For thousands of years, northwest Saudi Arabia attracted people who came to take advantage of the abundant resources offered by its fertile oases. AlUla was one of them, and became a vital crossroads along the famous incense-trading routes running from southern Arabia north into Egypt and beyond. With oases dotting the area, it offered a much-needed respite for weary travelers, becoming a popular place to rest, commune and recharge. By offering heritage, nature, arts and culture, and adventure, AlUla is emerging as a high-profile and fascinating tourist destination in Saudi Arabia. By 2035, AlUla will be known around the world as a renowned high-end luxury travel destination, catering for discerning global travellers, seeking extraordinary experiences and timeless authenticity.
AlUla was also capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, which controlled the caravan trade. The site of Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean kingdom, famed for its spectacular monumental tombs. Today, Old Town AlUla is an abandoned labyrinth of streets tightly packed to create a defensive wall, and seemingly built over an ancient settlement. This largely undiscovered expanse holds a timeless mystery that has been carried through its complex history. Layer upon layer of human history and a wealth of natural wonders are waiting to be explored from dramatic rock formations and sand-swept dunes to archaeological ruins that trace the lives of the ancient cultures who built cities here.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been a crossroads of ancient civilisations – a place of deep history that is continuously evolving. AlUla is an extraordinary example of this wonderful heritage. Positioned in the northwest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its main city of the same name is located on the original pilgrimage route to Makkah, approximately 325km north of Medina. A place of extraordinary human endeavour, visitors to AlUla are immersed in a land of ancient civilisations spanning more than 200,000 years of human history.
Historically, AlUla became a vital crossroads along the famous incense-trading routes running from southern Arabia north into Egypt, the Mediterranean and beyond. With oases dotting the area, it offered amuch-needed respite for weary travellers, becoming a popular place to rest, commune and recharge. Centred around its famed oasis and framed by sandstone mountains, AlUla’s geography, geology and climate have enabled successive civilisations to flourish here. Today, AlUla is rich in both human heritage and natural beauty, acting as a home for a wide range of flora, fauna and a living museum of human societies spanning thousands of years.
The Royal Commission for AlUla has driven forward efforts to develop the county of AlUla into a preeminent global tourist destination since 2017. Modern visitors to AlUla experience an authentic journey through time, in a place of wonder and discovery, adventure and cultural immersion. AlUla’s landscape is as monumental as its vast history. It features sandstone canyons, volcanic plains, mountains, valleys, an oasis covered in palm trees. Architecture in AlUla merges with the landscape, and creates outstanding works of art. It is within this union that the uniqueness of AlUla is found. Everything here reflects the authenticity of a landscape that has remained little altered for centuries. Of the countless landmarks AlUla offers, the most well-known is the Nabataean city of Hegra, a 52-hectare ancient city which in 2008 was listed as Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
once you have arrived, there are several options for getting around. A tourist eVisa is available country-wide for travellers 18 and older from 49 eligible countries – requiring a simple online application that takes 24 hours to process. Weather in AlUla varies; the best time to visit is October through April, with temperatures ranging from a pleasant 10–25 degrees Celsius. It does get colder at night, so it is essential to pack some warm clothing. Temperatures in May through September is much hotter in this desert climate, ranging from 20–35 degrees Celsius. Female travellers aged 18 and above can travel independently (including driving and booking hotel rooms) on an eVisa without the need for male companions, and do not need to wear a headcover or abaya.
There are traces of many who have built AlUla over millennia, from the capital of the kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, to the trading hubs of the Nabataeans and into the Islamic era. Much of AlUla’s epic rock formations, valley and sandy desert remains an untouched expanse, with discoveries yet to be made threaded through its rich and layered past. AlUla attracted pilgrims and travellers who came to take advantage of the abundant resources offered by its fertile oases. The people of AlUla have long been lauded for their hospitality, celebrated by famous explorers of the past for their warmth and authenticity. A vital crossroads along the famous incense-trading routes running from southern Arabia north into Egypt and beyond, AlUla’s oases dotted the area and offered a much-needed respite for caravans of weary travellers. It remains a welcoming place to rest, commune and recharge.
Heritage sites, Hegra, Jabal Ikmah and Dadan
The Hegra experience includes full immersion into the Nabataean ways of life at sites including the most iconic, Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza, plus Jabal Ithlib, The Diwan, Jabal Alhamar and the well. Hop-on, hop-off transportation stops at seven areas of significance for visitors to explore at their leisure. At the ancient city of Dadan, the capital city of the Dadanite and Liyhanite Kingdoms and one of the most developed cities in the 1st millennia BCE, visitors will get the chance to become an archaeologist for the day.
Archaeologists began extensive excavations at Dadan in February 2020 to explore this relatively unknown period in AlUa’s 200,000 years of human history. From December, a family-friendly 40-minute ‘Archaeology for Everyone’ workshop will have kids digging for artefacts to get in on the action. There will also be live immersion shows, audio tours and visitors will have the opportunity to tour the extensive site in a vintage jeep.
For thousands of years, travellers on popular pilgrimage and trade routes in north-western Saudi Arabia often stopped in city hubs to do business and rest. Many of the visitors left messages, inscriptions or rock art, carved and etched into stone to mark their journey through the extraordinary landscapes that now comprise AlUla.
A new Adventure Canyon area
Keen hikers can book a space on the Adventure Hiking Trail. Run by experienced tour operator Husaak, the trail offers a half-day hike led by an experienced guide through the AlMadakeel landscapes with stops for stunning views of the desert and oasis. From mid-November, visitors will be able to book an evening Stargazing tour at AlGharameel rocks. Famous as one of the most dramatic landscapes for stargazing, the one hour experience, also run by Husaak, includes a traditional Bedouin set-up with an expert guide to provide insights about the importance of the stars and constellations in AlUla’s culture and history.
Throughout the region, you’ll see sand-drifted canyons, red-rock cliff faces, black basalt atop towering mesas and more unique outcrops and rock formations – all surrounded by seas of desert sand deposits. These imagination-spurring rock formations add to the wonder of AlUla, as some have naturally taken the forms of humans, animals and architectural structures. Set in golden desert sands and climbing three storeys into the Saudi Arabian sky is the awe-inspiring Elephant Rock, also known as Jabal AlFil, one of AlUla’s many geological marvels. The “trunk” and “body” of this monolithic red sandstone beast were hewn by natural forces – millions of years of wind and water erosion.
AlUla Fresh Farm visit
Nestled within the Wadi AlQura (or Valley of Villages) is the heart of the region – the Oasis of AlUla. This lush haven in the midst of the windswept Saudi Arabian desert has provided life to AlUla’s residents, weary travellers, flora and fauna for thousands of years. The oasis has made the region a cultural crossroads, the site of ancient kingdoms and a modern-day agricultural epicentre for flavourful fruits, aromatic herbs and perfumed oils.
For a more relaxing experience, the AlUla Fresh Farm visit offers visitors a glimpse into life on an AlUla farm complete with farm tours, fruit picking, animal feeding and seed planting. From the 2.3 million date palms trees to the 29 types of citrus fruit, farms play an important role in AlUla’s economy and daily life. AlUla will also welcome new permanent experiences in the arts and cultural space. The former AlUla Secondary School for girls near AlUla Old Town is being transformed into an arts and traditional crafts hub.
With founding partners The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, and under the guidance of Turquoise Mountain, specialists in reinvigorating traditional crafts, nearly 50 local artisans have been trained in ceramics, palm weaving, textiles and jewellery-making. The crafts men and women are creating beautiful heritage collections that reflect the unique history, architecture and nature of the area, using locally sourced materials when possible. The Artisans Workshops in AlUla will eventually be offered to visitors too and will include classes from design to jewellery making and the revival of ancient handicrafts such as ceramics, embroidery and weaving.
The lush oasis must have seemed surreal to weary traders and religious pilgrims, and it’s possible these historic trade and pilgrimage routes would have never been established without the refuge of the oasis. But along with the welcoming haven offered to travellers, the oasis has provided the civilisations of AlUla with water, sustenance and shelter for thousands of years. To this day, the verdant canopy of date palms shades inhabitants from the elements, a variety of crops flourish in the fertile soil and the oasis continues to nourish life in the middle of the desert.
Everywhere you look in AlUla, wondrous inspiration can be found – in its organic, red-rock shapes, it’s flourishing green palms and the startling contrast of bright blue sky against desert landscapes. From contemporary artists projecting light against the rocks to locals studying traditional handicrafts, the spirit of the arts lives in this valley. Several programs are underway to bring the distinct arts and culture of the ancient Nabataeans and other historic residents of AlUla to visitors, including ceramics, leather, textiles, stone-carving and more. At Madrasat AdDeera, artists are learning heritage design principles and geometries, while at the same time evolving techniques to their own artistic sensibilities. In addition to the traditional arts, contemporary artists are finding creative ways to express themselves amid AlUla’s extraordinary landscape. The near future promises extraordinary exhibitions and installations, artwalks, artists’ residencies and galleries, and other events that celebrate AlUla’s distinct artistic heritage.
AlUla is known for its breathtaking desert landscape and magnificent heritage sites. Its newest wonder, Maraya, rises from the sand like a mirage. Designed to blend into the surrounding landscape, the state-of-the-art structure is covered in mirrored panels reflecting AlUla’s beauty. Maraya, which translates to “mirror” or “reflection” in Arabic, boasts 9,740 square metres of mirrors, making it the largest mirrored building in the world according to Guinness World Records. Maraya is the home to AlUla’s growing arts and culture scene, and is an extension of the native landscape that surrounds it. As it literally reflects wondrous cliffs, legendary rock formations and sumptuous sunsets, the building itself, is a work of art.