If you’re planning a trip to Saudi Arabia, you may have come across several misconceptions. True, it’s very different from the Western world, and before you head there, there are certainly several ways to prepare yourself – but remember that this corner of the globe is also home to stunning natural beauty, fascinating attractions and a captivating history. A holiday there will not disappoint.
We spoke to Janelle from The Pink Tarha, a site that covers practical advice for holidays in Riyadh, as well as the best cultural attractions and most exciting events. Janelle gave us some fantastic insight into what life is like here, and also uncovered the top travel apps that you can use during your stay.
Broaden your mind in Saudi Arabia
Sometimes, the most interesting holidays come about when we don’t know what to expect. Janelle’s suggestion? “Be open-minded, that's our first advice to travellers heading to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is not your typical country, and being there is a bit of a 180 degree turn from the usual countries that many travellers have been to. There are unique social rules that will surprise first-time visitors, but if they just open their minds to the change they see, it will be easier for them to adjust.”
Janelle’s top three travel apps for Riyadh
To help you get a head start before you hop on the plane, Janelle has divulged three fantastic apps that visitors to Riyadh – whether holidaying or moving there for good – will find mega useful:
1. Muslim Pro “While it has more nifty features, like the Hijri calendar and the Qibla, it's the prayers that we always consult in this app. Shops and restaurants in Riyadh close during prayer times, which is why it's a must to know the specific prayer times. It's a good app to have while in Riyadh.” Download: App Store, Google Play.
2. Uber “There are a lot of taxi apps in Riyadh, but we use Uber most of the time because of its classy app, clean cars, and courteous drivers. There's also an easy feedback form for when we're unsatisfied with the service (which is rare).” Download: App Store, Google Play.
3. Hunger Station “There are also a lot of online food ordering apps in Riyadh, but I use Hunger Station the most. I haven't had any problem with this app and the delivery of food. No need to go out on a busy night for fast food!” Download: App Store, Google Play.
Arm yourself with these technological wonders and you’ll find that your time in Riyadh will be a whole lot easier – leaving you with more time to explore the city...
Saudi Arabia’s capital has become one of the wealthiest cities in the world. You can visit a diverse range of attractions, from iconic tower blocks and glittering shopping malls to the zoo, National Museum and historic spots, such as Musmak Castle.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that there won’t be any modern amenities in Riyadh, as Janelle explains, “Don't scare yourself by reading outdated websites that say Riyadh is a dangerous place to be in, or worse, that it's still a 'desert' town where people live in the middle of nowhere with camels and tents. Riyadh is a very modern city with lots of interesting things to see and discover. Open your mind and heart to the new experiences that Riyadh has to offer.”
If you’re considering moving to Saudi Arabia, you will discover a big expat community there, and Janelle reveals that it’s easy enough to meet westerners in Riyadh. “Western compounds and the Diplomatic Quarters can be avenues for meet-ups where men and women are free to mingle. If they are married couples and are out to meet friends, they're free to meet in restaurants, cafés, and other public spaces.”
Saudi Arabian customs and travel tips
Be sure to take the way you dress and the way you behave into account when exploring the city. “Ladies should always wear the abaya and the tarha (veil) when out in public. When you're in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, be careful not to eat and drink in public during the day. For more basic information about going to Saudi Arabia, you can check out our blog entry.”
Of course, as much as it is useful to be aware of the country’s customs and cultures, it is also a matter of being ready to respect whatever you may encounter. “If you don't like something, change it,” says Janelle. “If you can't change it, change your attitude. Remember that this is no longer your country, and respecting their rules and culture is of utmost importance.”
If you’d like more face-to-face advice once you’re out there, look no further than the friendly faces at the Radisson Blu Hotel Riyadh. It’s placed in the heart of the city, and as well as providing a tranquil retreat away from the hustle and bustle, it’s home to 294 designer rooms, a health club, four on-site restaurants, and staff who will happily offer guidance on the local way of life.
One last, crucial piece of advice? “Enjoy the food in Riyadh. Try the khubz (Arabic bread), shawarma, and kabsa. They're everywhere!” Yes, please.