Whether you’re an archaeology enthusiast, a history buff, or simply a curious traveller, Saudi Arabia’s ancient sites have something extraordinary to offer. The largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia has attracted many to take on the Hajj or Umrah religious pilgrimage for centuries and has over the last couple of years, opened its doors, allowing travellers from across the globe to enter and discover the country’s beautiful vast deserts, holy cities and mosques. On our brand new Saudi Explorer: Across the Arabian Peninsula trip, you can gain insight from our expert local guides as you explore the ancient treasures hidden within this captivating country. Read on to find out the top ancient sites of Saudi Arabia that should be on everyone’s bucket list
1. The Nabatean ruins at Hegra
Start your journey through time at the mesmerising Nabatean ruins at Hegra (Mada’in Salih). Known as the largest conserved site of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan, Hegra became Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco World Heritage Site back in 2008.
Its impressive 109 tombs carved into rose-red cliffs date back to the first century CE, with decorated facades of carved snakes, eagles and mythological figures. Serving as burial chambers for the Nabatean elite, more than 30 tombs bear inscriptions of legal text, which include the names of the owners and often transcribes their status in the community. Shrouded in mystery and steeped in legend, some of the tombs at Hegra remain incomplete, including the site’s largest tomb, Lihyan son of Kuza, towering 22 metres high. This site is a must-see as it stands as a living archive, giving a fascinating insight into the lives of Saudi Arabia’s Nabatean ancestors.
2. The rock art at Jubbah
Journey further into the past as you explore the rock art at Jubbah – one of the best and oldest examples of Neolithic rock art. Located in the Hail region, this open-air gallery showcases ancient petroglyphs, with some carvings dating back 10,000 years.
These enigmatic carvings depict scenes of daily life, hunting, and the local wildlife, offering a unique window into the prehistoric cultures that once thrived in this harsh desert environment. Covering two distinctive sections travellers can visit Jabel Umm Sinman at Jubbah and the Jabal al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis. Some leading archaeologists even claim that carvings of dogs aiding human hunters found on the cliffsides could show the earliest depiction of dogs ever documented. As you wander around this spectacular open-air museum, you can’t help but find yourself trying to decipher the stories told by these ancient artists.
3. Al Ahsa Oasis
The lush and verdant Al Ahsa Oasis, another one of Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, stands in stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscapes. Located in the Eastern Province, the natural oasis covers over 2,500 hectares and is classified as the largest palm oasis in the world by the Guinness Book of Records.
The history of Al Ahsa dates back thousands of years, and its ancient irrigation systems, known as “falaj,” are a testament to human ingenuity. A walk through this fascinating region will lead you to palm groves, ancient forts, and impossibly serene lakes. As you discover its beauty, our local expert guides will provide you with insights into the oasis’s historical significance, its modern-day relevance and how it helps with water conservation in this arid region.
4. The historic centre of Jeddah
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s gateway to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, is also home to a well-preserved historic centre. Known as “Al-Balad,”, which translates to “the town”, this area boasts a unique blend of traditional Hejazi architecture with coral-clad buildings and ornate wooden balconies. Stroll through the narrow alleyways, towards open-air markets and colourful, bustling souks, where you can shop for intricate handicrafts and sample local delicacies. Or visit historical landmarks including the Old Jeddah Wall and the ancient Al Shafi Mosque. The historic centre of Jeddah provides a fascinating glimpse into the cultural melting pot that has shaped this coastal city over centuries. Jeddah plays a significant role in the country, and exploring this city allows you to gain a deeper understanding of Saudi Arabia’s past and present.
Our trip to Saudi Arabia, allows you to embark on a journey to the Middle East for a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Saudi Arabia’s history, culture, and natural beauty. You’ll not only witness these ancient wonders but also immerse yourself in the warmth and hospitality of the Saudi people. It’s a chance to connect with a nation that is eager to share its heritage with the world. So, seize the moment and take the opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia, a land where history and tradition come alive around every corner.