Western Woman in Riyadh? Make The Best Of It!

This is a playful post for all the ladies currently living in Riyadh. It might be a harsh environment and many things irritate us from time to time..Nothing is like back home. But what can we do? Other than getting frustrated and anxious, try to look at it in a positive way and make your life a bit easier. I say, make the best of it! Don’t spend your time complaining and moaning. It will only make you feel worse. Here’s a couple of suggestions how to make the most out of your time here.

Wearing abaya: Ok this is probably one of the most annoying things for most western women, you gotta wear it, so I say…make the best of it!
-get an abaya made of good quality material, not polyester which will make you a cooked vegetable in no time in the +50c heat. Best quality abayas you will find upstairs in Kingdom Mall, Royal Mall and Hayat mall. They can also make abayas to order.
-abayas come in so many different styles, show your personality with a pretty or individual abaya. Go to Dirah or Tayba souq and find tons of different abaya designs and colors. Design and personalize it! It’s what you wear out all the time anyways.
-go shopping in your pyjamas, under the abaya :D

-get an abaya made of cotton or linen you will have to pay a bit more but it’s worth it for comfort in the heat.

Not being able to drive: Very frustrating sometimes especially for women who enjoy driving and are used to doing it a lot.
– while you’re being driven around by your driver, make the most of your time! Read a good book, a newspaper, call a friend, or your mother! Do your makeup on the way (ok depends on your driver’s skills and how stable your hand is).
– if you have an suv or a husband /male friend that can rent one go out to the desert to drive! It’s fun but be careful don’t venture too far. Bedouin women drive around all the time, once you’ve passed the checkpoints you will be fine. Check out the book “Desert treks from Riyadh” available in Jarir book stores.
– go to the Reem race track!they have carting and women can drive too! Exit 11.
– rent quadbikes or beach buggies to get rid of the extra “driving withdrawal symptoms”. Available at red Sands area Mecca highway and the Thumamah area.

quadbikes women in Riyadh

Extreme heat: When temperatures start topping 45c everyday, it’s not very pleasant to be outside anymore.
-make sure your abaya is made from natural materials. Some abayas are so thin you won’t even feel like you’re wearing one.
-make the best out of the dry heat and dry your laundry outside! In minutes you will have wrinkle free dry laundry.
-take all your bedding and mattresses out, cook well on both sides..and you have gotten rid of all possible living things such as bedbugs or dust mites which the sunlight will have killed!
– to create curls in no time, after showering apply some moisturizing leave-in conditioner and/or heat activated styler. Apply hair rolls or tie your hair in couple small braids. Optionally cover your hair with a scarf to protect from sun. Go out for about 15 min to half an hour depending on your hair length and desired result (preferably in yard or pool area, can’t recommend venturing out in public). While waiting for hair to dry apply nail polish if you like, it will dry quickly in the dry heat by the time your hair is done. Now just remove the rolls and you will have curls that stay put for long!

Hard water: Many women have noticed that after a while their hair seems to fall out more and it becomes thinner. This is due to the hard water that is mostly desalinized and therefore lacks some essential minerals.
– buy some zinc and selenium supplements from any pharmacy.
– after rinsing your hair with tap water, follow by bottled water to make hair softer.
-get Sodium Laurel Sulfate free shampoo available at GNC!

Boredom: Very common symptom of living in Riyadh. However treatment options are numerous to begin therapy start here with Riyadh to do guide.
– start a new hobby, keep yourself active. Try golf, salsa dancing, horse polo, or scuba-diving!
– since you have the rare opportunity to live in the Saudi-Arabia and are surrounded by Islam, why not find out a little more about the religion? I guarantee you won’t be bored anymore! The WAMY centre opposite Owais souq is a great place to visit to learn more.
-Check out Dar Adh-Dhikr, an Islamic center for women and children (boys up to the age of 6) to learn Arabic and Qur’an in the Ma’athar area

western female tourists in Riyadh

Surrounded by desert: For some its a blessing, others..not. But why not take advantage of the lack of tourism in Saudi-Arabia, you will have most places to yourself and the nature is mostly untouched.
-explore historical sites just outside Riyadh,such as Diriyah UNESCO heritage site.
-visit Madain Saleh the other capital city of the ancient Nabatean people. You will most likely be the only people there. Although smaller in size than Petra, I enjoyed the atmosphere more here. It seems like stepping into the past. Discover more amazing places to visit in Saudi Arabia here
-Take weekend trips to the seaside, don’t miss Jeddah which is a city with quite a different vibe and atmosphere than Riyadh and a beautiful historic district al Balad (also UNESCO world Heritage site)

-join the Riyadh Hash Harriers who organize desert walks every weekend and camping in cooler months, ask around from westerners for contact details!
hash harriers wak in Riyadh

-explore the mostly untouched Saudi side of the Red sea coast. start start scuba-diving. The lectures and pool training are in Riyadh, and open water training will take a weekend in Jeddah. The Red Sea is full of amazing underwater life! Top diving spots in KSA: Yanbu, Al Lith, Farasan Islands, Farasan Banks, Haql Shipwreck.

If you have a chance, go to the Farasan Islands, one of Jacques Cousteau’s favorite places! A wonderland for divers, there is virtually no other humans (except for the odd fisherman). Currently only two hotels on the main island (reachable by ferry from Jizan)

farasan island paradise

Gender segregation: Most public places will be separate for men and women, it might get frustrating to always find the right place but there can be some advantages to this too!
– you won’t have to queue in banks when you go to the ladies section it’s hardly ever crowded
– shopping at Kingdom center ladies only floor with own entrance.
-Panorama mall ladies only section
– as a woman you should be served first if there’s no clear mens/ladies queue, but of course this is not always the case. A polite smile might get you in front of the line.
-always take advantage of the ladies sections of Saudi airlines offices and get things done in 5 min compared to 5hours on the men’s side.
– on Saudi airlines (and most other national airlines) flights you can always change seats if you happen to be sitting next to a man,(if it bothers you) just request for another seat. They will give you a window seat if available, and if you’re lucky an upgrade to business class.
– at the airport pass the men in the baggage security check line, they don’t usually mind if you put your bag first, then pass through the ladies security check and you will be done in no time.

It all comes down to attitudes. We can’t change these things but we can change our outlook on them. It’s mostly up to ourselves how we handle it and a positive open mind will never do you harm!



Disclaimer: this guide is aimed at ALL women, not just westerners, currently living in or planning to move to KSA. Written from pov of western woman in Riyadh for 8 years now :)

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  • Hania@desitalJune 25, 2010 - 6:47 pm

    i totally agree about the abaya thing. i am not a westerner or a non muslim. but i still enjoy the wearing anythuing when goign out part. just do your makeuup, wear nice shoes and your ready to go.hehe. have been here for a long time so i am accustomed with the getting bored part.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Umm OmarJune 26, 2010 - 3:01 pm

    Laylah- Excellent post masha’Allah! Can I have permission to re-post it on FHWS?ReplyCancel

  • DentographerJune 28, 2010 - 9:29 am

    Quick Question,who or where should i go if i wanted to visit Madayin Saleh?
    great post!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 28, 2010 - 10:20 am

    I absolutely loved the abaya advice! Thought all abayas were made of polyester . . . So, what material do you suggest we women look for?ReplyCancel

  • shwaybassJune 28, 2010 - 1:48 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about making the most of it. Thank you for your sanity! There are so many people who come here (and the Gulf in general) and want every little thing to be the same as home. They hang round in paranoid little groups discussing the latest rumours, based on nonsense, built on wild imagination. Someone told me last night that the more religious of our muslim friends wear the shorter pants in protest at being made to wear western-style clothes. A fashion protest! Ingenious!
    A positive mindset does wonders for your outlook; a negative one slowly eats away at your soul. I know – I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’m never going back again! Amen.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 30, 2010 - 6:45 am

    Ask for very fine cotton, cotton-silk blend, have it made for you to be sure you get the right material! They will cost more though..I’ve paid around 500-1500 for my best quality abayas..but they are totally worth it! A new abaya trend seems to be very fine jersey material, it feels really soft and silky. Have seen it only in exhibitions though..try Faisaliah 3rd floor they might have it,.ReplyCancel

  • The Burdened MaryJuly 2, 2010 - 6:25 pm

    This is my first time commenting here because I JUST found your blog, but I love what you have written! I think it is very easy for women in Riyadh to forget that fun is just around the corner if you go looking for it :) I will be certain to give some of your suggestions a try. As for abayahs…I bought a BEAUTIFUL abayah from Twaila in Granada Mall and I feel proud when I walk outside every day!ReplyCancel

  • ayahJuly 3, 2010 - 6:25 am

    assalamu aleikum!
    i love your attitude.. you are absolutely right, it's all about how we see it and this post was very inspiring! there's another good thing about sex segregation – if a woman is taking an elevator, a stranger man will not normally enter with her, thus saving us the uncomfortable feeling of being locked up alone with a stranger, unlike western countries :)

  • AnonymousJuly 6, 2010 - 12:47 pm

    I couldn't agree more – it's about attitude. I love having a "chauffer" drive me everywhere, being able to "jump the line" because you are female is brilliant and abayas? I LOVE shopping in my pj's!

    My other half and myself are in the desert almost every weekend and are active geocachers – most are hidden in never heard of places :D and we get to meetReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 10, 2010 - 2:18 am

    @ The Burdened Mary

    Thanks for commenting and welcome to my blog, glad you found it :)

    @ Ayah

    Thanks for your compliment! yes that's true usually they won't enter the elevator especially if they notice the woman is Muslim. Ive noticed a difference though from when I started wearing hijab! Before it seemed men insisted on cramming themselves into theReplyCancel

  • LaylahJuly 10, 2010 - 2:21 am

    @ Anonymous..

    welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting.

    That's great you guys are taking advantage of outdoor activities that often! I wish we had more time and chances to go the desert!

    If you have some GPS cordinates you'd like to share please email me!
    P.S have you guys seen the Iris fields in Thumair?ReplyCancel

  • bigstick1January 28, 2012 - 3:41 pm

    Hi Laylah:

    So is it worth it? In other words is it worth you having to give up on so many things such as running/jogging, riding a bicycle, sky diving, driving, in-line skating, and so many other activities. Of course I am sure I could insert many more items that I would think is not worth it. So again is it worth it?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 29, 2012 - 12:28 am

    Bigstick-thanks for your comment, you ask is it worth the sacrifice? Well first of all not all the things you mentioned I have to give up (running,bicycle,skating) they can be done but with certain restrictions..
    Second, why concentrate on the negative?
    There is so much I can do here that I wouldn’t be able to do in other countries :) check my post about good sides to life in Saudi for few examples.
    So, I loose some things yes, but I gain others.

    I would say yes, it’s worth it.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 31, 2012 - 8:01 pm

    Being in an elevator with a man…what the heck! If he is a good Muslim or Christian, or maybe just a good man, what is the fear. It’s the same argument Saudi men use for not letting women drive: if they get stuck at night on the side of a highway…. well if a good Muslim man pulls over, again what is the problem! Are all men rapists?ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 23, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    Heya Layla,

    I love your post and had a few questions: do you go in a mixed group to scuba dive? What about the harriers are they a mixed group? Is there any sailing and/or lessons in the coastal towns of Saudi Arabia? Is it leagal for a woman to drive a boat??!!!


    • LaylahFebruary 24, 2012 - 8:08 pm

      Hey there! Yes you can go on mixed group or women only if you request that from the operator, but then the boat crew is always male so there's no way you can have an all female setting that I know of other than all private. Women can drive boats but I haven't seen many :)
      Harriers is mixed group. I have not heard of sailing lessons but there might be in Jeddah.ReplyCancel

  • HahnApril 10, 2012 - 12:33 pm

    Hi Leyla,

    I just found your blog last night, and I’m glad I did.
    Very well written, mind and eye opening, and very informative, absolutely love it!!.
    I’ve been living in Riyadh since 2009, and from the lack of socializing, I don’t even know much about Riyadh until I read your blog ( except for Harry Potter Caped Guys ;)….encountered with them many times ).
    So I’d like to use this opportunity to thank you for your amazing blog, and now I will continue stalking your posts … I finished reading June 2010 archives.


    • LaylahApril 10, 2012 - 8:59 pm

      Hahn-thanks and welcome to my blog! Glad you found some use from it!ReplyCancel

  • mJune 26, 2012 - 12:42 am


    You have a very well written and entertaining blog here. I am thoroughly enjoying reading it. I’m a man in the U.S.

    And it sounds like you have a very nice life there that you’re greatly enjoying. Good for you!

    I like the chivalry of some of these little customs, like women going to the front of a line at the bank. It’s funny, I have never thought of that before, but I think that would be a nice, generous habit to get into right here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even if I had to wait 20 minutes or more, I would be pleased to see a lady be able to do her banking and be on her way in one or two minutes.

    Thanks for your terrific blog. I will keep reading.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 24, 2012 - 2:37 pm

    I blοg οften and Ι gеnuinely thank yοu for your іnformation.

    Τhis great aгticle hаs гeallу ρeaked my іnterеst.
    I’m going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for new information about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.ReplyCancel

  • Imran HossenMarch 15, 2013 - 9:51 am

    Hi the burdened marry..
    its nice to see a writing from a Saudi girl.. it seems now the Saudian girls are growing up with modern mentality with the Muslim aspect….

  • AsiaAugust 19, 2013 - 6:14 pm

    Hi Layla, thanks for this great post! Sure do need it esp. on trying times (like recently coming back from a long vacation. the first few weeks can be really very depressing!) And one of the things I hate coming back to here, is the reckless way of driving. It seems like they don't care much for "life". I get nervous everytime my husband and I go for a drive. I know there areReplyCancel

  • faiza farhanJanuary 14, 2015 - 2:46 pm

    I have heared that there is bus service in riyadh for ladies where they can go for shoping in a group ? And do they go in texis ?are they safe ? My another question is can women in riyadh wear abaya other than black colour ? Or black abaya or gown is must ?ReplyCancel

    • AbdulrehmanNovember 29, 2015 - 11:44 am

      Dear sis faiza farhan,

      there is a bus service but its not for public, there are taxi which are safe especially if you are with a foreigner driver. Abaya is must in Saudi Arabia and it should be black colored…ReplyCancel

  • Reenad ShaikDecember 4, 2015 - 1:10 pm

    also there is ice skating at royal mall every thursday especially for ladies! its super fun! i had been there with my best friend and we had a blast! we are allowed to take of our abayas there and justtt YAYYY!ReplyCancel

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