Saudi Arabia recently announced that it will be offering tourist visas for the first time — marking a historic moment for the world’s travel scene. The aim? To diversify its economy away from oil and open up the country to holidaymakers. This is with good reason, as the kingdom boasts five UNESCO World Heritage sites and boundless natural beauty. Today, 49 countries are available for e-visa application, including Singapore. This big change has drawn investors like Aman Resorts, which has signed a deal to open three properties in 2023.
Other tourism changes include moderating the dressing ban on female travellers. They will be expected to dress modestly, but no longer need to wear the all-covering abayas. Unmarried couples will also be allowed to share rooms while on vacation, although this rule only applies to international visitors.
This new move to tourism has been long-awaited by many. Hidden treasures like the Al Murabba Palace can now be explored, together with the historical Ad Dir’iyah. Plan your next journey to Saudi Arabia as they open up their shores, along with their hearts, to the world.
Feel like royalty
The Al Murabba Palace was formerly the home and court of King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. It was completed in 1938, and the former King had resided in its grounds for 15 years before passing on. The two-storey residence and court played host to 32 rooms and reflected the features of the traditional Najdi architecture: arranged in a cubic structure around a breezy central courtyard. Today, the palace is home to Saudi memorabilia, including some of the former King’s most personal belongings. One interesting item to look out for is the Rolls-Royce that was presented to the former King by Winston Churchill in 1946.
Get a glimpse of Saudi Arabian history
Ever wondered where Saudi Arabia all began? Ad Dir’iyah, the birthplace of the first Saudi state, can still be accessed today. History aficionados can take pleasure in discovering one of the country’s UNESCO heritage sites, and learn more about the country’s previous capital. The mud-brick walls that once housed a thriving desert city bustling with commerce were then succeeded by Riyadh in 1818 as the new capital to the now unified Saudi Arabia. The ruins are in the process of being meticulously restored to its original glory in efforts to bring its historical legacy back to life.
Be spellbound by breathtaking views
Asir National Park is Saudi Arabia’s answer to a mountainous retreat, with spectacular views from every direction. It is situated atop 4500 km2 of land, encompassing mountain ranges nearly 3000m above sea level. The critically endangered Arabian leopard seeks the park as one of its last refuges in the world, but can hardly be seen by visitors as it resides in inaccessible mountainous ridges. The park stretches from the desert in the east, all the way to the Red Sea coast, and is home to over 300 species of birds. Visitors are allowed to host picnics and camp on selected areas as well.
Go on a cultural discovery
Change is the only constant, and this is reflected in the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. Known to the locals as Ithra (translated as enrichment in Arabic), it has become one of the most outstanding icons of Saudi Arabia. It is designed to resemble different sized rocks leaning on each other, symbolising the dependency of each of the multiple disciplines explored in the building. The 85,000 square metre building and the surrounding 220,000 square metre Knowledge Park is Saudi Arabia’s promise towards a continuous journey of enrichment. For a brief overview, a 30 minute guided tour is available to guests. It includes a visit through all parts of the Center, some of the art installations and a general understanding of the building and it’s creation.
Stand on the edge of the world
Just 90km northwest of Riyadh lies The Edge of the World. The aptly named destination is a geological wonder — an uninterrupted view of the horizon can be seen on top the escarpment. The desert cliffs rise dramatically to more than 300 metres above an ancient ocean bed, stretching toward the sky to form a natural wall. Apart from the jaw-dropping landscape, spot camels trodding on well-plodded paths and meandering dried rivers across the land. Travellers can decide from a multitude of routes to reach the cliffside, but with steep climbs and loose gravel, good walking shoes are advised.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore.