Riyadh: Check Out These Ten Tips Before Your Visit

You may not know this, but there is a lot to do in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city. Riyadh, deeply rooted in Saudi cultural traditions, is changing at a rapid pace. The religious police no longer have any formal power, women have been granted the right to drive, tourism is being promoted, English is more widely spoken than ever, and rapid technological advances are occurring. Riyadh is a city undergoing significant transitions. This is a great time to visit, but before you plan your trip, keep these ten tips in mind.

Al Faisaliyah Tower – the 4th tallest building in Saudi Arabia

Tip 1: Single men: many malls, souks, and tourist destinations have special hours set aside for single men to visit or may completely prohibit you from visiting at all. Landmarks Park in Riyadh is only open on Tuesday evenings for single men. King Abdullah Park is never open for single men.

There are lots of outdoor activities you can take advantage of though, like dune driving, camel rides, and four wheeling in the desert.

Remember to check to see when/if you will be able to visit a specific place before you go so that you don’t end up being denied entrance once there.

Tip 2: Single women: can go everywhere, and they can go alone. The only time they would not be allowed entry to a particular place would be during the times set aside for single men.

For a female solo traveler, Saudi Arabia is an excellent place to visit. You are not restricted from any activities, and it is a very safe country.

Tip 3: Dress code for men: men can wear regular western style clothing (including shorts) or traditional Saudi clothing.

Tip 4: Dress code for women: Riyadh is considered more conservative than other cities in Saudi Arabia, but it is changing rapidly.  As a foreign woman, you are not required to cover your hair or wear an abaya. However, you do need to make sure that your skin is covered. Below are some examples of what women can wear in Riyadh.

This is an acceptable style for foreign women. The headscarf is optional. Make sure that you are not showing skin.

If you would like to blend in a little more, you can wear a hijab (the head covering) and an abaya (this is the black dress/coat that covers clothing). This is not required for foreign women.

These women are wearing a niqab (that covers the face) and an abaya. This is seen pretty widely in Riyadh, maybe less in other cities. Again, this is not required for foreign women.

For clarity, I included this example of a burqa. A burka covers the entire body, and there is mesh over the eyes. This is not common in Saudi Arabia. If you do see women dressed like this, she is probably not from Saudi Arabia.

In Riyadh, you will probably see more women wearing an abaya and hijab/niqab than you would see in Jeddah or even nearby Dammam.

The religious police no longer have any power in the country so they cannot stop people as they could in the past for what they are wearing. As a result, you will see a lot more Saudi women wearing less conservative clothing.

Tip 5: Download Uber. If you are only visiting for a few days and are not familiar with the area, Uber is the best way to get around. There is also a service used in many Middle Eastern countries called Kareem. Either one works well.

You can also rent a car. Car rentals in Riyadh (outside of the airport) are affordable (more so than renting cars in the U.S. or Europe). Gas is cheap.

Women have been granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia; however, this will not go into effect until June 2018.

Tip 6: Be careful when taking photos. If you take a photo of a person without their permission, they may get a little annoyed. Saudis are private when it comes to their families. The worst that will happen is they will politely ask you to delete it. Saudis are very happy and friendly and if they find out you are a visitor they will be glad to tell you more about the culture and will probably even invite you to dinner! It is okay to take pictures of buildings, tourist attractions, and houses. If you go to a souk be careful – ask permission before taking photos of vendors in their shops.

If you are in a busy area with lots of people and don’t see other people taking pictures, it is a good sign that you should not either.

This seems more to be about protecting peoples’ privacy than anything to do with security.

Don’t take pictures of government buildings unless you see signs stating otherwise.

Tip 7: A few places to consider visiting include:

Landmarks Park (Limited to one evening a week for single men)

Masmak Fort (Open Saturday-Thursday. Thursdays are open only to families)

Kingdom Centre (Open to everyone)

King Salman Park (Open for everyone)

Tip 8: Do not bring alcohol into the country or any of these things (#28 is interesting). Most items are common sense, but there are a few that are important to be aware of

Be careful to make sure that if you have traveled from another country and purchased any of the items as souvenirs that you don’t bring them into the country.

Tip 9: Several years ago, it might have been difficult to find English speakers in Riyadh. Today it is likely that wherever you go, you will find a few people that speak English (in hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions). You should be able to communicate (in basic English) without much hassle.

Tip 10: The best time to visit Riyadh is January to March, and September to December. July and August are extremely hot, and it will be difficult to do anything outside. Temperatures can be well over 100F/37C.

We hope these tips help you prepare for and plan a trip to Riyadh in the future, as well as helping you to learn more about Saudi Arabia. If you need some tips on how to obtain a visa for Saudi Arabia, please feel free to contact us, and we will see if we can help you.


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