The northwestern city of Tabuk has long been a resting point for Jordanian and Egyptian pilgrims, with a rich Bedouin culture that can be felt in Souq Twaheen, which still supplies patterned rugs and goat-hair tent covers for modern nomads. Today’s Tabuk marks the start of the Saudi coast, but is also a base for exploring wild beauty spots and the story of the Prophet Moses, who lived east of the city for a decade. It’s possible to visit the carved tombs of Maghaer Shuaib in the desert, or the Moses Spring near Maqna, where natural springs still flow under the date palms. Nearby is the stunning Tayeb Al Ism, a steep granite massif separated from the turquoise-fringed Gulf of Aqaba by only the road. For clear seas and sun-swept beaches, explore the charms of local coastal towns Haql and Sharma.
There are spectacular fortresses all around Tabuk, but this imposing castle in the center of town might be the oldest. Known to date from 1559, some claim there was a fortress here as early as 3,500BC. Inside its walls, two mosques are linked by courtyards, stairwells and watchtowers, and there’s a small museum detailing the history of the castle and the wider city — from the great explorers that visited, like Ibn Battuta, to the caravan of pilgrims who would stop to drink from its wells on their way to Makkah and Medina.
At the crossroads of three valleys south of Tabuk, the wildly sculpted sandstone columns of Wadi Al Disah (Valley of the Palms) look like a mix between the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley in America. While much of the landscape is ochre desert, there are oases of pools, tall grasses and palm trees running through tall canyons, creating an otherworldly feeling, especially during glowing sunsets. It’s possible to hike through much of the valley, or visit on a 4WD drive tour.
The Maghaer Shuaib seems to appear from nowhere in the reddish desert west of Tabuk — its elegantly carved facades and tombs built into the sandstone rocks recalling Petra in Jordan and Hegra at Al Ula. Having fled Egypt, Moses lived here a decade under the patronage of the Prophet Shuaib, who had been impressed by Moses’ chivalry and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Moses eventually returned to Egypt, but it’s easy to imagine that this beautiful place stayed with him.
Where to eat: Try Al Qriaj Al Tarithia for traditional cuisine in an historic space, Al Ketaishat for faster Saudi food, or Western Road Express for American-style burgers and steaks. Locals say Jandofly serves up some of the city’s best seafood.
Where to have fun: Explore the evocative ruins of the once vast Hijaz Railway, a relic of Arabia’s storied past, or enjoy family fun at Tabuk’s Zoo Park, where camel rides await. Sample mangos fresh from the tree with a guided tour of local farms, or paddle in the shallows at nearby coastal towns Haql and Sharma.
Learn more: Amazing Tours’ pan-Saudi trips feature epic Wadi Al Disah; Shamal offers a day at magical Wadi Tayyib Ism, and trips with Palms Land Tours include Maghaer Shuaib. MyTrip’s journeys end with the Tabuk Castle and onsite museum.
The region of Tabuk is a converging point of multiple cultures, resulting in a cuisine that is heavily influenced by its neighboring nations as well as the use of ingredients unique to its topography.
From ancient buildings dating back to the Nabatean period, historic artifacts from the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and pre-Islamic villages, Tabuk is a city with many stories to tell.
For years, the region of Tabuk has played host to pilgrims, merchants, and travelers.
Make a stop in Duba, the port city that locals refer to as the Pearl of the Red Sea.