Saudi Arabia Guide
Five Things First Time Travellers To Saudi Arabia Should Know
- Dress codes are important for both men and women. While travelling in Saudi Arabia, men will need to cover up their arms, legs and chest area. The same goes for women, who will also need to wear abayas while in public and make sure their hair is covered.
- Beware of the travel restrictions. In Saudi Arabia, women can't travel alone and are required by law to have an escort while in public. Unmarried couples are not allowed to travel together, and this is grounds for a visa rejection.
- Photographs are a touchy subject. There is a national ban on taking photos of government buildings, mosques and palaces. It's also wise to ask permission to take someone's picture. If you don't, they can call the police as its grounds for harassment.
- Tipping is customary in Saudi Arabia. It's recommended to tip at least 10% for servers, taxi drivers and other service professionals. The only exception is hotels. Most will include a service charge, so you don't need to worry about leaving a tip.
- Avoid the tap water. To avoid getting sick, only use bottled water for drinking, brushing your teeth and cooking. It's also a good idea to avoid freshwater pools as many contain the Bilharzia parasite.
Best Time To Visit Saudi Arabia
The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is during its winter months. From October to March, temperatures will be colder making sightseeing more bearable. However, the nights can get chilly so make sure you pack a few warm layers.
If you want to visit the Asir Mountains, the winter months should be avoided. An excessive fog hangs around the area during this period and only lifts at the end of March.
Saudi Arabia's summer months are from April to September. Temperatures reach highs of 40°C, and the high humidity makes travel uncomfortable. If you're visiting during this time, plan your sightseeing for the mornings before the midday heat hits.
It's also a good idea to check if your trip falls during the holy month of Ramadan. During this time, the country follows a strict set of rules, and you won't be allowed to eat or drink in public.
Due to Saudi Arabia being one of the hardest countries to travel to in the world, it doesn't have typical high and low seasons. The only time the country sees a rush of visitors is during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Saudi Arabia Cities
Jeddah is the capital city of Saudi Arabia. It's full of history, interesting coral architecture and some of the country's best shopping. Jeddah is also known for its excellent international cuisine; especially its seafood.
Located on the banks of the Red Sea, Jeddah is a firm favourite with scuba divers. Other top attractions include the Al-Shallal Theme Park and King Fahd's Fountain.
Medina is one of the two holy cities of Islam in Saudi Arabia. It's the perfect destination for those that want to learn more about the religion and immerse themselves in Muslim culture.
Its most famous attractions are the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi mosque, built by the prophet Muhammad and Quba Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world.
Mecca is the largest of Saudi Arabia's holy cities. It's the place where Muslims around the world pray to every day. Mecca boasts several records including the tallest clock tower and the biggest hotel in the world.
Due to its religious significance, not everyone can visit Mecca. The city is off-limits to non-Muslims, and only pilgrims may enter.
Top Attractions in Saudi Arabia
Located halfway between Petra and Mecca, Mada'in Saleh is the second city of the Nabateans, the ancient people of the Middle East who are responsible for Jordan's incredible city of Petra.
While Saudi Arabia's site doesn't have the same level of grandeur, it's still an incredible feat of architecture. Madain Saleh features over 100 tombs, with some carrying inscriptions in the late Aramaic script.
There is also a huge stone known as Ekma that is steeped in religious history. It's believed that it marks the location where Prophet Saleh turned a stone into a camel when the Thamud people challenged him to perform a miracle.
Al-Ahsa is the greenest place in Saudi Arabia. The oasis is home to more than 1.5 million palm trees and is the world's largest palm tree oasis. It's considered the country's top natural attraction and was even nominated as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Due to the abundance of water, the oasis boasts many agricultural projects and is the largest supplier of dates in the country.
Nearby Al Ahsa are many archaeological sites. Before heading back to Riyadh, visit the limestone caves of Ghar Al Hashshab and the Qasr Ibrahim.
The Farasan Islands is one of Saudi Arabia's most picturesque destinations. It's blessed with a wonderful year-round climate that's more favourable than the mainlands.
Head to the island's natural reserves to explore its lush vegetation and wildlife. For divers, there are a number of dive sites that are home to an array of fascinating marine creatures. Look out for whale sharks, manta rays and the endangered green sea turtles.
Keep in mind that the island doesn't have any dive centres. You'll need to bring your own gear if you want to explore the Farasan Islands underwater heritage.
Jubbat Ha'il is considered to be the most significant archaeological site in Saudi Arabia. Located in the Um Sanman Mountains, ancient rock inscriptions and illustrations date back to the Mesolithic Period.
Archaeologists have found evidence of three major periods of settlement in the area. This proves that Jobbat is one of the oldest known inhabited places in the country.
Four of the inscription sites are now part of Saudi Arabia's UNESCO World Heritage list. Jebbah is well worth the visit if you're interested in the region's ancient history.
Saudi Arabia's National Museum is considered one of the best in the Middle East. Its eight galleries cover Arabian history, art and culture with fascinating audio and visual presentations.
Inside you'll find a full-scale reconstruction of a Nabataean tomb, rock carvings, and interactive displays. The museum chronicles the unification of the Saudi Arabia and the emergence of Islam in the region. It also touches on the creation of the universe and dictates event up until the Modern Age.
If you're a history buff and you have an interest in Arabia's past, don't pass up the opportunity to visit this museum.
Major International Airports in Saudi Arabia
- King Fahd International Airport
- King Abdulaziz International Airport
- King Khalid International Airport
- Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz Airport
- Al-Ahsa International Airport