The desert. It’s just rocks and sand right? How can that be beautiful? They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to me the desert is just such a magical, peaceful and beautiful place. It’s really amazing what kind of beautiful places really awaits just a short drive out of Riyadh. So many different landscapes and vegetation can be found around the desert of Riyadh. From the famous Red Sands, the majestic Tuwaiq escarpment, desert lakes and heritage villages, there’s always something new and exciting to discover outside of the city.
What kind of places can you find out there? Escarpments overlooking endless plains such as “the Edge of the World“, seemingly never-ending sand dunes in different hues of orange, red and gold. Depending on the time of year the Wadis (valleys) can become like green oasis’s and seasonal lakes form in various areas outside of Riyadh. Savanna-like areas with free roaming camels and acacia trees and even rock carving sites can be found outside of Riyadh.
The best thing about going to the desert is the absolute silence. No cars, humans, traffic or construction noise. Only you, your thoughts and the nature. The beauty of it just so overwhelming!
Here are ten beautiful places awaiting to be discovered outside Riyadh.
1. Red Sand Dunes. Easily accessible, just about 20 min drive from Riyadh are the Red sands, a beautiful area of red sand dunes surrounded by majestic mountains. This is a popular place to rent quad bikes to explore the area around Kharrarah National Park and on the way there you will see more quad bike rental places next to the road. You can rent them for an hour at a time, and women can drive without abaya without any problems. Check this post to find places in Riyadh where women can go abaya-free: Sans abaya in Saudi
2. Acacia Valley. I love to go camping out in the desert, the nights are beautiful, if the moon and stars are visible much better than inside the city. the scenery becomes somehow otherworldly, you might feel you are on a different planet. And the silence of the night is so intense. You can watch the live show broadcasted live from the sky, just lay down and look up to the stars, it seems possible to touch them! A great place for camp-outs is Riyadh’s Acacia Valley on the way to the Edge of the World.
The best time to go for overnight camping is in the cooler months starting from October to March, although spring is also sandstorm season. Read more about Saudi weather seasons here: Four Seasons of the Magic Kingdom.
3. Khurais Shark’s Teeth cemetery. Another interesting activity I enjoy is fossil-hunting. Saudi-Arabia used to be a part of the bottom of the ocean over 50 million years ago! Finding a seashell that’s 100 million years old is just amazing! There is an area around Khurais where you can find sharks teeth, 50 million years old. You might find tiger sharks teeth, which are quite similar to the ones that roam the seas today.
4. Flower Fields of Red Sands. Did you know that the desert is actually full of flowers in the spring time. Flowers even grow on sand dunes believe it or not! You can find one such sand dune area with fields of flowers (during spring) just 20 min drive from the Riyadh city center.
6. Thumamah Park. Inside this park you can rent a traditional Saudi style bedouin tent camp site, visit the King Khalid Wildlife Center, or go flying in a small aircraft over the escarpment. On the golden sand dunes opposite the park you can rent quadbikes and go on camel / horse rides.
7. The Secret Lake. There is a mostly unknown location of a seasonal lake, a true Secret Lake. This lake forms in a steep valley just 20 min drive from Riyadh. It has very deep water and even fish in it. Perfect for bird watching and hiking in peace and quite. The lake transforms into a beautiful meadow during the dry summer months.
8. Dirab Horse riding. Another favorite activity of mine is horseback riding in the desert. This photo is from Dirab where they have an extensive area you can explore on horseback at the Dirab Golf and country club. There’s also the King Abdulaziz Arabian Horses Center nearby where they hold poplar races and horse shows during the colder months
9. Wadi Hanifa. Everyone has probably heard about the valley but what many don’t know is it’s actually over 200 km long with hundreds of small side valleys. For the best parts, to Diriyah area, Wadi Namr, or south of Riyadh to the “Riyadh River“,
And last but definitely not least, what I love to do outdoors is to explore the numerous different historical mud villages that can be found around Riyadh. Some of my favorites include