The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a land of incredible natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. If you have yet to explore it, now is the time to start.
The following are the top three Saudi Arabia destinations you should visit.
Edge of the World
Ever wondered how it would feel to stand at the edge of the world, looking down at a seemingly endless void underneath, there’s this one place in the Riyadh province you could go to. It is Jebel Fihrayn, the so-called Edge of the World.
The Edge of the World is part of the Tuwaiq Escarpment, a narrow canyon system formed by the tectonic shift of the Arabian Plate. The Tuwaiq Escarpment is one of the most recognizable features of the region, running 800 kilometers long and seemingly forming a chain around the province of Riyadh.
To get to the Edge of the World, you will have to drive one and a half to two hours from the city of Riyadh to the rocky desert 100 kilometers northwest of the capital.
The Edge of the World itself is a plateau found at the end of a rocky, windswept path that traverses the top of the cliff (the scarp). If you are starting from the bottom, you will have to climb 1,000 feet to the top, which is around a 15- to 20-minute hike.
Standing on the Edge of the World will give you glorious, sweeping views. The view from the top of the cliff is truly incredible. Looking down from it, you can see camels, dry river beds, and the seemingly interminable expanse of the desert below.
King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
Many call it ithra, an Arabic term that means “enrichment”. However, this museum is formally known as the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. It is located on Ring Road in the City of Dhahran in the Eastern Province.
What immediately strikes most visitors is the building’s distinctly futuristic architecture, which has propelled it into the global limelight for architectural innovation. The design is the brainchild of the Norwegian architectural firm, Snøhetta, which was selected after winning an invitational architectural competition in 2007.
Ithra looks like a collection of randomly arranged rocks of different orientations and sizes. This is a nod to the geological nature of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The building’s component ‘rocks’ lean against each other as a statement of solidarity.
What may not be directly apparent without an inspection of the blueprint is that the building is layered with the past represented underground, the present by the ground floor, and the future by the soaring-high tower. This is an acknowledgment that the past, present, and future are interconnected. Without valuing the past and learning from it, one cannot move to the present, and without the present, there can be no future.
The entire building and its facilities encompass over 80,000 square meters. Inside the building, you will find a 1,500-square-metre Great Hall, a four-floor library, a children’s museum, an 18-floor tower, a three-floor idea lab, a 315-seat cinema, and a 900-seat theatre, and a five-gallery museum.
What can you do at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture? You can marvel at its impressive architecture, gaze at the magnificence of the Great Hall, and go around the library and the museums. You may also visit the energy exhibit held in a separate building on the museum grounds.
Additionally, you can time your visit to coincide with seasonal events, exhibits, or workshops that are of particular interest to you. You can check the Ithra website for specific event schedules.
Rijal Almaa, located 45 kilometers from Abha, is a heritage village set against the verdant green mountains of the Asir province. The village’s location is itself one of the site’s biggest draws. Asir is known for its mild climate, so it is a place that is a popular summer destination among Saudis.
The charming village of Rijal Almaa is perched on a hill and provides captivating views of the surrounding areas. It prospered around 350 years ago, but its rich culture and architecture live on.
Centuries later, all sixteen of the village’s fortresses remain in their original place; in 2017, they were perfectly restored to their former glory, and the quartz-studded towers give the village a distinct glow and radiance.
The village is also historically significant because it used to be an ancient center of trade. Moreover, at this very site, the Asiri tribes demonstrated their exceptional valour and military cunning by emerging victorious against the Ottoman army, which numbered 50,000 men, thus forcing the empire to grant the region of Asir its independence.
Rijal Almaa is currently awaiting approval as a UNESCO Heritage site.
Visit the on-site museum to learn more about the history and culture of the village. You can also spend time chatting with the villagers who remain committed to preserving the rich heritage of the Asiri people. Of course, you should make it a point to find the village’s ‘flower men’. They’re hard to miss with the exquisitely crafted flower wreaths on their heads.
A Study in Contrast
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is steeped in ancient and natural wonders. The Rijal Almaa heritage village provides a window to an age that has passed but is thankfully not lost. Meanwhile, Edge of the World showcases the kingdom’s incredible geography.
However, relatively recent developments have propelled it into the limelight for its ultra-modern architecture and fascinating tourist attractions. Case in point: the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.
Indeed, the country is on the cusp of change.
How this change will take form, nobody knows. From the country’s Vision 2030 project, it seems the government is focusing heavily on tourism as a significant driver of development.
Depending on how effective the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is at formulating an effective brand strategy, the kingdom may very well be another prominent force in Middle Eastern tourism in the next decade.
For now, the country is an excellent study in contrast and absolutely a worthy place to travel and explore.