AlUla Skies hot-air balloon festival returns to Saudi Arabia this month

Outdoor celebration will also feature helicopter tours, stargazing sessions and evening drone shows

AlUla Skies Festival is returning for two weeks. Photo: Royal Commission for AlUla / Mike Massaro
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Travellers heading to AlUla this month can watch scores of colourful hot-air balloons take flight above the Arabian Desert.

AlUla Skies Festival is returning for a second year over Saudi Arabia's ancient site, which dates back to the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms.

Each day and night, sunrise and sunset hot-air balloon experiences, helicopter tours and stargazing sessions will bring AlUla to life.

Beginning on April 26, the 18-day festival draws inspiration from the night sky, which has helped people navigate through the region for thousands of years.

“Since ancient times, the sky has been a map for those who visited AlUla, as they were guided by the stars and the constellations to travel on the ancient incense trading route,” said Phillip Jones, chief tourism officer at Royal Commission for AlUla. "Today we celebrate the history of the skies with events and offers that position AlUla Skies Festival as a must-do on travellers' bucket list every year."

Daily hot-air balloon tours over North Hegra offer travellers a serene experience above the ancient town, which was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom.

Helicopter tours are also on offer, soaring above the desert and offering passengers 360-degree vistas of AlUla’s ancient landmarks, including close-ups of the elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops.

Travellers who prefer to keep their feet on the ground can head to Harrat Viewpoint, at the top of an ancient volcanic mountain, for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

With its minimal light pollution and clear night skies, AlUla is popular with stargazers and the festival will host plenty of opportunities for guests to witness celestial events.

Workshops will be led by experts who will explain more about stars and constellations. Astrophotographers will also be on hand to share tips on how best to capture images of the night sky.

Daredevil visitors can enjoy their own airborne adventures on the Giant Swing, where participants jump off the edge of a mountain and swing at speed through towering canyon walls.

The AlUla Stairway is also open daily, giving travellers the chance to climb a 45-metre suspended ladder, before swinging back down on a 150-metre-long zipline.

Jazz, drone shows and outdoor film screenings

The festival's outdoor cinema will screen daily films under a starlit sky. A daily drone show will also create a series of patterns and shapes at night.

This year, the festival will host the first AlUla Jazz Nights.

Beginning on May 5, the two-day open-air event will feature live performances from jazz, blues and soul artists.

Last year, the first AlUla Skies festival set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest hot-air balloon glow show when more than 140 brightly lit balloons took to the skies at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Hegra.

Updated: April 11, 2023, 10:04 AM