Discover Saudi Arabia Beyond Mecca & Medina: Red Sea Reefs, Spice Markets & More

Saudi Arabia is fast becoming a popular destination among leisure travellers (apart from the usual religious tourists who go there to visit Mecca and Medina). Now that this Gulf nation has opened its doors to leisure tourism, there is an excitement among travellers looking to explore newer places with distinct cultures and people. Apart from two of the grandest destinations of Islamic worship (Mecca and Medina), which attract millions of pilgrims every year, Saudi Arabia has a myriad of surprises for other types of visitors: from magnificent shopping destinations to dive sites, Saudi Arabia has something for everybody.

A Glimpse Of Saudi Arabia

Aerial view of Saudi Arabia
Aerial view of Saudi Arabia

Even though Saudi Arabia is a desert country, there are 9,900-foot high mountains of the Asir, enchanting reefs of the Red Sea, interesting streets and spice markets of Jeddah, extensive date palms of Al-Hofuf and lots more. Remember to read the dos and don’ts before travelling to this Middle Eastern country. Dressing ultra-conservatively is mandatory here. Below are a few places that you must visit while in Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah

Scuba diving in the Red Sea of Jeddah

Jeddah is a must-visit if you are planning a vacation in Saudi Arabia. This former capital is also a Red Sea trading port and a melting pot of various cultures. The gateway for Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, Jeddah surprisingly has many beach resorts, scuba diving activities, mesmerizing street markets, open-air cafes, and lots more.

Al Ula

Intriguing rock formations in Al Ula

Scattered with golden rock formations in the northwest part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Al Ula is a stunning city. It boasts of lush citrus farms and the ruins of many ancient kingdoms, the most famous of which is Medah’in Saleh, containing 2000 years old Nabatean tomb clusters. The site remains partially open from December to March for travellers who wish to attend the winter festival of Tantora that features various musical, entertainment, and cultural events.

Riyadh

Riyadh at night (PC: lawepw)

The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is a beautiful urban sprawl with many attractions to lure sightseers. From the recently renovated historical site of Diriyah to the bustling traditional market of Souq Al Zal and Taiba, the city offers multiple enchantments. A towering plateau, known as the “Edge of the World”, is a two-hour drive from the city, and a famous hiking destination for visitors and residents. The view from this place is exquisite and the silence is imposing. Rising a whopping 992 feet above the ground, the Kingdom Centre of Riyadh is an iconic symbol of Riyadh that houses everything, from a shopping mall to a residential complex, and even an observatory. The third tallest building in Saudi Arabia offers its visitors both a figurative and literal perspective of Riyadh which is home to 5.2 million people.

Madain Saleh

Mada’in Saleh (PC: Omar A.)

Madain Saleh is a striking combination of outstanding history and gorgeous architecture. The former grandeur and importance of the city are clearly evident in its marvellous ruins of towers, dwellings and walls. An ancient Ottoman railway and the old tombs give visitors a truly ethereal feel. The city dates back to the Nabatean Kingdom, which is similar, both in design and origin, to the recently discovered lost city of Petra.

Asir National Park

Jabal Sawda mountains in Asir National Park (PC: marviikad)

With a relatively cooler climate than the rest of the kingdom, Asir National Park, spread across 4500 sqkm, woos travellers with various picnic spots, campsites and a thriving environment, apart from Hamadryas baboons and splendid birds. The Asir Mountains are also a treat and a must-visit. Jabal Sawdah, the highest mountain in Saudi Arabia, comes under the Asir National Park. Here, you can enjoy many trekking, camping, biking, cablecar rides, and much more.

Saudi Arabia’s Coastline

Tiran Island offers ample snorkelling opportunities in Saudi Arabia (PC: fabian.kron)

Contrary to the popular misconception that Saudi Arabia is a country only with deserts, the Kingdom has a sprawling coastline, both on the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This makes the country a scuba diving and snorkelling paradise. Not only is the shoreline beautiful, but the famous sites like the Boiler wreck also provide you with much-needed solace from the crowd (since scuba diving is not so popular among the Saudis).

Najran

View of the Najran oasis from Al Aan Palace (PC: Charles Roffey)

Situated close to the border with Yemen, Najran is a vibrant city that shares its Saudi Arabian cuisine with that of neighbouring Yemen, resulting in a warm and tantalizing taste of Arabia. The city offers a bouquet of history, architecture and culture, along with a heartfelt welcome to all its visitors.

Al Habala

Habala Valley near Abha, Saudi Arabia (PC: Wajahatmr)

Built by the Khatani tribe to stay safe from the Ottomans some 370 years ago, the unique and mysterious “hanging village” of Al Habala is a place you must visit if you are in Saudi Arabia. Made from local rocks, Al Habala derives its name from a type of rope ladder known as the Habal which used to be the only way to access this series of sandstone houses that stay perched on a ledge of a steep cliff 400 meters above.

Flying to Saudi Arabia with Nesma Airlines

Nesma Airlines (PC: Björn Strey)

One of the popular airlines flying to Saudi Arabian cities, Nesma Airlines came to the fore in June 2010. This Saudi Arabian airline has grown manifold ever since, and currently operates scheduled flights on domestic and international routes. It is headquartered in Jeddah and has three operational hubs, one in Cairo, Egypt (Cairo International Airport) and the other two in Saudi Arabia (King Abdulaziz International Airport and Hail Airport). With a fleet of 10 aircraft, this airline flies to 16 destinations, including Saudi Arabia. Nesma is growing at a steady rate as passengers prefer it for its affordability, hospitality, best in-flight services, and more. Book your flights on Nesma Airlines via Cleartrip (website or app) to save a significant amount.

Have you been to Saudi Arabia?

Got any interesting stories from the Gulf?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for travel updates.

Advertisements

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.