AlUla itinerary with Top Things to Do
Unveiling its mysteries, Saudi Arabia, nestled between the Red Sea and the Gulf, continues to captivate the imagination of both international and local tourists, dispelling common stereotypes. Recently, the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) released a list of Arab countries with the highest tourist arrivals this year.
The latest statistics reveal that Saudi Arabia welcomed over 18 million tourists in 2022, leading the pack, followed by the United Arab Emirates with 14.8 million and Morocco with 11 million visitors. The nation has set an ambitious goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030, aligning with the visionary initiative known as “Saudi Vision 2030.”
AlUla, an integral province of Arabia, stands out as a must-visit destination, boasting the distinction of being the kingdom’s first UNESCO world heritage site.
Embarking on a journey to explore this remarkable locale, delve into a place that remains preserved and undiscovered by mass tourism. Open your eyes wide, for it is truly a detour well worth taking!
So, where to go and what to do in AlUla in 2-3 days?
The Essentials in AlUla
This is the visit to do if you pass through AlUla. The Hegra site, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is none other than the extension of Petra in Jordan with its Nabataean temples.
From the AlUla International Airport, Herga is a short drive away, offering travelers a seamless transition into the heart of Arabian heritage:
- AlUla’s UNESCO World Heritage Site: Begin your journey at Herga by exploring AlUla’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to ancient rock formations, tombs, and archaeological wonders. Marvel at the intricate carvings and inscriptions that tell the tales of civilizations long past.
- The Ancient Mud Brick Fort: Discover the allure of the ancient mud brick fort in Herga, a testament to the region’s historical significance. Immerse yourself in the rich history and architecture, and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
- Cultural Encounters: Engage with the local community to gain insights into their traditions and way of life. Attend cultural events, if available, to witness traditional music, dance, and craftsmanship that have been preserved for generations.
- Hiking Trails: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the scenic trails surrounding Herga. The breathtaking desert landscapes, towering rock formations, and ancient petroglyphs create an immersive experience for nature enthusiasts.
- Local Cuisine: Treat your taste buds to the flavors of Saudi Arabian cuisine. Seek out local eateries to savor traditional dishes and immerse yourself in the culinary delights of the region.
AlUla Old Town
A visit to the old town is also another unmissable place in the heart of which absolutely charming and equally delicious little cafes and restaurants are starting to open.
The old town is divided into two parts:
– The old town and the souk, where various artistic events are organized throughout the year, mainly from October to May.
– The ruins: currently being renovated, the ruins of the old town will transport you to the time of this people full of mystery.
Part of the Dar Tantora hotel, currently under construction, will invest a part of the old town by completely transforming its remains while maintaining an eco-responsible approach.
Exploring AlUla Old Town:
- Historical Architecture: Begin your journey in AlUla Old Town by marveling at its well-preserved historical architecture. The town boasts ancient mud-brick buildings, narrow winding streets, and traditional Arabian design that offer a glimpse into the past.
- The Citadel: Explore the Citadel, a prominent landmark in AlUla Old Town. This ancient fortress offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes and provides insight into the town’s defensive history. Don’t forget your camera for breathtaking vistas.
- Alleyways and Souks: Wander through the narrow alleyways adorned with intricately designed doors and windows. Visit local souks to experience the vibrant marketplace atmosphere and perhaps pick up handmade crafts or traditional souvenirs.
- Historical Sites: Discover archaeological wonders scattered throughout the town, including ancient tombs, carvings, and inscriptions. Engage with the history of AlUla as you explore these sites, each telling a unique story of the civilizations that once thrived here.
- Cultural Encounters: Take the opportunity to interact with locals and gain insights into their daily lives. Learn about traditional customs, art, and craftsmanship, and witness cultural events if available during your visit.
- Old Town Gardens: Enjoy the tranquility of the Old Town Gardens, where well-tended greenery provides a peaceful contrast to the ancient architecture. It’s an ideal spot for relaxation and reflection.
The oasis is located in the heart of the old town. You will be able to wander around without hassle on foot, as well as with a stroller for adventurous families.
Begin your exploration with a leisurely stroll through the enchanting palm groves that characterize AlUla Oasis. The rustling palm fronds and the shade they provide create a tranquil atmosphere.
Some hotel establishments in the province of AlUla use exclusively products from local agriculture and the surrounding oases, which reflects the site’s main concern: being ecologically responsible while offering high-end service to its visitors.
Indeed, the oasis of the AlUla valley is a haven of freshness renowned for its date palms, its fragrant citrus fruits, as well as its crops of wheat, barley, olives, figs and oats.
Visit the traditional oasis farms where locals cultivate a variety of crops using traditional agricultural methods. Learn about sustainable farming practices that have sustained communities for generations.
A second legend of the province of AlUla is none other than the very famous “Elephant Rock” which indeed indeed resembles our Elephant friends.
“Elephant Rock”, with a height of 52 meters, offers a geomorphological landscape of incredible beauty, with mountainous reliefs in the background.
It is interesting to venture a little higher into the dunes to get an overview of the heights. Ideal if you have a 4×4.
Elephant Rock is easily accessible by car or guided tours from the AlUla city center. The drive to the site provides a scenic adventure, allowing you to take in the desert views and anticipate the majestic formation that awaits.
As you approach Elephant Rock, witness the impressive natural formation that strikingly resembles an elephant, complete with a trunk, body, and head. Capture the unique silhouette against the backdrop of the AlUla desert.
Maraya, meaning “mirror” or “reflection” in Arabic, is a stunning work of art located in the desert canyon of the Ashar Valley.
Designed to blend into the surrounding landscape, it emerges from the sand like a mirage. This state-of-the-art structure is covered in 9,740 mirrored panels that reflect the beauty of AlUla, making it the largest mirrored building in the world, according to Guinness World Records.
Maraya is the centerpiece of AlUla’s cultural scene, hosting concerts and artistic performances throughout the year. Prices vary depending on the events and exhibitions offered.
Stargazing in AlUla
Visiting the AlUla desert in the middle of the day is incredible.
But when night falls, the real magic happens, revealing a starry sky of breathtaking beauty. The absence of light pollution allows you to admire a clear and crystalline sky.
Harrat Point of View
Located at 1,744 meters above sea level, Mount Harrat Rahat is a volcanic field, hence the very dark rock present over a fairly large area.
The region has more than 500 volcanoes, and has been the most active volcanic area on the Arabian Peninsula for the past ten million years. The most recent documented eruption took place in 1256.
In order to access this viewpoint, it is essential to have a car available. The winding road is impressive and dominates the entire valley.
Highlight of the show recommended by the editorial staff: the viewpoint from the Greek restaurant / Okto bar for lunch or a drink at sunset.
3 Days AlUla Itinerary
– Give yourself time to arrive in this lunar setting that is AlUla and enjoy your hotel on this first morning: no matter where you stay, the atmosphere of the Province of AlUla is a real call to disconnection and letting go!
– Visit to Hegra: possibility of visiting in the morning or in the afternoon at sunset. The visit lasts 2 hours.
– Late afternoon and early evening: visit and stroll in the heart of the old town. Dinner on site.
– Zipline AlUla: the activity itself lasts 1 hour. It is recommended to arrive 45 minutes before your reservation. Make sure you wear comfortable clothes. Children under 12 are not allowed.
– Harrat viewpoint: continuing your route, you can reach the highest point to access a breathtaking view and appreciate this immensity and calm.
– Lunch at the Okto restaurant: extraordinary view!
– Return to the old town to visit the oases. End of the day and dinner on site.
– Observe the stars at night: if you want to discover Hegra at night and its magical sky, you can opt for the night option.
– Helicopter tour over the AlUla Province: breathtaking session!
– Visit to Elephant Rock & walk in the dunes
Eating in Alula
The Next Alula Events 2023/2024:
– Azimuth Festival from September 22 to 25, 2023, more information.
– AlUla Wellness Festival from October 20 to November 4, 2023, more info.
– Ancient Kingdoms Festival from November 17 to December 3, 2023, more info.
– Winter at Tantora from December 20, 2023 to January 20, 2024, more info.
Accommodation in AlUla
A pioneer in sustainable hospitality, Habitas brings luxury to AlUla while respecting the environment. Nestled in an ancient oasis amid the desert canyons of the Ashar Valley, you’ll be surrounded by sandstone cliffs and palm groves. The hotel has 96 bungalows divided into three categories: premium Celestial Villas, Alcove Villas and Canyon Villas. You can travel by buggy, electric bike or on foot for long walks.
The yoga deck, the Thuraya spa, the Tama restaurant and finally the spectacular swimming pool are an integral part of the hotel. Indeed, each of these spaces is built from ethically sourced organic materials that integrate perfectly with the natural environment. Magical awakening and a change of scenery guaranteed, out of time…
Price: from 1,960 SAR/night (breakfast not included).
Book: Habitas AlUla
Caravan by Habitas is an immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience, designed for adventurers seeking surprises, human connection, or total disconnection (depending on the angle of your Saudi getaway). Made up of 22 luxury Airstream caravans, Caravan by Habitas offers a unique experience.
Each caravan offers stunning views of the valley and is equipped with a private outdoor terrace, air conditioning, WiFi, a queen-size bed (or two single beds), an indoor living room, a kitchenette and a bathroom. Prepare for a total change of scenery!
Please note that the property is closed for the summer season, from May 20 to September 30.
Price: from 1,700AED/night (breakfast included via Booking.com but check with the hotel).
Book: Caravan by Habitas
Situated in the magical Ashar Valley of AlUla, right next to the Habitas Hotel, the brand new Banyan Tree Hotel villa complex offers a zen desert retreat. In this enchanting space, guests can enjoy breathtaking views of the Ashar Valley from the privacy of one of the 47 tented villas. Banyan Tree AlUla advocates for sustainability, connection and well-being as a path to living well. The hotel is known for its “infinity pool” directly built into the rock: incredibly magical!
Price: from 2,144 SAR/night (breakfast not included).
Book: Banyan Tree AlUla
Nestled on the outskirts of AlUla town, Cloud7 Residence is a bungalow complex designed to feel ‘at home’. Terrace and swimming pool are also available.
Price: from 1,045 SAR (breakfast included).
Book: Cloud7 Residence AlUla
Nestled among the vast expanses of desert sand and rugged rock formations of the Ashar Valley, Ashar Tented Resort offers you a unique luxury camping experience, immersing you in the heart of AlUla’s most spectacular landscapes. Each tent opens onto a wooden deck, allowing you to relax on lounge chairs while admiring breathtaking views.
High-end villas even offer private pools. Staying at Ashar Tented Resort, you will also enjoy access to all the facilities at Banyan Tree, including the hotel’s beautiful swimming pool and spa. Prepare for a luxurious getaway to the heart of the AlUla wilderness.
Prices start from 2,555 SAR and include breakfast.
Book: Ashar Tented resort AlUla
Shaden Resort is nestled among magnificent sandstone formations, offering a spectacular desert landscape combined with high-end amenities. Featuring several restaurants, this property offers a range of accommodation including luxury rooms as well as spacious villas, ideal for large families. You can also enjoy a large central swimming pool to cool off and relax. For a truly luxurious experience, opt for a villa with a private pool, giving you the privacy you desire while soaking up the beautiful surroundings around you. Prepare to experience a memorable stay in this exceptional setting.
Prices start from 3,063 SAR and include breakfast and dinner.
Book: Shaden Resort AlUla
Set in a majestic desert landscape, Sahary AlUla Resort’s village-like layout includes a series of traditional mudbrick-style buildings and two long avenues lined with individual air-conditioned bungalows. A magnificent oasis-style swimming pool is surrounded by palm trees, inviting you to relax.
If you prefer to swim indoors, the hotel also has an indoor pool where you can swim a few laps. Enjoy the unique atmosphere of this establishment and let yourself be enchanted by the beauty of the surrounding desert.
Price: from 787 SAR (breakfast and dinner included). Children over 7 years old are considered adults.
Book: Sahary AlUla Resort
Accommodations in AlUla offer a unique experience where luxury blends harmoniously with the surrounding nature.
Renowned hotels, luxury campsites and eco-friendly accommodation allow you to fully enjoy the natural beauty and fascinating history of this region, creating unforgettable memories of your stay in AlUla.
• What is the best time?
The ideal season to visit AlUla in the best conditions is from October to May.• AlUla with children?
All activities can be done with children. However, we do not recommend going to AlUla with a newborn, unless you want to enjoy your hotel and stay there.
• How to get to AlUla?
From Riyadh: Direct flights from Riyadh with Saudi Airlines, Flynas or KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
*Prices from 450AED. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and the season.
Direct flights from Jeddah with Saudi Airlines
*Prices from 493AED. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and the season.
Direct flights from Dubai with Fly Dubai, Emirates and Flynas.
* Prices start from 600AED. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and the season.
Direct flights from the capital will resume during the high season.
From Brussels or Geneva:
No direct flights, you will have to take a flight to Dubai to get to AlUla.
• Getting around:
In order to be free to move around, the best is to rent a car at AlUla airport: Lumi Car Rental.
The hotels also organize shuttles to the airport as well as to the various tourist places. This is a paid service. You can also use an agency who will find you a car with driver.
How to dress ?
It is no longer compulsory to wear an abbaya (traditional clothing worn by women in the Gulf region) and/or the veil for Western women.
However, AlUla is not a big city like Riyadh or Jeddah, we recommend respecting the local culture by wearing a kimono and pants or long dress depending on the visits you make.
Long Bermuda shorts and pants for men are also recommended. In the heart of your hotel, you can dress in whatever clothes you want.
Alcohol consumption in AlUla?
Alcohol is not served in restaurants or hotels. It is also prohibited to travel with alcohol.
This is a fairly substantial budget to take into account given the fairly premium hotel offers in the province of AlUla. Everything will depend on the type of stay you want to experience.
We recommend this destination with our eyes closed both for expatriates residing in the Gulf region and for French speakers traveling in the region.
If your budget and schedule allow it, you can indeed combine Dubai/United Arab Emirates, AlUla and Oman: a winning trio that will leave you with memories that will forever be engraved in your memories and, above all, stars in your eyes!
Need help planning your 3-day AlUla itinerary? Don’t hesitate to ask me your questions in the comments.