A Local’s Guide to Saudi Arabia’s Top 10 Attractions
By Sarah Alblowi
Deeply religious and conservative Saudi Arabia has always been a spiritual destination for visitors. Although we’re very proud and connected with the holy land, visiting for religious tourism isn’t all that the kingdom has to offer. Therefore, as a Saudi, I took it amongst myself to educate and enlighten people on the beauty and diversity around every corner of my land.
Al ‘Ula Desert
The ‘desert’ is now a platform for international musicians and hot air balloon festivals. Now more than ever, Al ‘Ula is booming and it’s becoming a hot spot for parties and hangouts where people pimp their Instagram feed. We love how the smooth desert, a part of Saudi’s identity, is being embraced and treasured.
My lively hometown, unlike Riyadh, Jeddah is super laidback. Home to the world’s highest flag and fountain, the local scene is very active and entertaining. One thing we as locals adore, is Al-Balad, which is old Jeddah where people go for events and revisit historical sites. The busy streets are crowded with mini markets, food stands, and friendly people. Locals will greet you with a smile and free tours.
Ironically, sandy Saudi is home to the best dividing spots off the coast of the Red Sea. Outside Jazan, the white sand beaches have a community and facility contributing to year-round visitors. Large sharks, dolphins, coral reefs, and endangered dugong is what keeps people coming back for deep-water dives in the blazing weathers.
Not far from Al ‘Ula, is the most iconic historical site in the kingdom. It’s thousands of years old and since 2008, it’s been added as a heritage site. The iconic palaces stand alone in enormous rocks. You can enter the few meters-long caves and take a closer look at the details of the designs.
The ‘Empty Quarter’, is anything but empty! The fine soft sands are a go-to for drifting and wild desert activities. Get your four wheelers and motors running for Saudi style drifting.
Edge of the World, Riyadh
Mille-feuille-like layers of this breathtaking site over a hanging cliff gives you a birds-eye view of the desert. The outdated archaeological site is the Saudi version of Jordan’s famous Petra. A great hiking spot and not very far from the capital.
The capital, located in the heart of the country and home to the kingdom’s center, is an urban luxury city of how Saudis really live. In the homey city, off Olaya street, you’ll find luxury hotels and skyscrapers. The quiet destination is home to the national museum of Saudi Arabia, shopping malls, and divine food.
Ushaiqer Heritage Village
For those interested in history and culture, meet the Saudi cowboys! This little town is an ancient treasure full of nik-naks of how previous generations lived. Aged Arabic coffee pots, metal fans, and engraved walls in the miniature houses our ancestors survived in. The site is simply an open-air museum taking you back in time.
Understandably, Mecca is the first attraction, but many people neglect the beauty of Medina. The quiet city is a major Islamic site featuring Al-Masjid A-Nabawi, which is one of the largest mosques in the world. The green domes hold deep religious context from Prophet Muhammed’s days and are all over a feel-good place.