Saudi Arabia travel guide
Ha'il isn't an attraction itself, but the city can be used as a base for getting to the Nefud desert and the petroglyphs at Jubbah. However, the pleasant city does have a few historical sights, like the Barzan towers and the rebuilt A'arif fort (pictured).
Jabal Sawda was claimed to be 3,133 metres, making it the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, but a GPS survey measured it 2,999 m, a few meters lower than Jabal Ferwa, Saudi Arabia's highest peak. Nevertheless, the views from the various viewpoints are amazing. During the hot summer months, the cool breeze on the mountain ridge attracts families on picnics and dating couples. But during the cold winter, you can have the walking trails and benches to yourself.
Jeddah is a very spread out city, just like Riyadh. But contrary to Riyadh, Jeddah has a more chilled vibe - maybe because it's located on the shore to the Red Sea. The long corniche is really nice, particularly at sunset when families are having picnics on rugs. The floating mosque is popular with muslims from all over the world, who are here on Hajj. However, the real gem of Jeddah is the UNESCO enlisted old quarter Al Balad (pictured). For most parts the houses still stand skewed and dilapidated with colourful latticed balconies and ornately carved wooden windows. Of course, Jeddah also has its fair share of crazy oil-money funded sights, like the tallest flagpole in the world (170 m), tallest water fountain in the world (260 m, only in the evening) and what will become the tallest skyscraper in the world, if it ever gets finished.
From 2003 Raghadan Flagpole (127 m) in Amman (Jordan) was the tallest flagpole in the world. The record lasted until 2010 when the National Flagpole (162 m) in Baku (Azerbaijan) was erected. That record was then overtaken by the Dushanbe Flagpole (165 m) in Tajikistan just 8 months later. That record was furthermore beaten in 2014 by the Jeddah flagpole (170 m), which still is the tallest flagpole to this day.
This petroglyph site is considered to be the absolute best in Saudi Arabia and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The archaeological rock art site covers a vast area with several rock outcrops covered in petroglyphs. The collection contains three phases of rock carvings: Large men and women figures from the Neolithic and iron age around 10,000 BC, medium sized animals from around 5500 BC, and inscriptions from around 3000 BC. The site is fenced off, so check the opening hours before driving out here.
Magnificent Madain Saleh, also called Hegra, is Saudi Arabia's version of Petra (in Jordan). Madain Saleh was the second largest city in the Nabatean kingdom after Petra and was thriving during the 1st century AD. It was a key city on the trade route to and from the Mediterranean, and the taxation made the city flourish. The civilization left more than 100 tombs carved into sandstone outcrops. The more important the person was, the more spectacular the tomb had to be. Some tombs are just a few meters tall with little ornamentation, while the biggest tomb is more than 20 meters tall. Many tombs feature inscriptions that record who it was for and who made it. Like Petra, Madain Saleh is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage.
The mountain roads between Abha and Al Bahah are spectacular. They twist and turn over the barren mountain sides and pass through dark tunnels. The rest stops offer one amazing view after another. Unfortunately the roads are there for a reason, so the traffic is mostly heavy trucks and impatient SUVs that try to overtake.
On the way to the Grand Canyon of Saudi Arabia, Al Shaq, stands this 5-meter tall mushroom rock. It's located a bit hidden in the wadi about 100 meters from where the canyon starts as a crack.
At the foot of a very smooth cliff face, a couple of boulders and a slab of rock have been carved with petroglyphs and inscriptions. It's filled with images of animals and humans. The well preserved inscriptions are from the ancient Dadan Kingdom (Dadan is also called Lihyan) and were probably carved around 5th century BC. Sadly but expected, there are also some newer graffiti.
Right next to the highway lies the rebuilt desert fort. There are also a few ruins of houses. The site is fenced off, but the gate towards the gas station is missing, so you can visit at any time. There is no information anywhere about the fortress , so you have to guess about the history. The fortress is not far from Souq Okaz, a modern souq and fairground mostly aimed at domestic tourists (check if it's open).