Phrases like “hidden gem” and “undiscovered wonder” are often used rather loosely these days but tucked away in the northwest corner of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia you will find AlUla, an ancient metropolis with a potent sense of authenticity. AlUla was historically located on the “incense road”, the network of routes that facilitated the trading of spices, silk and other luxury items through Asia, Africa and Europe. Indeed, thanks to its strategic position linking east and west, AlUla is the nexus between archaeological and architectural wonder, containing evidence of 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. AlUla’s Martian landscape has an otherworldly appearance and breathes a fiery hue that leaves visitors totally captivated. Here, intrepid explorers and culture enthusiasts can get lost in a totally different age as they discover petrographs holding the secrets to humanity. The Nabataean’s, AlUla’s desert-dwelling nomads, were master craftsmen and from nature itself they carved a monolithic megacity.
Despite being out in the desert AlUla’s growing status as hub for modern and contemporary culture, gastronomy and adventure promises travellers unique experiences encompassing adventure, arts, culture, music, wellness and much more. You just have to take a look at Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building set in the desert canyon of Ashar Valley. Designed to blend into the surrounding landscape, it rises from the sand like a mirage. While the building stands alone as art itself, it was also designed as a fully functioning multi-purpose venue. Maraya has hosted highly anticipated performances, VIP experiences and pop-up events, including concerts by global superstars such as Enrique Iglesias, Westlife, One Republic and Mariah Carey.
And with a cornucopia of lavish hotels like Habitas and Banyan Tree and exquisite dining options, contemporary mixes tastefully with the ancient. AlUla is a genuine undiscovered wonder of the world and the intrepid who choose to holiday here will return home feeling rather smug - just think of the pictures! With that in mind, here’s our top picks to see the best of AlUla.
Visit the lost city of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site where more than 100 surviving tombs are strewn throughout the desert, intricately carved out of the sandstone rocks which punctuate the desert horizon. On the Hegra Rock Art Trail visitors can go on a journey through the millennia by exploring the mystical art carvings left by centuries of intrepid travellers who passed through. Be humbled by the almost incomprehensible levels of craftsmanship of civilisations gone-by at the Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza and Jabal Alahmar which holds tombs that have only recently been excavated.
Dive into a desert kingdom drowning in history in Dadan, a pre-Arabic oasis city carved from spectacular sandstone mountains which was once home to, the Dadanite and Lihyanite Kingdoms dating back 7,000 years. . The allure of a mystical ancient city that is yet to be truly uncovered is intoxicating to any culture buff or history lover, and it is estimated that only as little 3% of Dadan has been uncovered! Today visitors can view the iconic Lion Tombs set 50m built high into the majestic red rocks and the gentle excavation of this ancient city. Each tomb set approximately 50 metres high and guarded by lion sculptures. It is said that these tombs likely held the remains of elite and royal members of the Nabataeans.
Tours to Dadan include a visit to Jabal Ikmah also known as the open air library. Find yourself between two rocks covered in ancient inscriptions telling stories of past civilaistaion that once called AlUla home.
Just as the remains of ancient societies are yet to be excavated, so too is a burgeoning modern art scene that draws inspiration from its magnificent surroundings. The largest mirrored building in the world, Maraya deviates from most contemporary art pieces as it puts the spotlight back on its ancient surroundings – the mirrors themselves becoming a contemporary canvas designed to reflect AlUla’s extraordinary heritage and historical importance. AlUla is also host to a number of festivals that are drawing all different types of artists from all over the world.
AlUla Old Town evokes a true appreciation of this region’s heritage as an old town that is unquestionably authentic. It lies on the Muslim pilgrimage path between Damascus and Makkah, consists partly of mudbrick houses and is overlooked by Musa bin Nusayr Castle, a 10th century citadel. For a priceless artisanal souvenir, a trip down market street displays local handmade clothing, art and cuisine. AlUla Old Town pairs delightfully with a quick hop over into the modern day in AlJadidah. A vibrant cultural hub, AlJadidah is home to restaurants, shops and more. Beautiful murals bring an artistic touch to the pedestrian-friendly area, where the world’s largest hand-painted carpet lines the road for visitors. Find five distinct squares, Art Square, Gathering Square, Muayada Square, Qanat Square, and Oasis Square, each with their own unique atmosphere.