Updated: Mar 20
Muslims around the world call it the 'Holy Land', but it’s rarely seen in travel advisories. A land rich in culture, with destinations that are underrated and mostly unheard of by those living outside of the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is one of the most unique countries in the Middle East. Until the recent past, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia didn't quite encourage International Tourism. Although travellers other than pilgrims were allowed to visit, many tourists evaded on purpose due to the rules imposed by the Saudi authorities. But now, Saudi Arabia is ready to invite guests and narrate its fascinating story to the world. From the sunny Tiran Island to the historic Mount Uhud, tourists are allowed to experience the gems of Saudi just as any local could. Here are the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia.
Al Tayebat International City
The holiest location for all Muslims living across the world, Kaaba, also known as al-Kaʿbah al- Musharrafah is a shrine towards which all Muslims turn to when praying to the Almighty. Located within the Grand Mosque of Mecca, more than two million pilgrims visit this treasured place in a year. The famed Black Stone is found on the eastern side of the Kaaba. According to beliefs, this stone dates back more than a millennium. Muslims believe that it’s tainted with sins hence its impure colour. The direction of the Kaaba – known as Qibla – must be respected even if they’re living miles away in a different country. Unfortunately, as per Saudi authorities and guidelines, only Muslims can enter the city of Mecca and – of course –
King Fahd’s Fountain
Also known as the Jeddah Fountain, located in the coastal city of Jeddah, King Fahd’s Mountain is a unique attraction and landmark that one must witness on their journey to the Kingdom. Established in the '80s this fountain was a donation by the late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Being a country surrounded by deserts, owning an enormous water fountain of its kind in the world is simply intriguing. It is 312 meters high and shoots plumes of saltwater at a speed of 350 kph. Locals advise visiting after dark as the view of it against the deep horizon looks so magnifying. Travellers visiting Jeddah, must visit the fountain. It’s undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia.
Most commonly known as Hegra, the Mada’in Saleh historic monument is believed to be built by King Aretas IV Philopatris back in the 4th Century BC. Resembling Petra of Jordan, this Nabataean City is located in the Medina region and is one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia if you’re a history admirer. The history of Hegra is raveled with many religious beliefs. The stories tell how some civilizations met their demise with idol-worshipping practices. In 2008, Mada’in Saleh - Hegra - becomes Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The great mosque which encloses the holy Kaaba is known as Masjid al-Haram. During Umrah and Hajj Pilgrimage, millions of devotees arrive from across the world to this grand mosque. Initially constructed by Ottomans, most parts of the Masjid al-Haram are renovated and modernized over the decades. Although a new interior was installed, 16th-century architecture remains in certain parts of the mosque. With the religious police on duty, those entering Mecca and Masjid al-Haram must obey all imposed rules and regulations.
The United Arab Emirates – more specifically, Dubai – in the Middle East has many expeditions for tourists, so does Saudi Arabia. Located in the Arabian Peninsula, Tiran Strait in the Red Sea is a lesser-known yet wonderful location for snorkeling, diving, and water activities during summer. One of the most famous activities for travellers here in Tiran Island is the boat cruise. Although the Island is taken up by the military, the surrounding waters offer a blissful experience for travellers and marine adventure enthusiasts. According to Biblical references, some say that the Strait of Tiran was where the Red Sea parted. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia.
Al Masmak Fortress
The bewitching Masmak Fortress in the old city of Riyadh is one of the most famous Tourist locations in Saudi Arabia. Built over 150 years ago, this clay citadel is equally large to a modern-day skyscraper with a sky bridge. The name Al Masmak means Strong and Thick in Arabic, which is quite relatable. From being a garrison house and a prison to now – a Museum which narrates the unheard stories of Saudi’s recent history of raids and sieges, Al Masmak Fortress is a remarkable historic location. Visitors are shown a short documentary of the historical incidents of King Abdul-Aziz’s capture of the fortress. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia.
The center part of King Abdul-Aziz’s Historic centre, the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, is located in the Capital city of Riyadh. The Museum has a collection of cultural, archaeological, and historical significance within its premises. Visitors are given an insight into the history of the Arabian Peninsula and how Islam was dispersed within the regions. Besides, the Museum also offers modern education and geographical knowledge to visitors. Over the past decades, the National Museum of Riyadh has grown to be a major tourist attraction, with its values continuously contributing to the country’s tourism in many ways.
Generally referred to as the ‘Jewel of the Red Sea’, Farasan Islands consists of 84 Little Islands scattered across the bedazzling Red Sea in the Jizan Province. What’s special about these Islands is that they are made of coral reefs. Away from Saudi’s famous deserts and dunes, Farasan Islands offers something more delicate and pristine for travellers looking forward to a beach vacation. The first inhabitants of these islands were the Sabeans. These people said to have lived over a millennia ago. Over time other inhabitants such as Romans, Turkish, Aksumites, and Germans left types of inscriptions as evidence on these islands. Today the islands have become a wholesome destination that offers relaxation, a marine experience, and tells a fascinating tale worth any traveller’s attention.
Abraj Al-Bait Tower
With tourism now on the pedestal, the country is seeing a thriving future for itself. But, back then, tourist visas were largely assessed. It was mostly those on Umrah and Hajj pilgrimage who travelled to Saudi Arabia, and the experience catered mainly to them. Located in Mecca, the Abraj Al-Bait Tower is an enormous seven-skyscraper hotel complex. It comprises the Safa tower, Marwah tower, Qibla tower, Maqam tower, Hajar tower, Zam Zam Tower, and the Royal Clock tower which stands boldly and elegantly overlooking the Kaaba and the rest of the city. Mecca Royal Clock tower is also known to have the biggest clock face in the world.
Located on the East of the Persian Gulf of Saudi Arabia, Al Jubail is an industrial port city situated close to King Abdul-Aziz Naval Base. Before being an Industrial city, Jubail was known for fishing and pearling. Being strategically close to major oil fields in the country, the industrial city developed at a staggering rate with foreign construction companies and investors pumping through; Al Jubail houses the world’s fourth-largest petrochemical company. Today several areas maintain the quaint fishing-village outlook. Although it’s a one-of-a-kind sighting, it wouldn’t be as pleasant as a tourist would expect it to be.
Al-Masjid an Nabawi
Famously known as the Prophet’s mosque, Al-Haram or Al Haram Al Nabawi is an iconic mosque for Muslims around the world. It was built by Prophet Muhammed – the last Prophet according to Islam - hence how the name derived. Located in the Medina Province of Saudi Arabia, the Prophet’s mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and it used to be a community centre and a religious school back in the day of the Prophet. The most significant attribute of this mosque is the Green Dome, under which the Prophet’s tomb rests. The current dome was built by the Ottomans in the 1800s. Although it’s one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the Nabawi mosque.
A famous battleground in Islamic history, Mount Uhud in the Medina region is a location where one of the most notable battles took place between the Muslims and Pagans. It is said that the Prophet Muhammed himself took part in the cavalry and was hurt. Mount Uhud is 1,077 meters in height and harbors Maharis that are cavities that bag water throughout the year. Hiking up the mountain is a renowned tourist activity in Saudi Arabia and its history even more famed. There’s no perfect time to climb Mount Uhud as the weather rarely disturbs travellers.
Al Tayebat International City
Located in Jeddah, Al Tayebat International City of science and knowledge is one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia. The museum at Al Tayebat is a city within a city that encompasses an area of 10,000 square meters with 12 buildings. Each of these houses exhibits interior and manuscripts belonging to the Saudi Arabian heritage, International heritage, public heritage, and Islamic heritage. Visitors might not be able to complete exploring the Al Tayebat International City in one day, but it is worth it. Those who are interested in learning the nitty-gritty of Middle Eastern culture must visit the
Al Tayebat International City.
Red Sea Mall
Located on the western side of King Abdul-Aziz Road, the Red Sea Mall is one of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia. For those looking for a high-end exclusive shopping experience, this is the place. Its Jeddah city’s largest mall and the only mall which is connected to a five-star hotel. The mall area comprises of a total 242,400 square meters. Red Sea Mall is said to attract about 17 million visitors every year. With a variety of offerings on products ranging from women’s wear and restaurants to accessories and telecom services, the Red Sea mall surely lives up to its informal slogan ‘shop till you drop’.
The sixth-largest city of Saudi Arabia, Dammam is located in the Eastern Province by the coast. A couple of decades back, Dammam was just a fishing village, but today it’s a flourishing city with ample green parks, fine-dine restaurants, seaside alleys, and shopping malls. Few of the best places to visit in Dammam are the half moon bay, King Fahd’s Park, Al-Marjan Island, the heritage village, and the Corniche that begins from Aziziah Beach and goes on till Tarot Island. Travellers who love history and ancient fortresses must-visit Tarout Castle, which is located in the East of Al Qatif. The original builders of this 16th-century castle is yet a mystery. Was it the Portuguese or the Arabs?
A monument of the modern-day, Al Faisaliah center in the business city, Riyadh is an ideal tourist attraction to visit during winter vacations. With a height of 267 meters, the Al-Faisaliyah center has a total of 30 floors. The distinctive architecture is built around the city’s requirements whilst maintaining a response to the Middle Eastern climate. ‘Globe’ - its fancy dine-in restaurant, offers an array of continental flavours for visitors as they enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole city below them.
Skyscrapers of the Kingdom
Even if we could point out, the list would go on. Saudi Arabia – like other Middle Eastern countries, is well renowned for its massive skyscrapers that conquer the skies. As we list down the top towers according to the descending order, Capital Market Authority Tower aces the list of becoming the highest skyscraper in the country. Secondly, the KAFD World Trade Center, Center Point, Abraj Al-Bait Tower, Pullman Tower, Al-Fasaliyah Tower, Tamkeen Tower, and lastly the iconic Majdoul tower – the twisted skyscraper, fills in the rest of the list.