Sustainable, sky-high, and even sci-fi – Saudi Arabia’s latest mega (and giga) projects are transforming the Kingdom into one of the most exciting destinations in the world.
Thanks to his Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030, an economic diversification plan that is investing heavily in everything from tourism to technology, the Kingdom is home to some of the region’s – and world’s – most innovative, high-tech, and futuristic developments.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Fahd Al-Rasheed, CEO of the Royal Commission for Riyadh, revealed that the city had more than 30 megaprojects in the works.
Funding many of these daring developments (fifteen, in fact) is the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – one of the largest and most impactful sovereign wealth funds in the world.
From a zero-carbon city to a river twice as long as the Nile and an urban park four times the size of NYC’s Central Park, here are 23 megaprojects to keep an eye on in 2023.
First launched by Saudi’s Crown Prince in 2017, NEOM is the Kingdom’s flagship business and tourism development on the Red Sea coast. A revolutionary fully-automated car-free giga-city state spread across 26,500 sq-km (33 times the size of New York City) – this US$500bn high-tech smart city is creating 10 regions featuring hyperconnected cognitive cities, ports, enterprise zones, research centres, industrial and logistics areas, a network of airports, entertainment venues and tourist destinations.
NEOM will be powered by 100% renewable energy, will preserve 95% of the natural environment, and be a regional powerhouse in water production and storage. It will also be home to one of the world’s largest international airports, ready before 2030, flying taxis (courtesy of Velocopter), a business/tech centre that is expected to contribute US$48bn to the Kingdom’s GDP, and the world’s largest green hydrogen and green ammonia plant, to be operational by 2026.
Set to form the centrepiece of NEOM, The Line is a zero-carbon city that will mark the first time in 150 years that a major urban development has been designed around people, not roads. Located on the Red Sea, and at just 200m wide, but extending over 170km, The Line is formed of two mirrored horizontal skyscrapers featuring vertically layered homes, workplaces, parks, farms, and pedestrian areas.
As the world’s first zero-gravity vertical city, and one powered exclusively by renewable energy, The Line will provide a home for 9 million people by 2045. Residents will have access to all facilities within a 5-minute walk, and a high-speed train with 20-minute end-to-end transits. There will also a marina, sports stadium, and numerous hotels. Already under construction,
Another NEOM mega project, Trojena is a mountain tourism destination located in the Kingdom’s highest mountain range (Tabuk) where winter temperatures often dip below 0C. Set for completion in 2026, Trojena marks the Gulf’s first outdoor ski resort, where world-class sporting events, art exhibitions, concerts and cultural festivals will be staged.
With plans to create 10,000 jobs, house 7,000 residents and attract 700,000 visitors by 2030, the mountain resort will deliver everything from wellness resorts, retail stores and restaurants, to a ski village, nature reserve, and family resort. Among activities on offer, outdoor skiing, watersports, artist’s residences, yoga retreats, climbing, and festivals will take centre stage.
Included in the hotels being planned for Saudi’s snow-capped mountain resort are luxury hotel The Chedi and playful hotel brand 25hours. The destination has already been chosen to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games.
Another city within the NEOM universe, Oxagon is a port and logistics hub strategically located on the Red Sea close to the Suez Canal. As the world’s largest floating structure, Oxagon will be home to a next-generation port with a fully automated and integrated supply chain and logistics network.
The port, logistics, and rail delivery facility will be unified, providing world-class productivity levels with net-zero carbon emissions, and setting global benchmarks in technology and sustainability. The hub will feature multiple residential and business communities, including an integrated live-work-play Research and Innovation district, with a dedicated R&I campus.
In true high-tech Oxagon fashion, Yotel will open a 300-room hotel here featuring the brand’s robotic concierge, motorised SmartBeds.
The Red Sea
Formerly known as the Red Sea Project, this giga-project comes courtesy of Red Sea Global, a company owned by Saudi’s PIF, and one that is setting new global standards in responsible development. Billed as the world’s most sustainable luxury tourism destination, The Red Sea will deliver luxury experiences in ways that protect, preserve, and enhance the natural environment. And that means visitor numbers will be limited.
Speaking exclusively to Business Chief last month, CEO John Pagano said the objective “has been to set new standards for the tourism industry by not just conserving the environment but enhancing it”. Sustainable initiatives include use of renewable energy, generating zero waste to landfill, farming of corals and planting and restoration of mangroves. It will be the first destination to provide bottled water made from air and sunlight, produced using patented solar technology.
The Red Sea will be home to 8,000 hotel rooms across 22 islands and six inland sites and it will have its own international airport, opening in this year, as well as entertainment, leisure and wellness facilities. Among resorts set to open later this year are Six Senses Southern Dunes, nestled within desert mountains and narrow wadis; and Nujuma, a Ritz Carlton Reserve on Ummahat Island delivering water and beach villas.
Another mega project from Red Sea Global, and a neighbour to Red Sea, Amaala is a luxury sustainable development with a focus on wellness. The project, which is due to be fully complete in 2027, is expected to create than 50,000 new jobs, and contribute more than US$2.9bn to the Kingdom’s GDP.
Located in the Prince Mohammad bin Salman Natural Reserve, Amaala will be powered by renewable energy and will be home to more than 3,000 hotel rooms across 25 hotels, along with 900 residential properties, retail, dining, a luxury yacht club, and wellness. Clinique La Prairie is developing a high-end health resort here that will be entirely powered by renewable energy.
The development will also feature the first immersive and experiential marine life centre in the world, A partnership with The Marine Life Institute, the Foster + Partners’ designed centre will deliver 10 zones, providing everything from AR experiences to night diving to one of the world’s largest artificial reefs.
Famed for its breath-taking landscapes and millennium-old archaeological sites, among which is the Nabataean city of Hegra, the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient region of AlUla is being turned into a global archaeological, cultural and tourist complex.
Led by PIF-owned AiUla Development Company, in collaboration with the Royal commission for AlUla, the mega project is transforming this awe-inspiring desert landscape, roughly the size of Belgium, into the world’s largest living museum. The aim is to triple the area’s population to 130,000 by 2035, creating 38,000 jobs, and contributing around US$32 billion to the nation’s GDP.
Among plans for the project are nine hotels, with resorts from Banyan Tree and Habitas already open, alongside 5,000 residential units, and 200 electric buses. Among recent launches is the Giant Swing, and the AlUla Stairway, a suspended ladder which visitors climb before travelling on a 150m zip line into the canyon below.
Announced by the Saudi government last month, funded by PIF, and led by the New Murabba Development Company, The Mukaab is the Kingdom’s latest mega project to grab global headlines.
Large enough to hold 20 Empire State buildings, Riyadh-based The Mukaab is a mega 400-metre-tall cube-shaped skyscraper that, once complete in 2030, will be the world’s first immersive destination offering an experienced created by digital and virtual technology with the latest holographics. The cube will feature a museum, technology and design university, multipurpose theatre, and over 80 entertainment and cultural venues and will have its own transport system.
The Mukaab will form the centrepiece for the new downtown core of the city called The New Murabba – a project built around the concept of sustainability with green areas and walking and cycling paths. This development, expected to add around us$50bn to thew non-oil economy and create 334,000 jobs, will be home to 100,000 residences, 9,000 hotel rooms, retail, office, and leisure space.
Beginning construction in 2019, PIF-funded giga-project Qiddiya is set to become Saudi’s new futuristic entertainment and sports hub and potentially the biggest city for culture, arts and sports in the entire world, according to Qiddiya Investment Company’s Business Development Manager, Greg Whiteside.
Located in the Riyadh region, once complete, Qiddiya will be home to the region’s largest water park, Qiddiya Water Theme Park, boasting 22 rides, nine of which will be world-firsts, alongside the Middle East outpost of legendary theme park Six Flags. Expected to open in 2023, the theme park, which is set against the Tuwaiq mountain range, will house the world’s fastest rollercoaster along with four other record-breaking signature rides.
Among other attractions is a racetrack and Qiddiya automotive centre, which is being designed to lead the world in Formula 1 circuit design and entertainment, with two Formula 1 races expected to take place there annually from 2027. Ahead of hosting the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, the kingdom is also building a football stadium in Qiddiya.
Marking PIF’s fifth giga-project, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority is transforming the birthplace of Arabia into the world’s largest cultural and heritage destination.
As well as showcasing the rich cultural landscape including the Turaif District UNESCO World Heritage Site, the US$50bn development of Diriyah will offer entertainment, dining, and shopping, and feature more than 30 luxury hotels, including the Armani and Anantara, an arts district and galleries, and a collection of museums.
At the heart of the project will be Diriyah Square, home to the finest cultural and educational offerings, places to work and live, and Time Out Market – a culinary destination, which, when open in 2027, will deliver 23 kitchens, five drinks outlets, multiple stages and event spaces, a kitchen academy and lab.
King Salman Airport
Dubbed an ‘aerotropolis’, King Salman Airport will soon join the world’s largest airports, including sister airport King Fahd International, currently the largest.
The new airport, which will cover an area of approximately 57km-sq, will be powered by renewable energy and will feature six parallel runways, and 12km-sq of airport support facilities, residential and recreational facilities, retail outlets, and other logistics real estate.
By 2030, the airport aims to handle up to 120 million travellers and is expected to create 103,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute US$7.19bn to non-oil GDP.
Another NEOM project, Sindalah is an island and yacht club destination off the giga city’s coast that is billing itself as a 9-million-squre-foot “playground for the world’s luxury travellers”.
Located 17 hours by boat from most locations in the Med, the island will cater to yachts with its 86-berth marina – offering 75 offshore buoys to house superyachts, and plenty of watersports, including scuba diving. The island will also offer offshore yacht F&B programming.
Set to open in 2024, and host 2,400 people per day by 2028, Sindalah will deliver 413 ultra-premium hotel rooms, 333 to-end services apartments, 38 restaurants, golf courses, and more than 50 luxury retail outlets. Walkability takes centre stage here, with no cars, nor roads, and a 5-minute walk to all key services. Among the hotels set to open on the island is a Marriott Autograph Collection property.
With the aim of making Riyadh one of the top 100 most liveable cities in the world, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz announced the mammoth Green Riyadh project, to expand green space from 16 times the levels in 2019 increasing the total green coverage in the city from 1.5% to 9%.
Estimated to cost US$32 million, and one of the largest integrated and comprehensive urban afforestation projects in the world, the project is being achieved by the planting of 7.5 million trees across the capital including 120 residential neighbourhoods, 3,330 community gardens, 43 parks, 9,000 mosques, 6,000 schools, and 390 healthcare institutions.
Trees will also line 16,400km of streets and roads, 2,000 car parking sites, and 175,000 plots of empty land. Recycled water will be used to water the entire development, improving air quality, and lowering temperatures.
King Salman Energy Park (SPARK)
Located in the eastern province of Saudi, energy city SPARK is a 50-sqkm fully integrated ecosystem that is being in part developed by the nation’s state-owned oil giant Aramco to be the leading gateway for the region’s energy sector. This forms part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to encourage clean and sustainable energy production while diversifying revenues.
SPARK aims to support the industry and attract SMEs to its state-of-the-art, ready-built facilities and its supply base. SPARK is the first and only industrial city in the world to receive a silver leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD)
Designed to bring to life the Kingdom’s visions of a sustainable financial centre, KAFD is the largest mixed-use financial district in the region and Saudi’s prime financial hub. Riyadh’s new metro will run here too with the metro station designed by renowned architects Zaha Hadid.
The district consists of 59 towers, where many of the country’s leading organisations have their headquarters, including PIF, Samba Bank, and Tadawul (Saudi’s stock exchange), along with public spaces, retail, offices, residences for 12,000 and an automated monorail.
Commissioned in 2015 and nearing completion, sustainability is at the heart of the complex, which is the largest LEED-certified mixed-use financial district in the world.
Credited with being the largest public transportation project in the world, and the largest Single-phase public transport project ever developed, the US$22.5 billion Riyadh Metro project is expected to start operations for its first phase this month, rolling out all lines by the end of the year.
Riyadh Metro, which consists of six lines and 84 stations, will cover the length of around 176km of railway lines, 40% underground, on which electric trains operate without driver. The new metro will play a critical role in alleviating Riyadh’s road congestion, with 90% of journeys currently relying on cars.
A mega master development in the heart of Mecca, Jabal Omar, a 235,000 sqm area near the Grand Mosque, aims to increase capacity of visitors during Hajj.
The development, led by leading real estate developers Jabal Omar Development Company, one of the largest listed companies on the Saudi stock exchange, will deliver 38 towers, including 16 hotels, residential and commercial developments, which, when complete by the end of 2024, will cater to an additional 100,000 people during Hajj.
The first phase of the project, which includes 10 hospitality towers and 10 luxury penthouses, is already complete, with other phases on track for completion this year.
Jeddah Central Project
Announced in 2021 by the Crown Prince, and previously known as the New Jeddah Downtown, the US$20 billion Jeddah Central Project is designed to add US$12.5bn to the country’s economy by 2030.
The development is focused on 2.2 sq-miles in the southern part of the city, which is being transformed into an area of culture and creativity. The project will deliver residential (think 17,000 homes in luxury high-rises), hotels, parks, a 9.5km waterfront with world-class marina, and four stunning landmarks – sports stadium, museum, oceanarium and opera house.
Being developed in three phases, the first phase is set to welcome visitors from 2027.
King Salman Park
Conceived as the art and culture heart of Riyadh, King Salman Park will stretch across a 13.3 sq-km area on the site of an old airport and will be the largest urban park in the world – four times the size of New York City’s Central Park.
Among park highlights are Islamic-themed and vertical gardens, a labyrinth, butterfly conservatory, and circular walkway. The park will serve as an arts venue with a national theatre and open-air theatre, along with seven museums, cinemas, libraries, and various art academies.
Sports will also take centre stage, with plans for a gold course, sports complex and water sports area. The development will eventually be home to residences (12,000 units) and tourists (16 hotels) and will be served by five new metro stations and 10 bus transit stations.
Aseer Development Project
Announced in 2021 by Saudi’s Crown Prince, the US$13 billion Aseer Development Project is designed to transform Saudi’s mountainous Aseer region into a global tourism destination, as it aims to attract more than 10 million visitors by 2030.
Dubbed The Arabian Highland, the project’s aim is to create tourist attractions at the peak of the mountains centred around nature and culture and make the region a year-round destination A new road project is currently underway to improve connectivity in the region.
Konoz Box of Treasures
One of the Kingdom’s latest projects to be announced, along with the Jeddah Waterfront Project (#22) and The River (#23), the Konoz Box of Treasures is a US$1.9bn entertainment complex on Riyadh’s Golden Strip.
The development, led by Saudi’s Abdullah Al-Othaim Investment Company, is set to become a 24-hour destination to live, work, and shop. The walkable district and neighbourhood will comprise a 20,000 sqm entertainment city and 50,000sqm of modern commercial office spaces, as well as retail, restaurants, a 250-room hotel, 120 serviced apartments and 700 apartments.
Jeddah Waterfront Project
Jeddah Historic Waterfront Development Project is a million-dollar Ministry of Culture project that aims to reconnect the Red Sea with Al Balad, the downtown area of Jeddah, and revitalise the historic Al Bant Port.
The redeveloped waterfront will deliver a world-class tourist and cultural destination, including a marina for luxury yachts, open green spaces, pedestrian overpasses, and public utilities. The project will be constructed in three phases over two years.
The latest mega project to be announced, according to Saudi journalist Ahmad Al Shugairi on his Netflix show Seen, will be the world’s largest portable water project with plans by the Kingdom to build a river twice as long as the Nile.
This huge project, which involves digging a river that would four metres deep, 11 metres wide and 12,000km long, would create one of the world’s largest desalinated water networks and the world’s largest source of drinkable water.
The project will require the use of anti-corrosion pipes and would produce a huge quantity of water, 9.4 million cubic metres, each day.