Saudi Arabia is changing daily right now, with a sprawling Vision 2030 road map rolling out ambitious reforms to the Saudi economy, infrastructure, and society—and, in the process, transforming the way the cloistered kingdom has operated for decades. Businesses are no longer required to separate customers by gender; film and music industries are booming; and women have the right to drive, hold their own passports, and travel domestically without a male escort. Billions have been invested in tourism, transforming long-neglected heritage sites, carving futuristic cities out of swaths of desert, and making the country easily accessible to foreigners for the first time.
How to plan a trip to Saudi Arabia
In a matter of minutes, travelers can apply online and receive a multiple-entry eVisa, valid for one year, for about $142. In February 2022, Saudi Arabia started offering free 96-hour layover visas for international visitors arriving by air on Saudia or Flynas airlines. 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.
When’s the best time to go to Saudi Arabia?
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.
Local etiquette in Saudi Arabia
- 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.
Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, but English is widely spoken. It’s used in business and is a compulsory second language in schools.
Saudi Arabia operates on a 230V supply voltage and 60Hz; that means it’s plug G, with three rectangular pins in a triangular pattern.
Guide editors and contributors
Canada-born, New York City–based writer Sarah Khan spent the formative years of her childhood in Saudi Arabia. Khan recently served as the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East.
Writer Nicola Chilton tells the stories of people, places, and unexpected adventures from her home base in Dubai.
Laura Dannen Redman is the digital content director of AFAR. A student of Middle Eastern politics at Princeton University, she recently returned from a week in Saudi Arabia.