What you should know before traveling to Saudi Arabia?
Check my complete travel guide to Saudi Arabia after my trip to this unique country in 2023. There’s plenty of travel & preparation advice that will make your stay easier and more comfortable.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia covers most of the Arabian Peninsula – it is the biggest country in the Middle Easy and 5th biggest in Asia. Waters of the Arabian Gulf (Persian Gulf) lie between Arabian Peninsula, Irag and Iran. Arabian Gulf has 68% of world’s oil reserves!
- In Saudi people greet each other with Salam Alaykum, meaning “peace be upon you”.
- SAFETY: Saudi is a very safe country, crime rate is almost zero and when it happens it’s usually commited by foreign communities.
- Friday is a holy day and all Saudis gather to pray in mosques. So restaurants, coffee shops will close at 10am to reopen around 2pm.
- The present King is Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
ALL 7 COUNTRIES TO BE FOUND IN ARABIAN PENINSULA:
- United Arab Emirates (UAE),
- Saudi Arabia at the center taking 80% of the peninsula suface.
Can I travel to Saudi Arabia?
The country only dropped the heavy entry restrictions in 2019 when first tourist visa was issued. Before that the country was strictly closed for visitors. Islam is the official religion and the constitute in Quran and Sunna. All practices and traditions falls under Quran. The country went through a massive reform and is willing to host visitors.
Only 6 years ago women weren’t allowed to drive or attend sport arenas. Now there is even women’s football team! The government introduced an official plan – 2030 Vision, intending to carry out a massive social and economic transformation to open up to the world. It has also set numerous goals for brightest future programmes for talent development supported by the ministry of education.
Visa for Saudi Arabia.
You will need visa to travel to Saudi Arabia. You can apply online for your eVisa through the official portal: https://visa.visitsaudi.com/. It’s a fast and convenient way of obtaining tourist Visa for Saudi Arabia, you need to fill in the documents and pay visa fee to receive your eVisa. It is valid for 1 year for multiple entries up to 90 days.
Travel tips and advice for Saudi.
Here you’ll find most practical information for Saudi Arabia. The country is travel friendly. ATM’s are available in bank branches and shopping malls. Any information is easily accesible from hotel reception or any English speaker.
What is the best time to visit Saudi Arabia?
Best time to visit Saudi Arabia is winter, which falls between October till February. This is also time for Riyadh Season (check the official Festival website: www.riyadhseason.sa – where all major events, exhibitions, Virtual reality shows are brought to visitors from all parts of the world. This makes is highly attractive time to visit Riyadh.
I stayed in DoubleTree by Hilton – Al Muroj Business Gate, pleasant but quite old fashioned. The standard is way below 4* hotel, however the food was delicious and the staff was extremely friendly. Booking.com offers variety of accommodation options – search for best deals online here.
What to wear in Saudi Arabia for a woman?
Whatever you have heard this travel guide to Saudi Arabia will verify your information. I was just there in January 2023 and the experience was surprisingly friendly. Generally Muslims should not see women’s body, that’s why all women wear Abaya – the black dress covering the whole body. Most women in Saudi wear face cover, whether it’s: Niqab – for the whole face or Burqa with eyes exception. You are not oblidged to wear hair cover as a tourist.
In Riyadh – the capital of Saudi Arabia, you are not obliged to wear Abaya as a tourist, but you should dress respectively. Try to avoid tight cloths, cover your body fully, no need to cover your hair if you don’t feel like. More importantly, I didn’t feel any pressure from the locals for being dress casually.
However – outside of Riyadh you may still face the old Arabia and you should be wearing Abaya to cover your body. People in smaller cities remain more traditional and they may attack you for not wearing proper body cover. If you buy one abaya it should be more than enough for the whole stay. Abaya is worn over your clothes, it washes easily and doesn’t cost much (you should be able to get one for $20).
Men outfit in Arabia.
Not only women in Arabia are obliged to cover their body, men should be covered from wrists up to their knees. Traditional men outfit in Arabia is long loose Thawb. Men do not wear shorts outside of their house. The kaffiyeh is a headdress worn by men in the Middle East, hovewer nowadays it goes with a business outfit.
Weather in Saudi Arabia.
Traveling to Saudi in summer is not recommended. Temperatures in summer reach 45-50 degrees. While in winter months they nowadays drop even to 16-18 degrees.
In January 2023 Saudis told me it is the coldest winter ever! Before 2023 there was 1 RAINY DAY IN THE WHOLE YEAR! In January 2023 it rained 7 days in total – it’s the first time in Saudi’s history for plants and trees to grow outside on an open air. Some trees even grew across desert area. I saw it in Wahiba Sands in Oman few years ago, unusual phenomenon.
Desert temperatures are very different, it gets realy hot during the day, but the temperature drops dramatically during night time. So if you are camping on red sands of the desert, have warm clothes with you.
Getting Around – local transport in Riyadh.
UBER is the most convenient way of getting around. Once you have your local sim card and Uber application – YOU ARE SORTED! It’s cheap and very well organized, you’ll have a cab in 3 minutes from any spot within Riyadh.
Riyadh METRO – local transport is highly modern but there is a single tube line. In 2014 Saudi Arabia decided to invest in the public transport with starting the $23billion project aiming to build the world’s largest single-phase metro system.
SAPTCO are local buses in Riyadh, offering high level of travel comfort. They run between 5.30am to 11.30pm on weekdays with high frequency but the network is still not covering many of Riyadh parts.
Bus no 7 will take you near the Grand Mosque. To reach King Abdullah Financial District you would need to catch bus no 8. For spectacular Kingdom Tower take bus no 9.
TAXIS (marked green cabs) are very convenient way of getting around. First km $2, onward $0.5/per km.
Food steps - try one of the best cuisines in the world.
Arabic food is one of my top favourites cuisines, even in my home town I go to a local Arabic shop for halva, falafel, stuffed grape leaves with rice, olives and 3 most popular side dips: Labneh (yogurt cheese), Mutabal (baked eggplant with oil), Hommus (chickpeas with tahini)– which taste nowhere better but in Arabic countries. Lime and cardamom are symbolic flavours of Arabia.
Having visited number of Middle East countries I can say the only right way to exploring this interesting part of the world is sinking into a local atmosphere, by visiting places attended by residents. Shisha bars, local restaurants, these are the places to see real Arabia.
Where to eat in Riyadh?
- Najd Village – visit a traditional Saudi restaurant for a taste of Riyadh. This incredible restaurant is arranged in Najdi style, reflecting the old Saudi settlements. The food is mind blowing, freshly cooked, aromatic with majority of meat dishes but also vegetarian and even vegan (that’s for me please!). Dates – a symbol of Saudi Arabia will be served as a starter with cardamom Arabic coffee.
- THE ZONE – fancy shopping, restaurant and cafe place. An outdoor place with an extraordinary dancing fontain and Korean Cafe arranged in 2D design – Greem Cafe.
It’s funny but number of foreigh cuisines are very popular in Riyadh – American, Italian or Indian. Also a huge popularity gain take away food brands and the market is growing massively each year.
Discover best things to do in Saudi Arabia – offerings you may not find anywhere else.