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Saudi Arabia travel guide

About Saudi Arabia

No country in the world is as misunderstood as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and yet perhaps no other country is as worthy of a visit. Considered by many as the final frontier, Saudi Arabia boasts beautiful oases and dramatic mountaintops, seemingly endless sand dunes and flowing rivers, making it a dynamic tourist destination. The sands themselves are wondrous, especially the Empty Quarter, a beautiful expanse of undulating dunes unlike anywhere in the world. In addition to its natural beauty, Saudi Arabia is a country rich in culture and heritage.

In the west of the country you will find untamed stretches of coral-filled Red Sea coast and southwestern mountain towns such as Taif (aka 'city of roses'). The ancient history in the north is perhaps one of the country's greatest draws, where the town of Al Ula serves as the gateway to Medain Saleh, a collection of stone dwellings as magnificent as Petra in Jordan.

Then there are the cosmopolitan city centres of Jeddah, the Red Sea port, as well as Riyadh, the throbbing central capital, and Gulf-side Dammam, the large city in the east. All enjoy a lively cafe culture and top-notch restaurants. Saudi Arabians have a reputation for shopping and there are stores galore, from traditional souks to glittering malls with all the latest fashions. Hotels are being built at a rapid pace, and each seems to feature a chef of ever-increasing pedigree.

Few other countries are as rich in historical sites as Saudi Arabia. As the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, it is home to the two holiest sites in Islam: The Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, drawing millions visiting both every year (although these are off-limits to non-Muslims). The Saudis take pride in protecting the integrity of this holy land and Islamic laws are strictly enforced by the Mutaween (religious police).

To a novice visitor, Saudi Arabia is perhaps an elusive and mysterious place, steeped in religion and cultural tradition. Though it pays to swot up on cultural rules before you arrive, you will discover a beautiful country with much to offer.

Key facts

Area:

2,149,690 sq km (830,000 sq miles).

Population:

32,157,974 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density:

15 per sq km.

Capital:

Riyadh.

Government:

Absolute monarchy.

Head of state:

King and Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud since 2015.

Head of government:

King and Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud since 2015.

Travel Advice

COVID-19 Exceptional Travel Advisory Notice

As countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including travel and border restrictions, the FCO advises against all but essential international travel. Any country or area may restrict travel without notice.