The closest many people get to Saudi Arabia – officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – is via Walt Disney’s classic, Aladdin. But there’s more to this country than hot Arabian nights and giant genies. Forget the magic carpet; hop on a flight to Saudi Arabia and tour a land filled with history and lined with a hint of luxury.
Most people travel to Saudi Arabia for a visit to Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammed and Islam’s holiest city. In fact, all devout Muslims are supposed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life. Located on the Red Sea coast, in Jeddah, Mecca is home to the Kaaba shrine and Grand Mosque. Today, more than two million people take flights to Saudi Arabia every year to carry out the Hajj pilgrimage. While Mecca is highly off limits to non-Muslims, the capital city of Riyadh has much to offer tourists.
There are a number of other historic sites in the country. The deserted village of Habalah or “the Hanging Village” is also located in Jeddah. This is the site of the first cable-car system in the kingdom and there are some fine examples of preserved Arabian houses. Riyadh is the capital, where there is a fine museum – the National Museum – that houses some Dilmun tombs and rock art
There may be an assumption that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not welcoming towards tourists, whether from the Middle East or North America. But scratch beneath the surface and this is a country that is rich in history, culture – and of course oil. Thanks to a boom in oil production and sales, cheap flights to Saudi Arabia land at one of the largest airports in the world in Riyadh. The millions of dollars in oil production paid for the city’s state-of-the-art buildings, five-star hotels and exceptional restaurant and nightlife options.
While it’s not likely you’ll be whisked away on a magic carpet by an Arabian prince, it’s likely your trip to Saudi Arabia will be a memorable one. Whether you’re heading to the country for business or pleasure, there’s much to do and see. Here are some tips to help you plan and enjoy the smoothest possible trip to this enchanting land.
Saudi Arabia has a desert climate and it is extremely hot across the country (with the exception of the western province of Asir) during the day with cool nights in the summer, with slightly cooler and more humid conditions in the coastal areas. Temperatures are still quite warm in the winter during the day, but the lack of humidity coupled with the high wind-chill factor can make the nights quite chilly. The weather in the spring and fall is quite temperate.
The country also is quite dry, and sees a very low annual rainfall. The west and southwest are sometimes hit by monsoons, however, usually occurring between October and March. Also, beware of sandstorms in the south.
The hot Arabian nights make Saudi Arabia a popular tourist destination. The peak season does vary slightly depending where you travel in Saudi Arabia, although as a general rule of thumb the busiest time of the year is from October to May. The days are lovely and warm but the nights cool down enough to be enjoyed without feeling too humid and unpleasant. Mecca is always a very busy city to visit and close to two million people try to find cheap flights to Saudi Arabia to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage. The pilgrimage takes place based on the Islamic calendar so it’s worth researching when the next one is as it will severely affect the chances of finding cheap flights to Saudi Arabia. The Janadriyah National Festival usually takes place over two weeks in February and is very popular among locals and tourists. It is one of the biggest non-religious festivals that takes place in Saudi Arabia.
You should try to avoid April to November where possible. Despite the fact that you can find the cheapest flights to Saudi Arabia around then, the temperatures get incredibly hot and unbearable. Additionally, check the calendar to see when Ramadan takes place (the month of Ramadan changes with every year because it is based on a lunar calendar). During Ramadan, a lot of bars, restaurants and hotels either close or open at very limited times of the day limiting the things you can do on your vacation.
There isn’t too much variation in the price of flights to Saudi Arabia although March, April and May are typically the best time to book your flight tickets for if you don’t mind the extreme heat. You’ll want to make sure you’ve secured your flight tickets four or so months in advance to increase your chances of finding cheap flights to Saudi Arabia as they aren’t too easy to come by, regardless of the month. You’ll notice that flights to Riyadh are slightly cheaper than Jeddah throughout the year, too, so if you’re not overly concerned about visiting Mecca then Riyadh is a good alternative. If you’re not fixed on a certain time of the year or a particular city, then you’ll give yourself the best chances of finding the cheapest flights to Saudi Arabia providing you plan and book far ahead.
Non-stop flights to Saudi Arabia offer seamless connections that take approximately fifteen hours from Atlanta, Georgia and around 14 hours to travel from New York City. When flying from the West Coast, it takes about 15 hours to fly from Seattle and 17 hours to travel from Los Angeles.
The King Abdulaziz International Airport is the busiest airport in Saudi Arabia. The King Fahd International Airport and King Khalid International Airport are airline hub airports. Many airlines fly in an out of Saudi Arabia from the United States, including American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, Etihad, JetBlue Airways, Delta and Gulf Air.
Located in the Arabian Desert, Saudi Arabia get quite hot in the summer with average daytime temperatures around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, it can get quite chilly, so it’s good to be prepared. Layers of clothing, including a light jacket and comfortable shoes are advisable. Bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. Winter highs are around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are a few airports in Saudi Arabia, including King Khalid International Airport (RUH) in Riyadh, and King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED) in Jeddah. Here are a few tips for getting to where you need to go from each of these two airports.
Located a little over 11 miles away to the north of Jeddah, King Abdulaziz International Airport is the busiest in Saudi Arabia and the third largest. Once your flights to Saudi Arabia land in Jeddah you’re very limited with your options. That said it is still very easy to find your way into the city center via taxi. You can find them outside of arrivals and the prices vary greatly, so definitely agree on the fare before you get in. Traveling by taxi in Saudi Arabia is very safe.
Located a little over 21 miles away to the north of Riyadh, King Khalid International Airport is similar to the airport in Jeddah in the sense that, there is no alternative to taking a taxi. You’ll find them outside of the airport. Most taxis are metered, but if for some reason your meter isn’t turned on, or there isn’t one, negotiate with the driver to determine the potential fare. If you are traveling with friends, then you can easily split the fare of the taxi and get direct to your hotel with very little issue.
Once you’ve settled in to your hotel and are ready to explore, you’ll find that outside of the airport, taxis are plentiful and cheap and can be flagged down just about everywhere. Additionally, for domestic Saudi Arabia travel, consider taking to the air. Saudi Arabian Airlines, or Saudia, and Flynas can take you to many cities across the kingdom, including Dammam, Medina, and Abha, to name a few.
The Saudi Arabian Public Transportation Company operates bus and train services to and from ten cities within the country, including Makkah, Medina, Riyadh, Jeddah, Taif, Dammam, Abha, Gaseem, Tabuk and Hael. Also, the Saudi Railway Organization operates a service from Dammam to Riyadh.
What are some things to do in Saudi Arabia?
Some of the most popular attractions within Saudi Arabia are in Riyadh. The Kingdom Center skyscraper is one of the tallest buildings in the world. Known as “the bottle opener” for its likeness to the object, the high rise is sometimes seen as the necklace of the city, and offers a sky-bridge and observation desk for tourists. It houses a mall for shopping, fine restaurants and a five-star hotel. For those who enjoy convening with nature, the Riyadh National Zoo is home to over 1,400 animals, including kangaroos, reptiles, seals, monkeys and gazelles. Men and women are required to visit on separate days, and children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
History buffs will appreciate the various sacred and religious sites, including the Al Rajhi Grand Mosque and the Jannatul Baqi cemetery. One of the main mosques in the region, the Al Rajhi is a hub of activity. Outside the site there are street vendors selling fruits and vegetables, and on Friday nights it is a popular place to go to hear a sermon and listen to the night prayers.
The Corniche boardwalk is a beautiful location to stroll along the beach and take pictures from a different vantage point. Rent a bike and go cycling or set out on a morning run. There are several restaurants and cafes to grab a bite to eat. There are also several garden areas, which provides a safe and clean place for families to gather and children can play.
Visitors flying to other parts of the world from Saudi Arabia will have no problem locating flights. Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and British Airways all fly from out of Saudi Arabia to other locations. Visit https://www.cheapflights.co.uk for the top flight deals for routes out of Saudi Arabia.
Getting back and forth to the airports in Saudi Arabia is possible through several modes of transportation. The Saudi Arabian Railways Organization provides several passenger trains between the main cities in the area, including Dammam, Riyadh and Hofuf. It takes about four hours to travel from the airport to one of these cities.
When traveling within the cities to get to your airport, the Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company has approximately 2,000 inter-city buses. This most of transport is safe and affordable with amenities including on-board toilets and air conditioning. Keep in mind when traveling on the bus, the first two rows of seats are reserve from women and children passengers, and foreign women who are traveling alone must have a passport or a resident permit to ride the bus.
Rental cars and taxis are the most common method of travel to the airport. Women must not travel alone, and the price must be agreed on in advance because taxis in Saudi Arabia do not have meters.
Once you choose a destination, be sure to check out our Saudi Arabia airport guides for more detailed travel information and helpful tips.
(prices quoted are from London)