Want to capture the essence of the colourful Middle East in just one stop? Look no further than Saudi Arabia. Home to vast oil reserves, cities both ancient and modern, the largest sea of sand on the planet and some of Islam’s most holy sites, when you close your eyes and imagine the Arab world, the image you can see is likely Saudi Arabia.
Bordering Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia makes up 80 per cent of the Arabian Peninsula. For those of Muslim faith, there are few greater destinations than Muhammad’s birthplace, Mecca.
Arguably the most famous pilgrim destination in the world, Mecca is home to sacred sites including The Black Stone, Grand Mosque and Mountain of Light. Sadly, unless you’re Muslim, the visa policy doesn’t allow non-Muslims to visit Mecca and the central part of Saudi Arabia’s other revered city, Medina.
Don’t lose all hope. Some good news is that Saudi Arabia’s tourist visa policy is more relaxed than ever and there are still plenty of standout attractions that you can visit regardless of faith. Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia’s answer to Petra is one of the most spectacular. Home to 131 tombs, the archaeological site is thought to have been under Lihyanite, Roman and Nabatean rule in its long history,
In 2008, Madain Saleh was named Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage site. At around 2000 years old, Al-Ula city is another of Saudi Arabia’s most famous archaeological sites. A town made of mud bricks, Al-Ula is also home to remnants of fortress Umm Nasir.
To see a different side of Saudi Arabia, take some time to explore its cities, starting with Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s political and financial centre. Though high-rises and shiny 4WDs indicate the direction this city is moving in, you can still experience Saudi Arabia’s unique past at sites including Masmak Citadel, a clay and mud-brick fort lying in the centre of the city.
Consisting of around 100 galleries, the National Museum of Saudi Arabia is where you can learn more about the country’s history, while for a modern look, take in the view of Riyadh from the 99th floor of the Kingdom Centre Tower.
Located on the Red Sea, Jeddah is easily the most laid-back and cosmopolitan city you’ll find in Saudi Arabia. An increasingly popular destination for diving and snorkelling, start your trip by paying a visit to the beguiling Al-Balad district in the heart of Old Jeddah where you can admire beautiful coral architecture and shop at the bustling Souq al-Alawi.
When evening comes, do as the locals and take a walk along the 35 kilometre corniche before ending the night at one of the smorgasbord of Jeddah restaurants.
Though visa requirements have relaxed in recent years, it’s still wise to speak to your Flight Centre consultant about the latest policy before booking your flights to Saudi Arabia.
Once you’ve got the all clear, all you have to do is make a choice of where you’d like to fly into. Saudi Arabia’s main international airports are located in Jeddah, Dammam, Riyadh and Medina.