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The Best Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia from an Expat

If you want to visit the best places in Saudi Arabia, you are in the right place.

Exploring Saudi Arabia as a tourist can be a fantastic experience full of surprises. Saudi Arabia has something to offer everyone from ancient archaeological sites to modern skyscrapers. With its diverse culture, stunning landscapes and fascinating culture, Saudi Arabia is a must-visit destination for any Muslim traveller or non-Muslim alike.

From the capital city of Riyadh to stunning beaches and deserts, the country has a wealth of attractions to explore. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the best places to visit in Saudi Arabia as a tourist with some suggestions from myself as an expat living part-time in the country. So, buckle up and get ready to explore!

For years the country was closed to tourists, and there was a lot of mystery surrounding it. Since 2019 the Saudi government introduced a tourist visa, and now it is much easier to visit this beautiful country full of contradictions.

Even as a Muslim traveller on an Umrah visa previously, you were only allowed to go to Makkah and Medinah and not explore some of the many natural attractions scattered around this vast country.

what to visit in Jeddah the fountain
Jeddah fountain view from Park Hyatt

Overview of Saudi Arabia as a Tourist Destination

As mentioned above, Saudi opened its borders to tourists in 2018, and since there, it has been pretty easy to get a tourist visa and visit the country.

Millions of Muslims visit every year the two holy cities of Makkah and Medinah, but in reality, nobody really explores beyond those two, and there is so much to see.

I have a full article on how to issue a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia here, but it is a pretty standard procedure, and it costs £120 for a one-year multi-entry visa.

Is Saudi Arabia Safe for Tourists?

The answer to this question is yes!

Despite its reputation, Saudi Arabia is actually a safe and friendly country for visitors. With the kingdom opening up to foreign visitors, there has been an increasing number of tourists arriving in the Kingdom.

When it comes to safety, Saudi Arabia has a reputation for being a safe country for travellers. The country has invested heavily in its infrastructure and security systems, and crime is generally low. Furthermore, the government works hard to protect tourists and ensure that they have a safe and enjoyable experience in the country.

The country also offers a wide range of activities for tourists, from visiting ancient sites to exploring the rugged desert. There are plenty of attractions to keep travellers busy, including archaeological sites, ancient cities, and stunning beaches on the Red Sea.

You can find a lot of information about Saudi and places to visit on their official tourism website.

Can women visit Saudi Arabia alone?

Yes, as a solo female, you can issue your own visa and travel to the country alone. Female travellers are safe in Saudi with standard travel precautions.

You will generally need to dress modestly, but you don’t have to cover your head or even wear the traditional abaya in places like Jeddah or Riyadh. If you want to feel more comfortable and blend in, sure, you can wear one but many times I wear jeans or even a maxi dress.

Over the years, some parts of Saudi like Jeddah and the capital, have modernised, and you can see some women even wearing short sleeves.

women dress code for tourist in saudi arabia
My mum dressed in normal clothes in Jeddah

Local women will still wear abaya and sheila (the head cover), but sometimes it is more cultural than religious.

Overall, Saudi Arabia is a great destination for anyone looking to experience authentic culture and breathtaking landscapes.

Best time to visit Saudi Arabia

The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is from October to March, when the weather is mild and sunny. During this time of year, temperatures are usually between 15-20 degrees Celsius during the day and cool nights.

However, Saudi is a vast country, so different places within the Kingdom will have different temperatures. So keep this in mind and pack a light jacket as well.

Riyadh has warm days and cold nights since it is in the desert, where temperatures drop, and Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, has a milder climate.

Rainfall happens in this region, especially in November and December, and the thunderstorms can be heavy, but they don’t last longer than a couple of days. I have to say that the thunder and lightning are some of the heaviest I have experienced.

This season also sees some festivals, such as the National Day celebrations in September as well as Al Ula and Riyadh Seasons in December and January. There are concerts, festivals, activities and so much you can do in the cities. Visiting during this time can be a great way to experience unique cultural events while exploring.

The currency of Saudi Arabia is Saudi Riyal, which is about £1 for 4.56SAR / $1 for 3.46SAR. In general, Saudi is an expensive country, but you can also explore on a budget. Personally, I believe it is similar prices to London if you want to experience dining out and activities.

You can, of course, dine for much cheaper and opt for buses rather than trains or planes.

Top Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia

1 The Red Sea Coast of Saudi Arabia

Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia- the red sea
The sea is stunning and easy to get to from Jeddah

The Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its crystal clear waters, pristine coral reefs, and unique wildlife, it is a paradise for beachgoers and divers alike. This area is also known for its rich cultural heritage, and its ancient cities, such as Jeddah, are steeped in history.

For those looking to explore the Red Sea coast, there are plenty of activities to choose from. From snorkelling and diving to swimming and windsurfing, the vast array of activities and experiences makes it an ideal destination for families and groups.

The waters of the Red Sea are home to an incredible variety of marine life. From colourful reef fish to giant sea turtles and even sharks, the marine life here is truly spectacular. The coral reefs are also home to various fish, coral formations, and colourful reef creatures. Even if you don’t want to get in the water, the sights and sounds of the underwater world can be enjoyed from the shore.

King Abdullah Economic City offers a great option for Muslims who want to explore some of Saudi but stay close to Jeddah and Makkah. It is only 30min from Jeddah, and you can even have a stopover with the Haramain train after Umrah on the way to Medinah.

2 Riyadh-the capital of the Kingdom

Cities and places to visit as a tourist in Saudi arabia - RIyadh
Aerial view of Riyadh

There are many places to visit in Riyadh that offer an exciting mix of history and culture. The Masmak Fortress is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Riyadh, as it was once the site of a historic battle.

The National Museum is another must-see with its vast collection of artefacts from around the region. Other popular sites include Al Faisaliah Tower, Murabba Palace, and Diriyah.

Diriyah is a historic district located on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh. It was once the home of the Saudi royal family and is now a popular tourist destination. Diriyah is home to some of the oldest buildings in Riyadh, including the 19th century Mudéjar-style buildings of Al-Turaif, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Edge of the World, a stark and majestic cliff face in the middle of the desert. Located near Riyadh, about an hour out, the Edge of the World is an awe-inspiring natural formation that stands nearly three-hundred meters tall.

The nearby Red Sand Dunes are a popular destination for visitors exploring the desert terrain. Rising over twenty meters high, the red sand dunes provide a stunning backdrop for visitors exploring the area. Visitors can trek around the dunes and take in the breathtaking views or take a camel ride and experience the desert in a whole new way.

If you visit in December, you will also enjoy the Riyadh season with many activities and concerts as well.

3. Jeddah

The Best Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia from an Expat
Jeddah Corniche

As one of the oldest cities in the Middle East, Jeddah is a city steeped in history. It was the commercial hub for centuries connecting the world to the Kingdom via the Red Sea. The city’s rich culture, vibrant art and architecture, and stunning coastline make it a popular tourist destination. The city has always been a little more progressive than the rest of the c country since it is a crossroad for pilgrims as well.

I live in Jeddah, and I do love the cultural mix of it all.

For Muslims visiting for Umrah, I would highly recommend exploring the city after you have finished and enjoying some tourist activities.

First, a visit to the Jeddah Corniche is a must. This stunning waterfront promenade winds its way along the Red Sea, offering spectacular views of the city’s skyline. There are so many cafes, restaurants and playgrounds along the coast for families to enjoy.

The Floating Mosque, also known as Masjid Al Rahmah, this mosque sits atop a wooden platform floating on a lagoon in Jeddah’s northern shoreline.

Check out my Instagram for more on these.

You must visit the old city of Jeddah, the Al Balat area. This historic district dates back to the 7th century and is home to many ancient sites, including the Al-Alawi Mosque and Old Jeddah Wall.

When in the area, check out the Nasseef House, Built-in 1881 by Abdulrahman bin Nasseef al-Rabeea; this palace is a popular tourist destination due to its unique architecture featuring traditional Arabian designs like mashrabiyas (wooden latticework windows) and intricate woodwork carvings on its doors and ceilings. 

Also, you should visit the Al Tayebat International City; this museum houses over 6,000 manuscripts worldwide, ranging from ancient Greek texts to modern works written in different languages such as Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Chinese and more.

King Fahd’s Fountain (also known as the Jeddah Fountain). Located in the Red Sea, this fountain is one of the tallest fountains in the world and can shoot water up to 853 feet into the air. You can enjoy the fountain from the Park Hyatt Hotel as it has a nice coffee shop with a view and lovely sunset.

The Floating Mosque Also known as Masjid Al Rahmah, this mosque sits atop a wooden platform floating on a lagoon in Jeddah’s northern shoreline.

Fakieh Aquarium has over 150 different species of marine life, including sharks and dolphins. It is not the biggest one in the world, but my daughter enjoyed exploring it.

4. Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia

visiti the eastern province in saudi dammam
King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – Ithra

The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia has diverse landscapes and cultures. From the lush Al-Ahsa Oasis to the bustling city of Dammam, the Eastern Province offers visitors a wealth of attractions and activities. It is also home to Aramco the largest producer of oil. The whole of Al Khobar city is pretty much built for this. If you are ever in this region of Saudi Arabia which I personally love, here are some of the things you cannot miss.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – Ithra. Ithra is an educational and cultural centre in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The centre was founded in 2017 by Saudi Aramco and included a range of features such as the Ithra Museum, Planetarium, Library, Auditorium, Cultural Center and Creative Hub.

We spent several hours there, and we also loved the children’s museum for the little ones.

Saudi Arabia has many beautiful places, but one of my favourites is the Al-Ahsa Oasis, one of the world’s largest oases, stretching over 10,000 square kilometres. It is also a Unesco heritage site. The oasis is home to a variety of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, and mammals. Visitors can explore the oasis by boat, car, or horseback and enjoy the lush landscape, lush vegetation, and unique wildlife. The oasis also offers a variety of activities, such as sandboarding, falconry, camel riding, and more.

visit al qara mountain in the eastern province as a toursit in saudi arabia
Al Qara Mountain in Saudi Eastern Province

Another very popular landmark located in the Eastern part of Saudi is the Al Qarah mountain. This beautiful natural wonder is located in the region of Al-Hofuf. It is often referred to as the ‘Garden of Eden’ due to its lush vegetation, stunning views and wildlife.

You can rent a car from Dammam, and you can drive yourself to the area as there are many other places to see along the way. It is only about 200km from Dammam and a pretty straight road. We did this as a day trip, but if I was to ever go back, I would take my time and explore more.

Also, if you are staying in Al Khobar, check out my review of the Hyatt Hotel, which offers an amazing women-only spa with a play area inside.

5. Al Ula and Mada’in Saleh

Al Ula is the jewel of the Kingdom and one of the famous attractions in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the best tourist places to visit in the Kingdom, and it is pretty much on every promotional brochure. It is home to many historical sites in the area and definitely worth a visit on your trip to Saudi Arabia.

Al Ula is best explored during the winter when the temperature is mild and the days are long. The weather is perfect for sightseeing and outdoor activities from December to March. During this time, visitors can enjoy a variety of cultural and natural attractions, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Ula Old Town, Mada’in Saleh and Al Ula National Park.

December to January is also the time of Al Ula season, a new initiative festival that offers concerts and events in the area.

The Best Places to Visit in Saudi Arabia al Ula
Al Ula

Al Ula is a historical landmark and has been a crossroads of civilizations since ancient times. This city was once a major stop along the spice route, and it was also one of the most important cities of the Nabatean Kingdom.

Al Ula National Park is located on the northwest side of Al Ula and covers an area of over 100 square kilometres. This natural reserve is home to various plant and animal species, making it a great place to explore nature. Visitors can participate in various activities, including birdwatching, hiking and camping, or simply enjoy the stunning scenery.

There is so much to see and do in Al Ula. Whether you’re looking to explore the region’s rich cultural heritage or relax and enjoy the beauty of nature,

Mada’in Saleh is an archaeological site located about 21 kilometres from Al Ula. This ancient city is a part of the Hejaz Region of Saudi Arabia and was an important stop along the spice route. Visitors to Mada’in Saleh can explore the ruins of tombs, temples and monuments that date back to the Nabatean era. The city is also home to many stunning rock-cut structures, including tombs and temples carved into the rock face.

6. Taif

Taif is a city in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia known for its moderate climate and stunning views.

There are many things to do in Taif that will give you an insight into its rich history and culture. Visiting the al-Hada Mountains, which are some of the oldest mountains in the region.

You can also visit the old town of Rijal Alma, where you can find traditional architecture and explore its streets and souqs. You can take a cable car ride from Taif to Al-Shafa, which offers incredible views of the city below. 

Make sure you visit Taif Fort, the fort is a great example of Taif’s rich history. Built-in the 18th century, this fort is the symbol of the city and was constructed to protect the city from invaders. Take a stroll through the fort and explore its walls and towers.

Also, the 20th-century-old Shubra palace in the old centre of Taif. It was built in the early 1900s by Sheikh Mohammed bin Saad Al-Shurbai, who wanted to create a grand residence for himself and his family. The palace features Islamic architecture with decorative elements such as arches and domes. Inside, there are several courtyards and a large central hall with a fountain. The palace is currently owned by the Saudi Royal Family and is used as an occasional royal residence. It is open to visitors and often hosts special events such as weddings.

If you are visiting during April, check out the Taif Rose Festival celebrating the city’s famous rose production. Local vendors sell rose-scented products, while folk music and dance performances liven up the festival.

If you want to enjoy a walk among nature of sorts in the desert, check out the King Fahd Garden, this beautiful botanical garden is home to a variety of exotic plants, trees, and flowers. It’s a great place to relax and take in the sights and sounds of nature.

What is the Most Visited Place in Saudi Arabia?

places to visit in saudi arabia - makkah
Makkah the Holiest visit for Muslims

Without a doubt, the most visited place and popular in Saudi Arabia is the city of Makkah and then Medinah due to the pilgrim. It is the holiest city for Muslims.

As a Muslim of course, you can visit the city, and I strongly recommend exploring some of the other options I have suggested here as there is so many places around you can visit after Umrah,

Unfortunately for non-Muslims, you cannot visit Makkah; there are security and checkpoints that check if you are Muslim or not. Could you sneak in? Probably but honestly, there is nothing to see unless you know what to look for, and although the buildings are impressive, I wouldn’t want to get caught.

You can visit Medinah but not the Haram area, which is where the mosque is located.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia offers tourists a plethora of places to explore and enjoy. From the bustling capital city of Riyadh to the beautiful desert oases of Al-Ula and the majestic mountain landscapes of Abha, there is something for everyone in this captivating country.

Whether you prefer historic monuments, spectacular landscapes, or the peace and tranquillity of rural villages, Saudi Arabia has something to appeal to all. With so many remarkable destinations to visit in Saudi Arabia, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience for all.

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Kenneth Rasheed

Sunday 28th of May 2023

As salaam alaikum May Allah reward for your effort to enhance our visits to Mecca and Madinah, as well as travel in general. My wife and I made hajj in 2019 and umrah in 2021& 2022 with our adult children before we knew about your website and DIY book. This year we are going back to umrah inshallah and following your DIY guidance we have cut our travel cost from the USA to Mecca almost in half. For the 2 of us in 2022 cost of our flight and hotel with a hajj and umrah travel group it was $7000, however, following your DIY tips this years trip is costing us $3800, alhamdulilah. Your cost saving measures may afford us more opportunities to earn the blessings of umrah. Alhamdulilah. Shukran jazakallah. K. Rasheed

Muslim Travel Girl

Wednesday 31st of May 2023

jzk for your kind message, i really appreciate it