Sans Abaya in Saudi

One of the most unsettling aspects of traveling to Saudi-Arabia for women are of course the abayas. The abaya always seems to make women wearing it for the first time feel insecure and very self-conscious. Wearing abaya for the first time feels strange but expats quickly get used to them. That doesn’t mean we would love to have a chance to be without them every once in a while though. 

Women traveling to Saudi Arabia for the first time often would ask questions about the dress code such as: What should we  wear underneath the abaya? Is it ok if the lowest or highest buttons are open? Should the abaya be plain black only? Can abayas have decoration on them? Should I always wear a shayla (head scarf) with the abaya? Will wearing high heels with abaya get me into trouble with the notorious Saudi religious police? Answers to these questions can be found here.

Here’s a list of things to do and places to go in Saudi that do not necessarily require wearing of abaya and a woman could remove hers if she chooses to do so.

ABAYA FREE ZONES IN RIYADH AND SAUDI ARABIA:

The Desert
Any place far off in the desert will be safe for women to take their abayas off when there’s nobody else around.

The most beautiful and secluded place around Riyadh would be the Secret Lake. Women can remove abaya and walk around the lake or climb up the hills for spectacular views. Climbing with abaya would actually be dangerous! Secret lake Riyadh desert
Rawdhat Khuraim  long walks around the huge area without abayas, there was literally no one else there. Also good for some desert female driving.
Thumamah park is a beautiful nature reserve outside Riyadh, we went there for a picnic with no one else in sight.

Diriyah
The historical area which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site is virtually empty from visitors on weekdays. We enjoyed a short walk on a farm and later a picnic in Wadi Hanifa. On weekends an evenings it can get very crowded in the picnic areas and taking off abaya would not be recommended during those times. UPDATE 2016: With the recent huge restoration project in Diriyah and Wadi Hanifa valley, this has become a very popular area an removing abayas is no longer recommended!

Faisaliah tower
Women can take their abayas off at the top of the tower in the “Globe” restaurant, the Cigar club and the viewing platform.

Ladies only Kingdom
For first timers in Saudi it’s always interesting to see how Saudi women really look like behind their veils. Third floor in Kingdom shopping center women shop and work in normal clothing

Quad biking
There are few areas around Riyadh for quad biking but the most scenic ones are Red Sands and Thumamah. During the weekdays its very quiet and women can drive around without being disturbed especially in the mornings. I would not recommend going to these places alone or without males on weekend peak hours though. Guaranteed unwanted attention from the hundreds of male drivers.

Diving
Women can take their abayas off as soon as they pass the checkpoint at Jeddah harbour.
In Farasan Islands women can explore the hundreds of deserted islands in peace.

Diplomatic Quarters
The DQ in Riyadh is the area where most of the embassies are located. The huge area has some amazing parks worth visiting. The area is safe for women to walk around in western attire.

Compounds
Inside all compounds abayas can be removed. Some western compounds even BAN abayas inside!

KFSH Cave park inside the hospital compound has some lovely fountains and places for BBQ’s, which can be accessed by public and no abayas are required there.

Golf clubs
Dirab and Riyadh golf clubs out of the city allow women to golf sans abaya.

Horseback riding
Dirab stables, the stables in DQ and the Riyadh Equestrian club are abaya free zones.

Istiraha and other rentals
An istiraha “rest house” is a place sort of like a vacation rental outside the city where people go on weekends to relax. A family can rent out their own istiraha complete with private swimming pools, yards and housing equipped with living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.
Another option is to rent a Bedouin style tent which will come with a private area where it’s perfectly fine for women to remove their abayas. Some nice tent rentals can be found in Thumamah park.

Private beaches
Women swim in “normal” swim gear in the numerous private beaches in Jeddah and Al Khobar.

Do you know of any other places worth mentioning?

 

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  • Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat LaneOctober 26, 2011 - 6:49 am

    I’ve in many places but never in the KSA, so I found this very interesting. I’ve always wondered about how hot it must be to be covered up head to toe, but I imagine everything surrounded by walls is air conditioned.

    I’m enjoying your blog and getting a peek into life in the KSA. Right now winter is on the way here in Moldova and if only you could send me ten or fifteen degrees of heat, I’d take it!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 26, 2011 - 10:51 am

    Hi Miss Footloose! Yes most things with walls will have AC but it does get hot in the summer, especially Jeddah has some NASTY humidity which will make your abaya like a personal swimming pool..

    Winter is on the way here too, I saw men in their winter thobes already! Its about 32C right now and in the evenings around 18C. It feels MUCH cooler than it sounds though because of the lack or humidity here in Riyadh.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Umm OmarOctober 26, 2011 - 12:07 pm

    Bushra Ladies Mall and the ice skating rink inside Royal Mall.ReplyCancel

  • Om Lujain©October 26, 2011 - 2:33 pm

    Our Cars :D :D :D… At the hospital… when i have my babies and I am at the hospital.. i never wear my 3baya around the hospital till i am ready to go home :D

    Seriously though.. lemme try think… hmmm.. I think you covered them.. and Tara’s additions are also good :)

    I have noticed ladies not wearing their 3bayas at some hotels here.. and ofcourse the airport :DReplyCancel

  • LaylahOctober 26, 2011 - 2:55 pm

    Thanks for the additions ladies..
    I still didn’t go the Royal Mall but now I’m even more interested :)

    Def. some hotels are ok with ladies not wearing abaya esp.in Jeddah..And then theres the women only hotel in Riyadh too!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 27, 2011 - 4:13 pm

    Thank you for this info! its a relief to hear I don’t have to wear it all the time when I come there..ReplyCancel

  • nazliMarch 11, 2012 - 1:30 pm

    hi laylah..been reading ur blog bout saudi and it’s amazing how u expose the hidden vividness of this seemingly boring saudi..i’m also a nurse here in riyadh and i find ur blog sorta like a guide to explore riyadh..uhm can i know some compounds where i and my fiance can dine maybe after our wedding? thanx alot!ReplyCancel

  • nazliMarch 11, 2012 - 1:33 pm

    hi laylah..been reading ur blog bout saudi and it’s amazing how u expose the hidden vividness of this seemingly boring saudi..i’m also a nurse here in riyadh and i find ur blog sorta like a guide to explore riyadh..uhm can i know some compounds where i and my fiance can dine maybe after our wedding? thanx alot!ReplyCancel

  • LindaOctober 24, 2014 - 12:34 pm

    Salam, I was wondering if there is beach for FEMALE only. thanks :)ReplyCancel

  • […] The solution to being able to share with readers how to get there but not post the location publicly and risk ruining it for everyone was to write a guide book about it. The guide contains up to date detailed instructions, maps and GPS coordinates of the location. The downlaodable ebook can be found here: Guide to Secret Lake […]ReplyCancel

  • […] 1. Red Sand Dunes. Easily accessible, just about 20 min drive from Riyadh are the Red sands, a beautiful area of red sand dunes surrounded by majestic mountains. This is a popular place to rent quad bikes to explore the area around Kharrarah National Park and on the way there you will see more quad bike rental places next to the road. You can rent them for an hour at a time, and women can drive without abaya without any problems. Check this post to find places in Riyadh where women can go abaya-free: Sans abaya in Saudi   […]ReplyCancel

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