This archaeological site in AlUla, halfway between Petra (in modern Jordan) and Makkah, where the ancient Nabateans once ruled, features large boulders that rise out of the desert landscape, as well as 131 well-preserved tombs with intricate etchings that have been carved into the surrounding rocks. In addition to the tombs, Hegra offers an active excavation site containing adobe houses, which were once the living quarters of the city. In 2008, Hegra became Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About 250 kilometers from Taif, on the western edge of the Harrat Kishb basalt plateau in the Hijazi region of Saudi, you can explore this giant crater, once thought to be created by an ancient meteor strike. Geologists now believe that the depression was formed by a volcanic eruption. At 1.2 miles in diameter and more than 800 feet deep, the crater also contains a white salt flat. In addition to the giant salt deposit, the crater is home to lush shrubbery and palm trees, which grow around its rim even though the surrounding land is arid desert. It has become a popular camping site, though locals recommend “only camping with someone who has already been there, or with a tour guide, who can help you pitch your tent in sand.”
This spot has been deemed a “perfect place for weekends” by fans on Facebook. The family-friendly beach and marina in the Eastern Province of Saudi are well-maintained and made for simply lounging — or for renting a boat or yacht to see the beautiful view of the corniche (i.e., coastal road). Visitors also rave about the fresh seafood you can get at several restaurants in the area.
Imagine a place where water flows uphill, and a bus in neutral gear will be “magnetically” propelled forward. Such a place exists northwest of Medina on Gravity Hill, which is located in this wadi. Spoiler alert: The phenomenon is actually explained by an optical illusion, which causes things to appear as if they’re being pulled in the opposite direction. Still, the area remains a popular place for recreation for Saudi families. Weekdays are less busy than weekends, when people camp and barbecue in the rugged mountainous landscape.
Spanning the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, is the world’s largest contiguous sand desert, occupying more than one-fourth of Saudi’s total area. Despite the name, many tribes have lived in and still inhabit the region, though again, first-timers are encouraged to explore the massive area with a guide. According to a tourist who was just there, “There is really fun desert driving in the Empty Quarter,” because of its varied topography. In the west, the sand dunes reach as high as 2,000 feet above sea level, while in the east, the elevation dips to about 600 feet.
Visitors also give high marks to The Edge of the World, a 90-minute drive from Riyadh, where you can stand at the edge of a cliff and get a spectacular view of the valley below.
—Didi Gluck is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on travel, culture and style for publications including Travel + Leisure, JWM, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.