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72 hours in AlUla: Where to eat, sleep and play

Tick off the bucket list – here are the biggest and best things to do in AlUla across one, two and three days. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the final frontiers when it comes to tourism. The Kingdom only started issuing tourist visas in 2019, which makes it appealing for the intrepid traveller who wants to visit rarely-seen sights. 

Nestled in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, AlUla is an emerging tourist destination that blends ancient wonders with modern experiences. Carved into sandstone cliffs, Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a captivating archaeological marvel showcasing the Nabataean Kingdom’s ingenuity. 

AlUla is also becoming a hub for art and entertainment. Witness the architectural marvel of Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building, immerse yourself in the vibrant AlJadidah Arts District, or attend one of the many festivals held throughout the year, from the AlUla Arts Festival to Winter at Tantora. 

So, whether you’ve got 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours, this is how to make every second count. Note: the working week runs from Sunday to Thursday, the weekend is on Friday and Saturday, and many establishments are closed on Friday morning. 

Here’s our curated AlUla itinerary featuring food, arts, culture and tourist attractions.

Day one: 24 hours in AlUla

Travel back in time and walk in the footsteps of the Nabataeans.Learn about the Kingdom’s unique history at UNESCO World Heritage sites, historical palaces, and traditional souqs. 


Embrace the Kingdom’s coffee culture

AlUla is home to some brilliant breakfasts and cosy coffee shops. Coyard Coffee Roasters in AlJadidah Arts District is a quaint café serving speciality coffees brewed from self-roasted beans sourced from all over the world. While caffeinating, enjoy the bustling ambience of Incense Road from the terrace seating or purchase a pouch of their premium beans for takeaway. Other options for a quick cuppa include Al Hatab Bakery, Noug, Ppl, Wacafe or WOOP!

things to do in AlUla


Explore AlUla Old Town

For a unique cultural experience, wander through the mudbrick houses of the AlUla Old Town. Inhabited from the 12th century until the 1980s, it offers a unique glimpse into the lives of past residents. This maze of narrow alleys and mudbrick dwellings, once home to nearly 900 families, resembles an ancient fortress. As you explore, remnants of mosques, markets, and five town squares reveal the previously thriving bustling life. Dominating the town is the Mousa Bin Nusayr Castle, a 10th-century citadel offering panoramic views. Be sure to also visit the Al-Izam Mosque and the sundial clock. While the town is no longer inhabited, descendants of the original residents often share stories and lead tours, bringing the town’s history to life.

AlUla Old Town


Step back in time and discover Dadan

Dating back to the 9th century BCE, this captivating stone city was once the ancient capital of the Dadan and Lihyan kingdoms and offers a glimpse into the past. Here, towering structures and stairways are carved directly into the red sandstone cliffs. Explore the courtyards, water channels and tombs, some adorned with intricate carvings, that served as final resting places for the Kingdom’s elite. Marvel at the Thamudic and Lihyani inscriptions etched onto the rocks, offering clues about the language, culture, and daily lives of the Dadanite people. Beyond the city walls, you can wander through the sprawling oasis, which was once a vital source of water and sustenance for the Kingdom.

things to do in AlUla


Grab a bite at Somewhere

The Arabic meets Mediterranean restaurant Somewhere has expanded across the Middle East. The restaurant opened in AlUla’s Oasis and pays homage to flavours from around the world. The menu includes Beetroot Rice, Kale Tabouli Salad, and Wagyu Baos, served in a serene setting amongst palm trees and gurgling water features. Plus, there are Insta-worthy sweet treats from baklava to layered cakes. 

Somewhere Abu Dhabi


Head to Hegra

If you only have time to do one thing in AlUla, visit Hegra. Also known as Mada’in Saleh, Hegra stands as a testament to the ingenuity and artistry of the ancient Nabataean people. Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site sees towering sandstone cliffs carved into breathtaking masterpieces. Over 110 intricately detailed tombs, some dating back to the 1st century BC, adorn the sandstone canvas. Each façade boasts a unique design, showcasing a blend of Nabataean and Hellenistic influences. Observe expertly carved stone blocks – or betyls – that acted as representations of the gods or step inside the tombs and discover spacious chambers, once used for burial rituals and adorned with colourful frescoes.  

AlUla Museums


Catch the sunset at Elephant Rock

Rising majestically from the golden desert sands, Elephant Rock, also known as Jabal AlFil, is a natural wonder that captures the imagination. This 52-meter-tall sandstone formation resembles a colossal elephant with its trunk buried in the sand. Sculpted by the relentless forces of wind and water erosion over millions of years, Elephant Rock is particularly magical at dusk when the fading sun casts a deep crimson glow over the trunk and body of AlUla’s famous geological pachyderm. Linger a little longer with coffee or a meal from Key Cafe or Salt and sink into seats embedded into the sand while listening to tales of the rock’s origins.

Ramadan in AlUla


Dine at Ducasse

Alain Ducasse is one of the world’s most accomplished chefs, boasting an impressive tally of 20 Michelin stars. Set amidst breathtaking landscapes, Ducasse in AlUla offers a seasonal oasis-to-table dining experience that infuses innovative twists into French cuisine. Expect exclusive dishes crafted specifically for AlUla, all underscored by a commitment to sustainability. The design blends with the surrounding environment, showcasing a thoughtful architectural integration that pays homage to the region’s natural heritage.

things to do in AlUla


Get your skates on

Strap on your dancing skates and prepare for an evening of smooth gliding and vibrant beats at AlUla On Wheels. Here, renowned DJs ignite the atmosphere with live performances at AlUla’s open-air roller rink. Taking place in AlJadidah district, this event curated by rapper and music producer Swizz Beatz brings feel-good nostalgia with its superb soundtrack.

AlUla on Wheels

Day two: 48 hours in AlUla 

Experience adventure with a helicopter or hot-air balloon ride, or take to the skies on the Giant Swing. Traverse the landscape from the desert floor to mountain peaks, and end the day with a sunset to remember.


Rise and shine for a hot air balloon tour

Wake up early and take a magical morning tour with Saudi Arabia’s first commercial hot air balloon operator, Hero Balloon Flights. Unlock your inner explorer as you float 4,000 feet above AlUla’s stunning landscapes, canyons and tombs, which stretch as far as the eye can see. This includes Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra. You’ll take in panoramic views of the stunning rock formations, lush oases, and historic sites that have captivated travellers for centuries and will continue to do so for many more to come.

hot air balloon AlUla


Relax and refuel

Situated at the bustling eastern hub of Daimumah, you’ll pass the all-day Daimumah café on your way back from ballooning. Refuse and recharge amidst the scenic beauty of the natural oasis and enjoy a menu of light meals, snacks, coffee, tea, and freshly pressed juices. The wood-decked terrace offers a serene retreat amongst the palm trees. After breakfast, wander along the picturesque pathways through Daimumah’s shaded palm groves, aromatic botanical gardens, and sustainably grown crops tended by local farmers. As you meander, you’ll encounter ancient mudbrick dwellings and historic qanats (irrigation channels) that have stood the test of time alongside hammocks and swing seats.



Take on the AlUla Stairway and Giant Swing

The AlUla Stairway and Giant Swing are first-of-their-kind attractions in the region. The ladder is suspended 45 metres in the air and swings 85 metres above the ground. The AlUla Stairway experience starts with a climb up the suspended ladder stairway, followed by a 150-metre zipline back down to the valley floor. AlUla Giant Swing includes a 100-metre ferrata climb, followed by a drop into the canyons. 

things to do in AlUla


Journey to Jabal Ikmah

Nestled amidst the ochre-coloured sandstone of AlUla lies Jabal Ikmah, a mountain transformed into a vast open-air library. This site boasts a staggering collection of ancient inscriptions, offering a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of civilisations that thrived here millennia ago. These petroglyphs and Thamudic texts, dating back to the 1st millennium BCE, depict various subjects, from hunting scenes and animals to symbols and geometric patterns. 

Jabal Ikmah


Have lunch at Heart of Oasis

Nestled among two million date palms, the Heart of Oasis Restaurant offers a unique dining experience. The restaurant prides itself on its farm to fork concept, which is an ode to the slow food movement. The dishes have been created using local ingredients, from freshly farmed produce to the fruits of AlUla Oasis. Saudi chefs lead emerging talent, and dishes are cooked in an old-school way.

Heart of The Oasis


Visit Madrasat Addeera

Formerly known as the Old Girls’ School, Madrasat Addeera is a cornerstone of AlUla’s vibrant AlJadidah Arts District. Rooted in community empowerment, this project focuses on teaching local women traditional handicrafts while offering weekly workshops open to all. The workshops cover traditional arts rooted in AlUla’s history including candle making, ceramics, embroidery, jewellery making, palm weaving and wood carving.

Madrasat AlUla


Take in the sunset at Harrat Viewpoint

AlUla boasts numerous vantage points providing breathtaking views, yet none rival the grandeur of Harrat Viewpoint. Whether you hike or take a car, Harrat Viewpoint, situated atop a volcanic mountain, unveils its splendour in the late afternoon. Visitors can marvel at the Oasis, Old Town, and the expansive valley below before witnessing a captivating Saudi sunset. Sunken seating allows you to linger at leisure, while OKTO brings the white sand beaches of Greece to the black volcanic outcrop.

things to do in AlUla


Experience elongated evenings at SASS AlUla

The legendary nightspot from Monaco has arrived in the Kingdom. SASS AlUla boasts a fine dining menu featuring Mediterranean and South American cuisine. What truly stands out is its theatrical live open-fire cooking, which adds a touch of spectacle. Live DJ sessions, glitzy decor, and the breathtaking backdrop of AlUla’s dramatic desert canyons further enhance the restaurant’s inimitable vibe. 

things to do in AlUla


Shop until you drop

Stroll down Old Town Market Street and trace the ancient paths trodden by merchants along this historic trade route. Today, the bustling marketplace retains its historical charm, offering an array of treasures ranging from local handicrafts to exquisite antiques. Whether you’re seeking souvenirs or simply indulging in a cup of coffee, you’ll find yourself immersed in the ancient traditions of the Incense Road.

AlUla Old Town Market

Day three: 72 hours in AlUla

With the main attractions out of the way, venture further afield and explore the terrific topography and lesser-known ancient wonders away from the tourist trail. 


Wander through Wadi AlFann

Known as the “Valley of the Arts,” Wadi AlFann is an emerging cultural hub and a vast canvas for expansive land art projects. Embark on a guided walking tour through the valley and encounter monumental sculptures that define eras. By 2026, the site will be home to Manal AlDowayan’s landmark installation, “Oasis of Stories,” offering a labyrinthine experience inspired by the drawings of AlUla’s local farmers, families and footballers, which will be inscribed onto sustainable salt panels erected in the desert for future generations to enjoy.

AlUla’s Wadi AlFann


Visit ancient Khaybar

Nestled amidst ancient volcanic terrain, the historic Kingdom of Khaybar presents a mesmerising landscape that appears almost surreal. This verdant oasis was once home to a Jewish community, dating back to the 6th century BCE. Today, Khaybar is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While preserving its historical significance, the region embraces sustainable agricultural practices and promotes eco-tourism. Visitors can hike the lava fields, explore the remnants of ancient settlements and the Jewish fortress of Qamus, or witness the innovative use of technology in date palm farming.

Ancient Kingdoms Festival


Get back to nature

The Sharaan Nature Reserve, encompassing over 2,400 square kilometres, offers a refuge for diverse wildlife and a landscape that speaks of resilience and untamed beauty. This stark yet captivating landscape is home to Arabian leopards, sand cats, houbaras, and reptile species. The landscape at Sharaan Nature Reserve features vast sand dunes and volcanic fields with lava flows and craters. Best explored on a 4×4 safari, the area will soon be home to Sharaan by Jean Nouvel, a highly anticipated desert resort featuring 40 rooms, three villas, and 14 serene pavilions designed by acclaimed architect Jean Nouvel.

things to do in AlUla


Marvel at Maraya

Maraya stands as an architectural marvel, swiftly achieving iconic status. As you approach this dazzling mirrored structure nestled in AlUla’s Ashar Valley, Maraya appears to seamlessly blend into the sandstone cliffs before reemerging with stunning clarity. Maraya — meaning ‘mirror’ in Arabic — stands as the world’s largest mirrored building and features 9,740 reflective glass panels across its 26-metre floor-to-ceiling facade. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a concert. Alicia Keys, John Legend and Ms Lauryn Hill have all performed at the concert hall in recent months.



Dine under the stars

With so little light pollution, AlUla offers superb stargazing. Dine alfresco while taking in the night sky. From Jason Atherton’s Maraya Social perched atop the mirrored marvel to international brands like Café Ruc, Entrecôte Café de Paris, and Novikov to homegrown favourites such as MYAZŪ and Suhail, there’s something to suit every preference and palate. 

Maraya Social AlUla

Where to stay

Imagine getting out of bed, pulling open the curtains and waking up next to Saudi Arabia’s marvellous mountains. Well, at AlUla you can do just that. Whether you want camps or caravans, five-star or fine dining, there is a hotel to meet your needs. 

Banyan Tree AlUla

Tent and luxury aren’t two words you expect to go together. Banyan Tree AlUla, with its elegant tented villas, is one of the most luxurious hotels in AlUla. The rooms include one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, some with private swimming pools and a fire pit. Drawing inspiration from the Ashar Valley, it feels like you’re at one with nature. The resort includes a spa, health centre and rock pool, which sits between two soaring cliffs.

Banyan Tree AlUla Barry's

Dar Tantora

Dar Tantora by The Hotel House has repurposed mudbrick buildings and is home to 30 rooms. Drawing inspiration from the area, it has used local artisans in the restoration and boasts traditional décor, a restaurant and a spa. The property also has daily cultural activities lined up for guests, which include fresh bread making, Saudi coffee sessions, ancient games, and craft making, all led by local artisans. Dar Tantora also has an infinity pool with views that make you think you’re in your private oasis.

Dar Tantora

Habitas AlUla

Thanks to its focus on the environment and wellness, Habitas AlUla is just what the doctor ordered: a serene stay. Even the gram cannot do the location justice, as it’s nestled between the ancient oasis and sandstone cliffs. The hotel includes 96 rooms, a yoga deck, pool and wellness as well as fitness centre. Activities include art and culture walks, canyon trekking, meditation and breathing classes with social media sensation, The Breath Guy. Plus, the restaurant Tama is great for Middle Eastern dishes – an authentic kabsa, anyone? 

Habitas Al Ula

When to visit

The most popular time to visit AlUla is during the winter months, from October to April when the weather is mild and outdoor exploration is easy. This is also when most of the region’s cultural activities and festivals take place. The summer months are extremely hot, with temperatures reaching up to 43°C (109°F). 

Saudi Arabia tourist visa

Getting there and away

AlUla International Airport is located approximately 30 kilometres from the city centre. Several airlines offer direct flights to AlUla from major cities around the world, including Cairo, Doha, Dubai and Manama. You can also fly directly to AlUla from major cities in Saudi Arabia, including Jeddah and Riyadh. If you’re looking for an adventurous option, drive to AlUla. The drive from Riyadh takes 10 hours, and the drive from Jeddah is about eight hours.

AlUla Moments 2023

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David Tapley - Editor-in-Chief
As editor-in-chief of the region’s most fiercely local lifestyle publication, David is a self-proclaimed hip-hop aficionado, championing all things food, travel, street art, and streetwear across the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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