Set aside a day to explore centuries of Arabian prehistory, history, culture and art at the Kingdom’s biggest and most entertaining museum. Housed within striking modernist architecture and flower-wreathed gardens, the National Museum exhibits everything from Neolithic rock art, to replicas of the buildings of old Jeddah, as well as transporting visitors on a magically interactive tour of the ages.
Come on weekdays for a less crowded experience, and take your time exploring the museum’s eight halls. While a regular rotation of activities, guest exhibitions and programmes keeps the content fresh, here’s a sample of the permanent collections on offer to delve into.
The first hall, Man and the Universe, is a sprawling 1,500m2 space dedicated to the earth’s history. Catch a glimpse of the type of animals that once roamed the Arabian Peninsula, including the prehistoric mastodon. Marvel at meteorites and explore a reconstruction of the dazzling Tuwaiq mountain range. Don’t miss the riveting display of rock carvings, which feature an ancient human handprint, discovered carved into a rock in the southern city of Najran.
Hall two explores the ancient civilizations that arose during the early, middle and late Arab kingdoms, moving into the pre-Islamic era. Standout displays include some of the earliest Thamudic, Aramaic and Islamic writings carved into stone slabs, alongside a wealth of archaeological finds, such as murals from an Assyrian palace, ornate jewellery and pottery. In the Pre-Islamic Era hall, visit the major cities of the time and map the archaic trade routes that once wound across the deserts of Arabia, carrying incense, pearls and other goods out to the world. To see where they would have been sold, check out the replica traditional Arab market.
Follow the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in the Prophet’s Mission hall, with beautifully designed displays leading from his birth in Makkah until his migration to Madinah. Heavyweight pieces include a vast ceramic mural and 500-year-old manuscripts of the Holy Quran. Continue the journey in the Islam and Arabian Peninsula hall to glimpse at the beginnings of Islam, before exploring early Arab contributions to science, medicine and astronomy.
The remaining halls trace the rise of Saudi Arabia, from the first two Saudi states to the emergence of a unified kingdom in 1932. Look for the treasure troves of scripts, rare books and coins that pack these galleries, and explore the reconstructed houses that give a flavour of the era. Make time to visit the Hajj and the Two Holy Mosques exhibitions, where models and multimedia displays showcase Hajj rituals, ancient routes of pilgrimage and the evolution of Makkah and Medina.