The Ultimate AlUla Road Trips Guide
It would take a lifetime to see all the history, natural wonders and sights of Saudi Arabia. With so many regions and cities — each with its unique charms — where should you begin?
A road trip is the best way to take in this alluring and diverse country, and any Saudi Arabia road trip should include a stay in the most captivating region of them all: AlUla, a welcoming oasis rich with culture, history, natural beauty and so much more.
ROAD TRIP TIPS
- If you’re travelling from another country, it’s best to have an International Driver’s Permit before taking a road trip in Saudi Arabia. Some rental car agencies will not let you hire a vehicle without one.
- Hire a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle to visit off-the-beaten path natural and historic attractions and to ensure you don’t get stuck in sand when driving off the main roads.
- Map out your routes ahead of time, so you know where to find lodging and petrol. It’s also wise to bring along paper maps or a GPS device in case there’s no cellular service along your drive.
- Pack extra water and snacks for your trip, no matter how long or short. After your stay in AlUla, opt to continue your road trip or catch a flight home from AlUla’s Airport (ULH).
Riyadh to Qassim to Hail to AlUla
Modern Capital to Historic Old Town
Riyadh to Qassim: 396 km, 4 hours
Riyadh, the modern capital city of Saudi Arabia is brimming with things to see and do. In the Diplomatic Quarter gardens, you’ll find vast tracts of lush greenery in the heart of the city. Explore the eight galleries and myriad artefacts of the National Museum of Saudi Arabia to discover everything from dinosaurs to stunning murals depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s life. For more history, stroll the manicured gardens of Al Murraba Palace, the former home of King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern-day Saudi Arabia. Then, visit the Al Masmak Fortress where you can see the mark of King Abdul Aziz’s spearhead embedded in the wooden gate, before stopping at the Souq Al-Zal market to purchase traditional handicrafts, jewellery and other souvenirs before making your way to Qassim.
Qassim to Hail: 274 km, 3 hours
Qassim Province is an agricultural haven, known for its heritage villages, traditional souks and producing various types of luxury dates. The fruit is so important to the people of the region that it’s celebrated annually at the 90-day long Buraydah Date Market — the largest date market in the world. Not far from Buraydah is Ayn Al Jawa, an oasis valley famous for its natural spring and as the home of poet Antara, who wrote inscriptions on nearby Antara’s Rock. Back in Buraydah, you’ll find a host of dining options and can rest for the night at the 5-star Mövenpick Hotel Qassim before continuing your journey to Hail.
Hail to AlUla: 429 km, 4.75 hours
Originally forged from mud and clay, the A’Arif Fort is the oldest building in Hail and its soaring towers can be seen from any point in the city. The fort’s many watchtowers allowed residents to keep an eye out for threats in the 17th century CE. Nearby, you can also find two UNESCO-recognized sites featuring ancient rock art and inscriptions: Jabel Umm Sinman at Jubbah and the Jabal al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis. Set in the centre of Hail’s old town, Qislah Palace was built in the 1940s to host troops protecting the city. You can also view the sole remaining tower of Barzan Palace, which once housed both diplomats and the royal families. From here, your travels take you to AlUla, where, among many historic wonders, you can appreciate the clever design and fortification in the maze-like AlUla Old Town.
Aljouf to Tayma to AlUla
A Trail of Natural Beauty
AlJouf to Tayma: 545 km, 5.5 hours
Known as the land of olives, AlJouf bursts with history and culture. Trace the footsteps of ancient civilisations at the ruins of Dumat Al Janda and its centerpiece Marid Castle; Zaabal Castle, ideal for spectacular sunset views, and nearby Rajajil Columns — finger-like rock formations called the Stonehenge of Arabia.
Tayma to AlUla: 230 km, 2.5 hours
In the oasis town of Tayma, you’ll find the famous Bir Haddaj — a well that dates back to mid-6th century BCE, along with awe-inspiring sandstone outcrops etched with petroglyphs of Arabian horses. The Tayma Museum features exhibits detailing the thousands of years of human life here. Other highlights include the historic mud-brick Governor’s Palace; the Al-Ablaq Palace, which was built by a Jewish poet and warrior in the 6th century BCE; and the Al-Hamra Palace, a Babylonian castle that also likely dates to the 6th century BCE. Marvel at the naturally split Al Naslaa rock formation before driving to AlUla to experience unparalleled natural wonders, such as the Sharaan Nature Reserve.
Tabuk to AlUla
Follow the Hijaz Raiway
320 km, 3 hours
The historic city of Tabuk is home to numerous noteworthy places, including Masjid Al-Tawbah, one of the oldest mosques in the world and a site where the Prophet himself once prayed. Nearby is the Tabuk Castle, a fortress that is thought to date back to 3500 BCE and is mentioned in the holy Qur’an. For a natural outing, hike or camp in the mountainous Wadi Al Disah (“the valley of the palm trees”), a lush valley floor surrounded by red-rock cliffs and pillars.
At Hijaz Railway Station Museum in Tabuk, you can find artefacts and a preserved locomotive from the train route built to provide pilgrims with easy access to the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah (construction was ultimately never completed due to World War I). Your next stop along the Hijaz Railway is AlUla, where you can further explore the remarkable history of the route.
Red Sea Project (Alwajh) to AlUla
Coastlines & Architectural Marvels
245 km, 2.5 hours
In the very near future, AlWajh will be home to the Red Sea Project — an exquisite destination resort nestled on the coast of the Red Sea’s shimmering blue waters. The pristine area is home to more than 90 untouched islands, volcanoes, mountains and gorgeous natural landscapes, all of which the Red Sea Project vows to safeguard.
While you eagerly anticipate this new arrival, stroll the streets of AlWajh Old Town to admire striking historic architecture. You’ll find the homes, many made from Red Sea coral, adorned with elegantly carved wooden windows that protrude delightfully from the buildings’ facades. For further architectural marvels, continue your journey to AlUla where you can explore the ancient city of Dadan.
Umluj to AlUla
Sea to Oasis Journey
312KM, 3,75 hours
Often called the Maldives of Saudi Arabia, the small coastal town of Umluj is known for the abundance of life hidden beneath its sea. From the beach or a boat, you can snorkel in the clear blue waters while rare hawksbill turtles swim around you, and sea cows graze on grasses below. Spot purple and green nudibranch molluscs creeping along coral forests as you swim. Take a boat tour to spot dolphins and snap photos of the white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. After your day of explorations, retreat to the emerald date palms of the Oasis of AlUla, which has welcomed travellers for thousands of years — and still does to this day.
Madinah to Khaybar to AlUla
Holy Lands & Natural Wonders
Madinah to Khaybar: 170 km, 2 hours
Muslims from around the world make pilgrimage to the holy city of Madinah to pray within the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, or The Prophet’s Mosque. The city holds special importance as it is where the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community after leaving Makkah. His body is also entombed at Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, marked by a rich green dome.
Because it is such a sacred place, only Muslim pilgrims are allowed to enter The Prophet’s Mosque. However, non-Muslims are welcome to explore the rest of the city (taking note to dress appropriately), including the Quba Mosque — whose first stones were set by the Prophet. At the Holy Qu’ran Museum , guides walk you through the history of Islam and a collection of ornate centuries-old copies of the holy book. From Madinah, drive north to Khaybar.
Khaybar to AlUla: 218 km, 2 hours
Here, the impressive ruins of the Khaybar Fort sit surrounded by date palms. This historic place was the site of a 628 CE battle and a major victory for the Prophet Muhammad’s army. Not far from the fort you’ll find Harrat Khaybar, a volcanic field featuring extremely rare white volcanoes formed by lava rich in the mineral silica. White volcanic fields give way to black basalt lava fields, creating a magnificent visual effect that you’ll find nowhere else on Earth. From here, you’ll journey north to AlUla, where you’ll find more geological wonders, like the famed Jabal AlFil, formerly called Elephant Rock for the unique shape it takes.
Jeddah to Yanbu to AlUla
Trace the Red Sea Coastline
Jeddah to Yanbu: 327 km, 3.5 hours
You could easily spend weeks touring the streets of Jeddah, whose Al-Balad historic district is filled with rawasheen — ornate latticed windows that project from building fronts, cushioning the sun’s impact while allowing Red Sea breezes to flow freely inside homes. Here you’ll also find the arched Makkah Gate, which recognizes the holiest city in Saudi Arabia: Makkah, which only Muslim pilgrims can visit. For a deep dive into Jeddah’s rich history, spend some time at Al Tayebat Museum, home to three storeys of intricate exhibits about the city. Make sure you take time to admire Jeddah’s modern marvels, as well, including King Fahd’s Fountain and the world-class Jeddah Corniche, where you can stroll the waterfront and rent bicycles to explore the many sculptures and eateries. Drive north along the Red Sea’s shoreline to your next stop: the port city of Yanbu.
Yanbu to AlUla: 371 km, 4.25 hours
During Yanbu’s annual Flower Festival, you can stroll through gardens of artistically arranged technicolor blossoms from around the world. For year-round fun, dive into the city’s crystal-blue waters, where you can spot rays, rainbows of coral reefs and a variety of shark species, including hammerheads. Relax for the night on a private island at the 5-star Mövenpick Hotel & Resort Yanbu, where you can dine with sea views and luxuriate in the sauna or on the beach. Before getting back on the road, spend some time seeing the historic side of Yanbu in its Old Town. If you still need a few days of coastal breezes and bright blue seas, you can continue to Umluj. Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, head to AlUla to experience the unbridled wilderness and agricultural gems of the Oasis of AlUla.
Al-Ahsa Oasis to Al-Turaif District to Hail Rock to Hegra
UNESCO World Heritage
Al-Ahsa Oasis to At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah:
351 km, 4 hours
In the eastern Arabian Peninsula sits Al-Ahsa Oasis, the largest oasis in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2018. Evidence suggests humans have inhabited this oasis as far back as the Neolithic period. Millions of date palms blanket the area, surrounding Al-Qarah Mountain whose massive columns reach skyward like castle towers. Summit the mountain to weave through the wind- and water-hewn caves and see the emerald palm forest from above. When you return to lower grounds, wander the historic clay-walled Souk AlQaisariyah for local souvenirs before you drive to your next destination: At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’yah.
At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah to Hail:
621 km, 6.5 hours
Your next UNESCO World Heritage stop is the site of Saudi Arabia’s first capital city at the Al-Turaif District. Built from mud-brick in the Najdi architectural style, it is a maze of historic palaces, monuments and buildings. While the site is currently closed to the public, visitors can still witness and photograph this incredible structure from nearby Al Bujairi plaza. From here, drive on to Hail where you'll dive deeper into the kingdom's past.
Hail to Hegra: 429 km, 4.5 hours
The petroglyphs in the Hail region are some of the most spectacular you’ll see in the world, making it easy to see why they were added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Surrounded by sand dunes approximately 90 kilometres north of Hail is the Jabel Umm Sinman at Jubbah, where rock carvings depicting camels, water buffalo, horses and ancient rulers span four different time periods. Another 250 kilometres south of Hail, hire a guide to lead you to some of the oldest carvings of the Arabian Peninsula at Jabal al-Manjor and Raat at Shuwaymis. Trace the shifting sands of 10,000 years as hunting scenes shift to herding scenes and flora and fauna evolve. Spend the night at the 5-star Millennium Hotel Hail before continuing on to AlUla and the ancient city of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.