The proposition that Saudi Arabia is opening up is irresistible. The birthplace and spiritual home of Islam, Saudi Arabia is as rich in attractions as it is in stirring symbolism.
As the world’s largest exporter of oil, Saudi Arabia has had little need to court tourism income and attract tourists not used to such a controlling and conforming moral code. That is beginning to change and officials at the tourism commission say the kingdom is opening up, albeit at its own pace.
Saudi Arabia is undeniably a challenging place to travel – tourist groups require a police escort, alcohol is forbidden and all women are expected to wear the abaya - a long black gown. However treasures await and beyond the sights, there is the cultural divide itself. The Nabatean rock city of Madain Saleh – world-famous Petra's little-known twin sister – heads a long list of ancient and natural attractions. For a fuller list, take a look at some of our ideas below or see our new group tour to Saudi Arabia.
What to expect on your Saudi Arabia holiday
There can be few countries that are so misunderstood as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps no other country is as worthy of a first visit. Although dominated by the rolling sands of the Empty Quarter, in addition you will find beautiful oases and dramatic mountain-tops, ancient cities, beaches and rivers. New hotels are springing up in all the main cities with ever more famous chefs, while excellent restaurants and chic cafes are everywhere.
Long closed to the wider world, Saudi Arabia is slowly starting to allow visitors to explore its wild reaches and cosmopolitan city centres. Travel in Saudi Arabia is still in its infancy though and visiting can be daunting given the cultural rules to adhere to, but there are rich rewards for the intrepid traveller.
Some ideas for a Saudi Arabia holiday
- The carved remains at Medain Saleh are every bit as impressive as Petra and mark the southern end of the Nabatean Empire.
- The coastal Asir mountain range supports a variety of wildlife including baboon, gazelle and leopard.
- On the eastern shore Tarut Island is a picturesque settlement of fishermen and weavers.
- Explore the ornate ruins of Timna and Shiban, ancient cities resting amidst orchards of pomegranates, limes and bananas.
- Hofuf, at the centre of the great Al-Hasa oasis, is the setting for one of the great traditional Saudi camel markets.
Beyond the ordinary
Follow in Wilfred Thesiger’s footsteps across the Empty Quarter.