In September 2019 Saudi Arabia threw open its doors to international tourism and it is now a safe Middle Eastern destination. Before that, it had been closed to tourists and would only permit work permits, Muslim pilgrims on the Hajj to Mecca, and the like. Saudi Arabia is, therefore, a brand new country for Western tourists to explore. It is a stunning country with much to see, but also as an ultra-conservative state, there are many things tourists should bear in mind to not offend their Saudi hosts. Still, Saudi Arabia is a very large country and it has a very long and storied history and it has many things to see and do.

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Important Tips And Etiquette For Saudi Arabia

Before going to Saudi Arabia, one needs to remember that this is a very conservative country and so one cannot behave like one would in Greece or Israel. Here are some tips (some of these etiquette tips also hold for other Middle Eastern countries):

  • Alcohol: Alcohol Is Strictly Forbidden In Saudi Arabia - Except For Some Compounds For Foreigners That Locals Are Not Permitted To Enter
  • Ramadan: During The Holy Month It Is Forbidden To Eat In Public During Daylight Hours
  • Dress And Modesty: Shorts And Miniskirts Are Forbidden For Both Men And Women, Women Should Cover Their Sholders And Arms
  • Dating: It Is Illegal To Get A Private Room With A Saudi Arabian Of The Opposite Sex
  • Religion: Do Not Criticize Islam Or The Prophet At All=
  • Mecca: It Is Illegal For Non-Muslims To Go To Mecca
  • Swimming: On Public Beaches Bikinis Are Forbidden

Why Visit Saudi Arabia

Phew! With all that said, let's talk about why you should visit Saudi Arabia! Saudi Arabia has changed a lot in the last few years as it has strived to open up and curtail the most conservative aspects of the country. It is working to be much more welcoming to Western tourists and is now much more accepting than even a few years ago.

When To Visit: Year Around But Summer Months May Be Swelteringly Hot

Related: 20 Things About The United Emirates (Tourists Should Know Before Traveling There)

The country is full of things to see, including traditional shopping markets, oases, marine reserves, and historical cities (we mention an example of each of these below). If you are looking for a guided tour in Saudi Arabia, then Saudi Arabia Tours is ranked number one for tours in the kingdom. They offer a full range of tours both guided and self-driven. Full tour packages range from 4 days to 14 days for those really looking to explore the untapped riches of the Kingdom.

  • Visa: Evisa Or Visa On Arrival For All Westerners For 90 Days

The Historical Site Of Diriyah

Diriyah is one of the main tourist destinations of Saudi Arabia and is both UNESCO listed and the birthplace of the first Saudi state. This historic city is close to the capital Riyadh and is formed on an oasis. The buildings are mud-brick and are a chance to get a glimpse of a thriving desert city of a time gone by. Today it is the site of meticulous restoration and is currently open to the public.

Related: Don’t Leave The Middle East Without Trying These Delicacies

The Souqs Of Historical Jeddah

Jeddah is the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia and the gateway to the holy city of Mecca (for Muslims). Here you can find traditions thriving in the stunning old part of the city. If you are looking for traditional Arabic shopping and handmade crafts, then this is where you will lose yourself. You will find fabric stores (with traditional rugs etc.), traditional bakeries, incense shops, and much more in this area.

  • Jeddah Tour: Tasting & Historical Highlights From $136

Fun Fact: Saudi Arabia Is The Only Country Named After The Ruling Family

The Farasan Islands Marine Sanctuary

Saudi Arabia is not all desert and oases! Just off the coast of the southern province of Jazan lay the small coral island marine sanctuary of the Farasan Islands. This is a stunning region and a chance to go snorkeling in this part of the Red Sea. In fact, not all of the corals have yet been fully explored. There is even a unique house built from coral to be found on the main island.

Here you can discover an ecological system of stunning biodiversity. This wildlife hotspot is full of mangrove forests which serve as breeding grounds for many kinds of birds including Flamingos, Plovers, Terns, Gulls, Pelicans. Falcons and Ospreys.

Al Ahsa Oasis

Every traveler to the Middle East wants to visit the region's famed oases. Saudi Arabia's largest oasis in Al Ahsa. Al Ahsa is also UNESCO listed and is home to a phenomenal 30 million palm trees! No shortage of dates here! The dates here are known to be particularly sweet and sticky!

The region is bounded by the majestic Al Qara mountains that a full of lime caves and are famous for their odd shapes. Inside these caves, you can explore the Dougha Handmade Pottery Factory making pottery traditionally just as they have done generation after generation.

In short, Saudi Arabia is an all-new destination for adventurous travelers. While one must respect its conservative culture, it is bursting with natural and cultural attractions all around the country.

Next: 10 Ancient Wonders You Can Only Experience In The Middle East