The 13 best places to visit in Saudi Arabia

 

In the far south west of the country, between Abha and Rijal is a mountain road that makes for one of the best drives in the country. Taking visitors past the Jabal Sawda, one of Saudi Arabia's highest peaks, the road climbs through the rocky mountains in a series of sharp hairpin bends.

13. Abha To Rijal Alma

Built in the early 19th century, in the city of Sakakah in the far northern centre of the country is the Za'abal Castle, sometimes referred to as the Zaabal Fort or Zaabal Palace. Sitting atop a natural rock formation, its position as the highest point in the city allows visitors the best view over Sakakah and the surrounding landscape.

12. Za'abal Castle

 

In the eastern centre of the country, located in the heart of the Tuwaig Escarpment, a large plateau in the centre of the Arabian Peninsula, lies the capital and most populated city in Saudi Arabia, the city of Riyadh. Today, a modern global city of skyscrapers and modern structures, only few remnants of its ancient past exist. Locations of historical importance include the five old gates on the old walls of of Riyadh and four historical palaces, Musmak, Al-Murabba, Muhammad Bin Abdul-Rahman and Shamsiya Palace. Visitors should be aware of the strict dress code for both men and women, and also be aware of local law, as punishment can be swift and severe.

11. Riyadh

 

In the extreme south west of the country close to the border with Yemen, set among incredible mountain scenery is the small abandoned village of Habala, meaning Rope, a name given when the only way to access the village was by climbing a rope from the valley below. A favourite among hikers, this beautiful landscape in a more verdant and cooler part of Saudi Arabia offers visitors some incredibly rugged and picturesque scenery.

10. Habala

 

Covering an area of some 650,000 square kilometres (250,000 square miles) the Rub Al Khali is the largest continuous desert in the world, encompassing southern Saudi Arabia, as well as northern Oman and Yemen. Known as the Empty Quarter, this enormous desert is 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) long and over 500 kilometres (310 miles) wide. With huge sand dunes reaching up to 250 metres (800 ft) high it truly is a land of spectacular scenery.

9. Rub Al Khali

 

Directly west of the capital, Riyadh,​ in the western centre of the country is the religiously significant city of Medina, or Al-Madīnah, meaning Radiant City, the second holiest place in Islam after Mecca. At the heart of the city is the Al-Masjid An-Nabawi, first established in 622 AD, originally built by the Prophet Muhammad, it later became his burial site. The third mosque built in the history of Islam, it is today one of the largest mosques in the world.

The countries hostility to any reverence given to historical or religious places of significance has led Saudi Arabian authorities to destroy much of its physical heritage, including many buildings over 1,000 years old. Despite this, Medina is home to the three oldest mosques in Islam, Quba Mosque, Al-Masjid An-Nabawi and Masjid Al-Qiblatayn. Unfortunately, just as with Mecca, the city centre is closed to anyone considered non-Muslim.

8. Al-Madīnah

 

Running approximately 700 kilometres (435 miles) through Saudi Arabia is the Tuwaig Escarpment, and one of the most scenic parts of this extremely picturesque plateau is known as the Edge Of The World. Massively popular due to its close proximity to the capital, Riyadh, the steep edges of the escarpment allow visitors an endless view, with nothing on the horizon for as far as the eye can see.

7. Edge Of The World

 

In the south west of the country, south from the city of Mecca​ is the mountaintop village of Dhi Ayn, among the most important traditional villages in the region. Dating back some 400 years, the houses were built from polished stones earning it the nickname, Marble Village. It is without doubt the most striking and picturesque village in Saudi Arabia.

6. Dhi Ayn

 

In the east of the country,​ directly east from the city of Mecca on the shores of the Red Sea is the city of Jeddah, the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, at its heart is the Al Balad, or the historic centre. Founded during the 7th century, it was established as a major port for Indian Ocean trade routes and the gateway for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca by sea. Symbolic among Muslims and housing distinctive and historical buildings dating back centuries, though its defensive walls were torn down in the 19th century, the historical core of Jeddah has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5. Al Balad, Jeddah

 

In the north west of the country, in a region close to the border with Jordan and the Gulf Of Aqaba separating Saudi Arabia from Egypt is an area known as Al Desah, the jewel of which is the Al Desah Valley. The landscape is one of giant sandstone structures, mountains, steep cliffs, waterfalls and greenery. With Saudi authorities ready to push tourism to this very picturesque location, it is set to become a very sought after destination.

4. Al Desah Valley

 

In the west of the country,​ in the Harrat Kishb basalt plateau between Medina and Mecca is the Al Wahbah Crater, an ancient volcanic depression in a landscape of ancient volcanic cones. Measuring approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) in diameter, with walls reaching 250 metres (820 ft) deep, the bottom of the crater is covered with a white sodium phosphate crystals, adding to its picturesque qualities. Visitors wanting to trek into the crater should expect to take an hour going in and 1.5 hours to return.

3. Al Wahbah Crater

 

In the far west of the country, slightly inland from the Red Sea is the city of Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad, and the site of Muhammad's first revelation of the Qu'ran, it is regarded to be the holiest city in Islam. At the heart of the city is the Al-Haram Mosque, The Great Mosque Of Mecca, also known as the Forbidden Mosque, Holy Mosque, Sacred Mosque or Grand Mosque Of Makkah, it is the single largest mosque in the world. It contains within it the Kaaba, meaning The Cube, the holiest and most sacred site in Islam, considered by Muslims to be the house of God, its location determines the direction of prayer for all Muslims worldwide. Despite the sites holy status, Mecca has seen huge expansion over recent decades, losing many historical structures and archaeological sites, building instead modern grand hotels. Non Muslims are not allowed to enter the city.

2. Mecca

Located in the north west of the country, to the north of the city of Medina is the archaeological site of Mada'in Saleh, meaning cities of Saleh. Once the Nabatean Kingdom's southernmost and largest settlement after its ancient capital, Petra, modern day Jordan, today it constitutes the largest conserved site of the Nabatean civilization after Petra. Featuring well preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades dating from the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD, it is an absolute jewel of human history. As such, the 111 monumental rock cut tombs from the ancient Nabatean kingdom have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictured is the Qasr Al Farid, the largest tomb at Mada'in Saleh.

1. Mada'in Saleh

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