Tourism in Saudi Arabia

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Al-Bahah, Saudi Arabia
Hafar Al-Batin, Saudi Arabia
Turkish hajjis, visiting Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, are seen at the valley of Jabal Thawr. A part of tourism in Saudi Arabia consists of pilgrims visiting holy sites for their historic significance rather than any religious obligation.

Saudi Arabia is the second biggest tourist destination in the Middle East with over 16 million visiting in 2017.[1] Although most tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages, there is growth in the leisure tourism sector. As the tourism sector has been largely boosted lately, the sector is expected to be the white oil for Saudi Arabia. This is proved as tourism sector is expected to generate $25 billion in 2019.[2] Potential tourist areas include the Hijaz and Sarawat Mountains, Red Sea diving and a number of ancient ruins.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2018, Travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia added 9% to the Kingdom’s total economy which is worth $65.2 billion.[3]

In December 2013, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to begin issuing tourist visas for the first time in its history. Council of Ministers entrusted the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities with visa issuing on the basis of certain regulations approved by the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs.[4]

The top four places to visit in Saudi Arabia are Makkah, Mediana, Madain Saleh, Yanbu, Jeddah and Riyadh.

The National Museum of Riyadh holds many ancient manuscripts that are traced back to many ancient civilizations. Indeed Saudi Arabia is considered one of the richest countries in regards of the number of ancient manuscripts.[5]


Nasseef House, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has a variety of museum ranging from historical museums, archeological museums, and cultural and scientific museums. These museums are exhibiting the art life, old handicrafts, and antiquities of the Kingdom and including :

  • National Museum of Saudi Arabia : This is the most famous museum in Saudi Arabia. It is established in 1999 and located in Riyadh as a part of the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre.[6] The museum is highlighting the prominent history of the Arabian Peninsula and its historical role in Islam expanding as well as the history of Saudi Arabia.[6]
  • Al-Zaher Palace Museum: It is a historical museum established in 1944 and exhibits the history of Makkah and various archaeological collections for different periods of Islamic history in the region.[7]
  • Al-Madinah Museum: It exhibits Al-Madina heritage and history featuring different archaeological collections, visual galleries and rare images that related to Al-Medina.[8] It is also includes the Hejaz Railway Museum.
  • Jeddah Regional Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography in Jeddah : it exhibits various collections including artifacts of the stone age back to the Acheulean period, elements illustrating the rise of Islam, and a collection of ethnographic items portraying the modern culture of the region.
  • Nasseef House in Jeddah : a historical building in Al-Balad, founded in 1872. later, In 2009, it was transformed into a museum and cultural center.
  • Royal Saudi Air Force Museum in Riyadh : This museum displays the history of the Royal Saudi Air Force.
  • Masmak fort: is a clay and mud-brick fort, was built around 1865.
    View of the SW corner of the Masmak castle

  • Tabuk Castle: is an ancient castle in Tabuk, the capital city of the Tabuk Region in northwestern Saudi Arabia which dates back to 1559.[9]The castle has been rehabilitated and transformed into a museum open to all visitors.
  • Dammam National Museum is located on the 4th floor of the Dammam Public Library, opposite the Muhammad bin Fahd Stadium on the cross lane from the Dammam-Khobar Highway in Al Toubaishi district. A must for visitors to the region, the museum focuses on the country's history, culture, and inhabitants through displays of relics and remnants of handicrafts.
  • Museum of Buraidah
  • Dhahran Exhibition Center
  • Folk Village
  • Al Ahsa Museum

World Heritage Sites[edit]

There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia inscribed from 2008 to 2018.[10], these are as follows :

  • Al-Ahsa Oasis : The Al-Ahsa Oasis is a serial property comprising gardens, canals, springs, wells and a drainage lake, as well as historical buildings, urban fabric and archaeological sites.[11]

Main festivals and events[edit]

  • Jenadriyah: It is an annual cultural and heritage festival held in Jenadriyah near Riyadh. The festival hosts various cultural and heritage events such as Al Janadriya Operetta, Saudi Ardah, and Camel racing.
  • Souk Okaz: It is an annual cultural event held in Ta'if. it was known as an open market in the ancient past. Nowadays, Souk Okaz combines more than 150 attractions of heritage and cultural events, theater performances, and arts and crafts.[20][21]
  • Historic Jeddah Festival : is a celebration that takes place in the historical Al Balad district of Jeddah. The festival exhibits the culture and heritage of Jeddah.[22]
  • “Winter at Tantora” festival : an annual festival held in the old town of Al-Ula, in northwestern Saudi Arabia.
  • Ha’il International Rally
  • Al Qassim Date Festival : is the largest date festival in the world held in the central Qassim region of Saudi Arabia.

Religious tourism[edit]

Muslim pilgrims in Mecca

Tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages. Mecca receives over three million pilgrims a year during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj,[23] and around two million during the month of Ramadan to perform Umrah.[24] During the rest of the year, Mecca receives around four million for Umrah. The Hajj, or pilgrimage to the city, is one of the five pillars of Islam. However, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.

Other sites[edit]

Red Sea is being developed as a beach resort where women can wear bikinis.[25] The construction will begin in 2019.

Arrivals by country[edit]

National Museum

Most visitors arriving in Saudi Arabia on a short term basis were from the following countries:

Rank Country 2015 2016
1  Bangladesh N/A 3,006,729
2  Pakistan N/A 2,878,674
3  Indonesia N/A 2,555,000
4  Yemen N/A 2,426,711
5  India N/A 1,800,431
6  Egypt N/A 1,162,955
7  Iraq N/A 999,683
8  Jordan N/A 801,000
9  Syria N/A 784,502
10  Sudan N/A 500,318

Future Prospects[edit]

By 2019, the domestic tourism is planned to increase by 8% and the international tourism is expected to jump up to  5.6%. Saudi Arabia’s overall number of tourist trips is on course to hit 93.8 million by 2023, up from 64.7 million in 2018.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2018 Edition: page 19". World Tourism Organization UNWTO. 2018. Archived from the original on 30 April 2019. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  2. ^ Bridge, Sam. "Why $25bn tourism sector can become Saudi Arabia's 'white oil'". Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  3. ^ "Travel and Tourism crucial to Saudi Arabias economy". WTTC. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  4. ^ "Tourist visas to be introduced". Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  5. ^ "Saudi Arabia among world's richest countries with ancient manuscripts". Arab News. 2019-04-08. Retrieved 2019-04-08.
  6. ^ a b "The National Museum". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  7. ^ "The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage to Submit the Rehabilitation and Development Project of Al-Zaher Palace of Makkah". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  8. ^ "Al Madinah Museum". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  9. ^ "Tabuk Castle". Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  10. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Saudi Arabia". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  11. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Al-Ahsa Oasis, an Evolving Cultural Landscape". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  12. ^ Abu-Nasr, Donna (2009-08-30). "Digging up the Saudi past: Some would rather not". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  13. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica: Macropædia Volume 13. USA: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1995. p. 818. ISBN 0-85229-605-3.
  14. ^ "Expansion of the Nabataeans". Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  15. ^ a b "ICOMOS Evaluation of Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih) World Heritage Nomination" (PDF). World Heritage Center. Retrieved 2009-09-16.
  16. ^ "Creation of Al-Hijr". Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  17. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "At-Turaif District in ad-Dir'iyah". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  18. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  19. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  20. ^ "Saudi Souq Okaz festival set to become major tourist attraction". Arab News. 2018-06-17. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  21. ^ "Souk Okaz". Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  22. ^ "Historic Jeddah Festival". Retrieved 2019-05-26.
  23. ^ "Hajj Requirements: Visas for 1430 Hajj". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Archived from the original on 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  24. ^ "1430H Umrah Visas". Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Archived from the original on 2009-07-26. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Bridge, Sam. "Why $25bn tourism sector can become Saudi Arabia's 'white oil'". Retrieved 2019-05-07.

External links[edit]