Traveling to Saudi Arabia: Your guide to visiting the stunning ancient city of AlUla

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Deep in the deserts of Saudi Arabia’s northwestern region lies the ancient city of AlUla. One of the Kingdom’s most touristic destinations, the region is home to hundreds of historic monuments and natural attractions that date back to more than 200,000 years.

From December 22 to January 21, AlUla will be hosting the Winter at Tantora festival to showcase and celebrate its rich heritage through an exciting array of entertainment, cultural, dining, and musical events and activities. The festival is an excellent time to visit AlUla and experience all it has to offer.

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For travelers who wish to visit the Kingdom’s own open-air museum, here is Al Arabiya English’s curated guide to the beautiful city of AlUla:

What to do:

1.Visit historic monuments

Saudi Arabia’s first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in AlUla. At Hegra, visitors can explore the more than 110 well-preserved tombs buried in the desert landscape and learn about the ancient people and culture of AlUla.

UNESCO World Heritage site Hegra, also known as Madain Saleh, an archaeological site in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
UNESCO World Heritage site Hegra, also known as Madain Saleh, an archaeological site in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

The site was a Nabatean city that dated back beyond the first millennium and peaked from the late second century BCE to the second century CE. Apart from the tombs of the elite Nabatean people, visitors will also discover wells and stone-lined water channels that showcase the civilization’s expert craftsmanship.

AlUla’s Old Town is a must-see experience for all travelers to the city. In the twelfth century, the area was an essential settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Mecca and is often mentioned by travelers from the 12th to the 20th centuries.

AlUla visitors can also explore the Elephant rock – AlUla’s most iconic rock formation. The spectacular rock formation resembles an elephant with its trunk touching the ground and is one of the city’s most significant wonders.

The Elephant Rock formation in AlUla. (Photo by Tamara Abueish)
The Elephant Rock formation in AlUla. (Photo by Tamara Abueish)

2.Oasis farming experience

In the heart of the AlUla Oasis, visitors can learn about sustainable farming practices through an interactive two-hour workshop. Participants will discover how the region’s farmers have harnessed natural resources and the vast biodiversity to keep their farms healthy and productive.

The Oasis farm in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Tamara Abueish)
The Oasis farm in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Tamara Abueish)

At the farm, guests can find ample harvests of barley, wheat, oat, figs, olives, citrus, herbs, and dates. They will also find a variety of farm animals, including goats and chickens.

Participants will learn more about AlUla’s history and use their own skills to contribute to the restoration of its oasis by planting new seeds and seedlings in the farm. The workshop’s topics include agriculture restoration, resource recycling, land preparation, crop cultivation, building of soil fertility, seedling propagation in a traditional nursery, water resources and types of irrigation systems used in AlUla.

The farm also offers guests a delicious lunch meal, snacks, and refreshments.

3.Hot air ballooning

A once-in-a-lifetime experience of flying on a hot air balloon is available to AlUla visitors during the Winter at Tantora festival.

Hot air balloons fly over AlUla. (Supplied)
Hot air balloons fly over AlUla. (Supplied)

Visitors can take to the skies and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the city’s unique landscape in a 15-minute tethered balloon ride or a 45-minute untethered balloon ride – depending on weather conditions.

4.Adventure and outdoor experiences

AlUla offers travelers thrilling outdoor experiences fit for every age and fitness level at the Adventure Hub. Visitors can get their adrenaline pumping by ziplining across a mountain range, take a guided bike ride through the sand dunes, or be one with nature during a hike through the rock formations and hidden valleys of AlUla.

The view shows a person at an adventure activity in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
The view shows a person at an adventure activity in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

After sunset, they can join a local astronomer on a stargazing or moonlit night adventure.

Where to stay:

1.Habitas AlUla

The trail-blazing hotel brings together luxury living and sustainability in one place. Located within an ancient oasis in the Ashar Valley, guests will find themselves surrounded by sandstone cliffs and palm groves.

A view shows a villa in the Habitas AlUla resort. (Photo courtesy of Habitas AlUla)
A view shows a villa in the Habitas AlUla resort. (Photo courtesy of Habitas AlUla)

The resort has 96 rooms with breathtaking views of the mountains, a yoga deck, wellness and fitness centers, a restaurant, a café, and swimming pool. Each of these spaces is constructed from ethically-sourced organic materials.

A view shows a villa in the Habitas AlUla resort. (Photo courtesy of Habitas AlUla)
A view shows a villa in the Habitas AlUla resort. (Photo courtesy of Habitas AlUla)

Across the Habitas, guests can also find unique and immersive art installations from swings overlooking the hotel’s grounds to built-in trampolines in the middle of the desert.

As part of their experience-led programing, the resort offers art and culture walks, canyon trekking, yoga, meditation, and breathwork. Habitas also offers weekly outdoor cinema screenings featuring regional cultural films and documentaries, as well as open discussion lectures on local initiatives, culture, and history.

2.Shaden Resort

Guests of the Shaden Resort can choose to stay at one of the 112 luxury villas, suites, and rooms available – all of which have a private balcony or terrace. The hotel’s stunning features include a world-class fitness center, a garden, a shared lounge, a terrace, and a restaurant.

A view of the swimming pool and AlUla canyons from the Shaden Resort. (Photo courtesy of Shaden Resort)
A view of the swimming pool and AlUla canyons from the Shaden Resort. (Photo courtesy of Shaden Resort)

The wellness area at the luxury tent is comprised of a sauna, a hot tub, and a hammam.

Adventure lovers can also enjoy a hike near the resort. The Madain Saleh Tombs are 22 kilometers from the resort, while Wadi Hashish is 11 kilometers away.

Where to eat:

AlUla offers visitors a rich culinary scene, whether it is in fine dining restaurants or casual eateries. A variety of local restaurants, cafes, and food trucks are available around the city.

Here is Al Arabiya English’s top recommendations:

1.Somewhere

Tucked into an oasis farm, Somewhere has beautiful outdoor seating with a stunning view of AlUla’s canyons. The restaurant offers guests a taste of modern dishes fused with authentic Mediterranean flavors.

A display of different dishes is set on a table in the restaurant Somewhere in AlUla. (Photo courtesy of Somewhere)
A display of different dishes is set on a table in the restaurant Somewhere in AlUla. (Photo courtesy of Somewhere)

Some of the most highly-recommended dishes are the Wara’a Enab Fatteh, Wagyu Kabab Bao, Beef Shawarma Beetroot Rice, Chicken Musakhan Rice.

2.MAMZEL

From Marbella to the hidden canyons of AlUla, MAMZEL offers guests insight into the vibrant atmosphere of Spain in a secret hideout surrounded by mountains. The fine dining restaurant has international menu and live entertainment. The most recommended dishes at MAMZEL are Burrata, Tuna Tartar, Kofta, Lamb Shoulder, Black Angus, Linguini Tartufata.

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