Experience a different Arabia

Visitors seeking unexplored heritage sites, an authentic cultural experience and breath-taking natural beauty this winter will be surprised by the wealth of Saudi Arabia’s offerings as it reopens its doors to travellers from the UAE.

Last month’s border opening announcement comes almost 18 months after international tourism into Saudi Arabia was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here’s a list of top ten activities in Saudi Arabia for the uninitiated:

1. Go on an authentic Arabian food tour: Food is a focal point of travel, especially when you take time to get to know a place through its cuisine. Plan a trip to Saudi Arabia, and your taste buds won’t be disappointed at breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. In Saudi, the culinary scene is diverse, delicious and booming. From delectable gourmet cuisine to fragrant Arabic dishes, there's something to suit every pallet.

2. Shop like a local in Riyadh’s Deira Souq: In many cities around the world, you may find an old market that’s become a staple for locals. In Saudi’s capital city of Riyadh, it’s the Deira Souq. Here you’ll find Egyptian cotton pyjamas, Cambodian incense, Korean speakers, Yemeni honey and Persian carpets.

3. Hike to The Edge of the World: The Edge of the World, or Jebel Fihrayn, is aptly named. Located about a 90-minute drive outside Riyadh, it forms part of the vast Tuwaiq cliffs, which stretch over more than 600km through central Saudi.

4. Explore Taif’s rose gardens: The historic city of Taif is the main exporter of perfumes in the Arab World. Because of Taif’s mild weather, combined with its mountainous topography, the flowers Taif produces have led to a unique perfume scent, known as “Taifi”, or “of Taif origin”. The scent has also been cultivated from roses to make a distinct Taifi perfume fragrance that is considered one of the most exquisite across the world. The byproduct of these flowers is also used to make rosewater and rose oil.

5. Stargazing at Moon Mountain: For those looking to stargaze under get-black night skies or bound over rolling sand banks, a trip to the outskirts of Jeddah should be on the top of their travel list. The combination of otherworldly outcrops, pitted dunes, and the solitude of the sands draws travellers of all stripes.

6. Red Sea diving and snorkelling: Untouched and pristine, the world that lies beneath Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea is the final frontier of diving. Home to more than 1,200 species of fish (20 per cent of which are found only in the Red Sea), Saudi is home to exciting and undiscovered diving destinations for adventure travellers.

7. Exploring Umluj and its islands: Saudi is host to spectacular and largely unexplored beach destinations. Think palm trees swaying in the breeze, golden stretches of sand and tranquil blue waters. Umluj is a small coastal town with islands frequently referred to as the Maldives of Saudi Arabia. North of the town of Umluj, travellers can venture to more than 100 small islands known for their egg-white sands and ancient palm trees.

8. Go back in time in AlUla: AlUla, deep in the desert in Saudi's northwestern region, is home to Saudi’s first Unesco World Heritage site, Hegra. Visitors can experience ancient tombs that remain from 7,000 years of human civilization, stunning natural rock formations and canyons, a plethora of adventure sports options and cutting-edge art installations.

9. Explore Diriyah: Diriyah’s historical centre is the Unesco-listed site of At Turaif, which was founded in the 15th century. It is the original seat of power of Saudi Arabia’s Al Saud family and contains ruins of mud-brick houses connected by narrow alleyways. The site has not been open to the public since it gained its Unesco designation in 2010. The redevelopment of the area will enable people to walk through the ruins as well as the myriad museums and other spaces found inside.

10. Tour Al Balad in historical Jeddah: Jeddah’s Al Balad is famous for its intricately designed houses, built using coral from the depths of the Red Sea and boasting colourful rawasheen balconies, known as mashrabiyyahs. It’s unique architecture, which is still preserved today, is not seen anywhere else in the world and serves as a reminder of what the medieval city’s ancient walls once looked like. Al Balad, otherwise known as Historical Old Jeddah, is listed as a Unesco world heritage site. Its existence may date back to the era before Islam with some of the buildings estimated to be 400 years old.