Al-Ula. The unique and fascinating city that sits in northern western Saudi Arabia about 3 hours north of Madinah has a long and storied history. Many ancient civilizations have passed through this area leaving their mark permanently on the desert landscape.
Visiting here is a highlight of travel in Saudi Arabia and we wanted to help those intrepid travelers plan with the best places to visit in Al Ula.
The crown jewel of the Al-Ula sites, Mada’in Saleh is the incredible ancient Nabataean “sister-city” of Petra in Jordan. The site is a collection of tombs and ancient carvings and buildings from the time period. While many areas of the site are excavated, there is still more to uncover in the sands of the area.
Be sure to visit Al-Fareed, the incredible large, solo tomb that is the most famous and photographed monument in Mada’in Saleh.
Al-Ula Old City
While many people come for the Nabataeans, there is so much more to the area than just those ruins. The old city of Al-Ula is among those. Sadly, no one lives in the old city anymore, as with the crumbling buildings and plans for tourism locals were moved out to newer homes elsewhere. It’ll be interesting to see how this area does develop and its a bit sad that it feels lifeless these days. However, if you can I recommend going sooner than later. As wandering the ancient buildings of the old city were among the highlights of a visit to Al-Ula.
Jabel Al-Fil or Elephant Rock is a unique and interesting rock outcropping in the area. This iconic rock really does appear to be an elephant in the desert. It is possible to visit the site any time of day (and there is parking available) and its worth taking a look at it during different light.
The Lion Tombs of Dadan, built by a civilization that predated the arrival of the Nabataeans in the area. The Lihyan people are believed to have been overtaken by Nabataea. Very little is known of the Lihyan beyond the tombs and language carvings found in the area and elsewhere. There is a hiking trail that allows you closer access to the tombs in the area.
This is one of my favorite places in Al-Ula. Ikmah Mountain is sort of like a library. There are hundreds of carvings among the mountains here from pre-Arabic / pre-Islamic times. These are so fascinating to see ancient languages from the Dadanite, Lihyanite and other civilizations of the area. This area was truly a crossroads of the area an important stopping area along routes through the region. You can also see other carvings among the walls, petroglyphs, etc., meant to inform both travelers of the time as well as future generations as well.
Located in-between Al-Ula and Medina, the Hejaz Railway station here is one of the most famous in the line. The Hejaz railway ran from Istanbul to Damascus and then finally down to Mecca in present day Saudi Arabia. The Arabs blew up the tracks/trains with the help of Lawrence, as part of an effort to disrupt the Ottomans. The bombed tracks and train are here and it’s worth visiting for the history of the area alone.
How to Get Around
The best way to visit Al-Ula is either by tour or private car. You can certainly book several tours from operators in the country such as Haya Tours which is a great option (in my opinion). If you book with them let them know and us know. We don’t get a commission for it just curious. Getting a rental car is also an option. I would recommend renting from where you fly in as options in town are more limited.
Where to Stay
Al-Ula is an a constant state of flux. My original visit to the area, there were basically no hotel options available at all. We stayed at the Arac Hotel in Al-Ula. It was clean and fairly comfortable. We’ll continue to look and update as places open and we get a chance to stay.
Other Posts you May Like
- Exploring The Villages of Habala in Saudi Arabia
- Into Mada’in Saleh
- Photo Essay: Old City of Al-Ula
- Exploring the Old City of Jeddah
Have you been to Al-Ula or is Al-Ula on your list of places to visit? Do you have another places you recommend or questions about the area? Let us know by commenting below or sending an email.