Fun things to do in Saudi Arabia that most people don't know of
March 16, 2019
by Alina C
“You miss Saudi Arabia?!” is one of the lines I hear quite often since I left. Honestly, living there was a privilege. The two and a half years I spent in Saudi Arabia were right at the beginning of probably one of the most exciting periods in its history. I witnessed some of the most progressive reforms like women being given the right to vote and to drive, cinemas being opened for the first time, abayas (the long, customary dresses worn by women) becoming optional and much more.
I do miss it, mostly due to the people I’ve connected with there, but that is not the only reason. Saudi offered me numerous fun opportunities that I never expected to find. Unfortunately, I did not take advantage of all those opportunities. Those that I did try, however, still constitute some of my best memories to date. Here are some of the fun things that you can do while in Saudi Arabia.
The Janadriyah (Janadria) national festival in Riyadh welcomes millions of people from across Saudi Arabia and lasts for an entire week. The event includes artistic performances, artifacts for sale, traditional foods and educational opportunities regarding the Saudi heritage. My favorite part was learning about the different regions of the country and seeing how people used to live back in the day.
Another big festival is the Winter at Tantora fest in Al Ula county. This is a newer event also dedicated to the arts and culture of the kingdom.
For the more business-oriented of you, dozens of workshops, seminars, and conferences are being held throughout Saudi Arabia monthly. The topics range anywhere from personal development, to health and wellness, to oil and gas. Most of them are held in Arabic, though that part is changing to include more English sections or to dedicate a good chunk of time to both languages. More and more women are getting involved in such events, both as organizers and as speakers, a trend which makes me optimistic about the professional opportunities for women in the country.
Sharek and other event sites – concerts, races, shows, competitions, exhibitions and more
Sharek is an online portal of the Saudi General Sports Authority that sells tickets to many sports-related events in the country. Sharek also has the ability to offer international visas for tourists wanting to attend some of their major events. A few examples of the sports represented so far have been kite flying, boxing, drone racing, soccer, car racing and karting (four karting events in fact, including one with women racers and one with junior racers). Besides Sharek, one can find many non-governmental sites with tickets to events in a number of other areas like music, film, and art.
In September of 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a statement allowing women to both drive and to attend soccer games on any of the national stadiums. That movement led not only to women attending such events and getting their own driver licenses but also to more women being hired as driving instructors and ticket sellers/attendants for soccer games. Even though they didn’t flood the stadiums as they flooded the streets, lots of women took advantage of the opportunity. This activity is best-suited for families or groups of families and relatives who want to enjoy an outing together.
Beside public karting races, a number of local, indoor karting places have been thriving in the country for many years. As is the case with other fun activities, karting mostly takes place on the two coasts of the country, as well as in its capital city, Riyadh. I used to live in Dammam, Saudi Arabia – the Eastern Region capital city- and most of my friends and acquaintances used to go to Mahara Karting. They only had praise words for it, so I’d recommend that one.
One regular go-to for my friends in Saudi was also the escape room in Khobar city, called Escape The Room SA. They have one branch in Riyadh, too. However, this is not the only company offering this kind of entertainment. Many more escape rooms exist across the country. If you are not familiar with the game, it’s basically a team activity where two or more people are trapped in a room with clues that they have to decipher in order to get out. Each room represents a different scenario and you have to get out in under 60 minutes.
Toastmasters is an international organization that helps individuals improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Its community is made up of various clubs around the world, including Saudi Arabia, which hold regular meetings in a very specific format that ensures most people get a chance to talk. The logistics of it are a bit tough to grasp at first but you will get the hang of it after attending a few club meetings. Toastmasters is VERY popular in Saudi with approximately 7000 members. This was my favorite activity there; not only did it teach me invaluable skills, but it also helped me connect and network with hundreds of people, many of whom became close friends.
Meetup and other sites
Meetup is a website and phone application where people connect with others that share their same hobbies, interests or background. You can find book clubs, expatriates clubs, business clubs, etc. You can find these clubs on different social media channels or expatriate websites, as well. It might be intimidating to reach out at first, but most Saudis and/or expatriates are quite welcoming and the learning or friendship potential is worth the initial discomfort.
Saudi Arabia may be a desert but don’t be deceived by that. It is bordered by water on two sides, and in some regions, it even has green mountains. Also, in between the dunes, one can find amazing ancient sites to visit and even the sky offers lots of fun activities. I’ll go ahead and list a few of these below.
- Recreational drone flying (starting Jan 2019 the government began allowing people to apply for permits to officially practice this activity)
- Helicopter/small plane tours and/or courses (the company Sport Flying offers such tours and courses)
- Releasing lanterns (one of my favorite things to do was getting together with family and/or friends and light up lanterns that we later released up in the air and watched them lift up until they disappeared; NOTE: this should only be done in open areas to avoid any fire risks)
- Guided historical tours (Mada’in Saleh and the Asir mountains are some of the most popular touristic spots)
- ATV renting
- Running/speed walking on the corniche (the park on the side of the beach)
- Camping in the desert (some of my best memories have happened during these camping trips; many people rent out camping sites which include tents, carpets, a fire pit, and ground & back pillows to sit on)
- Resorts on the beach
- Animal Shelters – adoption and volunteering
- Camel riding
- Horseback riding (some of the best places for these rides and riding classes are Dirab Golf & Country Club, Malaas International Riding School, and Al Khayala Equestrian Club)
All in all, Saudi Arabia has plenty of fun activities to try out, with more coming up as the country tries to meet its 2030 vision. It all depends on the effort you are willing to put into finding these opportunities.
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March 22, 2019
This is a great promotional article about Saudi Arabia. Thank you for sharing your experience and contributing positively in SA.
March 22, 2019
Thank you Alina for taking the time to write such a great story about Saudi Arabia. It sounds very inspiring and hopefully someday I will be lucky to visit this place.
March 22, 2019
Awesome article. Bless you Alina ??