Tourism in Saudi Arabia was restricted to pilgrimages to the holiest cities of Mecca and Medina. But now the kingdom has decided to invest in the tourism sector with a relaxation in the strict rules of the country. Saudi Arabia has several historical places that deserve attention. Now with tourist visas to Saudi Arabia available, travellers across the world will finally be able to visit the ancient sites of the Kingdom.
Take a look at some of the most uniquely fascinating and ancient places in Saudi Arabia that you must visit on your trip.
1. Mecca – Epicenter of Islam
Mecca – the holiest city in Islam is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), where Kaaba, the most sacred site is located. The city attracts millions of Muslims for Umrah and the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which is also one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The city dates back to over 4,000 years and is home to several historical landmarks including the holy Kaaba within the Grand Mosque (Masjid Al Haram) that is believed to be built by Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and his son Ismael (AS). Masjid-Al-Haram is also the site of the ancient Zamzam Well, which is located few meters away from the Kaaba. The Well of Zamzam is also believed to be connected to the life of Ismael (AS). Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter Mecca.
Also Read: Sacred Places to Visit in Makkah
2. Medina – First Islamic City
Medina – the second-holiest city in Islamic history dates back to more than 2,600 years. After migrating from Mecca, Medina became home to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the city became the power base of Islam, where the early Muslim community developed. It is home to three oldest mosques including the famous Masjid-e-Nabawi, Quba Mosque, and Masjid al-Qiblatayn. Quba Mosque is the first mosque in Islam, built during the time of the Prophet (PBUH). The city was known as Yathrib before the Prophet’s era. It was renamed Medina in the honour of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who is also buried here in Masjid-e-Nabawi.
3. Al Ula’s Heritage Village
Located 323 km north of Medina and only four hours’ drive away, Al Ula is one of Saudi Arabia’s most historic treasures and a must-visit tourist attraction. Also known as Ad-Deerah, it is the traditional Arabian village where people of the oasis moved over 8 centuries ago and inhabited until the 20th century. The ancient village is located on the historic Incense Road that catalyzed trade between India and the Middle East. Presently, Al Ula is undergoing a major renovation as a part of tourism promotion.
Packed with mud-brick and stone houses, Al Ula heritage village retains much of its historic charm and tourists can stroll around to see some of the best-preserved traditional houses in the world. Archaeologists assume that the 800 of these homes are at least 2,000 years old. During your visit, you should also plan a stop at Al Ula Museum to learn about the history of the region, its Islamic culture and native vegetation.
4. Ancient City of Madain Saleh
The ancient city of Madain Saleh is a treat to history buffs, who are most familiar with the stone city of Petra in Jordan. It is the largest conserved site of the civilization of the Nabataeans, outside of Petra and a must-visit ancient site in Saudi Arabia. The ancient city gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008, making it the first World Heritage Site in the Kingdom. Madain Saleh dates back to 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, featuring well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades and cave inscriptions. The site has a total of 111 tombs, out of which 94 are decorated. It is located in the sector of Al-`Ula within the Medina region. Only a few travellers have seen this archaeological treasure due to the limited tourism in Saudi Arabia.
5. Jubbah Palaeolithic Kingdom
Located near the small town of Jubbah about 100 km northwest of Hail, Jubbah Palaeolithic Kingdom is one of the most ancient places in Saudi Arabia where you can see rock art dating back to at least 7,000 years, depicting animals and people of that period. Some of these artefacts have been transported to the National Museum in Riyadh and if you are further interested in learning about the history of this region; visit the Riyadh museum. This is the place where Neolithic ancestors of Arabs left their mark on the rock faces of Jubbah and Shuwaymis. According to archaeologists, there was once a lake near these rock formations that attracted the human settlement.
Also Read: Important Places to Visit in Makkah
6. Najran- Land of Ancient Civilizations
Located in the southwestern part of Saudi Arabia near the border with Yemen, Najran is a city that lies in the crossroads of ancient civilisations. Visit this city to witness the traditional architecture and some of the unique buildings estimated to be several hundred years old that are also known as the midmakh buildings. It is a land of ancient civilisations that developed during the first millennium BCE and crossed by some major routes of the caravan trade of frankincense, myrrh and other valuable commodities that used to come from southern Arabian kingdoms and head to the Mediterranean and Asia.
Roam around the old streets of Abu As-Su’ud, a Najran traditional village with its mud-bricks buildings that are made up of several stories. It is a delightful experience where one can imagine the ancient Arabian lifestyle of people living here just a few decades ago. Also visit the Jebel Qarah, located less than 100 kilometres north of Najran to see inscriptions carved in Sabean script at the famous site of Al-Ukhdūd in Bir Hima that have kept tracks of all these ancient events.
Also Read: Important Facts About the City of Mina
7. Old Jeddah – Gateway to Mecca
Jeddah is a cosmopolitan city that traces its origins back to over 2,500 years ago when it was a small fishing village. The old city of Jeddah was earlier called Al Balad. Here, you will see beautifully renovated old houses that go way back to the late 1800s. With intricately carved doors and the lattice-work screens, these preserved houses are great examples of traditional architectural styles. Al Nassif House and Al Jamjoom House in Yemen neighbourhood are some of the oldest and the most famous buildings here.
The Gate to Mecca is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jeddah and one of the must-visit historical tourist spots in Saudi Arabia. The city was established as an important port for Indian Ocean trade routes as well as the entry point for Muslim pilgrims travelling to the sacred city of Mecca by sea in the 7th Century CE.
Also Read: Facts About the Grand Mosque of Makkah
8. Riyadh – Capital of Saudi Arabia
Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia is home to some of the most significant historical sites in the country. It is a must-visit place if you want to learn about the Kingdom’s history, traditional architecture and culture. The national museum of Riyadh is a great place to start with but if you are willing to step outside the city, you will find even more ancient treasures such as the Ushaiqer Heritage Village.
Murabba Historical Palace and Masmak Fortress are some of Riyadh’s standout historical landmarks. Murabba Historical Palace is the former home of the Saudi king and was built in Najdean style. You can see the personal items, memorabilia and photographs of the king or just stroll through surrounded manicured gardens. The King’s Rolls-Royce is also displayed in the palace that was a gift from English Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Masmak Fortress is just a short drive away from Murabba Historical Palace. This former garrison, famous for its mud-brick and clay exterior, once protected the city. The fort was also used as a prison after a raid by Ibn Saud in the year 1902.
Ushaiqer Heritage Village, one of the best historical places in Saudi Arabia lies about a two-and-a-half-hour drive northwest of Riyadh. The walled village contains about 400 well-preserved mud houses and 25 mosques. Stroll through the village while admiring the insides of some of these houses, the inscriptions on their door frames and palm grove orchards around the seven districts of the village. Ushaiqer also boasts a museum, a bazaar, mosques and even lodging if you want to spend the night.
Also Read: 17 Amazing Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia
9. Al-Turaif District – First Capital of the Saudi Dynasty
Founded in the 15th century, Al Turaif was the first capital of the Saudi dynasty. Located on the western outskirts of Riyadh, it features the historic city of Ad Diriyah, which is also a well-known UNESCO World Heritage Site. Al Turaif District contains the ancient royal quarters built in Najdi architectural style and the Diriyah Museum. Visitors can discover the remnants of Ad Diryah and urban life along the brink of an oasis. Salwa Palace, the first home of the Al Saud, Saad bin Saud Palace and At-Turaif Bath House are some of the main attractions in the district. Please note that you may have limited access to some attractions as Ad Diriyah is undergoing major renovations at present.