AlUla re-opening October 2020

 In October 2020, AlUla, an open-air museum the size of a country in Saudi Arabia which includes the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, will officially re-open and welcome visitors. Located 1,100km from Riyadh in north-west Saudi Arabia, AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage.

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) is working to develop the region into a tourist destination for archaeological heritage, nature conservation and the arts as part of the country’s Saudi Vision 2030. A sensitive renewal of the region is being delivered, balancing a duty to conserve and protect the natural and cultural heritage with an ambition to attract visitors from around the world. From October visitors will be able to access the main heritage sites, cultural touring options and a range of adventure experiences. 

The vast area, covering 22,561km², includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years to when the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms reigned.

While some attendees of AlUla’s Winter at Tantora annual arts festival have been granted access to the archaeological sites in the event’s first two years, now for the first time, AlUla’s landmarks of unprecedented historical and cultural significance and its 200,000 years of human legacy are going to be accessible for all visitors all year round. From October 2020, visitor experiences will be opened up in phases.

The four key heritage sites that visitors will be able to access are, Hegra, a 52-hectare ancient city and Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprised of more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement; Dadan, probably one of the most developed 1st millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Peninsula; Jabal Ikmah, often referred to as the ‘open-air Library’, offering insights to ancient beliefs, rituals and practices of every-day life. 

Old Town, the ancient walled city of AlUla which is a labyrinth of mud-brick houses still used up until the 1908s, is currently being secured and restored ready for visitors by early next year.

AlUla’s immersive experiences will however extend beyond the heritage sites. Walks, treks and trails will be available both guided by the local Rawi (Arabic storyteller) or self-guided for visitors who want to delve deeper into the stories and customs of the region. 

There will be immersive, light-touch experiences that harness the power and silence of the landscapes, experiences like guided stargazing in a desert night sky that has inspired science, religion, philosophy, art and literature for millennia.

Adventure tourists will have plenty of activities to choose from, whether it’s tearing around the sandscapes in a desert buggy, or taking to the skies in a vintage light air-craft to see volcanic craters and key hole tombs in the lava fields of Harrat Khaybar. 

Winter Park, an experience developed for the Winter at Tantora festival will also make a come-back as a more permanent attraction offering a casual open-air atmosphere for food trucks.

After a day of sightseeing, visitors can stroll through the cool and sheltered oasis - a green canopy of palm grove where the air is perfumed with the scent of dates, orange and mint grown nearby. 

Events will be held at Maraya, a multi-use 500 seat events venue that is covered in 10,000 square metres of mirrors, reflecting the surrounding landscape. Maraya is scheduled to re-open in December 2020.

With the rebound of the travel sector undoubtedly starting close to home, residents of Saudi Arabia within a drive or a short flight of AlUla will get a head start on experiencing the raw, natural beauty and monumentality of landscapes in this region. The resumption of domestic flights in the airports of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia commenced on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Direct flights from the UK, although currently paused, are served by British Airways and Saudia Air into Riyadh and Jeddah with Saudia Air also flying between AlUla and Riyadh and Jeddah.