Saudi Arabia, a vast desert kingdom in the Middle East, is renowned for its religious significance as the birthplace of Islam and its two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. With a rich history and modern development, it's a country of contrasts, featuring stunning architecture, oil wealth, and strict Islamic traditions.
Historical Diriyah: This UNESCO World Heritage site near Riyadh features historic mud-brick structures and is a symbol of the country's history and culture.
Mecca and Medina: These two holy cities are the most significant religious sites in Islam, drawing millions of pilgrims each year to the Kaaba and the Prophet's Mosque.
Nabatean Rock Art Sites: In the Al-Ula region, you can find impressive rock art and archaeological remnants of the Nabatean civilization, similar to Petra in Jordan.
Red Sea Coast: The coastal region along the Red Sea offers beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and water sports, including diving and snorkeling.
Riyadh: The capital city offers a blend of modern skyscrapers, historical sites like Masmak Fortress, and vibrant cultural attractions.
When to go / useful information
When to go
The best time to visit Saudi Arabia largely depends on your specific interests and the region you plan to explore, as the country experiences varying climates. Saudi Arabia's weather can be quite extreme, so planning your trip according to the specific activities and regions you want to explore is essential. Keep in mind that religious holidays and events may affect travel plans, so it's a good idea to check for any local or religious events that may coincide with your visit.
Currency: The currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Riyal, abbreviated as SAR. It is further subdivided into 100 halalas. The Saudi Riyal is used for all transactions in the country, and you can exchange foreign currency at banks, exchange offices, or ATMs in major cities and airports. Credit cards are widely accepted in many establishments, particularly in urban areas.
Language: The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. Arabic is the primary language used for government, education, and communication in the country. While Arabic is the dominant language, English is also widely understood and used, especially in business and the tourism industry. Many signs and official documents are available in both Arabic and English, making it relatively easy for English-speaking visitors to navigate in Saudi Arabia. It is respectful to learn a few basic Arabic phrases to facilitate communication.
What makes it special: Saudi Arabia's unique blend of tradition, modernization, religious significance, and natural beauty makes it an intriguing and evolving destination for travelers interested in exploring its multifaceted culture and heritage.
Weather: Average temperatures for the coolest months, December through February, are 23°C at Jeddah, 14°C at Riyadh and 17 °C at Al-Dammām. Summers, from June to August, are hot, with daytime temperatures in the shade exceeding 38°C in almost all of the country.
Social customs: Saudi Arabia has a unique set of social customs and traditions influenced by Islamic culture and principles. These customs are important to respect when visiting the country:
Greeting: Greetings typically involve a warm handshake and a courteous exchange of pleasantries. In more conservative settings, it's common for people of the same gender to greet each other with a nose-to-nose touch and kisses on both cheeks.
Respect for Islam: As the birthplace of Islam, religious respect is paramount. Dress modestly, particularly in public spaces and religious sites. Non-Muslims are not allowed in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Ramadan: During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Non-Muslims should refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours as a sign of respect. Many businesses may have reduced hours during this time.
Dress Code: Modesty in dress is essential. Women are required to wear an abaya (a long black cloak) in public. Men should dress conservatively, with long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
Public Behavior: Public displays of affection should be avoided. It's important to maintain proper decorum and be mindful of cultural norms.
Gender Segregation: In many public places, there is segregation of the sexes. Be aware of designated areas for men and women, whether it's in public transportation, restaurants, or other venues.
Gift Giving: Giving and receiving gifts is a common practice, particularly during social visits. When giving a gift, it's best to offer it with the right hand or both hands.
Tipping: Tipping is customary in Saudi Arabia, and it's a sign of appreciation for good service. In restaurants, a service charge may be included, but it's still common to leave an additional tip.
Photography: Ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially in more conservative or rural areas. Some individuals may prefer not to be photographed.
Friday as the Holy Day: Friday is the Islamic holy day, and businesses and government offices may have reduced hours or be closed during Friday prayers. Plan accordingly.
Respecting these social customs is essential for a positive and culturally sensitive experience in Saudi Arabia. The country has a rich cultural heritage, and showing respect for local traditions and religious customs is a fundamental aspect of traveling in Saudi Arabia.