With ancient cities dotting desert landscapes and rock carvings from early civilizations, Saudi’s storied past is sketched on the land itself. Visiting Saudi’s most historically significant landmarks and unique hidden gems is the best way to understand Arabian culture. From investigating the unique rock tombs of Hegra and the dunes of Al Ahsa to the Marble Village of Dhee Ayn, Saudi’s fascinating history is always on display. And for an educational guide to the nation’s past, the National Museum in Riyadh and the Museums of Ad Diriyah are perfect places to immerse oneself in Saudi history.

Explore ancient civilisations in AlUla: Hegra, Dadan, and Jabal Ikmah

Trace centuries of Saudi’s history in AlUla: from the ancient North Arabian kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, to the southern Nabataean capital of Hegra, to the Roman presence to the Islamic age. AlUla is a major historical crossroads: it was an important stop on the famous incense trading routes running from southern Arabian into Egypt and beyond.

Hegra is Saudi’s first UNESCO world heritage site. It was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom in the first century BCE and the largest Nabataean civilization south of Petra. Here, visitors will find more than 100 monumental tombs, often with beautifully preserved facades, carved from rock formations around the city.

First, check out the Hijaz Railway, which offers an insight into AlUla’s role as a prominent travel hub. Learn how the Ottoman construction of the railway, beginning in 1900, changed the way pilgrims travelled. Visit Jabal AlBanat to see a cluster of 29 tombs with carefully carved inscriptions. 

Make sure to see the Tomb of the Lihyan Son of Kuza, Hegra’s largest tomb. Standing at about 72 feet tall, the unfinished tomb is sometimes called “Qasr al-Farid” by locals, meaning “lonely castle” in English. 

Also in AlUla is Dadan: the capital of the ancient kingdoms of the Dadan (9-8 century BCE) and Lihyan (5-2 century BCE) kingdoms. See more than a dozen tombs carved into the red-rock cliffs east of the city.

AlUla is home to hundreds of inscriptions of pre-Arabic languages. Often referred to as an “open library,” Jabal Ikmah has the most varied collection of ancient inscriptions in the kingdom. 

At-Turaif: A Newly Restored Historical Gem 

Diriyah is one of the most important heritage sites in Saudi. Diriyah’s mud-brick walls were once home to a bustling city, and the area’s At-Turaif district was the original seat of power for the Al Saud family. Diriyah was Saudi Arabia’s capital from 1745 until 1818, when it was succeeded by nearby Riyadh.

Recognized as one of the world’s largest mud-brick cities, At-Turaif has been carefully restored in recent years, allowing tourists to explore the area’s unique history up-close. 

Along with the city’s restoration, various museums are set to open in the area, including the Museum of Al Saud House, which will showcase the history of the ruling family.

Al-Ahsa Oasis: Where Human History and Natural Beauty Meet 

Located in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, the Al-Ahsa Oasis is the largest oasis in the world. Here, the area’s natural beauty and historical sites converge — the area is home to gardens, canals, springs, wells, and an astonishing 2.5 million date palms, as well as historic fortresses and mosques. 

Al-Ahsa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its impressive archaeological landmarks. Human settlement can be traced here from the Neolithic period all the way to the present. For centuries this desert oasis has been an important trading hub and stop for early pilgrims on their way to Makkah.

Al-Ahsa’s unique combination of natural wonders and historical landmarks makes it a popular tourist destination in Saudi. Tour the area’s natural wonders, including its network of hot and cold springs, wells, and canals. Visit Souq Al Qaisariya: a bustling, historic market with more than 7,000 square metres of stalls. In Al Hofuf, the city’s commercial center, check out the Eastern Province’s first masjid, Jawath Mosque. While visiting Al-Ahsa, make sure to try the area’s famous khalasah dates.

Visitors can also take the time to climb Al Qarah Mountain, which stands about 75 metres tall. Check out rock-hewn caves weaving through the mountain and see stunning views of the 30,000-acre oasis from the summit.

Dhee Ayn: A Hilltop “Marble Village” 

Dhee Ayn is an impressive historic town located on top of a marble outcrop in the Bidah Valley near the city of Al-Baha. Known as the Marble Village as a result of its spot on the marble hill, the buildings themselves are cube-shaped and made from stone and slate over 400 years ago.

Strolling through the village is like stepping back in time. Climb up to the top of the hill for a closer look at these multi-story homes made of stone. The base of the village is green and lush thanks to a freshwater spring in contrast to the bare mountains surrounding it. From the hilltop, visitors can see an incredible view of the escarpment and green oasis below. The unique architecture and stunning scenery of Dhee Ayn makes this an ideal spot for photographers. 

Educational and Interactive museums 

Saudi Arabia’s most impressive museums allow visitors to come away with a more complete picture of the kingdom’s past.

The National Museum of Saudi Arabia 

The National Museum in Saudi’s capital, Riyadh, is the most famous in the kingdom, located in the middle of the King Abdul-Aziz Historical Center. The museum covers thousands of years of Saudi history with over 3,700 antiquities on display. The museum covers pre-history to pre-Islamic Arabic kingdoms to the rise of Islam and the creation of modern-day Saudi. 

Antiquities Museum

The Antiquities Museum hosts some of Saudi’s most important collections of ancient artifacts. Located amid the buildings of King Saud University, the museum displays objects from daily life in pre-Islamic and early Islamic Saudi. Excavations were carried out by the institute in the 1970s and 2004 in Qaryat Al Faw in southwest Riyadh, once home to the Kindah tribe; Al Rabadhah, 200km southeast of Medina; and Al Khuraybah in AlUla.

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If you’re looking to visit Saudi Arabia, make sure you’ve got the latest information about Covid-19 travel precautions and restrictions for travelling to the kingdom.