Saudi Arabia Holiday Planning Guide
With coastlines on two seas, Saudi Arabia boasts some of the world's top scuba diving locations. At the same time, it has tourist attractions of such cultural heft as Mecca and Medina--the most sacred destinations for Muslim travelers and pilgrims. When it comes to relaxation and recreation, a trip to Saudi Arabia opens a world of possibilities for outdoor adventures, which include desert excursions by horse or camel, mountain climbing, cycling, and camping under the starry sky. Think about beginning or ending your tour of Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, a cosmopolitan center of commerce, shopping, and dining situated on the Red Sea coastline.
Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia
Regions of Saudi ArabiaRiyadh Province
: Found right in the heart of Saudi Arabia, the region encompasses ancient and modern traditions reflected in the capital Riyadh--a vibrant city famous for numerous festivals throughout the year and shopping malls.Makkah Province
: List Makkah on your [destination + itinerary] itinerary and discover the roots of Islam, mountains, and traditional markets.Al Madinah Province
: [destination + Things to do]Things to do in Al Madinah include visiting date plantations, souks (traditional markets), museums, historic battle recreations, and of course the most important city in the Islamic world--Medina.Eastern Province
: Enjoy a relaxing Saudi Arabian vacation on the golden sand shores of the Arabian Gulf, with green oases found in midst of desert landscapes.Asir Province
: Make a tour around the region with most diverse terrain--from deserts, mountains, and sandy coastlines to a rich cultural heritage featuring castles and palaces.
Cities in Saudi ArabiaRiyadh
: The pulsating nation’s capital is a must on your itinerary, as it encompasses modern skyscrapers, luxurious shopping malls, high-end cuisine, and dashes of antiquity found in the historic Old Town.Jeddah
: An ancient sea port and a pilgrimage site, the city thrives with a historic center under UNESCO’s protection and it sports traditional houses, mosques, and numerous other sightseeing attractions.Mecca
: The birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and one of the most important religious sites in Islam features one of the tallest buildings in the world.Medina
: Make a trip to the second-holiest city in Islam, where many come to see the Grand Mosque. The city also boasts markets, shopping malls, and restaurants.
Things to Do in Saudi Arabia
Popular Saudi Arabia Tourist AttractionsMasjid an-Nabi
: Take a tour around the vast marble courtyards, ornate prayer rooms, and jutting minarets of one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in Islam. Kingdom Centre Tower
: Featuring a restaurant with stunning city views on the top, the skyscraper is a true haven for luxury shopping and a must-see on your itinerary.King's Fountain
: As one of the largest fountains in the world, this is a top tourist attraction in .Black Stone
: When on your holiday, take a moment to appreciate one of the most sacred relics in Islam, supposedly touched by the hands of the prophet himself.Balad
: The World Heritage Site features traditional style merchant houses, old souks, lively piazzas, mosques, eateries, and myriad of tourist attractions waiting to be discovered.Safa to Marwa
: One of the places to visit when on your vacation is the pilgrimage site believed to be the site where the prophet’s wife searched for water for their son.Grand Mosque
: Take a tour of the greatest Muslim pilgrimage site, the enormous mosque featuring a shrine Kaaba and a well containing holy water believed to come from God.Al Faisaliyah Center
List the 44-story tall skyscraper on your Saudi Arabia itinerary for its 360-view of the eclectic Riyadh and the city’s dining and shopping sites.Quba Mosque
: One of the places to see in when on a Medina tour is the oldest mosque in country featuring 56 domes and giant minarets.Corniche
: One of the things to do in Al Khobar is strolling down the popular promenade lined with palm trees and fountains next to the seaside.
Planning a Saudi Arabia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia with Kids
If you are planning a vacation with kids, you’ll have to focus on the two largest cities--Riyadh and Jeddah--for children's entertainment. Jeddah should be on your itinerary since it has several big theme parks, appropriate both for kids and adults, plus shopping malls with kids’ facilities, and kid-friendly chain restaurants. Riyadh is most popular for its modern Riyadh Zoo
, featuring animals common to the Middle East. Eastern Province has beautiful golden sand beaches, where one can enjoy a day in nature with the family.
Things to Do in Saudi Arabia with Kids
Aside from enjoying fun arcade games, roller coasters, and bumper car rides in one of Jeddah’s amusement parks, there are couple of other fun activities for the whole family. One of the things to do is camel riding on the golden sand beaches and watching a football game at one of the modern stadiums. Adventurous ones might try a desert excursion and tour, which can be customized for kids as well.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Saudi Arabia
Due to strict laws regarding women and men socializing in public, you should always check the rules of a facility or venue before visiting. Making a day trip to a beach might be a little tricky because of strict attire regulations. Swimsuits are considered inappropriate and modesty is advised. On private beaches, swimwear is allowed. Keep in mind that temperatures can get really high; always have a cool drink and sunscreen with you.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Saudi Arabia
Cuisine of Saudi Arabia
The majority of Saudi Arabian dishes includes rice, spices, meat, and dates. While on your vacation, be sure to try the number one dish--Kabsa. Kabsa has rice, meat, indian nuts, dates, and aromatic spices. Margog is a liquid sauce with vegetables, meat, and flour paste. For a dessert, try hainini, a sweet dish usually served in winter. Those looking for something lighter should try saleek--a Saudi Arabian version of risotto.
Shopping in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has huge, high-end shopping malls. In these shopping centers, you’ll find most international brands of various price ranges. The most popular souvenirs are oud (heavily scented oils used as perfume), henna templates, cheenko (traditional serving pieces), ornate teapots, and scarves with Arabic letters and designs.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Saudi Arabia
Interesting Facts About Saudi Arabia
* Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the world without a single river in its territory.
* The country banned the Harry Potter book series.
* Riyadh has the largest camel market in the world.
* Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to allow women to vote (in 2015).
Things You Should NOT Do in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has some very strict regulations, and some of them you should be aware when on holiday. It is forbidden to take pictures of palaces and government and military buildings. You should also avoid taking pictures of locals, especially Saudi women. Driving in Saudi Arabia is forbidden for women. Also be aware of the way you dress; always be covered up and do not show skin. During Ramadan, you many not eat, smoke, and drink in public when it’s daylight. Also, possessing pork is forbidden. Pornographic material and alcohol is strictly forbidden; the penalty might result in death!
Holidays & Festivals in Saudi Arabia
In addition to the holy Ramadan month, Saudi Arabia observes a few secular festivals. The most appealing for tourists is Jeddah festival, which takes place between June and July. The festival celebrates local traditions with dances, songs, handicrafts, and cuisine featured in more than 200 events. The focal point of the festival is the fireworks over the promenade. Another festival you should keep in mind when planning a vacation is Janadriyah National Festival, which showcases handicrafts, poetry, and camel races.
Useful Saudi Arabia Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Saudi Arabia
You should be aware of the country’s rigorous social etiquette, especially in terms of gender and age. When on your tour, remember that interaction between genders is very seldom and considered for the most part inappropriate. In commercial venues and shops, since only men are allowed to work, the conversation is very formal and limited to the process of buying and selling. There are different lines for men and women as well. Women should always be dressed conservatively, in loose clothes. When it comes to age, older people are greeted with deference and strict formality. If you are invited to someone’s home, be prepared for a long greeting. The guest should always shake hands or kiss cheeks (if the host/hostess is of the same age and gender) and ask about one's well being for each person in the room. The guest should always be served coffee or tea, a custom extended to businesses and shops too. Saudi Arabians tend to stand very close to each other and hold hands or arms (if the age and gender is appropriate) when talking. Staring at someone is considered rude. Rules and formalities are stricter in rural areas and Bedouins. When meeting a stranger greet with “as-salaam‘alaykum” (peace be upon you), the proper response is “wa ‘alaykum salaam” (upon you be peace).
Climate of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has a desert climate, marked with very high temperatures and almost zero precipitation. The southwestern area features a semi-arid climate with a bit more precipitation. When planning a vacation avoid summer months, especially June, when temperatures reach 40 C (104 F). The most pleasant times to visit Riyadh are in spring and autumn, when temperatures are around 21-28 C (70-82 F). Winter is the most popular time to visit seaside Jeddah. Keep in mind temperature differences between daytime and nighttime can drop 20 C (68 F).
Transportation in Saudi Arabia
There are several ways to tour the vast desert landscapes of Saudi Arabia. Rent a car and enjoy the well- maintained roads and panoramas. Be aware that you need to be older than 25 and male to drive in Saudi Arabia. There is a well-developed bus network connecting main cities and rural regions, and buses are air-conditioned and punctual. Modern, air-conditioned trains travel daily between Riyadh and Dammam, via Hofuf and Abqaiq on the eastern coast. In the largest cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Dammam-Alkhobar area of the Eastern Province, a city public transport system operates frequently.
Tipping in Saudi Arabia
Hotels in Saudi Arabia usually charge for services, which is indicated in the bill. Nonetheless, be aware that individual tipping is getting more popular. Tip the porter a dollar or two, and leave $2 per day for housekeepers. If it is not added into the bill, tip 10-15 percent in restaurants; for exceptional service it is upon you to decide. Deliveries are usually tipped with 1-3 SAR. If visiting a high-end spa is a part of your Saudi Arabia holiday, tip 10 percent for spa services (2-3 SAR). Since tour guides in Saudi Arabia don’t earn much money, they expect a tip. Small groups should tip $10 per person per day, and bigger groups should tip $5-7 per person per day. Drivers and other persons who might have helped during the tour should also be tipped with $2-3 per day. For taxi drivers, 10 percent is the norm.