Saudi Arabia offers both natural and historical wonders, from the mountain resorts of Taif and
the majesty of ancient Nabatean tombs to the multicolored coral reefs of the RedSea.
While Saudi Arabia has been a travel destination for centuries, with millions of people
visiting the Kingdom each year from around the world, most visitors have historically been
Muslims undertaking pilgrimages.
Today there is a new emphasis on tourism in Saudi Arabia, and in 2000, the Saudi Commission
for Tourism and National Heritage was established to promote tourism in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, is the geographic and cultural hub of the country and its largest
city. Once surrounded by mud-brick walls, modern Riyadh – whose name comes from the Arabic word for
garden (rowdhah) – is a contemporary city with an ever-expanding network of modern roads, high rises,
residential suburbs and industrial parks.
Despite being a modern city, Riyadh also retains much of its traditional appeal. The city’s historic
Qasr Al-Hokm district has been carefully preserved and renovated to make it the city’s cultural,
commercial and social center.
One of the highlights of Qasr Al-Hokm is the historic Masmak fortress, which King Abdulaziz
recaptured the fortress in 1902 – setting the stage for the foundation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia. Another highlight is the Murabba’ Palace, a former home of King Abdulaziz that has been
renovated as part of the King Abdulaziz Historical Center in Riyadh.
Twenty miles outside Riyadh lies the walled city of Diriyah, the ancestral home of the Al-Saud family
and the first capital of the Saudi state.
The Kingdom’s second largest city, Jeddah is a sparkling, modern commercial center that is considered
one of Saudi Arabia’s most vibrant cities. It is alive with more than 300 gardens, and is home to one of
the world’s tallest fountains.
The city also has a number of beautifully restored historical buildings, including the Naseef House
(Bayt Naseef), with more than 100 rooms and a broad staircase to allow camels access to the first floor
Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s main Red Sea port. For centuries, its large harbor has handled ships carrying
cargo to ports throughout the world, as well as vessels bringing pilgrims to the Hajj.
The capital of the Eastern Province, Dammam – along with nearby Dhahran and Khobar – is an
important hub for shipping, oil, commerce and industry, and the home of the national oil
company, Saudi Aramco. It was in Dhahran in 1936 that the famous Dammam No. 7 oil well was
discovered, proving beyond doubt that the Kingdom was sitting on vast oil fields.
Dammam is linked to Bahrain via the King Fahd Causeway, an engineering masterpiece that
stretches 15.5 miles across the sea and reclaimed land.
Located in the southwestern part of the Kingdom, Asir Province is an extensive region of steep
mountains, lush greenery and cool breezes.
The picturesque regional capital, Abha, is noted for its brightly colored mud houses, built in the
traditional style. Residents paint their homes each year, usually in preparation for the Eids, the
religious holidays that follow Ramadan or the Hajj.
The Asir National Park, which covers 1.1 million acres, is a paradise for botanists, zoologists and
ornithologists who come to study indigenous plants and wildlife. New varieties and species are still
being discovered there.
The mountain resort city of Taif is located 5,600 feet above sea level in the southwest region of Saudi
Arabia. Its pleasant climate, lush parks, sunny skies and exotic wildlife have long drawn Saudi families
to this resort town each summer.
Its largest and most famous public garden is the King Fahd Park, which includes a lake,
playgrounds, walking paths, and a mosque. Visitors can also take in the Shubra Palace, the former summer
residence of King Abdulaziz and the most famous historical building in the city. Shoppers in Taif can
browse its traditional souq for handcrafts, gold, silver, spices, perfumes and other trinkets.
Makkah and Madinah
The holy city of Makkah is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. Millions of pilgrims from around the
world visit Makkah each year to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage that is the religious high point of a
Muslim’s life. The Holy Mosque in Makkah houses Islam’s most sacred shrine, the Ka’abah, to which
Muslims around the world turn in prayer five times a day.
Muslims are drawn to Madinah not as a religious duty as with Makkah, but out of love and respect
for God’s last Prophet, who established the first Islamic community there. Madinah is also where the
Prophet Muhammad spent the last years of his life, and where he and many of his companions are buried.
The city is home to the Prophet’s Mosque.
Both Makkah and Madinah are open only to Muslim visitors.
In the ancient trading center of Najran, the capital of Najran Province, old and new buildings stand
side by side, giving the oasis city a special charm.
Visitors to Najran can enjoy several museums, including the ruins of the Al-Ukhdood settlement, a
former commercial center that thrived from 500 BC through the 10th century. The Al-An Palace, a former
governor’s residence, is a remarkable example of local architecture with its circular towers with white
ramparts. Najran’s souq is well known for its traditional crafts such as colorful baskets, leather
products and old Bedouin silver jewelry.
Also of interest is the Al-Madik Dam in Najran Province, the second largest dam in Saudi Arabia.
The dam has become a tourist attraction with parks at each end and wide variety of palms, flowering
shrubs and citrus trees.
The historic oasis of Hail, with its expansive boulevards, parks, playgrounds and refreshing climate,
regularly draws large numbers of Saudi families.
In ancient times, Hail was a stopping point along the famous Darb Zubaydah caravan route stretching
from Mesopotamia, Persia and Central Asia to Makkah and Madinah. Built 12 centuries ago and named after
the wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid (763-809), the caravan route included hundreds of wells
and cisterns. Remnants of these can still be seen in Hail today.
Located in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, Al-Jouf is famous for its ancient ruins, which show
evidence of the presence of Assyrians and Nabateans in the region. The region was an important
crossroads for traders heading into the Arabian Peninsula from Iraq and Syria.
Al-Jouf also has a special significance in Islamic history. Following its conquest by Muslims in
the third year of the Hijra (the migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah in 622 AD),
Al-Jouf became a staging post for Muslim armies setting out to spread the message of Islam.
Horse racing was, and remains today, one of the most popular sporting events in Saudi Arabia. There are
modern racetracks in the Kingdom, although betting is prohibited.
Locals have for centuries bred horses for racing and transportation. The famous Arabian horse has a
bloodline that dates back thousands of years, and is one of the world’s most sought-after breeds.
Camel racing is also a popular traditional sport. Traditionally the desert sport of Bedouins,
camel racing is a major spectacle. In the past, races involved thousands of camels speeding
across the open desert. Today, the rules have been modified for modern racetracks, and camel
races are held every Monday during the winter at Riyadh Stadium.
Other traditional sports include hunting with hounds and falconry. The swift saluki hound,
named for an ancient city in southern Arabia, is generally considered by historians to be the
world’s oldest domesticated dog. Falconry in the Kingdom today is limited and carefully
regulated in order to protect the game fowl that is the falcon’s traditional prey.
Some of the world’s most beautiful living coral reefs are located beneath both the Red Sea and the
A paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers, these coastal areas offer endless hours of underwater
Wind surfing, sailing and water skiing are also popular pastimes in the Gulf and Red Sea waters
along the Saudi coast.
Also, some of the world’s best deep-sea fishing can be found in the Red Sea. The Coastal Sports
Cities in Jeddah and Al-Khobar and other clubs offer opportunities for a variety of water sports
and recreational activities.