Full travel guide to AlUla

Arabia’s hidden gem, undiscovered AlUla has no shortage of history, culture, adventurous experiences and monumental landscapes. Start planning your journey now with our full travel guide…

Jarone Ashkenzai
26 October 2021
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Discover A Lula

How to get to AlUla and getting around

The region is easily accessed by Prince bdul Majeed Bin Abdulaziz-Mogayla Airport (ULH) with short travelling distances to all the key attractions. The newly renovated airport is among the largest in the Kingdom and has been recently designated as an international airport, with Saudia Airlines and Flynas flying in and out of ULH.

Although there are no direct flights from the UK yet, Saudia has daily connecting flights from international hubs Jeddah and Riyadh. Non-stop services into Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam run from London with Saudia and British Airways.

When you touch down, getting around is easy using the transfer services provided by your operator or a plethora of taxi services. Rent a car with or without a driver, or make use of the popular ride-share service Careem. 

Hegra is Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site

Three must-visit heritage experiences in AlUla

Ancient rock art at Jabal Ikmah (Shutterstock)

1. Hegra

Traditional mud houses in AlUla Old Town (Shutterstock)

Hegra is Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit here allows you to be among the first to see AlUla’s natural and man-made works of art, from rock formations sculpted by nature to the preserved Nabataean tombs. Don’t miss the chance to take a Hegra Vintage Land Rover tour with a local Rawi (storyteller) to hear secrets of this ancient wonder. A tour takes approximately two hours. Highlights include the iconic Tomb of Lihyan Son of Kuza, Hegra’s largest tomb at 21m tall. The Diwan and The Siq in the natural mountain outcrop of Jabal Ithlib are also must-sees, where you can peek through the narrow rock chambers. Admire the red hue of the recently excavated 18 tombs of Jabal AlAhmar and gaze upon Face Rock, which is shaped like a human head and makes for a glorious sight at sunrise or sunset.

2. Dadan and Jabal Ikmah

The bountiful Oasis

In ancient Dadan, look out for carved lions high above the tombs of the Dadanite royal family and uncover stories about the legends of the Dadanite and Lihyanite civilisations. Considered one of the most developed 1st Millennium BCE cities in the Arabian Peninsula, this city displays a dozen tombs cut into the red-rock cliff and you can view a series of on going excavations demonstrating these fascinating civilisations. A visit to Jabal Ikmah offers a glimpse into the past through its rock inscriptions, an area with one of the highest concentration of scripts and rock art in Saudi Arabia. Elevate the experience with a Rawi to learn the stories behind this open-air library and the precursors to Arabic and other languages. The combined Dadan and Jabal Ikmah tour provides the opportunity to explore both sites. Take a self-guided walk on the Oasis Heritage Trail, a gentle and scenic walk through the beautiful oasis that leads from the Visitor Centre at Dadan 2.9 km south to AlUla Old Town.  Finish off with a spot of lunch or dinner in AlUla Old Town Market.

3. AlUla Old Town

Elephant Rock at sunset (Shutterstock)

AlUla Old Town is a heritage site and can only be visited with a local Rawi guide. Touring this active restoration project allows you to meet the friendly, welcoming locals and listen to their stories. A one-hour tour will immerse you into the local culture, revealing over 900 traditional mud brick houses and five rabhas or town squares. This town is now empty but the last of its residents didn’t leave until as recently as the 1980s. After your tour, explore Market Street (open from 3pm – 11pm daily) to purchase handicrafts and goods in a lively souq where local artisans mingle in their bustling cafés and streets. 

Don’t miss stargazing in AlUla

Three iconic nature and outdoor experiences in AlUla

Save room for saffron cake (Shutterstock)

1. Oasis of AlUla

Maraya Social by Michelin Starred chef Jason Atherton will top the Maraya

For thousands of years, the oasis provided safety, water, shade and natural produce and today is a modern agricultural epicentre, particularly known for its production of dates, fruits, aromatic herbs and perfumed oils. Measuring 19km long and full with 2.2 million palm trees, it also produces 29 types of citrus fruit as well as numerous varieties of dates, with the sweet and sticky barni variety being the local favourite. Embark on the Oasis Heritage Trail, a 2.9km self-guided walking tour which starts at the Dadan Welcome Centre and takes you south towards AlUla Old Town. You’ll stroll between farms, the wadi (valley) and the Orange Path where some 200k citrus trees await. Alternatively, you can independently hire a local guide to explore this beautiful oasis.

2. Elephant Rock (Jabal AlFil)

Traditional food can be sampled in the Old Town

Capturing the imagination of keen photographers the world over, this rock formation is shaped, as its name suggests, like an elephant with a distinctive ‘trunk’ and ‘body’. Shaped by millions of years of wind and water erosion, this awe-inspiring natural wonder is a non-ticketed experience with optimal viewings during sunrise or sunset to watch the colours change across the rock. Travellers can drive right up to the rock where a café offers refreshments before you take your seat in the comfortable sunken area and enjoy the view of this famous geological formation.

3. Stargazing at Gharameel

AlUla is home to more than 28,490 square kilometres of desert landscape and incredible rock formations. Drive some 90 minutes north of the Old Town for a stargazing experience that you will not soon forget. Sitting on a traditional woven carpet, a Rawi will share stories of years gone by alongside this spectacle with its naturally formed rock pillars stretching up to the sky in the desert. Devoid of light pollution, the sky here is as dark as they come, and you will easily be able to see the Milky Way twinkling above. The tour includes a Bedouin experience with dinner, but guests should arrive early to see the hues of oranges, pinks and gold paint the evening sky before the true beauty of the stark black sky is lit up with stars as far as the eyes can see.

Three thrilling adventures to have in AlUla

1. See AlUla from above on a helicopter tour

A 30-minute morning helicopter ride is certainly one way to awaken your senses. Above the sand and rocks, enjoy views over AlUla’s seven most famous landmarks and heritage sites, starting with Jabal AlFil (or Elephant Rock due to the shape of the rock formation) before seeing the former southern capital of the Nabataean civilization, Hegra and one of the last trains of The Hijaz Railway frozen in time. After, your helicopter will head west so you can gaze down at the marvel that is Maraya, the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s largest mirrored building reflecting the sun out to the sky, shining brightly like a diamond in the desert. The last few highlights of the journey include Jabal Ikmah, Dadan and lastly AlUla Old Town.

2. Take on the Adventure Trail

There are a number of incredible walks and hiking trails to explore but this 8km historical treasure site invites hikers to see 2,000 year-old rock art and learn the rich history of people of the land. Depending on your fitness level, the trail takes about three to four hours, and is relatively flat but offers a variety of terrains of different volcanic rocks and soft sand while your eyes will be peeled to the writings on the wall and the sections varying from narrow to very wide. As you walk through the terrain at Madakheel, your guide will allow you time to pause and take pictures of the oasis and desert. Trips are offered Tuesday through to Saturday during sunrise and sunset and includes driving to the site and back (about 90 minutes each way), snacks and knowledgeable guides.

3. The Cycling Trail

This tour is perfect for those looking to explore the vast landscapes of AlUla. The one-hour Cycling Trail gives you a chance to pedal over the sandy topography, cutting through the desert and follow in the footsteps of travellers from thousands of years ago. The 14km route will be led by a guide who will lead you up and down sand dunes, pointing out the significant sites along the way. 

Where to eat

Best for brunch

Nakheel Café

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Nakheel is located just outside of the historic mudbrick buildings of the Old Town. Be sure to save room for one of their traditional  desserts such as the Date Pudding or Saffron Cake.

Rahba Café

Another casual spot serving breakfast and lunch, this outdoor dining establishment in the Old Town offers an assortment of refreshments, coffees and shisha.

Pink Camel

Those with a sweet tooth must stop by this traditional bakery at the entrance of the Wadi near the Oasis. The authentic coffee shop is surrounded by AlUla’s famous date palms. Sample their Citrus fruits offerings such as the raspberry rose croissant, clementine white chocolate macarons and much more.

Best for fine dining

Maraya Social by Jason Atherton

The first restaurant in AlUla with a Michelin star chef opens on October 21, 2021 and is situated on the rooftop of Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building. Located in pristine Ashar Valley one of Britain’s most beloved chefs brings his newest restaurant to AlUla, open Wednesday to Saturday for dinner serving produce from local farms.

Annabel’s AlULa

Opening in December 2021, this well-known private members club in London took over Hegra Fort in 2020 as their first KSA residency. In an 18th century Hegra Fort within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, themed private dining areas change each year with signature menus and bespoke mocktails inspired by AlUla.

Best for authentic Saudi dining

Merkaz

This casual café in the Old Town offers a respite with traditional Saudi fare and a selection of sweets and hot drinks. The food here tastes just as scrumptious as it looks, and its presentation on colourful plates almost looks too good to eat. 

Suhail Old Town

If you are looking for high-end Saudi Arabian dining, this is the place to be. Suhail Old Town’s menu puts a modern twist on ancient classics with featured items including the Shrimp Mufalaq Al Hasa and the light Suhail kharbaz which is a dessert made with sweet melon filled with cream. 

Feeling inspired? 

For more information and inspiration on travel to AlUla, visit the official website.

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