Though previously hidden behind complicated visa requirements and a previously more conservative society, tourists are waking up to Saudi Arabia’s wealth of natural beauty and sprawling cities.
The nation recently opened up to leisure visitors, issuing its first tourism visas in 2019. Travellers have quickly discovered a striking mix of imposing mountain ranges, verdant oases and vast expanses of desert, punctuated by mud brick villages and archaeological or geographical sites ranging from ancient tombs to enormous volcanic craters.
Contrastingly, the capital, Riyadh, is an eclectic fusion of the old and the new, while Jeddah features beautiful coastal areas and a remarkable old town and places such as Diriyah and Al-Ula hark back to the country’s ancient history.
While the country may have previously been among the last frontiers of mass tourism, those who now take the chance explore it will find a rich variety of things to do – and we’ve rounded up some of the best.
Explore the capital
Riyadh is Saudi Arabia’s sprawling capital. Its skyline is populated with soaring skyscrapers, and the 302-metre tall Kingdom Centre is the landmark building, with amazing views available from the 99th-floor Sky Bar and the vast Sky Bridge that runs between its two towers.
Riyadh Boulevard is a 220-acre entertainment complex that is ideal for families, where a selection of shops and restaurants sits alongside tennis courts, indoor ski slopes and the largest cinema in the Middle East. Every winter, the “Riyadh Season” takes place, usually between October and March. It’s a great time to visit to experience a range of the 8,500 events, from winter wonderland theme parks to performances from local artists, musicians and theatre groups.
The Saudi National Museum is a must-see for those who want to discover the captivating history of the kingdom, with eight galleries showcasing around 3,700 artefacts, some dating back to 4,000 BC. To trace back to the city’s roots, visit the Addoho neighbourhood, where palm trees stand alongside traditional Najdi mud houses, or tour the Al Murabba Palace, built by the kingdom’s founder in the 1930s and which showcases some of his personal belongings in several of its opulent rooms.
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