10 Things to Know Before Visiting Saudi Arabia

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Travel is more than just visiting iconic structures and monuments around the world. It’s about learning about different cultures, exploring history, and discovering new perspectives. While many people tend to flock to Europe and Asian countries for their holidays, the Middle East offers a unique and fascinating travel experience.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable holiday, think about visiting Saudi Arabia. This country has a rich cultural heritage and a diverse landscape that will leave you mesmerized.

Here are some things to know about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to help you plan your travel itinerary.

1. Saudi Arabia is huge.

Map of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the 12th-largest country in the world by land area and the largest country in the Middle East. The distance between major cities can be significant, so it’s important to plan accordingly when traveling around the country.

The most efficient way to get around is by flying. Fortunately, there are 35 airports in Saudi Arabia, and 28 of them handle domestic flights, so getting around the country is a breeze.

If you want to save money and time, get a Flynas ticket. Budget airlines can help you cover more ground without breaking the bank.

2. Saudi Arabia is a conservative country.

Saudi Arabia has conservative Muslim values. Be aware of customs surrounding public displays of affection, gender roles, and dress code, and follow them to show respect for the local culture and religion. By doing so, you can have an enjoyable stay while avoiding any cultural misunderstandings or clashes.

Holding hands or kissing in public is not allowed between people of different sexes. Gender roles are strictly observed, and women often have separate areas in public places like restaurants, buses, and workplaces.

Everyone must dress modestly and cover as much skin as possible, Saudi women are expected to wear the traditional black hijab and abaya robe in public, though foreigners are exempt. However, everyone must keep their shoulders and knees covered at all times.

ⓘ TIP: If you’re visiting during Ramadan, you should know that it’s considered rude to eat or drink in public.

3. Saudi Arabia is packed with things to do and see.

Split rock of Horeb
The split rock at Horeb, which Moses struck with his rod (Ex. 17:6)

Saudi Arabia is quickly rising to prominence as a premier scuba diving destination due to its stunning coastline and panoramic views of the Red Sea. It’s also ideal for those who enjoy being near the clear waters of the ocean and want to spend some time at the beach. Umluj Beach is well-known for its clear turquoise waters and white sandy beaches.

But what if you prefer archaeology and ancient history? You’ll be happy to know that Saudi Arabia is full of historical gems waiting to be discovered!

The country has six UNESCO sites with cultural significance: Historic Jeddah, Rock Art in the Hail Region, Ḥimā Cultural Area, and Al Ahsa, the world’s largest oasis. The other two sites are main tourist attractions in Saudi Arabia: the ruins of the ancient Nabataean city of Mada’in Saleh (al-Hijr) and the early Islamic sites of ad-Diriyah.

You’ll also find several important biblical sites here. Two of the most notable ones are Jebel al-Lawz—which some believe to be Mount Sinai (where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments)—and the Split Rock of Horeb, which could well be the rock that Moses struck to bring forth water.

4. The country is safe.

If you are planning to visit Saudi Arabia you can do that without any hesitation. Despite the common misconception that Saudi Arabia is a dangerous place to visit, the country is actually quite safe and has a low crime rate.

The nation has a strict legal system, though, and some actions that might be acceptable in other nations may be forbidden in Saudi Arabia, such as drinking alcohol. Since Saudi Arabia is a conservative Islamic nation, it is advisable to observe local traditions, dress modestly, and refrain from making public displays of affection.

ⓘ TIP: There is an ongoing conflict in neighboring Yemen, so you should avoid visiting areas near the border.

5. Some cities are off-limits to non-Muslims.

Worshippers around the Kaaba at Mecca, visiting Saudi Arabia

Mecca and Medina are two important cities in Islam. Mecca is the holiest, where the Prophet Muhammad was born, and every Muslim must make a hajj (pilgrimage) here at least once. To complete the Hajj, visitors must walk seven times around the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the heart of the Great Mosque.

The second holiest city for Muslims is Medina, where Muhammad founded the first Muslim community. During the Hajj, pilgrims traditionally also pray at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet), which contains the tomb of the Prophet.

Unless you’re there on Hajj, don’t plan on seeing these places when you’re visiting Saudi Arabia. Both Mecca and Medina are off-limits to anyone who isn’t a Muslim because of their status as holy cities in Islam. The Saudi government takes this rule very seriously, and anyone who tries to enter Mecca or Medina as a non-Muslim will face harsh punishments like fines, jail time, and even deportation.

6. It’s not always hot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s climate is hot and dry for most of the year, with very little rainfall. Summers (May to September) are roasting, with temperatures averaging between 40°C to 50°C (104°F to 122°F) during the day, particularly in the desert regions. Dust and sandstorms can also occur at this time of year.

BUT the winter months (November to February) are relatively mild, with daytime temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C (68°F to 86°F). Temperatures drop at night, especially in desert regions.

Along the coast, the temperature is more moderate throughout the year, with temperatures averaging around 30°C (86°F) during the summer months and around 25°C (77°F) during the winter months.

7. Photography is restricted.

Saudi Arabian flag flying behind palm trees

In Saudi Arabia, you should always ask permission before taking pictures of individuals. This is due to the country’s traditions and the importance placed on family reputation. Especially since the rise of the internet, there is a fear that a woman’s image could be posted online or used for blackmail, which would tarnish her reputation and that of her family.

It’s a cybercrime to post a photo on social media without permission. Those who do so may be sentenced to a year in prison or a fine of 500,000 Saudi Riyals, which is roughly equivalent to $130,000.

Additionally, remember to look for “No photographs” signs and to obtain permission from the authorities before taking any pictures of military sites, airports, palaces, or religious monuments. Some of these are considered to be a security risk.

8. Saudi Arabia has a variety of cuisines.

If you are a food lover, Saudi Arabia can provide you with plenty of dishes and items that would take you on a gastronomic ride. The country is renowned for its flavorful cuisine that blends the spices of North Africa with the traditional dishes of the Middle East.

If you are interested in authentic Arabic cuisine, you will also be able to find an abundance of dishes, including lamb shawarma, kofta meatballs, and Yemeni mandi rice. And falafel and kebabs are extremely popular dishes, as well.

Most Saudi Arabian dishes contain common ingredients like rice, vegetables, dates, meat, and potatoes. However, they taste different and have a distinct flavor that suits the country’s dry climate. And since the sale and consumption of alcohol are banned in Saudi Arabia, the top preferred beverages include fresh orange and mango juice and tea and coffee.

9. The country is perfect for road trips.

Mud Baab Makkah Gate, Al Balad, Jeddah Saudi Arabia.

With a sunny climate, affordable gas prices, and good quality roads, it’s easy to explore the Arabian landscape on a vehicle. There are a number of car rental agencies in Saudi Arabia that can get you on the road.

Trippers often take the road from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to the historic site of Mada’in Saleh. This route will take you through the heart of the Arabian Desert, where you can witness breathtaking views of sand dunes and rock formations. Along the way, you can also stop at historic sites such as the Al-Diriyah Palace and the Qasr Al-Farid temple.

The Red Sea coast is another well-liked stop for tourists driving through Saudi Arabia. You can drive along the scenic coastal roads and stop at charming seaside towns such as Jeddah and Yanbu. You can also detour to explore the coral reefs and turquoise waters of the Red Sea. Whatever your preferences, a road trip in Saudi Arabia promises to be an unforgettable experience.

10. The accommodations are top-notch.

If you are concerned about where you will stay during your visit to Saudi Arabia, you don’t have to worry. The country has made great strides in recent years to improve its accommodation options, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030. You can find a range of options to suit your preferences and budget.

For those looking for luxurious international hotel chains, you’ll find plenty of options in major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam. Many of these hotels feature modern amenities such as spas, gyms, and swimming pools. You can also enjoy international cuisine in their on-site restaurants.

If you are on a tight budget, don’t worry. There are plenty of affordable places to stay throughout the country, such as hostels, guesthouses, and budget hotels. While they may not have all the amenities of a luxury hotel, they offer comfortable and clean rooms at an affordable price. An advantage is that staying in a local guesthouse can offer a unique cultural experience and a chance to connect with locals.

Final thoughts about visiting Saudi Arabia

If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination that offers unique attractions and experiences, you’ll get that by visiting Saudi Arabia. With its cultural diversity and top-notch accommodations, you won’t find a better place for a memorable holiday experience.

From the beautiful beaches and pristine coastline to safaris and scuba diving spots, Saudi Arabia promises an unforgettable travel adventure. So, if you are planning your next vacation, make sure to add Saudi Arabia to your bucket list!

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It, where she documents her trips, shares practical itineraries, and offers insider tips. She’s passionate about helping fellow travelers save time, money, and hassle, and loves to discover new places to explore.

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