Saudi Arabia Travel Guide: All you need to know to visit Saudi Arabia in 2023

Welcome to Saudi Arabia

From the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf, the oil-rich Saudi Arabia is one of the most awe-inspiring countries in the Middle East. It is undoubtedly a must-visit country, displaying everything from religious sites and historical landmarks to incredible modern wonders like the upcoming Jeddah Tower.

This ultimate Saudi Arabia travel guide will share all the travel tips, tricks, and travel information you will need to plan your trip to the country successfully.

Document Checklist for Saudi Arabia

  • Valid passport with a valid time of 6 months
  • A recent passport photo
  • Saudi Arabia Tourist e-Visa or Hajj or Umrah visa
  • Mandatory Health Declaration
  • Health insurance certificate

Essential Saudi Arabia Travel Information

  • Currency - Saudi riyal (SAR). $1 is equivalent to approx. SAR 3.76.

  • Daily budget for one person - SAR 206.73 ($55)

  • Languages - Arabic is the official language. However, English is also widely spoken.

  • Socket type - Type G. Saudi Arabia operates on a 230V supply voltage and 60Hz.

  • Time zone - Arabia Standard Time (GMT+03:00)

  • Top 3 Saudi cities to visit - Madinah, Riyadh, and Jeddah. The Holy City of Mecca is only accessible to Muslims.

  • Top 3 landmarks/monuments - Kingdom Centre Tower, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, Great Mosque of Mecca (only accessible to Muslims).

Visa Information for Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has specific requirements for travelers to enter this beautiful kingdom. This includes applying for a Saudi Arabia Tourist Visa online or obtaining a Hajj or Umrah visa.

Saudi Arabia Tourist e-Visa

The Saudi Arabia Tourist e-Visa is one of the tourist visas you can use when entering Saudi Arabia. The document enables travelers to enter Saudi Arabia for tourism purposes only. If traveling for any other reason, you must apply for the corresponding visa through the nearest Saudi embassy.

The tourist visa is a Multiple Entry that is valid for 90 days in Total. To get the Saudi Arabia Tourist Visa you may need to disclose information about your planned trip, including a travel itinerary. All travelers also need to have health insurance.

Apply here!

Saudi Arabia Visa for Hajj or Umrah

Those planning to enter Saudi Arabia to make the pilgrimage to Mecca must apply for a Saudi Arabia Visa for Hajj or Umrah. The Hajj visa allows pilgrims to visit Saudi from mid-Shawwal until the 25 Dhu al-Qa'dah of each year and is only issued for this period. Umrah visas are available for the rest of the year.

You must visit your nearest Saudi embassy or consulate to apply for these.

Typical Costs and Budget for Saudi Arabia

Here is an average budget of what to expect to spend daily while traveling through Saudi Arabia:

  • Daily spending per person - $55

  • Meals - $30 - $35

  • Street food - $1.50

  • Transport - $10 - $12

  • Entrance for tourist sites - $1.50 - $5

  • Hotel - $62 to $84 per night for a 2 or 3-Star hotel room for solo travelers or couples.

A 7-day trip to Saudi Arabia usually costs an average of $1,320 for a solo traveler or $2,000 for couples.

Transport and How to Travel through Saudi Arabia

Getting around Saudi Arabia is relatively easy as there are various travel options. Most travelers tend to use taxis to navigate short distances in the city. There are also excellent bus systems available in most major cities.

There is also the option to drive (the roads are well-developed) if you acquire an international driving permit. However, note that traffic tends to be heavy, and very few people adhere to traffic rules.

To travel from city to city, air transport is a great option. Almost all major cities have domestic airports.

Safety in Saudi Arabia

According to reports from Saudi Arabian authorities, the crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low and local laws are quite strict. That said, petty crimes sometimes occur in crowded places and from vehicles. Visitors are advised to:

  • Carry only what is needed and leave other valuables in a secure place

  • Adhere to all Saudi government laws

  • Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up, even when moving, and hide your valuables

  • Be alert when in large groups or crowded areas like souks

  • Be prepared for extreme weather, sandstorms, and dust storms

  • Be aware that driving can be hazardous and the annual road death toll is extremely high

  • Avoid areas close to the Yemen border as it’s more likely that there are threats due to the active conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Weather in Saudi Arabia

Summers in Saudi Arabia can range from 27°C/80.6°F to 43°C/109.4°F, and in winter the temperature ranges between 8°C/46.4°F and 20°C/68°F. Thus, the best time to visit this country is from November to February.

This is the time when the weather is mild and the temperature remains average. Conversely, Summer is the time to consider avoiding visiting Saudi Arabia. In that case, people should avoid the span between April and October.

Popular Cities and Towns in Saudi Arabia

There are many breathtaking and historical cities and towns to see in Saudi Arabia. However, if you are on limited time, then we strongly recommend these five cities:

  1. Just 73 kilometers east of Jeddah lies The Holy City of Mecca. The city is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the place where he received God’s message, thus Mecca is the holiest city on Earth to Muslims and is also only accessible to them. In fact, it is obligatory for all Muslims who can afford to visit it to perform Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Each year the Holy City of Mecca witnesses more than two million pilgrims come through the city to pray in The Holy Mosque in Mecca, which houses the Ka’aba.

  2. Another very important and holy city in Islam is Madinah, which lies 447 kilometers north of Mecca. When the Prophet Muhammad and his followers departed Mecca in 622 AD, they moved to Madinah. It was here that the Islamic era began and as a result, the city is often fondly called the city of the Prophet. The Prophet was even buried in Madinah.

  3. Riyadh is the capital city of Saudi Arabia and is a must-visit destination to enjoy the modern architecture and splendor of the country. The city is over 600 square miles big (1,600 square kilometers) and has a population of more than 5.8 million people; it is also the most accessible city in the country to international travelers.

  4. Another very accessible city is Jeddah. Laying on the west coast of the Kingdom, Jeddah is a busy city and seaport known for being the most cosmopolitan of all Saudi Arabian cities, despite still having ancient trade routes running through it.

  5. Last but not least is Dammam, which is the capital of the Eastern Province. Founded by the Al Dawasir tribe in 1923, Dammam is known for its oil fields that form a significant chunk of the city’s economy. However, the city also has many tourist attractions including Dolphin Village, Heritage Village, Al Othaim Mall, Marjan Island, Water Island, and the stunning King Fahad Park.

Must Do and See in Saudi Arabia

Aside from sightseeing and visiting religious landmarks, Saudi Arabia also has many unique experiences to offer. We highly recommend adding these to your bucket list:

1. Visit the Al Gadhi Rose Factory - The best time to visit is during harvest season between May and July. During your visit to the 120-year-old Al Gadhi Rose Factory, you will see how the rose petals are transformed into perfumes, rose water and other products, and you will have the opportunity to purchase these directly from the source.

2. Shop at the Taif Souq - Every country has something that is iconic to their culture, and for Arabia, it is their local souqs. The Taif Souq is one of the largest markets in the country and is definitely worth a visit. From stalls selling handicrafts, local honey, and rose water to food vendors offering delicious mint tea: there’s something for everyone.

3. Karting in Jeddah - This one is for the adrenalin lovers out there who are looking for an unforgettable experience. Jeddah boasts one of the most thrilling motor racing and driving tracks for drifting and karting. The Track Jeddah at In10So and Kart Zone is a must-try.

4. Learn pottery at Dougha Handmade Pottery Factory - Local potters have been creating stunning pieces at the Dougha Handmade Pottery Factory for generations. The factory is one of the oldest pottery studios in the region and offers visitors a chance to try their hand at creating something at the wheel. You can also buy breathtaking souvenirs here.

5. Sip traditional coffee at Souq Al Qaisariya - One of the oldest markets in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the open-air Souq Al Qaisariya dates back to 1822 and boasts more than 400 stores. Although there is everything from spices to scents and traditional handicrafts, it is the popular Al-Said tea and coffee shop that we advise visiting for a sip of traditional Arab coffee.

Typical Saudi Arabia Food to Try

While you’re exploring the edible goods of Saudi Arabia, we advise making it a point to try these five dishes:

1. The national dish kabsa is a one-pot wonder that will have you drooling. The dish is made up of three staples: rice, vegetables, and meat (beef, goat, lamb, chicken, or even camel) and a plethora of spices like cloves, cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, bay leaves, black pepper, nutmeg, and loomi (sun-dried black limes). It bursts with flavor and it’s perfect for lunch.

2. Next, try Matabaq. Resembling a stuffed roti or pancake, the stretchy dough is folded around fillings like meat, garlic, eggs, curry, peppers, ghee, onions, mint, and coriander. While the origins of the dish are unclear with both Yemen and Saudi claiming it, you can find it at food stands across Saudi.

3. Jareesh is one of the oldest dishes in Saudi Arabia and a must-try! Jareesh, which is also known as harees, is made with boiled crushed wheat, onion, rice, meat, broth, and spices like parsley, cumin, and coriander. It is particularly popular during Ramadan.

4. Waiting for something sweet? Let us introduce you to Umm Ali. The name Umm Ali translates to “Ali’s mother”. The dish is essentially a pastry filled with honey, nuts, cinnamon, and milk and can be found at dessert cafés across the kingdom.

5. Another delicious sweet treat is Ma’amoul. The cookies feature a crumbly, shortbread-like exterior filled with pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and dates. A wooden mold gives the cookies their signature pattern.

If you’re looking for the perfect place for traditional Arab dishes, we recommend Najd Village Restaurant in Riyadh.

Vaccine Information for Saudi Arabia

Saudi authorities and the CDC recommend that all travelers ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations at least a month before their trip. They recommend the following vaccines:

Chickenpox (Varicella) Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) Meningococcal disease Hepatitis A
Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Polio Rabies Hepatitis B
Flu (influenza) Shingles Typhoid Malaria
COVID-19 Yellow Fever

How Saudi Arabia Became a Monarchy

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to the religion’s holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina, is an absolute monarchy. However, this was not always the case.

In 1932, King Abdulaziz Al-Saud united the four regions into a single state and proclaimed the independence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He crowned himself king and is considered the father of the Saudi nation. He is also one of the few people in history to have a country named after them.

The country is still ruled by the Al Saud royal family, with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud being the current king and the third richest monarch in the world. He has a net worth of $18 billion.

Fun Facts about Saudi Arabia

  1. Saudi Arabia is the most oil-rich country in the world with around 17% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves.

  2. King Khalid Airport in Dammam is the world’s largest airport and covers 192,000 acres of land.

  3. Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Saudi Arabian, first Arab, and first Muslim to travel to space when he boarded the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 1985.

  4. The country is currently constructing the tallest building in the world. Jeddah Tower will be the world’s first 1 km (3,281 ft) high building when completed.

  5. Rub Al-Khali is the largest sand desert in the world.

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