What’s coming at Neom: Sindalah Island will be the megacity's first tourism destination

Double the size of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia’s futuristic megacity is gearing up to welcome its first travellers

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First unveiled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017, Neom is a new destination being created on the kingdom’s Red Sea Coast.

It's part of Saudi Arabia's 2030 Vision, which aims to diversify the country’s economy away from oil.

Spanning about 26,500 square kilometres, making Neom more than twice the size of Lebanon, the futuristic destination will be home to smart cities, trade ports, luxury resorts, research centres, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist attractions.

As futuristic as it sounds, things are on track for the first of Neom’s attractions to open soon.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Saudi gigaproject.

Where is Neom?

The man-made lake at Trojena, one of 10 districts coming to Neom. Photo: Collective Retreats

Neom is located in north-west Saudi Arabia, encompassing an area of around 26,500 square kilometres.

Bounded by the Red Sea to the south and the Gulf of Aqaba to the west, the region expands over beaches – including nearly 500km of coastline and 41 islands – desert dunes and snow-capped mountains.

The closest existing Saudi Arabian city to Neom is Tabuk, while Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh is less than 100km away, as the crow flies. From Dubai, Neom is reachable on a three-hour flight, while from London, travel time is about five and a half hours.

Districts of Neom: The Line, Oxagon, Sindalah and Trojena

When it's fully realised, Neom will be home to 10 different districts. So far, only four of these have been officially announced.

Seahorse-shaped Sindalah will be the first destination to open to tourists in the megacity. Spread over 840,000 square metres on the idyllic Red Sea, this luxury island destination will have a strong focus on conserving its surrounding natural beauty, most of which is untouched, with a sturdy rewilding programme.

Sindalah island in Saudi Arabia will be home to upscale resorts, luxury shopping outlets and a superyacht marina. Photo: Neom

It will be home to several upscale hotels and a large yachting marina, as well as a beach club, wellness centre and luxury shopping outlets. Tourists heading to Sindalalah will be able to make the most of the island destination via activities including kayaking, kite surfing and water skiing. There will also be excellent scuba diving opportunities.

Sindalah will also be home to the GCC's first island golf course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, the nine-hole golf course will have a 280-metre driving range and golf practice suites. It will also be home to an onsite sports club with a training academy, Olympic-size swimming pool, spa and sports courts.

Sindalah will be home to the GCC's first island golf course. Photo: Neom

Trojena, located in the mountains of Neom, part of the highest range in Saudi Arabia will be the GCC’ s first major outdoor skiing destination.

Divided into six different districts, the global mountain tourism destination will have facilities for professional and amateur skiers, with runs of varying difficulty dotted across its peaks, some of which tower up to 2,600 metres above sea level. The apres ski offering will come courtesy of a purpose-built village on the mountain where visitors can find shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Trojena at Neom will be the first outdoor snow skiing destination in the GCC region. Photo: Neom

Ultra-luxury wellness resorts and high-end family-friendly hotels will welcome guests, and there will also be a nature reserve, hiking routes, mountain biking trails and water sports that will take place on a sprawling man-made reservoir.

Oxagon is the serious side of Neom. Home to the world’s largest floating industrial complex, this sprawling urban city is located in the south-west corner of the destination on the Red Sea, close to the Suez Canal which makes it excellent for trade.

Revolving around an integrated port and logistics hub, Oxagon will be one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities with an expected population of around 90,000 residents. Easily accessible and running on 100 per cent clean energy, Oxagon will have a high speed rail link to The Line and to Neom airport, and will be home to the largest cruise terminal in the Red Sea.

A rendering of an air taxi flying over Oxagon at Neom. Photo: Volocopter

And it's not all work and no play – nature and leisure will be key components of life at Oxagon, with plans for nature spots, parks and beaches.

Finally, there's The Line, which is perhaps Neom's most talked about district. This car-free vertical city stretches 170km through the desert, but is only 200 metres wide. Encased in a mirrored facade designed to reflect the pristine surrounds, The Line will eventually be home to 9 million people.

Progress on The Line at Neom in Saudi Arabia from January 2022 to 2023 as seen from space. Photo: EO Sentinel Hub, Copernicus

Operating on 100 per cent renewable energy and run by artificial intelligence, this city of the future will vertically layer homes, public parks, pedestrian areas, schools, shops and places for work – allowing residents to be within a five-minute walking distance of all daily essentials. Emission-free, high-speed transit vehicles will whisk residents to other places within The Line, such as football stadiums, opera houses and museums, with a maximum travel time of 20 minutes.

The Line will also have a temperate year-round climate, with designs including an optimal balance of sunlight, shade and natural ventilation, plus multilevel green open spaces.

Is Neom open now?

Neom Bay Airport was one of the first elements to open at Neom, receiving flights from Saudia and flydubai.  EPA

Neom is not yet open for tourism, but some facilities at the megaproject are already operating.

This includes the multibillion dollar Port of Neom in Oxagon. Originally named Duba Port, the facility is designed to meet rising volumes of cargo arriving at Neom.

Neom Bay Airport is also open. The transport hub opened in June 2019 and currently has flights operated by Saudia, the national airline of Saudi Arabia, and by Dubai carrier flydubai, to London, Dubai and several cities in the kingdom.

Other facilities currently open at Neom are designed to cater for the destination’s ever-increasing workforce, and include housing, catering and sports faculties.

When will Neom open to visitors?

Sindalah island in Saudi Arabia will be the first destination in Neom to welcome travellers. Photo: Neom

Neom is working to ambitious timelines, with much of the project set to be built and open by 2030.

Sindalah Island is going to be the first tourist attraction to open at Neom. The island resort is on track to open at the end of this year.

“Sindalah will be the first physical showcase of Neom – as our vision becomes a reality,” Abdullah Aldakhil, public relations and corporate communications director at Saudi Tourism, told The National.

“An incomparable island destination, it will be an exclusive gateway to the stunning Red Sea. Sindalah will open at the end of 2023, with a nine-hole golf course, 469 hotel rooms, and a rewilding programme that will see oryx, ibex, sand gazelles and mountain gazelles reintroduced into the region.”

Neom’s mountain tourism destination Trojena is scheduled for completion in 2026, and the district has already been named as the host of the 2029 Asian Winter Games.

While the port at Oxagon is already operational, the first container terminal is scheduled to start operations in 2025, and the city's first residents are expected after that.

The Line will also be semi-operational by 2025, with the futuristic city’s first modules being completed ahead of 2030. However, the first substantial population living in the district won't be until 2030, when up to a million residents will call the smart city home.

Which hotels will open at Neom?

Several hotels – budget to upscale, ultra-luxury – have been announced at Neom. Between now and 2025, up to 15 hotels a year will open at Neom. This will ramp up to 20 to 30 hotels annually thereafter.

At Sindalah, the first hotels to open will be operated by Marriott. The hotel operator will open three luxury resorts including the first Autograph Collection Hotels property in the kingdom. These will be joined by the ultra-luxury Four Seasons Resort Sindalah Island, which will have a focus on the destination's yachting community.

Marriott will open the first three hotels at Sindalah, Neom. Photo: Marriott / Neom

In the mountains of Trojena, a 25hours hotel will open with nods to science-fiction movies and the hotel brand’s alpine heritage. It will have an in-house cinema, a farm-to-table restaurant and a rooftop dining space with a swimming pool. Joining 25hours will be a Morgans Original hotel featuring world-class dining outlets and a huge destination spa, plus immersive art experiences and a ski-slope shaped roof.

Other hotels heading to Trojena include The Chedi Trojena, which will open at the development's Relax cluster. Featuring local influences, paired with contemporary decor, rooms and suites will all come with views of the man-made Lake of Trojena.

The Chedi Trojena will open at Neom's mountain destination in Saudi Arabia. Photo: GHM Hotels

And for travellers who want to try glamping in the mountain destination, Collective Trojena will open in 2026 offering sustainable tented retreats with communal campfires and year-round outdoor activities.

Oxagon's first hotel will open in 2025. The futuristic Yotel will have space-saving smart beds and a robot concierge and is designed to be wallet-friendly. While there will certainly be hotel developments at The Line, no official announcements have been made on which brands are coming to the vertical city.

Will special visas be needed to visit Neom?

Visitors hoping to see Neom will need to apply for a tourist visa for travel to Saudi Arabia. Recent measures have simplified this process for international visitors and one-year, multiple-entry eVisas are now open to travellers from 49 countries.

Travellers hoping to visit Neom can apply for a Saudi tourist visa. Photo: Neom / Getty / Unsplash

“Tourists can also apply for Visa on Arrival at one of Saudi's entry points if they hold US, UK or Schengen visas, while tourists that are not from the eligible countries list can apply for a visa through Saudi embassies and consulates,” said Aldakhil.

Tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of Neom while heading to another destination can do so by applying for a free stopover visa.

“Most recently, we announced the launch of the free 96-hour stopover visa that includes a free hotel night via Saudia, and Visit Saudi has curated custom itineraries, encouraging travellers to marvel at Saudi’s six Unesco World Heritage sites and enjoy its diverse terrain, breathtaking landscapes and rich heritage,” added Aldakhil.

Updated: August 11, 2023, 6:41 AM