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Top 10 Beautiful Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia in 2024 

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4 months ago

Since my first visit a few years ago, Saudi Arabia has changed immensely. No more gender segregation, religious police or bans on music. But one thing remains the same: there are an incredible number of beautiful places to visit in Saudi Arabia.

The heart of Arabian civilization begs exploration – mud brick fortresses, Red Sea beaches and some of the grandest sand dunes in the world. Ancient ruins to rival Petra and green lush mountains filled with monkeys.

In my opinion, Saudi Arabia really does have it all. But the secret is slowly slipping out and more travelers are heading to the Kingdom. If I were you, I would make sure you put Saudi Arabia on your 2024 Bucket List.

I should note that the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina offer incredible experiences to visitors but, at present, non-Muslims are not allowed to visit Mecca and Medina as tourists. I have not included them in my top 10 for this reason.

Before you go: Visiting Saudi Arabia

American, British, European and Australian travelers can easily obtain a Saudi e-Visa or Visa on Arrival. For all the details and other helpful planning tips, don’t miss our guide for ‘What to Know Before Visiting Saudi Arabia in 2024‘.

saudi men at the market in hofuf with saudi arabian flag
Locals shopping at the old souq of Hofuf

1. Hegra and Al Ula  

The number one most beautiful place to visit in Saudi Arabia is an easy choice.

Nothing beats the imposing grandeur of Mada’in Salih – one of the most beautiful places to visit in Saudi Arabia.

Al Ula is home to Hegra or Mada’in Salih, a UNESCO World Heritage recognized archaeological site of ancient Nabatean tombs carved into sandstone edifices. Mada’in Salih belongs to the same civilisation as the more-famous Petra, and, yet, unlike Petra, you will likely have this site to yourself!  

Set between the desert and some of the most remarkable rock formations, the guides at Mada’in Saleh shuttle you between the tombs, offering insight into the secrets of Nabatean civilization.  

the rock hewn nabatean tombs of the hegra, al ula saudi arabia
The more rugged rock-hewn Nabatean tombs at the Hegra, Al Ula.

Once you take off your archaeologist’s hat, there are many things to do in Al Ula. For the full Al-Ula tour package, I would recommend spending your days exploring Al Ula Old Town (including the Al Ula museum). After dark, head to the famous Elephant Rock, Al Ula for some after-dark Arabian coffee and shisha. If you’re lucky, there are often Saudi musical performers by Elephant Rock.

the after dark lights of elephant rock, al ula which is one of the most beautiful places to visit in saudi arabia
After dark at Elephant Rock, Al Ula.

Getting to Al-Ula

The easiest way to visit Al-Ula is by flight. Getting from Riyadh or Jeddah to Al-Ula is easy, with direct flights to Al-Ula Airport.

saudi men at the nabatean ruins of Al Ula
These days it is still mainly Saudi tourists at Al Ula!

At the time of writing, new international routes have begun including from Dubai, Amman and Bahrain. More international flights are expected through 2024 – so stay tuned!

Best places to stay in Al-Ula

In my opinion, Al Ula has some of the best hotels in Saudi Arabia. If you are going to splurge anywhere on your trip, I would recommend doing it here.

nabatean doorway with carvings at al ula saudi arabia

For magical Al Ula hotels and Al Ula resorts, I recommend Cloud7 Residence Al Ula, Banyan Tree Al Ula and Diamond.

2. Jeddah’s Al-Balad 

The historic heart of Jeddah is so utterly unique and easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Saudi Arabia.

wooden balconies in the historic quarter of Jeddah - Al Balad
The iconic wooden balconies of Al Balad, Jeddah

Intricate wooden balconies and coral-colored homes offer insight into Jeddah’s history as a trading port and the gateway for pilgrims to Mecca. Wonder the souqs, taste Saudi street food and purchase some Bedouin handicrafts.

Al-Balad is the Arabia of your imagination and the main tourist attraction in Jeddah! It’s no surprise, then, that some great guided tours of Al-Balad have started to appear.

a carved wooden doorway in Jeddah's Al Balad district
A centuries-old doorway guards the entrance to a historic home in Jeddah’s Al Balad district

Getting to Jeddah

Jeddah is one of Saudi Arabia’s primary gateways and you can usually find very affordable flights from major regional hubs like Cairo, Amman and Dubai. If you are coming from Europe, there is a very sneaky travel hack where you can get to Jeddah for as low as €20!

As the gateway to Mecca, you can also usually find direct flights to Jeddah from across the Islamic world. Everywhere from Istanbul to Baku to Marrakech to Jakarta – it couldn’t be easier to get to Jeddah!

saudi man pointing to fish in red sea fish market jeddah
The Jeddah fish market is only a short walk from Al Balad

Best places to stay in Jeddah

Jeddah is a huge city and you’ll want to make sure you are in the best area to stay in Jeddah. I personally love staying in Al Balad, but I know my friends prefer to stay in the modern center of Jeddah closer to the best restaurants and Corniche.

3. Saudi Arabia’s desert

Have you really visited Saudi Arabia if you didn’t fill your sneakers up with sand? The deserts of Saudi Arabia are mesmerizing and if you are planning any overland travel in the Kingdom, you will inevitably stumble across some magnificent dunes. 

sand dunes in desert, Saudi Arabia
Climbing the otherworldly sand dunes of northern Saudi Arabia

Park your car, pull up your socks and climb the sand dunes!  

Local tip: My favourite sand dunes are just south of Tabuk, on the road to Wadi Disah (below).  

desert sand dunes blue sky in saudi arabia

4. Abha and Rijal Almaa

The south of Saudi Arabia defies all stereotypes. When I show people photos from Abha, I’m met with immediate shockthis is Saudi Arabia?! 

man in traditional dress of southern saudi arabia
A young man wearing the traditional clothing of southern Saudi Arabia.

Lush, green, mountainous and sometimes even a little cool. Southern Saudi Arabia must be on any list of the most beautiful places to visit in Saudi Arabia.

From the garden city of Abha, it’s about a 1.5 hour drive to Rijal Almaa – Saudi Arabia’s famous ‘gingerbread city’. Here, you will find over 60 buildings constructed from local stones and clay. Find a balcony, sip some tea and indulge a Saudi Arabia you didn’t know existed.  

the brick buildings of Rijal Almaa, set against the green mountains of southern Saudi Arabia
The unique gingerbread architecture of Rijal Almaa.

Local tip: When in Rijal Almaa, find some local honey to taste test. The cool climate in the south of Saudi Arabia is famous for producing some of the best honey in the region!  

rijal alma gingerbread houses with orange and green windows in saudi arabia

Getting to Abha

Abha Airport is well-connected to major Saudi cities, including Riyadh and Jeddah. Abha also has limited international service, including direct flights to Dubai and Cairo. To get to Rijal Almaa you will need to rent a car in Abha.

close up of gingerbread home with blue and green windows in southern saudi arabia

Where to stay in Abha

Abha has no shortage of hotels – from mid-range to high end.

For great value for money, I always recommend the Quartz Executive (four stars, priced as three stars). Another great option is the Golden Al Andalos (and, in my opinion, a slightly better location).

The unique interior decoration style of Rijal Almaa

5. Riyadh 

If Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s cool, breezy seaside city, Riyadh is the bold and confident older brother.  

the arabian architecture of Riyadh's masmak fortress
At the heart of modern Riyadh sits the historic Masmak Fortress.

If you’re a history and politics nerd like me, many of the Riyadh tourist attractions are aimed at teaching you more about Saudi history and culture. While there are endless things to do in Riyadh, I always recommend a visit to Riyadh’s National Museum and Masmak Fortress.   

inside museum display of saudi national museum with historic photo
The Saudi National Museum is essential for anyone trying to understand the Kingdom

With Saudi Arabia set to play an even larger role in our world, Riyadh’s tourism sites will give you more than simply a beautiful Instagram photo. It is here that you can understand the role of the past in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today.  

Local tip: In my opinion, some of the best souvenirs in Saudi Arabia can be found in the antique stalls just behind the Masmak Fortress. Most stall owners are super friendly – and coffee with the locals would have to be one of the best things to do in Riyadh!  

modern skyscraper in riyadh

Getting to Riyadh

Riyadh Airport is a major regional hub, with direct international flights from Riyadh to the United States and most European cities.  

Best place to stay in Riyadh

As the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh has something for everyone. The cheaper hotels do tend to be lacking a little love, but you can normally find a decent bargain! Here’s our curated list of the best places to stay in Riyadh, tried and tested by locals and foreigners alike:

Hotel$ = US$100Best for
Radisson Blu Qurtaba$$$Convenience
Hyatt Place Al Sulaimania$$Upscale without the price tag
Fraser Suites$$$Grandness
Rosh Rayhaan by Rotana$$Excellent service
Narcissus Hotel & Spa$$Relaxation
Al Mutlaq$$Modern styling
Hyatt Regency Olaya$$$$$International luxury
Courtyard by Marriott Olaya$$$Rooftop terrace views
InterContinental Riyadh$$Room to move
Tulip Inn$Family friendly
Mud-brick architecture in the heart of old Riyadh

6. Khyber

In my opinion, Khyber is the greatest hidden gem in Saudi Arabia, with huge tourism potential.  

Khyber is very significant in Islamic history, as the site where the Prophet Muhammad defeated the Jewish tribes of the region. The terms of the Jewish surrender set out the ground rules for co-existence between the Jews and Muslims of the Middle East for centuries to follow.  

the ruined fortress of khyber, saudi arabia
The Saudi Pompeii: the ruined city of Khyber.

Today, Khyber is like a Saudi Pompeii, with homes, streets and the remarkable fortress completely locked in time.

Getting to Khyber

Khyber is halfway between Medina Airport and Al-Ula Airport, just under three hours from both. Both Medina and Al-Ula have a good network of domestic and international flight connections. You will need a Saudi rental car to get to Khyber.

baklava in glass case in riydah
As expected in the Middle East, Saudi dessert gives the more famous dessert of Jordan and Syria a run for their money!

There has been talk of Al Ula tour packages running to Khyber, but from my experience your best bet is to visit on your own.  

view over ruined city of khyber
The view out over old Khyber

7. Fifa Mountains  

Separating the city of Jazan from Yemen, the Fifa Mountains are home to one of Saudi Arabia’s most unique landscapes.  

the iconic rice terraces of the fifa mountains, saudi arabia
The Iconic Rice Terraces of the Fifa Mountains, Saudi Arabia.

No, these photos aren’t from Vietnam or the Philippines, but rather the rice terraces of southern Saudi Arabia!

castle in mountains in saudi arabia

The people of the Fifa Mountains share strong cultural connections with the people of Yemen, keep your eyes open for Yemeni-style food, men with jambiya (Yemeni daggers) and the famed flower-crowns of the Fifa Mountains

Getting to the Fifa Mountains

The main gateway to the Fifa Mountains is the town of Faifa. The closest major city is Jazan, just under 2 hours from Faifa. Jazan Airport is well-connected to major Saudi cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, and regional hubs like Dubai and Cairo.

rice terraces in mountain with white house on top in saudi arabia near yemen

Local tip: Driving in the Fifa Mountains can be very, very steep! I would recommend double-checking your brakes with your Jazan rental car company beforehand!  

Where to stay in Jazan

With limited accomodation options in the Fifa Mountains, I would recommend staying in Jazan and coming up for a day trip. As a larger city, you have numerous accomodation options in Jazan.

The notoriously cheeky baboons of southern Saudi Arabia.

8. Diriyah 

Diriyah is the birthplace of Saudi Arabia. Today, the small UNESCO heritage town forms part of Riyadh city and is one of the most important Riyadh tourist attractions.

ancient city of diriyah in saudi arabia
The mud-brick architecture of Diriyah

Bring your camera and explore the mud-brick buildings and Arabian architecture

Diriyah is a favourite for Saudi families, and one of the best places to visit in Riyadh with family. In true Saudi style, Diriyah is also home to some of the best Riyadh restaurants – historic, but make it delicious!  

saudi families waiting in line at the restaurants in diriyah, riyadh
Riyadh families waiting for a table at the new and hip cafes of Diriyah

Getting to Diriyah

Diriyah is within Riyadh city and an easy Uber or Careem from your Riyadh hotel. I would recommend having your Uber or Careem drop you at the Al Bujairi Heritage Park.

Riyadh Airport is well connected with direct flights from Riyadh to the United States, major European cities and the Middle East.

women wearing black abaya walking by mud brick building with palm tree

Where to stay in Riyadh

At the time of writing, I can’t recommend any hotels in Diriyah itself. Your best bet is to base yourself in Riyadh and come over to Diriyah for an afternoon.

9. Wadi Al Disah 

This serene Wadi (which means valley in Arabic) is perhaps Saudi Arabia’s greatest natural marvel.  

the red cliffs of wadi al disah with palm trees below
The towering red rock cliffs of Wadi Al Disah

In my opinion, Wadi Al Disah is about as far off-the-beaten path as you can get in Saudi Arabia! We only know of a few tours running to Wadi Al Disah

Lush palm groves and natural springs are set under a forest of towering red spires of rock. I’m certainly not a hiker, but I’m sure nature enthusiasts will find plenty to climb. If you are keen for a dip, keep an eye open for ponds of fresh, cool water.  

big open valley full of palm trees in saudi arabia

Getting to Wadi Al Disah

You will need a car to get to Wadi Al Disah.

Wadi Disah is in a remote corner of north-west Saudi Arabia, 3 hours south of Tabuk by road. Tabuk Airport is well connected both domestically to Riyadh and Jeddah, and regionally to Cairo and Dubai.

large red rock in saudi arabia

If you are coming from the other direction, Wadi Disah is 3.5 hours north of Al-Ula.

For those with time, I highly recommend the Wadi Disah – Al-Ula – Khyber road trip, which passes through a magnificent corner of the country. In my opinion, this is the full Saudi package: sand dunes, oases, camels and remote desert mosques.  

man in traditional headscarf in saudi arabia

Where to stay in Wadi Al Disah

There are no hotels around Wadi Disah – so plan to drive back accordingly!  

Tall Saudi palms stand out against the red rock mountains.

10. Farasan Islands 

With clear-water beaches and uniquely carved doorways, the Farasan Islands embody the cultural and natural diversity of Saudi Arabia.  

the hand carved intricate details of the choral gates of the qasser heritage village in the farasan islands, saudi arabia
The hand carved choral gates of the historic Qassar heritage village in Farasan.

I was so surprised to learn how various civilizations have passed through the Farasans, including the Nabateans, Ancient Egyptians and Ottomans.  

man weighing red colorful fish in farasan islands
Red Sea fish for sale in the Farasan Islands

Farasani heritage is celebrated on the islands, where you can learn all about the historic pearl diving industry and marvel at the intricate white-washed architecture of the Qassar heritage village.

Getting to the Farasan Islands

At the time of writing, the ferry from Jazan to the Farasan Islands is free and runs twice a day in each direction: 7:30 am and 3:30 pm.

ferry boat with saudi flag and writing that says city of Jazan

I recommend going to the Jazan Port one day before you’re planning on traveling to guarantee your ferry ticket. On the day of travel, get to the Jazan Port about one hour before your ferry (you’ll see the locals lining up!).  

Jazan is well-connected by air to major Saudi cities, including Riyadh and Jeddah, as well as regional hubs like Dubai and Cairo.  

white heritage architecture in farasan islands

Where to stay in the Farasan Islands

There are a number of local style guesthouses on the Farasan Islands. With endless private Red Sea beaches, I would definitely recommend the islands own resort: the Farasan Coral Resort.

clear water beaches of the farasan islands
The clear waters of the Red Sea in the Farasan Islands.

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