasure house and home to the Unesco-listed Madain Saleh.

“And we are determined to offer the best in every way,” he added.

Al-Madani recently returned from presenting the plans for Al-Ula at a high-profile gala at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, an occasion that coincided with the visit of Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the driving force behind Vision2030, the ambitious program designed to revamp not only the national economy but Saudi society as a whole.

Once regarded as practically off-limits to visitors and particularly Westerners (although that was never true), Saudi Arabia is throwing open the gates, as part of plans to diversify its economy and create jobs for its citizens.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development plan, designed to create new revenue streams to lower its reliance on oil, envisages the creation of 1.2 million new jobs in the tourism sector by 2030.

Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority in February said it planned to invest $64 billion in its entertainment sector in the coming 10 years. This investment will include the development of a countrywide network of cinemas, following the lifting of a ban last year.

As well as opening up the 5,000-year-old wonders of Al-Ula, there are plans to develop 34,000 square kilometers of Red Sea coastline and 50 outlying islands into luxury beach resorts.

The scheme has already attracted Sir Richard Branson, founder and boss of the Virgin Group, as its first international investor. He is involved in developing the islands — which he described as “breathtakingly beautiful” — as luxury destinations, and has also visited Madain Saleh.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there is inothing like getting a first-hand impression,” he said after his visit.

He praised the Crown Prince for his vision, telling Arab News, “If you want to succeed you should have an idea and a plan to implement it and just do it. He is doing that and his heart is in the right place.”

Though he is overseeing the development of the Al-Ula sites, Amr Al-Madani said one plan was to offer two-center holidays: “Some days exploring the archaeology and the nature in Al-Ula and then a few days relaxing at the beach,” he said.

As well as unspoilt beaches, the Red Sea coast also enjoys the best climate in Saudi Arabia with pleasant sea breezes offsetting the heat.

The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs.

The Royal Commission has already recruited the first 200 future employees who will work in Al-Ula. The group — half boys, half girls — are all high school-leavers or university students from the region. They have already begun three months of training in Riyadh, learning languages and undergoing assessment by psychologists and careers advisers and will later be dispatched to several locations in Britain and the US to continue learning.

Al-Madani said Al-Ula should be ready to receive its first tourists in three to five years, eventually accommodating a million to 1.5 million a year.