Saudi Arabia is the largest of the GCC nations, stretching from the waters of the Red Sea, overlooking Egypt, to the Arabian Gulf, bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Jordan, Israel, Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain. Little do many know, but Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of modern Arabia, and today is one of the world’s most culturally rich and undiscovered destinations. The country’s topography is impressively varied, from desert and mountains to beaches and increasingly vibrant cities, and because of this, there are countless incredible things to do in Saudi Arabia.
Since opening to tourism in 2019 and the announcement of Vision 2030 – the Kingdom’s ambitious goal to build a thriving economy and cosmopolitan society, largely through tourism – Saudi has opened countless new hotels and restaurants and developed curated tourist experiences and packages while restoring its ancient cultural sites, including the ancient Nabatean tombs of Hegra in AlUla and At-Turaif, the birthplace of Saudi, in Diriyah and the old town of Al Balad in Jeddah. Here are 9 incredible things to do in Saudi Arabia.
Visit its holy and historic cities
Saudi Arabia is home to two of the most holy and historic cities in the world: Madinah and Makkah. The former is open to all faiths and the second holiest city in Island. Sitting in the west of the country, it boasts a beautiful and diverse landscape, carpeted in date farms and with coastal plains, volcanic plateaus, mountains and valleys. The city is intrinsically linked with the life of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and witnessed first-hand the birth of Islam, and plenty of cultural sights, gardens and entertainment destinations. As the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the cradle of Islam, Makkah is open to Muslims only, located between two valleys and home to majestic sights like the city’s grand Masjid al-Haram (holy mosque) dating back to the 7th century and the Ka’bah, the cloth-covered cubic structure and Islam’s most sacred shrine. The city also has some great hotels, including the shiny new Jabal Omar Makkah.
Be astounded by the views from The Edge of the World
Travel around 90 minutes outside the capital Riyadh, and you’ll find one of the country’s most breathtaking natural wonders, Jebel Fiharyn, or The Edge of the World, as it’s aptly called. The cliff ridge forms part of the vast Tuqaiq cliffs, stretching 600km through Saudi Arabia and is a spellbinding spot to watch the sunset over the ancient valet. These dramatic views have turned The Edge of the World into one of Riyadh’s most popular tourist spots.
Deep dive in Yanbu
Located on the Red Sea coast, Yanbu is a charming port city garnering attention for its spectacular diving spots and unspoilt coastline, not to mention its new status as a cruise port for international liners and the upcoming Cruise Saudi. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Red Sea’, Yanbu is a hive of activity beneath the waves and has some of the most stunning spots in the country. Divers will easily find coral blooms, schools of barracuda, sharks, red snapper, squirrelfish, Dogtooth, Bigeye and Bonito, along with coming close to the eerie remains of several shipwrecks, including a Chinese tugboat sunk in World War II – now entirely covered by soft and hard coral.
Discover the birthplace of Arabia
One of Saudi’s most impressive and authentic giga developments is the revitalisation and development of the historical Diriyah area, located north of Riyadh and the birthplace of Saudi Arabia and the House of Saud. The historical centre is the UNESCO-listed At-Turaif, founded in the 15th century and Al Saud’s original seat of power. Today, it contains mud brick houses connected by winding narrow alleyways, with the $50 billion development enabling people to walk through the ruins and experience museums, exhibitions, retail and dining, along with luxury new hotels (including two Aman properties). Diriyah’s long-anticipated dining destination Bujari Terrace opened its doors and has 20 fantastic outlets, from homegrown, traditional Saudi brands and farm-to-fork eateries to Michelin-starred names like Hakkasan.
See the snowfall in Tabuk
When one thinks of Saudi Arabia and Arabia as a whole, snow isn’t the first, or probably 10th, thing that comes to mind. However, Saudi’s northern region of Tabuk experiences col winders where its mountain ranges are blanked in white powdery snow. One experience is camping in this almost surreal environment, in traditional Arabic tents with activities like sledging, sandboarding and stargazing. These mountains will soon play host to the Middle East’s largest outdoor ski resort, Trojena, part of the Neom Giga project and set to open in 2026.
Discover the island archipelago of Umluj
Saudi’s magnificent, extensive coastline is largely unexplored and untouched and is home to palm-strewn golden sands, cerulean waters and plenty of spots for diving and swimming. One town, in particular, is known for its outstanding natural beauty, the small coastal settlement of Umluj, which visitors frequently refer to as the Maldives of Saudi Arabia. North of the town are 100 small islands with ancient palm trees and soft white sands, ideal for a boat trip and a day enjoying this spectacular coast.
Hike the scenic trails in Al Soudah
Hiking is a popular pursuit for travellers to Saudi, thanks to its rugged, mountainous terrain and fascinating heritage trails that pepper the desert and coastline. At 3,000 metres, the juniper-covered Al Soudah is the unofficial outdoor adventure capital of the Kingdom, part of the Asir National Park and with a network of spectacular hiking routes for all levels. The mountain range is notably coolers than the rest of the country, and the fresh mountain air, wild nature, and beautiful valleys cloaked in the mist are unmissable for nature lovers.
Cruise along the Red Sea
Cruise is an essential part of Saudi Vision 2030, with the launch of Cruise Saudi and the development of cruise ports along its beautiful Red Sea Coast. MSC Cruises ship MSC Magnifica was the first cruise ship to add Saudi ports of call to its itineraries and operates Red Sea cruisers around the coastline combined with other Middle East destinations like Jordan. Top spits include Yanbu for diving, Al Wajh (the gateway to UNESCO World Heritage Site Hegra and AlUla) and the vibrant port city of Jeddah.
Travel back in time to AlUla
Social media travellers will undoubtedly have laid eyes on AlUla at some point, Saudi’s magical, ancient valley that’s the world’s largest living museum. AlUla is like a film set, located in the northwestern reaches, home to Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site – Hegra – and Old Town, desert valleys, and ruins and tombs from the numerous civilisations that passed through the valley’s tawny expanses. Two new luxury resorts have opened here, Habitas AlUla and Banyan Tree AlUla, and a handful of authentic boutique properties are set to launch this year, offering something for every traveller, from adventure and history lovers to those in search of wellness and gastronomy.