One of the perks of living in the Middle-East and particularly Saudi-Arabia are the amazing travel opportunities it opens up. Many places of interest become geographically closer for expats originally from the Americas, Europe and Asia. Travel is also relatively affordable and there are direct flights and good flight connections from Saudi and the GCC countries. Some of the cheap airlines have great promos and affordable prices around the Middle East. What’s pretty cool about working in Saudi Arabia is the annual leave. Many expats in KSA get more than 50 days a year paid annual leave. That leaves plenty of time to explore the surroundings, both inside and outside KSA. Here are some of my favorite destinations to visit from Saudi Arabia.
Some destinations are great for a weekend getaways and others I would recommend for more than a week long holiday. The possibilities are really endless! The following are my personal favorites as a traveler that prefers the roads less traveled and places to connect with nature and wildlife. That’s why you won’t find Bahrain or Dubai on this Top Ten list. There’s nothing wrong with those two destinations, just not necessairly my cup of tea as a traveler who prefers less crowded destinations with lots of nature around. On this list I want to focus more on the quality of the destinations in terms of historical value, local culture, local food, unique nature.
My top 10 places to travel to from Saudi-Arabia: (in no particular order!)
Maldives, the paradise islands where honeymooners and couples flock from all over the world to spend their dream vacation. Many do not know that the Maldives can be reached with a direct Saudi Airlines flight from Riyadh, making it very easily accessible even for a shorter trip. The flight from Riyadh to Male is just 5 hours! Picture perfect beaches, luxury overwater bungalows and world-class diving await the visitors. Many will be surprised to learn that there are family friendly options in the Maldives, such as the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort- which is really the ultimate Maldives resort choice for families with kids. Kids stay for free there so it will not break your bank either. Read more about it here: Maldives Paradise Island Getaway for the Family
The current security situation is of course a serious concern, but in the occasion the situation calms down, hopefully very soon, Yemen is a MUST VISIT destination. Purely from the historical point of view, Yemen and especially the capital Sana’a is a unique, world-class destination. The architecture, the landscape, the people, the nature, the culture..It’s too much to even begin to describe the amazingness of what Yemen has to offer. I will only say, If you ever have a chance to visit Yemen, do not miss out on it. Especially Socotra Island, which is to date my favorite destination from all the 65 countries around the world I’ve been lucky to visit so far. There is a way to visit Socotra island without going through the mainland, which might be the only way to visit Yemen in the meantime.
IMHO, the world’s most hospitable people are the Omanis. I have never felt so welcomed, my every need and wish catered to with such genuine, overwhelming hospitality than what I experienced in Oman. Some examples of the Omani people’s character: I traveled there alone so I felt a bit awkward at times as a female in an Arab country. However I was not harassed even once while there. One afternoon as I was collecting small pink seashells from the beach, a group of young Omani boys that were playing football on the beach came to help me. At first I found it odd, but after a while I realized they genuinely just wanted to help me. We had fun searching for the pink ones and managed to gather a large amount. I thanked them, and being accustomed to little boys only doing such arduous jobs for tourists because they want our money I thought to myself, they surely want to get paid now! As I was handing over some cash telling them to go buy ice cream they all firmly refused. I was insisting but they declined and smiled and told me it was a gift. I thought it was the perfect example how Omanis don’t see tourists as only walking money machines but as honored guests to their beautiful country.
Oman has many places worth seeing, the capital Muscat has a mystical feel to it and it’s nothing like the other busy, crowded and materialistic GCC countries. The country is full of interesting historical sites and amazing landscapes like the numerous Wadis with emerald green water to swim in. Oman is one of the few places in the world where tourists can be 100% sure to be able to watch sea turtles come to shore to lay their eggs in the middle of the night at Ras al Jinz.
4. Sri Lanka
Easy and cheap to reach from Riyadh with a direct flight, Sri Lanka is a charming little island in the Indian Ocean. A nice combination of nature,history, culture and friendly people, Sri Lanka has surprisingly many options for the traveler despite its small size. The magnificent tea farms and majestic mountains make for wonderful trekking opportunities! There are palaces and temples to explore, delicious spicy food to enjoy and bustling little cities and towns nestled in the mountains waiting to be explored. And of course some pretty amazing beaches!
5. Jordan Very easily reachable from Saudi even for an extended weekend, Jordan is an absolute must see destination! From Amman the Dead Sea is quick to reach and the spas dotted along its coast are just divine! Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa is absolutely gorgeous! The hotel has a tranquil atmosphere, an amazing spa, several different pools all overlooking the Dead Sea, relaxing treatments and great restaurants.
The world famous tombs of the Nabatean people can be seen in ancient city of Petra, which sis a sister site to the one in Saudi called Madain Saleh. Petra gets pretty crowded with tourists year round and its best to book early for peak seasons. The ancient city of Petra is surrounded by the most strangely shaped, rose-colored mountains. Jordan has plenty of other historical sites, as well as Wadi Rum and a beach destination, Aqaba on the Gulf of Aqaba.
6. Hong Kong
The dynamic Hong Kong has something for everyone! Superb shopping, delicious food, beautiful and surprising scenery. Worth a visit on its own but also great for a stop-over when continuing further East.
The best safari experience I had so far has been in Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater. Especially during the great migration this place is truly magical! A visit to Tanzania would not be complete without seeing Zanzibar, the Spice Island! One of those few places left where the only people on the beach besides you are the local fishermen. Amazing diving!
Saudi-Arabia’s tiny little neighbor is greatly under valued as a tourist destination. Only an hour flight away from Riyadh, Kuwait is definitely worth a weekend trip and great for a quick getaway from Saudi. Personally I like the more quiet vibe here which is a nice change to the busy and crowded Dubai for example. Read more about Kuwait here.
Very popular among Saudi tourists, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi are the best know destinations in Malaysia. But this country has so much more to offer! Diving, trekking, history, rain forests, wildlife, architecture, shopping..Malaysians are known for their courtesy and fabulous food! My absolute favorite place in Malaysia is the tiny island of Perhentian Kecil!
Last but definitely not least, Turkey, particularly Istanbul is an amazing destination and super easy to get to from Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya’s post on Istanbul to understand why you shouldn’t miss it!
Now I’ve caught the travel bug!! What places would you add to the list?
If you’re looking to stay in Saudi Arabia for your holidays there surely is not shortage of places to visit! Start from our Explore Saudi Arabia page to browse some local destinations.
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Hello there, I’m Laura, the founder, author and manager of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 69 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Having visited all corners of the Kingdom with over a decade of experience, I have a vast knowledge base about travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia.