From rolling sand dunes to azure blue waters, lofty mountains and lush forest, Arabia is full of natural wonders that landscape photographers won’t see anywhere else. But there’s also stunning modern architecture, ancient sites that have landed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, old towns of labyrinthine alleyways that have stood the test of time, and streets lined with traders selling crafts and traditional goods that have a distinctly Saudi character to them. The visual quality of Saudi is dynamic, iconic, vibrant, and rich in mystique that will imbue your Instagram posts or photo journals with a unique and memorable feeling. Whether you want to climb above the clouds and camp to document a sunrise, or just want to cruise along a gentle waterway and snap the best sunset pic that your Instagram feed will see that day — you can do it all in Saudi with our photography guide.
From ancient mosques to mud-brick old towns and rock-cut tombs by the same architects of those at Petra in Jordan, Saudi’s historic buildings trace the course of civilization in this corner of the world from the time it was populated by only roaming Bedouin tribes to the time that they came together to establish kingdoms and societies built on trade and their impressive understanding of the land. Even though the country is now incredibly cosmopolitan and innovative in its photogenic urban centers, the nomadic way of life and small village settlements sprinkled across Saudi endow the landscape with a charm that continues to inspire those who are creating the country’s future.
Perhaps most visually striking of these settlements can be found in Al Baha, in the southern reaches of the country. Dhee Ayn, known as the Marble Village, looks like an Arabian citadel above on a Tuscan hillside, with an oasis of plant life sprawling out before it on the wadi floor of the Bidah Valley. The buildings here have a unique cuboid shape, and were made out of stone and slate more than 400 years ago. Whatever angle you choose for snapping a photo of Dhee Ayn, it’s sure to have a fantastical quality to it — you can opt to shoot the details of its narrow, winding pathways, or find a nearby vista to attach your wide-angle lens and get a glowing panorama at golden hour when the rays strike the marble and mountains beyond in a dazzling display.
Heading further north across the country, you will encounter more vestiges of ancient Arabian civilizations and find even more examples of striking contrasts between fertile land, desert scenery, and monolithic structures. If you’ve already read our guide to AlUla, then you know it is a one-of-a-kind place, rivaling the magnificence of Petra and containing countless living monuments to the civilizations who have passed through and settled in this part of the world. Whether you want to document the remnants of these ancient people by photographing their inscriptions in the rocks, in the style of master Saudi photographer Moath Alofi, or you seek to do justice to the sheer size and detail of the monolithic tombs such as Qasr Al-Farid, the archaeological site at Hegra will provide some stimulating photographic challenges.
Sunsets & Stargazing
Saudi has an impressive amount of dark sky areas across the country where stargazing and astrophotography are possible. AlUla and the northern district of Hail are just two places where photographers can practice their star-shooting skills. Here, go out on stargazing excursions and immerse yourself in the legend of “Arabian Nights” while camping in the red sand deserts. Hail is home to other examples of amazing living history in Saudi, with rock art so well-preserved that has earned it UNESCO World Heritage designation. Not only are there plenty of castles you can hop between for your photo journaling, but there are souqs that can provide some excellent sunset shopping as you wait for the light to be exactly right.
The northern city of Tabuk is another great location from which you can launch a photo excursion into the vast desert terrain, easily reaching the coast of the Red Sea for a sunset photo op right on the shoreline, should you choose. A 4WD tour through the Al Disah Valley, with its skyward-bound sandstone columns, palm trees, and occasional pool of rich blue, makes for a brilliant subject for landscape photography during golden hour as rays dance and make playful shadows across the shifting scenery. If you make it to the coast, explore the charms of seaside towns like Haql and Sharma as the sun sets.
Of course, the Arabian waterways are an important feature of several cities throughout Saudi, where dazzling waterfronts and corniches are complemented by art galleries, cafes, and beaches. The coastal city of Dammam was made for sunsets, where the lively Share Al-Hob souq bustles with performers and street musicians as dusk comes on, and coffee shops keep the cosmopolitan buzz alive into the night. You can get the best view of it all with a private boat trip along the Al Khobar waterfront.
It’s not every day that you get to take a picture of the edge of the world, right? If you think that sounds impossible, believe it: the perspective you can get at Jebel Fihrayn, appropriately also known as the Edge of the World, looks like something out of a dream or a sci-fi flick. The sheer drop in this range of the Tuwaiq Cliffs, which run for hundreds of miles through the middle of Saudi, can only be reached with a 4WD vehicle and a good GPS, meaning that your jaw-dropping photos will undoubtedly have a great story to them, too. It might not be a ‘mountain’ per se, but the steep climbs and view to the horizon will have you feeling like you’ve scaled something great.
It’s possible that we’ve saved the best for last here, because there may not be anywhere more photogenic than Taif. Between the rose-clad mountains and storied industries that are rich in human passion and ingenuity, this is a place that brims with Arabian spirit and an intimacy that will certainly show through in the photos of an attentive shutterbug. Take a stroll through Taif Central Market to see stalls packed with the products of the region and decorative crafts, or visit the Shubra Palace to admire the ornate details that adorn this former royal residence. Afterwards, ride the longest cable car in Saudi for a fantastic view of the mountains in which this colorful city is nestled. When you reach the summit of Al Hada, look down to see a winding mountain road that will almost seem to pose for your photograph.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive! Check out our guide to the beautiful historic old town of Jeddah, Al Balad, or take our recommendation to visit Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh or the nearby Al Turaif in Diriyah for more opportunities to get up close and personal in your photography of Saudi landmarks. Happy snapping!
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.