The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, bordered by Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, is as rich in culture and age-old traditions as it is in oil. Visitors come to enjoy the ancient heritage, breathtaking outdoor activities and delicious local food. With the current government in power, Saudi Arabia has seen much development on the tourism front with the construction of glittering malls, luxurious hotels and the adoption of a slightly more relaxed attitude which resulted, for example, in the lifting of the ban on woman driving cars. If considering traveling here, be aware that the strict regime still ruling Saudi Arabia is consistently ranked among the “worst of the worst” for human rights.
SAUDI ARABIA TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
Deerah Souq, Riyadh
Buy some cool souvenirs from Riyadh at the Deerah souq! For handicrafts and local fare, head to Souq Al Thumairi, immediately south of Masmak Fortress in the Al Diraiyah area. Famous for its gold souq section but you cans also shop for key chains, shawls, scarfs, lanterns, carpets, makeup, scented oils, dresses, spices and more.
Riyadh Sky Bridge
The Sky Bridge in Riyadh is not for the faint-hearted or for those who suffer from vertigo. The views from the highest place in Riyadh are truly breathtaking. The sky bridge is a 300-ton steel structure, taking the form of an enclosed corridor with windows on both sides. High-speed lifts fly you at 180km/h to the 99th-floor Sky Bridge, inside the Kingdom Tower.
Al Wahbah, on Harrat Kishb, is the most spectacular of several volcanic explosion craters found on the lava fields of western Saudi Arabia. Al Wahbah Crater, also Maqla Ṭamiyyah, is a volcanic crater, which is about 250 kilometres away from Ta’if in the Hejazi region. The Harrat Kishb plateau contains many volcanic cones and is 250 m deep and 2 km in diameter.
Tabuk Castle, Tabuk
Tabuk castle dates back to 1559 and has now transformed into a museum. In the castle there is a mosque on the ground floor, an open courtyard, and a watchtower. Outside the palace are cisterns that were used to uphold spring water. Among the other valuables and artifacts exhibited in the museum are some documents and antiques that date back to the time of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
National Museum, Riyadh
One of the best ways to understand a country and its culture is through visiting its museums; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is no exception. The National Museum of Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of the ancient and rich culture and heritage. The Museum has eight halls; Arabian Kingdom, Man and the Universe, The Prophet’s Mission, The Pre-Islamic Era, First and Second Saudi States, Islam, and the Arabian Peninsula, The Hajj, The unification, and Two Holy Mosques. This museum also has precious antiques, artifacts, and manuscripts.
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SAUDI ARABIA TOP 3 FESTIVALS
Al Janadriyah Festival
Al-Jenadriyah is a cultural and heritage festival where Saudis let their hair down. Held in Jenadriyah near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia each year and lasting for two weeks, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz was the first to organize this festival.
Al Hareed Festival
Al Hareed festival is one of the oldest festivals held in Jazan and has become a key popular tourist festival in the region too. The festival season starts every year when swarms of Parrot fish appear in the shallow waters in the Al-Hasis gulf close to the Farsan island. The meaning of “Hareed” in English is “Parrot Fish”. Every year during April and May the Parrot fish move in the Shallow water and local fishermen compete with each other to catch these fish.
The Kuna Kida festival is one of the most popular festivals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which takes place in the old parts of Jeddah, in particular, Al Balad. The festival revolves around the rich cultural heritage or Saudi Arabia. Various food stalls serve traditional cuisine such as Arabian Shawarma.
SAUDI ARABIA BASICS
Language: The official language in Saudi Arabia is Arabic and this is spoken by over 90 percent of the population. English is also widely spoken and has become a compulsory language to learn in many schools. An Arabic phrase book is well worth bringing along with you on a trip here.
Currency: Saudi Riyal.
Visa: Saudi Arabia has issued their first tourist visa on 1st April 2018 allowing single women over the age of 25, who are not accompanied by a male to be given a 30 day tourist visa… LOL! Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for Saudi Arabia is required (which will depend on the country you are from) and if so, how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
Electricity: Saudi Arabia operates on 110/220 volts with a frequency of 60 Hz. Buy a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each new country you visit.
Lonely Planet Saudi Arabia: Check price on Amazon
WHAT TO EAT IN SAUDI ARABIA
Some of the most delicious, traditional dishes that you must try when in Saudi Arabia are listed below. Don’t drool!
Saleeg: Saleeg is very popular in the city of Taif. It is a white-rice dish, cooked with broth and milk. It originates in Hejaz region in the west of Saudi Arabia, where it is commonly regarded as a national dish of the region. Similar to Italian risotto but cooked in milk, and served with chicken. Arabs call saleeg a “face-whitening” dish, which means it won’t let you down in front of your guests.
Shawarma: Shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in Egypt and the countries of the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and Saudi Arabia. The locals roll the shredded chicken, pickles, fries and garlic sauce into a khubz (a flatbread). Shawarma did not originate in Saudi Arabia but has become an extremely popular street food.
Kabsa: Kabsa is a mixed rice dish that originates from Saudi Arabia but is commonly regarded as a national dish in many Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The dish is easily prepared with chicken and spiced rice and simmered in cinnamon, saffron, black lime, cardamom, bay leaves, and nutmeg.
Mutabbaq: Or Mutabak or Martabak is a street food which originated in southern Saudi Arabia and Yemen and its name in Arabic (مطبق) means folded. A pancake is stuffed and folded before being served.
Maamul: Ma’amul is an ancient Arab small shortbread, pastry or cookie often filled with dates, nuts and pistachios. As per Arabic tradition, such desserts get served with mint tea or coffee.
WHERE TO STAYSaudi Arabia is a reasonably affordable destination to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Saudi Arabia is easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels make travel to Saudi Arabia affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget. Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, Saudi Arabia will not disappoint you price wise. A basic hotel room in Saudi Arabia can cost less than $100.
If you’re looking for accommodation that includes luxury amenities and comforts then there will be endless options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Riyadh and Jeddah. Whatever month you choose to visit Saudi Arabia, it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have been snapped up already.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Saudi Arabia. However, if you are backpacking in Saudi Arabia or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Saudi Arabia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
BEST TIME TO VISIT SAUDI ARABIA
Saudi Arabia is a year-round travel destination although the summer months can be extremely hot. The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is during winter between the months of late October and early March. If you wish to visit Asir Mountains, in the south-western part of Saudi Arabia, go before November or after February because the excessive fog during the winter months.
SAUDI ARABIA TRAVEL BUDGET
Saudi Arabia is generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Saudi Arabia really depends on the level of comfort you want. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating fast food then budget between $40 to $80 per day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $80 to $200 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget at least $200 to $500+ per day.
IS SAUDI ARABIA SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
Although Saudi Arabia is a relatively safe country for travelers to visit, female tourists should pay particular attention to their attire so that they do not violate local rules which are much stricter than in Qatar or UAE. Always keep a duplicate copy of your travel documents and be extra careful when using public transport and in crowds. Based on my own travel experiences in the Middle East I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance. You can still miss flights, lose your luggage or break a leg, especially if you’re as accident prone as I am. Check out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Saudi Arabia trip.
SAUDI ARABIA VISA CHECKER
SAUDI ARABIA FLIGHT DEALS
SAUDI ARABIA TOURS & ACTIVITIES
SAUDI ARABIA PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to Saudi Arabia, like most other places in the Middle-East is a breeze. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to Saudi Arabia.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest and the greatest in travel gear for women and this is where we share our awesome finds with you.
If you’re visiting Saudi Arabia during the warmer months it will be much easier to travel light. Pack mainly lightweight and breathable clothing but still be prepared for cold mornings and evenings depending on the month you visit. You’ll need to wrap up warm between November and February. So pack a warm sweater, waterproof coat, gloves, scarves and a wooly hat if you’re traveling during winter.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Saudi Arabia include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Read our related blog post with advice on how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.