Until recently, Saudi Arabia remained largely off the tourist radar, unfamiliar to many potential travelers. However, the landscape is rapidly changing, with the country reporting a remarkable 56% increase in international arrivals in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, as reported by the UNWTO.
To guide curious travelers, we turned to those who know Saudi Arabia best – regular visitors and locals, including celebrities and professionals from various fields. Here’s their collective recommendation on some of the must-visit places in this emerging tourist destination:
AlUla, often described as a living museum, is renowned for its historic dwellings dating back millennia, striking rock formations, and breathtaking scenery. Saudi television presenter and Netflix reality show star, Lojain Omran, describes AlUla as a truly magical destination, emphasizing its unparalleled peace and seclusion. She recommends staying at the luxurious Banyan Tree AlUla for a perfect blend of luxury and tranquility.
Omran encourages exploring various regions across Saudi Arabia, each offering unique charms in terms of nature, atmosphere, cuisine, customs, and traditions, contributing to a rich cultural experience.
Jeddah’s Old Town
A highlight in Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city is Jeddah’s historic Al Balad district, with its winding alleys and ancient coral stone and wooden buildings. Mai Eldib, a senior vice president for Sotheby’s in the Middle East, praises the preservation efforts in restoring 18th and 19th-century Ottoman houses. She particularly recommends Jeddah’s Angawi House for its vibrant mix of colors, craftsmanship, history, and modernity.
Al Nawras Island
For a tranquil retreat, professional boxer Ziyad Almaayouf suggests Al Nawras Island on the Red Sea coast north of Jeddah. Almaayouf highlights the island’s serene waters and recommends anchoring a yacht just before the island for a heavenly experience.
Stargazing in Unaizah
Saudi aerospace engineer Mishaal Ashemimry expresses awe for the desert sand dunes around Unaizah, a city northwest of Riyadh. She recalls how stargazing in Unaizah as a child inspired her passion for space. Mishaal, now founder and CEO of MISHAAL Aerospace, continues to visit the area, emphasizing her Arab heritage’s intrinsic connection to exploration and knowledge-seeking.
Riyadh’s Souk Al Zal
Singer Tamtam, a cultural icon, praises Riyadh’s historic Souk Al Zal, one of the oldest traditional markets in the city. With over a century of history, the market is known for its incense, oud shops, and daily antiques auction. Tamtam also recommends visiting Masmak Fort, a renovated 19th-century mudbrick fortress.
Diriyah’s UNESCO Heritage Site
Diriyah, the birthplace of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, is undergoing development into a $63 billion cultural and lifestyle center. Hatem Alakeel, founder of Authenticite, views Diriyah as a symbol of unity, beauty, and resilience, offering visitors an authentic experience of Saudi history and culture.
Known as the “Maldives of Saudi Arabia,” Umluj on the Red Sea coast boasts breathtaking beaches, coral reefs, and turquoise waters. Documentarian photographer Tasneem Alsultan describes Umluj as a hidden paradise, offering a serene escape with its pristine beaches and azure waters.
In conclusion, Saudi Arabia, with its diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage, is emerging as a captivating destination, drawing visitors with its unique blend of tradition, generosity, and captivating stories waiting to be discovered.