Al Ula – gateway to Madain Saleh – is a small town about 400km north of Medina. Once an oasis with fertile soil and abundant water, it was founded in the 6th century BC and originally inhabited by the Lihyanites. The town was formerly a strategic trade route for spices and incense from the Levant, Egypt and North Africa.
If you can only visit one place in Saudi Arabia, make it Unesco World Heritage–listed Madain Saleh. This crossroads of ancient civilisations, pilgrims, explorers, trade caravans and armies finds its most remarkable expression in the elaborate stone-carved tombs of the Nabataeans.
Qurayah has seen considerable growth over the last decade. Its agricultural development and irrigation system date back 3000 years and the area has ancient pottery kilns, with pottery shards commonly found. Resist the temptation to take them home, though, as they're an important part of the region's heritage.
In the country's extreme northwest, Haql is the only coastal village in Saudi Arabia from which the coastlines of Jordan, Israel and Egypt can be seen. Offshore from the crescent-shaped Bi’r Al Mazhi Beach is a ship sunk in 1975 that attracts adventurous divers. Nearby is Al Sultaniyyah Beach on the Aqaba Gulf, directly opposite Egypt and perfect for swimmers.