From NEOM to Ad Diriyah: Saudi Arabia's 'giga projects' and when they are expected to be completed

Five huge projects are at the crux of the kingdom's tourism push

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As Saudi Arabia opens its doors to widescale tourism for the first time, potential visitors have rightfully been wondering what they might see on a trip to the kingdom.

And while there are already five Unesco-listed heritage sites to draw in those seeking history and culture, Saudi is keen to put the spotlight on what lies ahead for its future development.

That future lies in the heart of five of its major new developments: NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Qiddiyah, Amaala and Ad Diriyah.

Here's what you need to know about the ambitious new projects:

Traditional Saudi Ardah dance in front of Salwa Palace in At-Turaif in Ad Diriyah. Photo by THAMER AL AHMADI

Ad Diriyah

Known as the "pearl of Saudi Arabia", Ad Diriyah is set to put Saudi Arabia's tourism wheels in motion. It is the site of the first Saudi state, the original seat of power of Saudi Arabia’s Al Saud family. Ad Diriyah is located on the outskirts of Riyadh, and is set to become a major tourist destination. It will encompass several luxury resorts, including major international hotel brands, as well as dining and entertainment options. The first hotel should be due to open late in 2021.

Within Ad Diriyah, you'll find the Unesco-listed site of At-Turaif – the sprawling mud-brick capital city founded in the 15th century, with much influence owed to the Najdi architectural style of Arabia. In the mid-18th century, the spawned the dynasty of Al Saud, who had lived in Ad Diriyah since the 15th century. Today, At-Turaif is mostly destroyed, but a redevelopment project has introduced museums, performance spaces and a glimpse inside 18th century Saudi Arabia.

The site had not been open to the public since it gained its Unesco designation in 2010.

Jerry Inzerillo, chief executive of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, was in Riyadh on Friday to sign a number of Memorandums of Understanding with hospitality providers.

He had just signed an agreement with Aman hotels, who were set to bring "several hotels" to Ad Diriyah. Twenty other major luxury hotel brands would also be building properties in the area.

"It's going to be what the Acropolis is to Athens, and what the Colosseum is to Rome," he told The National.

Ad Diriyah is set to open in January 2020.

Neom will be a high tech, cross-border city in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia. Courtesy SCTH


Neom is Saudi Arabia's futuristic new development, a $500 billion high tech city,

It is the flagship project of Saudi Arabia’s post-oil diversification plan known as Vision 2030 that seeks to reduce the kingdom's reliance on hydrocarbons. The zone is located in north-western Saudi Arabia and is set to include territory from the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, spanning a total area of 26,500 square kilometres. It is being built on a site that is more than 35 times the size of Singapore and will contain over 450km of coastline.

Neom will house areas dedicated to future technologies in sixteen sectors including biotech, food, manufacturing and technology, among others. Neom's contribution to the kingdom’s GDP is projected to reach at least $100 billion by 2030.

The construction village will contain green areas with orchards, vegetable plots and ornamental gardens, as well as sports facilities including cricket and soccer pitches, gyms, and courts for tennis and basketball, among other facilities.

It is being touted as a “window of opportunity" for the Red Sea as it is situated close to the Jordan and Egypt borders, and is, they say, the "world’s first" independent international zone that extends over three countries.

The Red Sea has a thriving marine life due to its abundance of coral reefs. Courtesy SCTH

Red Sea Project

Located between the coastal cities of Umluj and Al Wajh, this project is being built in a region spanning 30,000 square kilometres and will comprise a natural archipelago of pristine islands and a vast desert landscape filled with mountain peaks, historical and archaeological treasures and a dormant volcano.

The project will be the first fully integrated, luxury, mixed-use resort in the Middle East and is expected to attract visitors all year round. It has been designed with a strong focus on heritage, culture and conservation and will provide 8,000 new hotel rooms once completed.

The region has 200km of untouched coastline and a vast desert landscape dotted with ancient archaeological treasures. The developers of the Red Sea Project want it to become one of the world’s most successful sustainable tourist resorts.

The majority of the islands are under threat from pollution, rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. By putting sustainability at the heart of the project, developers say they will counter some of these problems. The destination will also have a zero waste-to-landfill ­policy, 100 per cent carbon neutrality and a ban on single-use plastics. A 100-hectare landscape nursery will nurture the 15 million plants that will be used to populate the islands. It will also offer world-class diving, and an abundance of marine life, as it's one of the only places in the world to still have thriving coral reefs.

Amaala is a planned tourist destination on the northwestern coast of the Red Sea. Courtesy SCTH.


This megaproject along the Red Sea, in the Tabuk province, will border the city of Neom and the Red Sea Project within the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Natural Reserve, helping to establish a new tourism hub.

The development will add 2,500 hotel rooms and 700 private residential villas along with a retail area with 200 outlets. Amaala will also feature an academy of the arts that aims to further develop young artists from Saudi Arabia and the broader region.

The 3,000 square kilometre development, which will be spread across the three sites, will have its own airport and target luxury travellers.

Late last year, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz announced SAR 7 billion ($2.9bn) worth of development projects – including in education, infrastructure, parks and housing – in the northern region of the kingdom in Tabuk.

Further details about the project are so far scarce.


This is set to be Saudi's "pre-eminent entertainment, sports and cultural destination". It will be located on the outskirts of Riyadh.

Not much is known so far about concrete development plans in Qiddiya, other than news of it being home to the kingdom's first theme park.

Six Flags Qiddiya is being built as part of a new city outside Riyadh and is due for completion in 2023.

It will be home to a host of record-breaking rides — including the world's fastest roller coaster.

Its developer, Qiddiya Investment Company, unveiled the park design in August and said many rides will "set world records".

"The Falcon’s Flight, inspired by the kingdom’s iconic raptor, will be the longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world, while the Sirocco Tower will break more records with the world’s tallest drop-tower ride," the company said.

The Qiddiya entertainment development will also include motor sport facilities and a safari park.

The Qiddiya project broke ground in April last year and is being developed in three phases. This year is expected to see the launch of the Qiddiya Experience Centre and the start of construction of phase one.