10 things you must know about Madain Saleh before visiting it

Madain Saleh or Madaen Saleh is a large archaeological site located in Saudi Arabia. Madian Saleh is a Nabatean city which is hewed out of the rock, similar to the style of the famous Petra which is located in Jordan.

1-Currently located in the Al Ula governorate, the city was once the capital of the Kingdom of Lihyan. Lihyan lies in the north of Arabian Peninsula. The city is rich in history: The city is an old one which dates back to the rein of Nabatean kingdom.

2-A section is present in the Holy Quran which explains the real story of these houses.  “And you carve out of the mountains, homes, with skill”. Quran 26:149.

“And do not touch her with harm, lest you be seized by the punishment of a terrible day. But they hamstrung her and so became regretful. And the punishment seized them. Indeed, in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers.” Quran 26:156-158

3-Currently the access to the site is somewhat difficult and several Muslims refuse to enter the area as Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said,

“Do not enter the ruined dwellings of those who were unjust to themselves unless (you enter) weeping, lest you should suffer the same punishment as was inflicted upon them.” – Sahi Bukhari 3381

4-The area is called Madain Saleh because Hazrat Saleh A.S. was sent to the Thamud. 

In order to test Hazrat Saleh (may Allah be pleased with him), they asked him to bring a special camel which was later on killed by the leaders of Thamud. Allah destroyed the people of Thamud with an earthquake.

In the Holy Quran, the city has been named as “Al-Hijr”. The name Al Hijr was given to it as it has been carved out of rocks and mountains.

The city also exhibits the historic well, which has a mention in Holy Quran. The Quran mentioned a well from which the she-camel of the Prophet Saleh would satisfy its thirst. The very well is still located in the city.

5-The very famous Qasr Al-Farid is also the property of the city. The great tomb is a unique one. It was not completed in a single time: it was left incomplete and remained as it is as no grave was housed in it.

Later when it completed, its one rock was different from others and was quite independent. The Nabatean crown is hitched in the front while unlike usual tombs which have 2 columns, Al Farid has 4!

6-The Hijaz railway station is also located there which dates back to Ottoman Empire. One of its stations links to the Madinah city.

The station is not an ordinary one: it is indeed a great one which houses large repairing workshops, stores exhibiting weapons, mosques, castles, water tank and a water closet. Prophet Saleh’s well is located in the station.

7-At about 7 km from the province of Al Ula, rests the great Elephant rock that is a nature’s masterpiece. The people from all over the world get attracted to the elephant-shaped giant rock. This rock exhibits a height of about 50 km.

8-In 2008, the UNESCO declared that the city of Madain Saleh is one of the historic heritage sites located in the world, making Madain Saleh as the first city of Saudi Arabia to be included in the list of world’s heritage!

Entrance gate of World Heritage site (UNESCO)

9-To get into the Madain Saleh, you will need a permit, however, some tourists have claimed to gain entry by their ID only. There are hotels and tour groups which can arrange them on your behalf however you will need to apply in advance.

The site is gated and has fixed opening and closure timing. The ones who enter with a car would first have to register and leave before 5 of the evening.

You may also do it yourself through the SCTA or Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities which is located in the Diplomatic Quarters.

10-There are two flights every week to the Al Ula airport which is operated by the Saudi Airlines. The airport is located around 15 kilometers towards the south-east of Al Ula town.

The Al Wajh and Medina airports are located 220 kilometers and 330 kilometers (respectively) and they are the closest airports other than the Al Ula airport Al Ula is located 22 kilometers away from the Madain Saleh.

There are direct buses being run to Al Ula from nearly every major city. The bus ride from Jeddah is 8 hours long and the ride from Riyadh is 13.5 hours long.

11-Since you cannot stay the night at Madain Saleh, you can try out the two hotels located in Al Ula which are Madain Saleh Hotel which is the main hotel in the town.

The hotel provides the airport transfer facility and offers various sightseeing packages. It has a 4+ star rating but is not located in Madain Saleh.  The hotel offers some of the best food there is, in the entire area.

Arac Hotel Al Ula guaranteed clean and delicious food, 4-star hotel rating and 1 of the only 2 hotels in the region. There are no other hotels in Madain Saleh.

12-Those who do not want to eat at the hotel can try the street food as well as different restaurants in Al Ula, which any local person from Al Ula can guide you to, including the hotel or tour staff.

For those of you who are properly equipped, there are some campsites close to the gate of Madain Saleh. There are also specially organized tours which offer outdoor camping in a highly luxurious manner near the entrance to Madain Saleh.