3 Days in Saudi Arabia
Jason and I recently returned from a quick, 3-day trip to Saudi Arabia as guests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to attend one of the first International events in the country. It was the first time in the Middle East for both of us and this trip was quite the cultural experience!
A Day Excursion to the Al’Ula region and the first UNESCO Site in Saudi Arabia!
We hit the ground running after a missed connecting flight and arrived at our hotel in Riyadh at 5:30am. Our assistant for the trip asked if we wanted to cancel the day trip after getting in so late (and leaving for the excursion at 6:30am that same morning) and we are so thankful we went ahead and went; it truly was an experience of a lifetime!
Our Al’Ula excursion included….
-A welcome ceremony by the locals
-Not one but TWO massive feasts of traditional Saudi food
- 4x4 SUV ride through the desert to a traditional Nabatean camp where we were greeted with coffee, learned about the culture, fed pita bread to camels, HELD baby goats and got to meet some of the locals.
- A visit to the first UNESCO heritage site — Madain Saleh (pictured). Madain Saleh was a spice trade town during the first century with large ornate tombs carved into rock.
- A 4x4 SUV ride through the sand dunes into a secluded desert canyon for sunset. In the canyon there was a camp set up for us…including tea, coffee, local music and a bonfire; all while sitting on pillows and rugs and enjoying the sunset.
It was a day of adventure!! We really had quite an amazing time and would recommend the Al’Ula region to anyone thinking of visiting Saudi Arabia!
*Note: We visited the UNESCO site as guests of the KSA during our trip — please check to make sure Madain Saleh is open to the public before visiting as it was closed for renovations during the time of our visit but was set to reopen soon.
Local Food and Souq AL-Zal
Day 2 in Saudi Arabia we took off to explore some of Riyadh on our own!
After catching up on some zzzz’s we grabbed lunch at a highly recommended traditional Saudi restaurant, Najd Village.
Our meal was served on a large woven serving tray included rice and lamb with curried vegetables, naan bread and tea. Again, the portions were probably enough for about five or so people!
After a delicious meal, we decided to check out the local market, Souq Al-Zal, to shop for some souvenirs; it was a very interesting experience! We were present in the Souq during the call to prayer in which everything closes down for about 20 minutes or so. Local markets have always been one of our favorite ways to experience local culture!
*Tip: We went to the Souq on a Saturday…a day in which most businesses are closed. If you are wanting to check it out we would suggest going on a different day of the week.
Day 3 - Formula E Championship
First off, Formula E is Formula 1 racing but with all electric cars! Not only was this a racing event but there was pretty much a theme park surrounding the racetrack. The vicinity included areas where you could grab some food, smoke hookah, shop or ride camels; it really made for a fun day! Riyadh is scheduled to host this international event for the next few years, so if you are in to Formula E racing it is a really cool spot to catch the sport.
Our race day passes included entry to a track side club with, again, soooo much food as well as the perfect spot to watch the cars wiz past. We were also able to visit pit row and see the cars being disassembled as well as attend the concerts in the evening in our stage-side booth. These were the FIRST EVER gender-mixed concerts in Saudi Arabia — a moment in history!! Performing was One Republic and David Guetta who absolutely rocked the country!
Some Tips for Visiting Saudi Arabia…
Try not to accept things or eat with your left hand - it is considered “unclean”. If you are ambidextrous like me you may have to really give it a lot of thought when someone offers you something or when you sit down to eat.
Abayas are preferred to be worn by women in public. Although we were invited for an international event (which means things were a little more lenient) I still packed my Abaya in my carry on and threw it over my clothes in the airport bathroom before going through customs. I also packed a couple of hijabs and wore them as scarves just in case I felt the need to use them. Also, plan to wear loose fitting clothing under your abaya. You may have noticed in my photo that I didn’t wear an Abaya during our desert excursion, however, I did make sure to wear the loosest fitting items I could find in my closet! I found my Abaya HERE and my hijab HERE and a couple of loose-fitting dresses I wore race day and to a gala event HERE and HERE
Bring a jacket - it does get a little chilly at night! I took my Eddie Bauer down jacket and it was the perfect weight for the cool, desert evenings.
Women! Check with restaurants ahead of time to make sure it is “family day” or if there is a family section if you plan on dining in with mixed company; otherwise it is a men’s only dine-in establishment (some places have female specific sections).
Our Experience — Would We Visit Saudi Arabia Again?
We would visit Saudi Arabia again in a heartbeat; our short time here was so very memorable. The people in this country are so incredibly kind and generous, the food was fabulous and the landscape unique!
A few things we wish we could have made time for….
Edge of the World outside of Riyadh - If we could have managed to stay a fourth day this place would have easily made the itinerary.
Jeddah and the Red Sea - prior to our trip, I did a little research on the country. Jeddah seems like a hip, more liberal town in Saudi Arabia and being that it is on the Red Sea it might be a nice place to check out — if you enjoy the hanging out at the beach, diving and/or snorkeling.
The Empty Quarter - Yes -it’s pretty much just an empty, sandy desert but something about that appeals to me. Also, camel rides and 4x4 driving on the dunes sounds fun!
Have any questions, comments or experiences of your own you would like to share about Saudi Arabia? Leave us a comment below!!
*We invited as guests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but all opinions are our own.