The Top 12 Must-Sees in Saudi Arabia

From the local, to the quirky, to the breathtaking, here are the must-sees in Saudi Arabia:

1) Mecca and Medina, of course, are the chief must-sees for Muslims.

2) Medain Saleh, an archeological site dating back approximately 2,000 years, was constructed by the Nabateans, the same civilization that built the stone city in Petra, Jordan. The site contains beautifully preserved tombs, cave drawings, and more. Medain Saleh is Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage site. The Social Clubs at the King Faisal Specialist Hospitals occasionally organize weekend trips to Medain Saleh. Travelling from Riyadh and Jeddah, one usually flies to the town of Al Wejh on the northern Red Sea coast (about an hour flight from Jeddah and about three hours flight — due to a stop — from Riyadh). From Al Wejh, visitors typically take a bus tour to Medain Saleh, located about 200 km (124 miles) inland.

3) Abha in summer!Abha, the capital of Asir Province, is a mountain city enjoying a moderate climate and featuring many fine examples of traditional stone and mud architecture, some dating back hundreds of years. The summer festival is a popular draw for residents of the Kingdom, and the weekly market is something to see.

4) Wild baboons on the cliffs of Taif — Be entertained and amazed as this large troop of cliff-dwelling baboons caper along the highway and mountainside, and demand fruit and pita bread from motorists. (Locals aren't big fans, though — a November 2010 Arab News article reported that locals accuse the monkeys of raiding their crops and attacking and throwing rocks at people).

5) The Jeddah Corniche — The Corniche refers generally to the waterfront area, the coastal road (about 125 km, or 75 miles long) and the coastal walkway (about 30 km, or 18 miles long) along the Red Sea. It's a perfect place to watch the commercial vessels and private yachts sail past, picnic at the beach, entertain one's children at an amusement park or playground, dine in a fancy restaurant, or enjoy the widely varied art on its roundabouts! To see some examples of the art, visit the city's website, and click on "Jeddah Landmarks."

6) The coral reef, sea life, and wrecks of the Red Sea — Whether you are already an avid scuba diver or snorkeler, want to learn diving, or are an "enthusiastic floater," you'll love the Red Sea. Many people insist that the diving in the Red Sea is better than the Great Barrier Reef.

7) Farasan Island Reserve — Located in the Red Sea about 40 km (25 miles) off the southwestern coast of Saudi Arabia, this archipelago contains 84 islands. Explore the area for its beaches, Ottoman ruins, wildlife, and more. A twice-daily ferry service operates out of Jizan to the Farasan Island Reserve.

8) Riyadh's Janadriyah Festival, which is an annual event showcasing the culture and folklore traditions of the Kingdom — including a camel race! The Janadriyah lasts two weeks, and happens in March.

9) The open desert — What more can we say? (If you're around Riyadh, definitely head out to the Edge of the World.)

10) Jeddah's Old City (Al Balad) — The Old City area consists of (sadly) run-down buildings and (happily) some renovated historic buildings constructed from coral, with wooden lattice windows to allow sea breezes to cool the room, while maintaining privacy. Its oldest section dates to the ninth century. Check out our video of our Jeddah tour, with some scenes of the old city.

11) Old Dariyah, located just outside Riyadh, is the historic home of the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. Some sections of Dariyah have been restored.

12) The "UFO Building" in Riyadh (the home of the Ministry of the Interior). Sure, sure, you can look at a picture and say you've seen it, but there's something better about seeing it in person - especially lit up at night like a real UFO!

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