What to Know Before Visiting Saudi Arabia

Now that the kingdom is welcoming international travelers, here’s everything you need to know before planning a trip to Saudi Arabia.

A young girl's reflection show in the sideview mirror of a car near Maraya concert hall.

A young Saudi girl near AlUla’s Maraya concert hall, the largest mirrored building in the world. In Arabic, maraya means “reflection.”

Photo by Tasneem Alsultan

Planning a trip to Saudi Arabia can seem mystifying since it’s been off-limits to most international visitors for so long. But the kingdom’s opening to tourism is bringing with it new infrastructure and processes to make the destination accessible: In a matter of minutes, travelers can apply online and receive a multiple-entry eVisa, valid for one year, for about $142. Tour operators such as U.K.-based Wild Frontiers host immersive trips that take travelers from the world’s largest camel market outside Buraydah to ancient petroglyphs around the Jubbah oasis—as well as to the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh. AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council members can also help with planning a trip.

The best time to visit

November to March brings the most pleasant weather in Saudi Arabia, ranging from the 50s in the Hijaz Mountains to the 70s and 80s on the coast. It’s also when the country comes alive with events: AlUla Moments, the MDLBeast music festivals, the Islamic Arts Biennale, the Red Sea International Film Festival, and others.

Etiquette

  • In recent years, guidelines around women’s attire have relaxed considerably, and it’s no longer mandatory to wear an abaya (the traditional body-length dress) and scarf in public. However, both men and women travelers should respect cultural norms with modest clothing options covering the shoulders and knees when in public. Women should have a scarf on hand if they plan to visit a mosque, as head coverings are required.
  • Alcohol is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and is not available at restaurants, hotels, venues, or events.
  • During the month of Ramadan (March 22 to April 20 in 2023), many restaurants will be closed until after sunset. While some hotels continue to serve meals throughout the day for those who aren’t fasting, you should avoid eating or drinking in public during daylight hours out of respect.
  • In general across Saudi Arabia, it’s best to avoid public displays of affection.

Where to stay

As the country’s financial, cultural, and culinary hub, Riyadh is the most dynamic city in the nation. The Four Seasons sets you inside the capital’s most distinctive skyscraper, the Kingdom Centre, capped by the soaring Sky Bridge.

On the Red Sea, Jeddah is a relaxed, cosmopolitan city with history dating back to the 7th century. Opened in February 2022, the gleaming Shangri-La Jeddah is a new addition to the hotel landscape.

With Nabataean tombs carved into rocky outcrops across a vast desert, AlUla sits approximately 423 miles north of Jeddah on the historic incense route. It is home to Al-Hijr, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, which was inscribed in 2008.

In 2021, the government unveiled a $15 billion plan to turn the ancient city into an international arts and culture hub. Change is already evident: The hotel Habitas AlUla and Habitas’s nearby caravans blend into an ochre valley studded with contemporary art installations; the Banyan Tree AlUla also debuted in late 2022 near the Maraya concert hall. Three additional resorts from Aman will launch in the AlUla area in 2023, including a tented camp and a “ranch-style” property.

Canada-born, New York City–based writer Sarah Khan spent the formative years of her childhood in Saudi Arabia. Khan’s byline has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Travel + Leisure, and she recently served as the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East.
More from AFAR