Photo: Experience AlUla

Saudi Arabia's Ancient City, AlUla Offers Otherworldly Star-Studded Dark Sky Experiences

Saudi Arabia Epic Stays Astronomy
by Katie Scott Aiton Sep 18, 2023

Stargazing is a time-honored tradition that has been an integral part of history in Saudi Arabia for millennia. The night sky was a crucial navigational tool in the vast and often featureless stretches of Saudi’s desert. Just as sailors used stars for navigation at sea, Bedouins relied on them to find their way across the sand. Those traditions are still honored today, and if you’re interested in learning more about the culture while enjoying the outdoors and vast star-studded sky, there are few locations in the country that can rival the natural beauty and vastness of AlUla.

Situated away from the bright city lights in northwestern Saudi Arabia, AlUla’s dark skies, historic monuments, and stunning rock formations at remote sites such as Gharameel, make it one of the country’s top destinations for stargazing. AlUla is steeped in history, with evidence of human habitation dating back some 200,000 years. The city is known for its preserved tombs, sandstone outcrops, and beautiful murals. AlUla was once a thriving hub for commercial and cultural exchange, situated along the famous incense trade route and pilgrimage route to Makkah. Today, it has transformed into a vibrant cultural hub with endless outdoor desert activities, luxury eco-resorts, safari camps, and, of course, excellent stargazing tours.

How to get to AlUla

Flying to AlUla is easy. Flydubai, a Dubai-based airline, offers two weekly direct flights from Dubai International Airport to AlUla International Airport, scheduled on Thursdays and Sundays. There are also routes from Riyadh, Jeddah, and Damman to AlUla with Saudia Airlines and Flynas. From the airport, it’s about a 30-minute drive to AlUla’s town center.

Stargazing experiences in AlUla

The dry climate and clear skies of AlUla offer an unobstructed view of the cosmos, making it a prime destination for both amateur and professional astronomers alike. On a clear night, you can expect to see an array of celestial bodies, including various constellations, planets, and even meteor showers on occasion. The Milky Way, with its dense band of stars, is a common sight. Keep an eye out for Orion, Gemini, and Taurus, which are particularly prominent in the winter months.

There are multiple ways to experience stargazing in AlUla. For those who prefer a guided experience, there are tours led by knowledgeable guides who can point out significant celestial bodies and share interesting astronomical facts.


The Gharameel area offers some of the best views of the night sky. Stargazers are treated to a humbling experience surrounded by unique geological stone pillar formations in the remote desert. Tours begin at the Husaak Center at Winter Park. From there you’ll be transported by an expert guide to Gharameel where you’ll learn about the constellations and their local cultural significance over a traditional Bedouin dinner prepared on a campfire. For all-night excursions in AlUla, it’s recommended to dress in comfortable and warm clothing suitable for the cold desert nights and sturdy footwear.

  • Duration: Three to four hours
  • Minimum age: Eight years old
  • Difficulty Level: Easy

Hidden Valley night hike

Hidden Valley is a serene spot with a thrilling hiking route that takes you through some of AlUla’s finest natural wonders and picturesque flora and fauna. The Hidden Valley hike is approximately two and a half miles long, taking around two hours to complete. The terrain can be challenging due to the soft sand, making it a medium-level hike. One of the highlights of this area is the guided night walk. As you traverse the valley under a starlit sky, the shadows upon the canyons flow as if they were alive.

  • Duration: Three to four hours
  • Minimum age: Seven years old
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate

Acacia Trail by night

The Acacia Trail guided night hike is a wonderful experience that offers you the opportunity to explore the Sharaan Nature Reserve under the stars. This moderate almost four-mile hiking trail takes around four hours to complete and will lead you through red-rock canyons and deep gorges.

  • Duration: Four hours
  • Minimum age: 12 years old
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

Where to stay in AlUla

From luxurious safari resorts to adventurous self-camping, AlUla is home to an array of epic accommodation options. Staying overnight is a must, not only because you don’t want to rush your visit to the ancient city, but also because sleeping here allows you to enjoy the night sky in comfort. If you’d prefer a more immersive stay, opt to camp overnight. Discover AlUla has resources to help you plan this bucket-list desert experience.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

Banyan Tree AlUla

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Set amidst the enchanting rock formations, Banyan Tree treats guests to breathtaking views of the Ashar Valley. The resort offers 47 elegant tented villas with a private fire pit and patio area. Some have pools and there’s a spa and lavish communal pool surrounded by red rocks.

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Habitas AlUla

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Habitas AlUla is an eco-friendly resort that seamlessly blends into the stunning desert landscape. The 97 villas have been constructed from ethically sourced organic materials. Every suite has a private patio with breathtaking views of the surrounding topography. The resort’s communal areas encourage interaction among fellow guests, especially at the restaurants that focus on farm-to-table concepts, serving dishes made with locally sourced ingredients and spices.

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Caravan by Habitas

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Caravan by Habitas is located next to Habitas AlUla and offers 22 deluxe Airstream trailers with a private bathroom, kitchen, and a cozy bedroom. Daily activities and experiences are included with the nightly rate check out their Instagram feed for a programming schedule.

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Self-camping in AlUla

AlUla has two authorized and dedicated camping sites for free camping, where campers can enjoy nights around the fire under a blanket of stars. These areas are close to protected archaeological sites, so keeping to the track and respecting the land and wildlife is paramount. Read over the fact sheet that lists regulations and includes a handy map of campgrounds.

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