The historic city of Ad’Diriyah, where the first Saudi State was established in 1745 (1158H) has been undergoing a huge restoration project since 2011. I for one have been anxiously awaiting for it to finish because I simply love all this place has to offer. Every time I go to Diriyah, there’s something new and exciting to discover. A shady alleyway with a colorful door at the end, an old watch tower or a small stream, lined with perfect shaded picnic spots..You never know what you will find!

Follow me on instagram for a look into Saudi Arabia: Viking in Arabia 

So when I heard the news that earlier this month a part of the restoration project had finally been finished and inaugurated by the King, I was thrilled and could not wait to go check it out.  Apparently the newly opened area is called the Al-Bujairi district the gateway to the historic area of Ad-Diriyah. You can find the directions, map and gps location further below. According to the project management of Diriyah restorations:
“The project is a part of the scheme to develop Diriyah and highlight its cultural value by creating facilities at its main entrance.”

At Turaif District palace ruins

This post is a collaborative Top Ten (5+5) list with blogger Margo Catts, whom I had the pleasure of exploring Diriyah with. Margo happens to be quite an amazing woman and super talented writer. I’m so happy to have met her in person, if only for a short time (she has left on final exit now). We had a blast one morning when the two of us went all “touristy” around Diriyah with our cameras and unfortunate driver. You will begin the virtual sightseeing tour of Riyadh’s very own UNESCO World Heritage site from the below five things to do, and then finish off the virtual Diriyah tour through her blog post here: 10 Things to Do at Historic Diriyah

Ten Things to do in Riyadh

The location of historical Ad’Diriyah is 20 km North West of Riyadh (11 km from city center) on the banks of Wadi Hanifa. The historic area of Ad’Diriyah is divided into two parts by the Wadi Hanifa and additionally into a number of different quarters. The most important ones are:

Turaif Quarter: The main quarter of Ad’Diriyah, where the Al Saud house is situated. The area is located on the South Western mountain, surrounded by a wall overlooking all other quarters.

Ghusaiba Quarter: This was the first Saudi capital up to 1683.

Bujairy Quarter: Located on the Eastern bank of Wadi Hanifa. here you’ll find the mosque, a school, home of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab and the newly opened Diriyah gateway.

GPS coordinates to the roundabout next to the Bujairy plaza: 24.737382 46.575260

Here’s a google earth pic of the area, where you can see the green areas are mostly date farms around Wadi Hanifa and the road which goes down the valley splits the area in two; the Bujairy gateway area and on the opposite side the main historical city area, At´Turaif district. The UNESCO heritage area of Turaif is unfortunately still closed from public due to a massive restoration project going on there. Once ready, Turaif district will become one of the largest open air museums in the world. The entire restoration project is estimated to finish by 2019. In the meanwhile, there’s still plenty of things to see and it’s well worth the visit.historical diriyah map Things to do in Ad ‘Diriyah

1. Explore the new Al Bujairy center.

Enjoy the amazing views to the palace and city ruins, find the old city well, have a picnic by the waterfalls or grab a coffee from one of the cafes. Exploring the Bujairy marketplace and surrounding area feels like stepping back in time, to when this place really was the hub of the city. Lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and businesses are already open and many more will open their doors soon. Most are open after Asr prayers only for the time being. A visitor’s info center, a cultural center and museum will also be opening there in the future.Discover Historical Ad

diriyah salwa palaceHistorical diriyah Turaif city wallAl Bujairy district, Diriyah

diriyah Al Bujairy plazadiriyah marketplace

diriyah museum center

diriyah albujairy gatewaydiriyah old city well2. Door-Gawking and Alley-Wandering.

Ad-Diriyah is a paradise for door enthusiasts like myself. Diriyah is actually one of the places where my inspiration for the ‘Doors of the Magic Kingdom‘ collection began. Margo too, is a self-proclaimed door-addict and we had a lot of fun hunting down new doors and finding the matching door and phone cover! Check out Blue Abaya Designs on Instagram for more door phone covers and other Saudi themed souvenirs and gifts. You can also find more Saudi doors gifts designed by me here: Inspired by Arabia

You will see the tribal patterns of the Najd region repeating themselves in the doors, gates, window shutters and panels scattered around the vast historical area. The geometric patterns, bright colors and the Najdi flower are the most easily recognizable patterns. Watch out for the below pictures huge colorful gate, which is actually a part of an isteraha that can be rented for private occasions.

Wander down one of the shady alleys down on the wadi road for another back in time-travel experience. Walking around the quiet neighborhoods is very therapeutic and makes for a refreshing change from the concrete jungles of Riyadh.

Diriyah Colorful painted gates

Saudi doors phone covers

My designs! The Doors of the Magic Kingdom collection phone covers and the matching door in the background.

diriyah farm gate

diriyah wood door

diriyah alleyway

diriyah giant doors3. Visit and see the mosques.

The old, the new and renovated ones. Probably one of the most famous mosques in all of Saudi Arabia is the Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulwahab mosque, which is located right at the entrance to the historical area next to the Diriyah city walls.  So far the renovation efforts resulted in restoring the mosque where Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulwahab used to be its imam and deliver sermons. Many other mosques can be found around the newly inaugurated Al-Bujairi plaza area such as the restored Al-Dhwaihrah Mosque and the restoration of the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Mosque which is still under way.

diriyah mosque newdiriyah mosque wudu4. Hunt for antiques, art and souvenirs at the plaza.

Several Saudi gifts and trinkets shops & antique stores, art galleries are already open around the Diriyah marketplace area. Many more to be opened in the near future. The AMA Art venue is already open and there is a small coffee shop at the gallery. Check out the AMA Twitter and Instagram for more info!


The AMA Art Gallery in Ad Diriyah

The AMA Art Gallery entrance in Ad Diriyah

Diriyah souk antique shop

5. Eat at the Najd Village restaurant.

This is the third branch of the lovely  Najd Village restaurants which serve traditional Saudi foods. You will be seated on the floor in your own Saudi style majlis or tent, while trying out all the different Najd food specialities at once! Read more about why this restaurant is so amazing here: Al Qarya Najdiya-The Najd Village restaurant.  As an added bonus, the Diriyah branch is overlooking the palace ruins across the wadi, the views are truly incredible. This would be THE place to bring those special Riyadh visitors to. Spend a memorable evening in a one of a kind setting enjoying authentic Saudi food and culture. The restaurant is open daily for both singles and families, 4-10pm
diriyah najd village restaurant door

Now head over to Margo’s post for more pics and a great history lesson of Diriyah!


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  • […] this week we’re doing a joint blog—10 Things to Do at Historic Diriyah. You can get five at, and five […]ReplyCancel

  • Susie Johnson KhalilMay 15, 2015 - 8:49 pm

    I want to go! Those doors are really amazing! Next time I am in Riyadh, we must go there!!!ReplyCancel

  • MiinaMay 22, 2015 - 4:32 pm

    Thank you for the visual tour! it looks stunning I wish I can visit!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaMay 23, 2015 - 3:08 pm

      Welcome! Don’t forget to continue the “tour” at Margo’s page :)ReplyCancel

  • mehwishMay 22, 2015 - 6:11 pm

    any contact numbers for the restaurant would be appreciated tyReplyCancel

  • KristineMay 29, 2015 - 8:05 am

    This has been on my Saudi list for a while! Your photos are beautiful, and I’m going to try and get there in the next couple weeks…..before it gets much hotter!!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaMay 29, 2015 - 3:32 pm

      Thank you Kristine for the comment! try to visit in the afternoon when the shop will be open, or then very very early in the morning if just for photo ops :)ReplyCancel

  • […] Historical Ad Diriyah King Fahad Football Stadium Suspension Bridge King Abdullah International Gardens Park Al Nakheel Mall East of King Abdulaziz Manakh Park Al Ha’ir King Abdulaziz weather park Manakh […]ReplyCancel

  • IndrajitAugust 15, 2015 - 2:12 pm

    Is there a visiting time restriction for singles? we are group of four who like to visit on a Friday evening.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaAugust 21, 2015 - 12:04 am

      it’s a public area open to all, so there’s no problem visiting, however Friday evening will be very crowded with families having picnics :)ReplyCancel

  • […] around town though and we headed to check them out. There was a small festival area set up in the historical Diriyah area. We drove around the Wadi Hanifa and saw many families had set up fires and BBQ’s around […]ReplyCancel

  • […] For 2015 as National Day coincides with the start of Hajj, there will be no fireworks this year and the festivals will be delayed until the weekend. A new festival area in Riyadh is the Bujairy area in Historical Diriyah which is a beautiful place to visit on its own. Check it out here: Riyadh’s Historic District Ad’Diriyah […]ReplyCancel

  • […] The best place to be in Riyadh for National Day celebration : Bujairy Square festival area in Diriyah Historic District […]ReplyCancel

  • Vicki GoodwinOctober 16, 2015 - 6:20 am

    I want to go. I am living in Riyahd. How do I get there. I am from Arizona, USAReplyCancel

  • […] in detail in the guide. There’s a huge restoration and landscaping project ongoing in the Historical Diriyah and Wadi Hanifa area which is also extending toward the direction of the lake. So that had some effect on the route […]ReplyCancel

  • Sans Abaya in Saudi » Blue AbayaFebruary 23, 2016 - 6:43 pm

    […] 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 […]ReplyCancel

  • 10 Things To Do In Riyadh During Spring » Blue AbayaMarch 1, 2016 - 8:15 pm

    […] markets aimed at families which are held oudoors, like the rect ‘The Gathering’ held at Bujairy Square. To keep up to date with these events don’t forget to subscribe to Blue Abaya email updates! […]ReplyCancel

  • MïSsh FaRiApril 20, 2016 - 11:21 am

    nice placeReplyCancel

  • […] Go to Historical Diriyah Bujairy Square to enjoy Eid celebration festival. Watch the Ardah dances in a historical setting. Lots of nice restaurants in the area like the Saudi traditional food restaurant Najd Village and Bab al Yemen. […]ReplyCancel

  • LeesaJuly 15, 2016 - 1:35 am

    the doors are lovely and stunning! ive been looking for the najd door here in kingdom but to no avail. any idea where i can i buy it here in Saudi? would love to have it for a coffee/dining table.. love your web, very informative and helpful :) thanks for sharing!!ReplyCancel


  • […] 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 […]ReplyCancel

  • Rizwan AliSeptember 12, 2016 - 9:40 am

    I am planing to visit Diriyah today with my family.
    Can anyone please advise if bbq is allowed there?

  • […] is it’s actually over 200 km long with hundreds of small side valleys. For the best parts, to Diriyah area, Wadi Namr, or south of Riyadh to the “Riyadh […]ReplyCancel

  • LeahDecember 4, 2016 - 3:23 pm


    You mentioned that private tours are possible if you book with the Diriyah project management. Do you have any contact details for them?


  • […] Ennessi Organic Farm, located next tot the at Turaif district in part of Diriyah, is the place where kids and adults are taught in a natural environment about the organic […]ReplyCancel

  • HafifaJuly 6, 2019 - 1:58 pm

    Hey this really amazed me.. Iam going here. Is there any entry fee or can we just roam there?ReplyCancel

  • FionaJuly 7, 2019 - 7:36 pm

    Great post as ever Laura – thank you.ReplyCancel

  • GabrieleJanuary 5, 2020 - 9:08 am

    Good Morning,
    I would like to visit it today. Is it open and is it possible to visit it as Single?
    Thanks a lot

If you live in Saudi Arabia chances are you’ve heard the word ‘wasta’ mentioned before. A wasta is a widely used term for a well connected individual in the Arab world. It refers to using one’s influence or connections to getting things done, cutting through bureaucratic red tape, having exceptions made to the rules, or assisting with employment or education opportunities.

The use of wasta (sometimes referred to as vitamin W) is endemic in the Middle East region and particularly in Saudi Arabia. The word wasta translates roughly to “connections” or “influence” and the Arabic origin means “intermediate”. In short, a wasta is a very influential person with good connections who can get things rolling for you.

Although using wasta is a common practice in the Arab world, the phenomenon of ‘who you know’ can be found everywhere in the world. Networking and social connections are forms of “wasta” in every culture. Some societies view using “wasta” as highly unethical, unfair and showing lack of integrity.

My home country Finland is one of these countries where using ‘wasta’ to achieve something is deeply frowned upon. It’s everyone for their own self, independence is highly valued. It would be considered shameful to land a job based solely on your connection, instead of being qualified for the job. This mentality can partly explain Finland’s rank in the corruption studies, where it’s frequently ranked the #1 least corrupt country in the world.

Coming from this background and upbringing then transitioning to the Saudi ‘world of wasta’ has been difficult. I had to accept the fact that wasta is a way of life in Saudi Arabia and the region in general, and that will not go away any time soon. I learned that I don’t have to accept and approve of the concept, but I can learn to deal with and work with the system the best of my capability.

But why is using these connections more widely culturally accepted and practiced in Saudi Arabia, compared to in the western countries?

The reason is because the roots of  the wasta tradition are in tribal family structures. Saudis (and Arabs in general) have stronger social networks, and they will do anything in their power to serve family and friends. Saudis have very strong family ties and it’s not always about the immediate family, but the entire tribe. Moreover, in some cases it might be considered shameful if a Saudi doesn’t become a wasta for the people of their own tribe, even for relatives they’ve never met before.

Wasta can in some instances be more valuable than money and having wasta definitely makes life in Saudi Arabia much easier. It could be said that the wasta “system” is good only for those who are able to utilize it. For those outside of the system it can feel very frustrating and unfair.

That said, wasta in Saudi Arabia can work on all levels of society, just on different scales. Wasta shouldn’t be confused with the actions that come with it. In Saudi Arabia wasta is no doubt used also for the negative things such as favoring unqualified applicants for a job or giving out scholarships to under performing students. On the other hand having an influential wasta can sometimes even save lives.


Wasta is often used by Saudis to land a place in university or a job in management or other sought after placements. The sad truth is, the person who used wasta to obtain that position often went past many much more qualified candidates. That’s why many Saudi companies have incompetent and unmotivated staff. Because of  influential wasta backing them up, they won’t have to fear loosing their jobs even if they don’t perform very well.

A wasta is sort of like a genie in a bottle, but better. Instead of three wishes you can get as many as you wish!

Watch the clip of the genie VS wasta to understand the power of WASTA ;)


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  • NoorJanuary 13, 2012 - 12:36 am

    Wasta is a funny thing here I did a post about it to awhile ago lol Saudis are something else :pReplyCancel

  • KrisJanuary 12, 2012 - 11:36 pm

    LOL! I loved your wasta link! My husband has access to some good wasta, but has too much honor to use it for his benefit. I love his honor more than his wasta! lol!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 13, 2012 - 1:56 am

    Definitely a corruptive tool..ReplyCancel

  • AngelJanuary 13, 2012 - 7:56 am

    LMAO It is unfortunate that this is what people need to get what they want, whether it be marriage, a job, getting land etc it is very sad indeedReplyCancel

  • MAHARUKHJanuary 13, 2012 - 7:27 am

    in love with dis… do drop time on my blog too…ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 3:59 pm

    Kris-you’ve got one honorable man! Would he use it in emergency cases though?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 4:00 pm

    Noor-yes, they are :DReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 4:01 pm

    Maharukh-thanks for stopping by, nice blog you have :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 4:03 pm

    Angel-true, it’s sad and it corrupts society, and it’s also unfair to people who try to do things on their own, have someone with wasta come and take that from you.ReplyCancel

  • KristineJanuary 13, 2012 - 8:15 pm

    I sure do Laylah! He does use it to help other people though.ReplyCancel

    • caroJuly 6, 2015 - 7:31 pm

      hi kristine. i dont know if i’m contacting the right person but ppl told me this blog is for foreign women who married with a saudi boy. i’m myself trying to get married with a saudi man but we are facing some difficulties. do u know if it is possible to marry with my saudi fiancé and make it accepted by saudi arabia in some months ? because some ppl told me if my fiancé is under then its not possible for him to marry a foreigner woman as a first wife. do u know about this ? at least do u mind answering me my questions ? i’m rly lost and i dont find that much information on internet. thanks for reading and i hope u can answer and help me !ReplyCancel

  • Abdullah of ArabiaJanuary 17, 2012 - 12:21 am

    I use to think arabia have monopoly over WASTA but in fact recently I found an interesting example of WASTA in the EU.

    In the Wikileaks Wasta said to be wide spread in Greece. Wasta there called (MESON) and this quote from Wikileaks from US embassy in Athens:

    ”Using one’s friends in high places to get something done that otherwise would be impossible — a practice called “meson” — is such a standard practice that it is sometimes difficult for even the most forthright Greek to know where the corruption line exists”

    So Wasta may be had been transmitted to Arabia through the translated Greeks books centuries ago.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 18, 2012 - 12:02 pm

    Abdullah of Arabia-thanks for sharing the interesting example, I was not aware of this.ReplyCancel

  • […] than snails in terms of progress of the application. Permissions are given out for those with wasta, money to bribe employees or what it seems just randomly. They have a website with the list of […]ReplyCancel

    • sandraJuly 2, 2015 - 8:08 pm

      do you know the website or where can i find wasta to get the saudi marriage permission success?
      i will appreciate your help

  • DeeMay 11, 2015 - 11:15 am

    From Large Scale to Small Scale organizations, there’s always a wasta. It’s quite frustrating that a good and outstanding person gets left behind because of some people who have wasta.

    Even back in the Philippines, wasta’s are mostly the politicians. In the societal view, we call them “Kumpare”ReplyCancel

  • Kati Abi KhaledMay 25, 2015 - 3:21 pm

    Laitoin sinulle Liebster Awards haasteen blogissani. Tama siita huolimatta etta, aavistan blogisi rikkovan helposti parin sadan kavijan rajan. Voit loytaa haasteen taalta:

    • LaylaMay 28, 2015 - 4:55 pm

      Kiitos Kati haasteesta!
      Yritan tehda aikaa vastata niihin kysmyksiin pain :)ReplyCancel

  • Loola LoolJuly 7, 2015 - 12:44 am

    I am American and married to a tribal Saudi, although he views wasta as highly unethical.ReplyCancel

  • […] (If you’re not familiar with the term wasta read this post: What is a Wasta)  […]ReplyCancel

Excited to announce Blue Abaya’s recent interview and collaboration with Riyadh’s Radisson Blu Hotel!

 The following is my interview with Radisson Blu hotel in Riyadh which contains some sightseeing & activity tips for newcomers and business travellers to Saudi Arabia’s capital. Read the article based on the interview “An Expat’s Guide to Riyadh by Blue Abaya” on Radisson Blu site here.


1) Why did you move to Riyadh and what were your thoughts before going there? How did you prepare?


I moved to Riyadh in 2008 to work as a nurse in a large governmental hospital. Prior to arrival in Saudi Arabia I’d been in contact with a few nurses that were already working at the same hospital, and chatting with them was reassuring. Back then there wasn’t much info online and expat blogs were non-existent back then! The recruitment company also gave us material to read through in preparations for the move and dealing with culture shock.


2) As an ex-pat, what is your view of Riyadh now compared to perceptions at the outset? How has it changed in recent years?


Riyadh has changed so much since then! New buildings, shopping malls and restaurants are literally popping up like mushrooms after the rain. The overall atmosphere and ambience has become more relaxed too. I definitely like the Riyadh of today more in terms of available activities and ways to spend free time.

When I came it was difficult to find women’s gyms and good spas, now there are several top notch places to choose from all over the city.
It’s great to see how much variety there is nowadays in Riyadh when it comes to dining out, there always something new and exciting to try out. Another improvement is local tour companies who have began to cater to the expatriates and foreign visitors by offering city tours and day trips to some very beautiful places just outside of Riyadh.


3) What – in your mind, are the absolute must-see attractions in Riyadh for business travellers or holidaymakers, and why?

I think it would be a great idea for the travellers to see both the modern city life as well as the traditions and heritage of Saudi Arabia. For example, combining some attractions from the city center such as the Kingdom Tower SkyBridge, Al Faisaliyah tower and the High Tea at Globe restaurant with a sightseeing tour at UNESCO World Heritage site, Historical Diriyah.

Another must see place is the National Museum, this is one of the best Museums in the entire Middle East and visitors get an excellent introduction to the Arabian Peninsula’s history, culture, geography and religion. The surrounding area of the National Museum, King Abdul Aziz Historical center, has enough attractions and activities to keep the visitors busy for the whole day.

A visit to Riyadh would not be complete without a trip out to the desert. Highly recommended would be visiting either the Red Sand dunes or the spectacular ‘Edge of the World‘ which both offer unforgettable experiences for travellers.


4) What are your favourite places to eat in Riyadh and why?

That’s a tough question to answer! There’s simply so many great places. it really depends on what you’re looking for, budget-wise, and who you’re eating out with.

For first time visitors to Riyadh, the Najd village restaurant is a MUST visit! The restaurant which is built as a replica of the traditional mud houses typical to the Najd region, serves delicious Saudi cuisine in private majlis (living rooms). It’s great for groups and families.

Another favorite is the Brazilian restaurant ‘Il Terrazo‘ which is located on a terrace overlooking the Faisaliyah tower. it’s a buffet restaurant with great ambience and food, the best thing is to be able to sit outside with such a lovely view.

Friday Brunches are a popular way to spend Friday afternoon’s in Riyadh. Most of the 5 star hotels offer them but my favorites are the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons spreads.

For breakfast my favorite is Paul’s on Tahlia street. They are open on Fridays and it’s always a pleasure to be able to enjoy breakfast outside, weather permitting of course. Paul’s has their own bakery shop where you can pick up freshly baked breads, mouth watering cakes, pies and their famous croissants.


5) To what extent is there a strong sense of community among westerns in Riyadh, and if I’m a traveller, where would you recommend going to meet other people from the same walks of life?

The western communities tend to be restricted a lot by the compounds where they live in and most people socialize within those circles. Because of the cultural restrictions and laws of KSA, it’s not easy to organize large gatherings among expatriates especially mixed gender crowds.

The Diplomatic Quarter is a good place to start. the ‘DQ’ as locals call it is a gated area where the foreign embassies are located and many westerners live there. The area can be accessed by public and especially westerners should have no trouble getting in.
There are quite a few interesting tourist attractions in the DQ. There are over 30 beautifully landscaped lush gardens in the area, a 20km long nature walking trail which encircles the quarters and provides spectacular views to Wadi Hanifa. The architecture in the Diplomatic Quarter is the work of internationally renowned architects from all over the world, making the area even more appealing to visitors.

6) What would be your number one tip for people journeying to Riyadh – if you could only pick one

Come with an open mind and don’t be afraid to explore the city, you won’t regret it!


Find More Saudi Arabia Expat Guide’s by Blue Abaya here

To keep up to date with Blue Abaya’s Expat Guides make sure to subscribe with the form below!

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  • Margaretha Beverloo SmithFebruary 19, 2015 - 4:21 am

    If you did this interview for the Radisson Blu, I am surprised you didn’t mention their own excellent Japanese Shogun, among the restaurants you recommend. That is one of my favorites! Located on one of their top floors. There is also a very good Italian restaurant up there. Just saying…. :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 19, 2015 - 11:11 am

      haha well, like I said it’s a difficult question as there are way too many favorites, depending on what you’re looking for. I don’t have personal experience from the Shogun yet (not a huge fan of Japanese food) so I don’t feel comfortable endorsing it.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 19, 2015 - 8:35 am

    Congratulations ! Always a big fan and keen follower of your blog .ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 19, 2015 - 8:37 am

    Would like to know if any tour / travel agency has any scheduled outing to “Edge of the World”ReplyCancel

  • NasserApril 8, 2015 - 11:54 am

    Great blog thanks for the post :)ReplyCancel

  • Vaibhav JainJuly 4, 2015 - 5:10 pm

    Hello Layla,

    I have some questions regarding working and living in Riyadh, could you please provide your Email ID so that I can have a conversation with you.

    Thanks in advanceReplyCancel

  • Yanneth Liliana RojasAugust 11, 2015 - 12:04 am

    Congratulations great blog!ReplyCancel

  • […] AN EXPAT’S GUIDE TO RIYADH at […]ReplyCancel

  • carlosJanuary 19, 2016 - 3:00 pm


    We are some expats working in the DQ and trying to play football on Mondays night. Is anyone willing to join? Not professional level, age 30-50 years.


    Carlos-Ivan Casado (

  • Joe SixpackApril 25, 2018 - 5:12 am

    When clicking “10 Things to do in Riyadh during Spring”, one gets 404 error (page not found),

The following is my personal love story from the ‘Magic Kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia. How I met my Saudi Prince post was originally published 2012 on the 4th anniversary of the day I randomly met who I thought was (and is) the most handsome and charming man I ever laid eyes on. I had left Finland to work in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh in a large governmental hospital. The plan was to stay a year, maybe two exploring Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia as a country and culture had fascinated me quite some time before I’d made my final decision to take on the challenge of relocating there as a single western woman.

Before I left to KSA some of my friends, family and co-workers used to tease me that I will never come back to Finland if I go to Saudi Arabia. They would jokingly say things like “you’re so pretty an oil Sheikh will surely kidnap you and lock you in his palace” “a rich prince will sweep you off your feet, you’ll move to a palace and have 20 kids with him” and so forth.

My reply to them was: “not in a million years! I would never marry a Saudi guy!”.

Lol and now 7 years later, here I am, married to a Saudi guy and we have 2 kids (at times it does seem like there are in fact 20 of them in the house). So I called this post “Saudi Prince” because of the irony of it all.

Disclaimer: My husband is not from the Saudi royal family and no we don’t live in a palace either. 

how I met my saudi prince

..Exactly four years ago my shift at the Saudi hospital had started out like any other night. The allocated patients kept me busy and life seemed to be rolling on as usual. Little did I know that night would change my life for good.

I was thankful to have my friend “Katherine” working on the same shift, it was always a relief having another westerner and English speaking person to talk to during the night shift. We had again agreed to exchange our patients over to each other to enable a break in the middle of the shift.

The moment that would change my life happened very randomly. I was looking for Katherine to ask her which coffee she wanted from Starbuck’s. It was my turn to fetch that night’s caffeine dose and I was on my way down to the coffee shop. I saw her nurse presence light on in one room and decided to pop my head in quickly.

As I peaked in, Katherine was chatting inside with the patient and his relative. The Euro Cup football match was playing loudly on TV. She excitedly motioned me to enter the room further so curiously I did, at the same time asking what her Starbucks order was going to be.

As I glanced at the patient sitting there on his bed, something strange happened. As if time had stopped, like a missing piece had fallen into its place. A handsome young man looked back at me, equally baffled by the moment. For just a few seconds our eyes met and then both of us shyly looked away. I greeted the men with salaams and smiled. They replied back politely, not even looking at me for long but eyeing the floor or the TV. I had learned by now this was a sign of respect, not disrespect as my own culture would tell me. They did not want to make me feel awkward.

I felt a rush of blood going to my head, I was blushing now. Oh how I hated when that happened! I wanted to leave, but then I felt a certain curiosity of this man who I thought was probably one of the most handsome men I had ever laid eyes on. He had a certain sparkle in his eyes that intrigued me and his smile seemed to light up the room. I didn’t want to leave anymore.

I lingered for a moment, asking about the game on TV. The truth is I knew nothing about football, the only thing I cared about was the Italian football team, for other reasons than their skills. He made a joke about the Italians and we all laughed. I told him I was rooting for Italy and more jokes were thrown around. Secretly I was thinking to myself how the patient actually reminded me of an Italian football player with his long black hair brushed up in a ponytail and his smiling dark chocolate eyes.

When I couldn’t think of any more excuses to stay in the room I left to fetch the coffee. I kept thinking about the patient and wanted to ask Katherine about him. I felt drawn to go talk to him more. Later that night my chance came when Katherine and I swapped patients for her break.

Katherine had informed her patients she was leaving for an hour and meanwhile nurse “Layla from Finland” would be taking over. As she was leaving she teased me, “he will call you for sure, something tells me he wants to see you again. When you walked into the room it was like something made a “click” sound! I swear I could hear it!”

About five minutes after she left, the call bell rang. Room 42. It’s him! I was nervous to enter and felt my heart racing. The young man asked if he could get a pain killer. Sure, I said and left to check his files. When I returned he thanked me for the medicine and shyly asked a few questions about me.

I was amazed how it felt so easy to talk to him, his English was perfect and I forgot he was even Saudi. It was as if we already knew each other somehow. It became apparent that we had actually lived in the same area in the U.S as kids. What a coincidence! We talked about Finland and at some point I mentioned how we have so many moose there but I couldn’t remember how to say the plural. What was it, perhaps mooses? He laughed and told me it must be meese! To this day I remember that silly joke and how it made us both laugh so hard.  His smile filled my heart with joy.

Thinking back to that day and where I was in my life I realize how fortunate I was meeting this remarkable man. From that night shift, it has been a long, sometimes extremely hard but rewarding journey to where we are now. We have had to overcome so many obstacles on the way.

No one believed in us in the beginning, except us.

Never in a million years did I think something like this would happen to me when I landed on Saudi soil. When I left Finland for Saudi, people used to tease me, you will find a Saudi Prince there, fall in love and stay forever! I told them, in your dreams only! I guess sometimes fairy tales do come true.



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  • Mrs GebuJune 14, 2012 - 5:13 am

    It’s so sweet Layla…like a real fairy tale
    Thanks for sharing…ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:29 pm

      Thank you Mrs Gebu!ReplyCancel

  • Mrs GebuJune 14, 2012 - 5:13 am

    It’s so sweet Layla…like a real fairy tale
    Thanks for sharing…ReplyCancel

  • sessiJune 14, 2012 - 5:59 am

    Congrats on your anniversary!ReplyCancel

  • ShimshimJune 14, 2012 - 3:06 am

    Layla, you have such a great way with words. I loved your story and how things developed between you – in fact I am now even more intrigued and want to know more! I can see the parallels in your “struggle” to get to where you are now – I am still “struggling”, my other half is working in Riyadh whilst I am working in Indonesia for now – we have been “together” for 4 years too! Maybe next year we will both be in nearer countries! Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing ;)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:27 pm

      Shimshim-thank you and I hope you will be able to live in the same country with your other half soon!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 3:21 am

    Hi laylah, such a sweet story :) have always wondered how you met your significant other in saudi, I guess this answered my question :)


    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:28 pm

      Hi Sireh, thanks and I guess you could say it was totally randomly!ReplyCancel

  • IldiJune 14, 2012 - 6:36 am

    Dear Laylah,
    i love your story! ♥♥♥ Wishing you many many happy years and cute kids more around! Finnish princess found love and got love back so far away from home and a different world! :D Thank you for sharing lovliest moments from your life.


    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:30 pm

      Thanks Ildi! Never would’ve thought to find love in this country!ReplyCancel

  • DianaJune 14, 2012 - 3:47 am

    Please, please write some more. What happened after that? Love your blog!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:29 pm

      Diana-thank you!Ohhh many many things happened after that. Maybe I really should start writing that book, eh?ReplyCancel

  • Muslimah in reverieJune 14, 2012 - 7:19 am

    Aww mashaAllah what a lovely story :). May Allah swt bless your marriage eternally,and place an everlasting love and mercy between you two always!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:32 pm

      Aww thanks for the kind wishes!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 7:10 am

    Subhanallah!…what a beautiful story i was imagining the entire seen playing in my mind mashallah. Allah make it a long and happy marriage ameen.

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:31 pm

      Umm Lujayn thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Umm GamarJune 14, 2012 - 7:32 am

    Salammualaykum Laylah,thanis for sharing with us this story :) Subhanallah,we can never know how or when we will meet our soulmate. I met my Saudi Prince while in university here in Malaysia,he was cousins with a friend of mine and we too immediately ‘clicked’. Now we are blessed with a beautiful princess. Although,as you experienced, the journey to our marriage wasn’t easy,but Allah has willed our union ;) Laylah, how does his family accept/treat you as a non Saudi wife,may we know?ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:33 pm

      Umm Gamar-yes we can never know when that day comes! They have come to accept me and treat me very well alhamdulillah.ReplyCancel

  • Lady CarrotJune 14, 2012 - 11:30 am

    Very nice story :) wish you guys much much love and happiness inshallahReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:33 pm

      Thanks Lady Carrot!ReplyCancel

  • Karen KingJune 14, 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Magical! When I interviewed for a writing position with my husband’s company (our week anniversary was yesterday), everyone I met seemed to be impressed with me. I was asked by everyone, have you met David? Turns out my future husband was out that day, home with sick children. So many people mentioned David in that interview, that I knew there was something special about that man. I didn’t meet him until first day on the job, but I felt that same click, too. As we married last week, I remember bowing my head during prayers and thought about your true love. I pray that we are both happy with our princes and our lives forever. God blessed us, and I am so grateful! Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:35 pm

      Karen-thanks for sharing your story too!ReplyCancel

  • NoorJune 14, 2012 - 2:24 pm

    MashAllah Laylah what a beautiful story and I am so glad you found true love. Its so true we never know when it will happen. If you would have told me as a girl I would marry a Saudi and live here I would have never ever believed it would you lol. Oh I get the married a Saudi prince thing all the time to weird lol.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:41 pm

      Noor, true I would’ve laughed and not believed as well! Life is full of surprises.ReplyCancel

  • DianneJune 14, 2012 - 4:15 pm

    Lovely story of how you guys met each other. Speaking of football, Euro2012 is going on right now, and as I type, I’m watching Italy vs Croatia. lol!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:46 pm

      I’m still rooting for Italy to my husband’s annoyance ;)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 1:48 pm

    beautiful sweet mashallah!.
    I am intrigued to know like Umm Gamar how his family accepted/treated you into their family..there are many girls going through similar situations and it will be nice to hear from someone who has experience.
    Your husband as you mentioned spent time in america so his family does that make his family a little less conservative to other saudi families who have never travelled and maybe more open to the option of the “dreaded western wife

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:40 pm

      Well I can say that even though they all lived in US they are still very conservative, except for my husband I guess:)ReplyCancel

  • AliceJune 14, 2012 - 5:37 pm

    OMG, it’s love from first sight! You’re so lucky Layla! Or should I rather say: you are so BLESSED! Such love is a luxury, does not happen to everyone. I’m happy for you and hope this love will flourish forever!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:49 pm

      Alice thank you! I don’t believe in love at first sight but it was definitely something at first sight :)ReplyCancel

  • FarooqJune 14, 2012 - 3:39 pm

    thanks for sharing the story Laylah. Remember a movie’s tag line. “Love will find a way” Well it sure did.

    In the words of the great (just kidding ok!) Justin Bieber, “Never say never” lol.

    My wife said she would never have imagined marrying an Indian but here we are 3 yrs this July and still going strong alhamdulillah.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:45 pm

      Farooq-congrats to you for the upcoming anniversary!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 4:06 pm

    Great story Layla. How long after meeting your husband did you become Muslim? Or are you Muslim? If not, would you consider it? Sorry for all the questions, but you have such an interesting life it leaves one wanting to hear more and more.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:46 pm

      Hi it was about a year after.ReplyCancel

  • ربة منزلJune 14, 2012 - 5:37 pm

    Beautiful story. Made me smile all the way to the end. Starbucks must be your favorite coffee place today :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:47 pm

      lol Ya I have a favorite there :)ReplyCancel

  • Steve at the PubJune 15, 2012 - 12:25 am

    Lovely story, very well written. (I’ll take issue with the Italian football team though! I prefer my footballers to have machisimo.)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:50 pm

      Steve-oh come one! Italians are a “league” of their won hahaReplyCancel

    • Ms. JMarch 26, 2015 - 3:26 am

      Ms. Layla

      Your story inspired me so much! I’m an expat nurse too here in ksa but not like you i think my love story in kinda complicated. I want to share it with you and ask some advice if you dont mind. I really need it from a person that can understand my situation.
      Hoping for your response

      Sincerely Yours,

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 9:56 pm

    oh, thank you, such a lovely story…. please post part 2!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:49 pm

      there would be probably up to part 200 if I continued the story :)ReplyCancel

  • SoileJune 15, 2012 - 9:15 am

    Great story, you are soooooo lucky!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:51 pm

      Thanks Soile! You never know who you will meet here ;)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:30 pm

    Thanks Star Vogue!ReplyCancel

  • Madame KissankulmaJune 15, 2012 - 11:03 pm

    Wonderful story, I`m so happy for both of you. You look so comfortable with muslim culture, which I appreciate. Do you speak finnish to your child? I love the way you tell in your blog about Finland but also about good things in Saudi. I hope you and your family all the best!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 16, 2012 - 3:41 am

    Salam Laylah
    I was wondering if u knew the “undertheabaya” blogger and why she decided to go private. A lot of her readers cannot contact her now and it just seems strange that she failed to mention anything or even a reason and won’t accept anyone trying to read her blog either. I didn’t know anyone else who may know of her so thats why I’m asking you..hope you can shed some light on the matter.

  • Omani Princess (not Omani...yet)June 17, 2012 - 11:41 am

    lol, loved it. hope to hear more. May Allah protect and bless you both, ameen.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 19, 2012 - 1:16 pm

    Loved your story! Thank you for sharing! It's so romantic! Francesca from Ottawa, CanadaReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 23, 2012 - 9:32 pm

    You have a great love story, I love it…!!!..Where do you live now? In Saudi Arabia or Finland ? How many children do you have ? Wish you the best !ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 23, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    You have a great love story !!!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 23, 2012 - 9:36 pm

    Great love storyReplyCancel

  • Afsal_ AlifJune 24, 2012 - 10:50 am

    felt like reading Romeo & Juliet… @ first sight….Seems like the Indian love epic (Laila & Majnu ). I wish I too have such a wonderful & fascinating experience in the near future……!!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 29, 2012 - 1:10 pm

    That’s so sweet :-) I wish I could meet a Saudi like thisReplyCancel

  • MishaJuly 2, 2012 - 5:44 pm

    Mashallah you are lucky to have met someone so sweet, and its quite a story to tell your kids :-). You certainly ahve a way with words, you painted quite a picture, I love reading your posts, especially the ones where you share personal stories, they really draw you in, and we as readers feel ike that we know though we’ve never met…enjoy your summer holidays in Finland.xxxReplyCancel

  • InetaJuly 16, 2012 - 6:09 pm

    This is an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing it!ReplyCancel

  • sarahSeptember 18, 2012 - 9:20 pm

    I am a hopelessly romantic 19 yearold, and your story made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
    I have read your entire blog, and have enjoyed it very very much. Please don’t stop posting. Ignore the haters and the copycats, they are only a drop in the sea, there are so many more people who love and appreciate your work and your awesome sense of humor!
    Hugs from Canada <3333ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 17, 2012 - 4:23 am

    I LOVE this story! so happy for you. may God bless your lives together, in this world and in Heaven! much love to you from a sister in Ottawa, canada.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 29, 2013 - 8:22 am

    Wow, unsure how I came across your blog and ended up reading this. I wish I fell in love with a woman this way. It’s so beautiful. I guess for some dreams as such come true, for others they remain just dreams.. God bless your entire family for always and preserve your love till you reach paradise and forever.ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 31, 2013 - 12:00 pm

    Thank you all for the kind words and wishes!ReplyCancel

  • Mohammed AhmedFebruary 11, 2013 - 10:17 am

    Mrs. Layla…You are really lucky….May God Bless You…. BothReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 13, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Dear Laylah,

    What a great story! I have heard of so many doctor-nurse stories (my own marriage is one of those) but this story of nurse-patient is unique and so entertaining! May you always stay happy with your dream prince. and may your blog continue to enlighten us in the same way as it has been doing for the past several years.

    = Dr. TaherReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 12, 2013 - 3:27 am

    How I Met My Saudi Prince | Blue AbayaReplyCancel

  • […] Surprisingly there are countless love stories that started in Magic Kingdom..So many of my friends found love here. It’s actually quite ironic that of all places in the world, these couples met in the Saudi Kingdom. I compiled a list of short love stories from Saudi-Arabia. Read our love story here. […]ReplyCancel

  • Noelle RCMay 6, 2014 - 10:44 pm

    Love it!!!ReplyCancel

  • SwanAugust 30, 2014 - 11:50 am

    I want to see your family pics, can I? where?ReplyCancel

  • AbbeygSeptember 25, 2014 - 12:36 pm

    Sooooo romantic! I just started reading your blog and I cant stop! Im a fan!ReplyCancel

  • Dee MangalinoNovember 3, 2014 - 11:23 am


    This is my second time commenting on your blog. I love your posts. It’s a good-read and I keep learning from you.

    I love your story, something worth to share. Your story can enlighten couples who are currently having the same situation you had before. You maybe like a living proof of a saying “against all odds”

    Please don’t stop blogging.

    More power to you and may Allah bless you and your family. :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaNovember 4, 2014 - 3:37 pm

      Thank you Dee! I hope our story can give hope to those who feel that the entire world is against them succeeding!ReplyCancel

  • sheikJanuary 11, 2015 - 9:34 pm

    can I get married to Ksa girls there?? I am from India.. will they get married to Indians??ReplyCancel

  • AmanFebruary 12, 2015 - 8:41 am

    Pleas Please, tell us more. What happened next?? dying to hear more….ReplyCancel

  • Deirdre ThompsonMarch 10, 2015 - 10:05 am

    l would love to visit Dubai one day , happy for you layla and good on youm !ReplyCancel

  • FirdousJuly 7, 2015 - 4:28 pm

    Congratulation, you got your prince…
    can i get my princess here,ReplyCancel

  • […] in and stood by my choice to marry a Saudi man. She knew our love story from the beginning, when I met my husband, at the very same ward. Waiting for his family to accept his choice of spouse was one of the most […]ReplyCancel

  • MonaDecember 21, 2015 - 12:45 pm

    It was so nice to read something positive for once, especially being a result of a mixed marriage (my father being Saudi) and a western mother.
    Things are never black and white when it comes to humans and relationships. I’m sure you will (or already have) had problems issues and worse with your husband, his family or even yours .. as most marriages do .. only yours will have more facets that most would not be able to relate to.
    May you be happy always.ReplyCancel

  • CHAUDHRYMay 18, 2016 - 11:56 am

    Hi Layla,
    Nice story… I have been living here all my life all my family did. And i am about to leave this Land. Wish you best of luck and hope the world you are living in may stay as it is for ever.
    Because the world i experienced here is totally different then what you described lol. I came her with my family when i was just 1 year old baby. Now i am 30 Years old
    Anyways best of luck once again.ReplyCancel

  • Maryann ShubailyJune 19, 2016 - 2:10 am

    I have seen your posts from a long time back with our dear friend, Carol. Oh how
    I miss chatting with her about our lives here in KSA. It was so fun to read your story
    About how you met your ‘Prince’ as well. Isn’t life exciting here? Ha ha. I’m so happy for
    You. I understand that look and feeling….but I never thought I’d actually marry my husband
    When we met. I did go home and told my mother I wanted to marry someone just like him,

  • AnetaAugust 9, 2018 - 12:02 am

    such a great story
    BTW didn’t know you are medical as well!ReplyCancel

Your Complete Guide to Al Janadriyah Cultural Heritage Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia brought to you by Blue Abaya.

An Updated guide to visit the National festival of Heritage and culture can be found here: Janadriyah 2016 Festival Guide. 

Find all you need to know about the Janadriya festival including the dates and visiting hours for 2015, family and single days, maps, location, directions, programs, pavilion guides, tips for parents, activities for everyone and much more! Dates planned for the Janadriyah festival in 2015 are: February 4th- February 22nd 2015.

What is the Janadriyah (also spelled Jenedriyeh, Jenedriya, Janadria, Al-Jenadriyah, Arabic: مهرجان الجنادرية) Heritage Festival?

An annually held, heritage and folk festival of Saudi-Arabia. Janadriya will be held this year for the 30th time in the Janadriyah village on the outskirts of Riyadh. The Janadriyah village was built specifically to host this festival. This is the largest festival of its kind in the Gulf, attracting millions of visitors from all over the region each year (in 2014 over 3 million people visited the festival during the course of three weeks).janadriyah guide s

A large festival area, which covers 1.5 sq km is divided into sections according to the different Provinces of Saudi Arabia such as Jizan (Gazan), Asir, Riyadh, Hail, Tabuk, Eastern Province, Makkah, Medinah, Taif, Al Baha, Qassim, and Najran. Each Province area will have buildings which are replicas of the architectural style typical to said region. Each year there’s a visiting country at the festival and in 2015 it will be Germany. Germany will have their own cultural pavilion at Janadriyah, all the info and their program can be found here:

“The annual Jenadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, organized by the National Guard under the command of the Crown Prince, plays a crucial role in preserving the Kingdom’s national heritage. The festival begins with a traditional camel race and is intended to embrace all aspects of Saudi Arabian traditions and culture.” Official Janadriyah site (Arabic):

“The National Festival for Heritage and Culture at Al-Janadriyah is the most important national occasion expressing the ancient Saudi history and the perception of the booming present to paint a creative canvas. From here you can smell the perfume of originality which emphasizes our Arab identity and enhances our national heritage.” Saudi Tourism page


Janadriyah festival riyadh

Experience, discover and explore Saudi Arabia’s biggest Cultural Folk and Heritage Festival, Janadriyah.


Where is Janadriyah Village? What is the location exactly, driving directions, map of area, GPS co-ordinates?

GPS co-ordinates:24.958592,46.794462

Location Google Maps

The Janadriyah Village is located on Janadriyah Rd, opposite the Salwa Garden Village. Further along the same road are the King Abdul Aziz Race track and Thumamah National Park sand dunes. Three roads from Riyadh lead to Janadriyah. Check the Google map to see which one is closest to you and for driving directions. It takes about 30- 45 minutes from Riyadh city center to reach Janadriyah depending on the traffic.

Attached Google maps location of the festival area.

google map janadriyah location

Screenshot 2014-02-18 23.03.45

When can I visit? Can I go with my husband/family/single male friends? 2015 dates and timings as follows: The festival “operetta” grand opening is for males only and the consecutive weekend is also male only.

Family days are when single women (on their own or with their family members) and married men with their families are allowed to enter.

Note that sometimes single males might be able to enter with a large group of expat families (eg tour group) by sticking with the group strictly at all times. The religious police are on the look-out for single males and all single males will be escorted out of the festival if found unaccompanied by family members. The Haia are very strict in particular with the Saudi youth, however expats might get some leeway in this matter.

What can I do at Janadriyah festival? There are so many places to see and things to do that one whole day is not enough to see everything. Upon entering the festival area, make sure you grab the map of the area from the info stands, they have English maps too and will happily advise you with any questions.

You can watch camel races, or ride a camel, see falcons and Arabian horses, see what the interiors of houses of different areas in Saudi Arabia look like. You can try traditional foods, watch sword dancing, learn about the history of Saudi Arabia, visit small museums, art exhibitions and much much more. For the Top Ten Recommended Activities at Janadriyah click here.

janadriyah aardh dancing swords saudi

Is it safe? Can I go with my small children? Can I go alone as single female? In short, yes. The same precautions, which you would take at any larger event apply. The biggest safety risk would be to lose your child in the vast and crowded area. There are some measures parents can take to prevent this. Read Blue Abaya’s Guide “Janadriyah Festival with Children” to find out more.

The Saudi National Guard and CPVPV members (Hai’a, religious police) are present in all areas of the festival ensuring the safety of the visitors.

How do I get there? Where do I park? Keep in mind that millions of people visit this festival every year and the crowds can get overwhelming in the evenings after Ishaa prayer and the parking lot becomes chaotic. It might be very hard to find the way back to your car or even to get out of the parking area. There are taxis waiting at the gates of the festival, so if you arrived with taxi, you can get a ‘white taxi’ back to the city without prior reservation. For those arriving with drivers, the easiest way to exit the area during the worst rush hour would be to have the driver wait at the side of the main road, directly opposite the gate and just walk there. If you wait at the gate for your driver to arrive, it could take up to an hour to enter and exit the parking area!

Why should I visit the festival? Find out the answer here! 

Have fun and enjoy the experience!


gold burkha saudi janadriyah

Pictured famous Expat blogger ‘Susie of Arabia’ and one of Saudi Arabia’s top female photographers, Samia El Moslimany, having fun at the Janadriya festival in 2014.

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  • KhadraFebruary 19, 2014 - 10:02 pm

    Hi Layla, Is there a schedule for the different shows? I.e the region dances, camel races etcReplyCancel

  • KhadraFebruary 19, 2014 - 10:05 pm

    Ps: Congrats on your nomination xxReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 20, 2014 - 1:20 am

      thank you Khadra! I’m not aware of any schedules but the camel races are only on the first few days. The regional dances begin around 5 in each area, and they continue with short breaks in between ALL NIGHT ;) Have fun! I especially recommend the Al Baha region dances.ReplyCancel

  • caspar smeetsFebruary 21, 2014 - 12:12 pm

    It is nice to read a positive approach about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am a bit skeptical however of entering the realm of slamming down the grumpy Expat, however much I agree with the fact that if one does hate the life, it is better to leave. At the same time one is not always immediately in the position of doing so.
    Anyway, what I miss on your website is an “about us” section, but perhaps I have overlooked it.

  • Farooq Hassan BangashFebruary 21, 2014 - 4:10 pm
  • […] Check out new on Blue Abaya: Janadriyah 2014: Complete Guide for expats! Location, maps, directions,… […]ReplyCancel

  • 10 Things To Do In Riyadh During SpringDecember 3, 2014 - 12:24 am

    […] in other months too but they are at their best during the spring. The International Book Fair and Janadriyah Festival are normally organized around […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Some days and times are for men only; others are for families. You can also refer to the Blue Abaya guide from 2014 for where to go and what to look for. The GPS coordinates are 24.958592, […]ReplyCancel

  • Farid BukhariJanuary 22, 2015 - 8:27 am
  • Irina MarchenkoJanuary 27, 2015 - 11:25 am

    Dear Layla,
    Thank you very much for the detailed information in your recent post, I will certainly attend Janadriyah Cultural Festival 2015, I’m sure that it is worth to be seen. It is always very interesting to feel the atmosphere of the country, to get acquaintance with its culture. To show my gratitude and appreciation, I would like to share a very good free app with you. It is called Carde and it is at I’ve discovered recently. All image content of top social networks is there, I think that it can be useful in communication with your followers. I will be looking forward to your feedback. I will be waiting impatiently for your new posts!ReplyCancel

  • eric jeffJanuary 27, 2015 - 9:59 pm

    Hello! I am confuse. Is jandriyah festival 2015 cancel because king abdullah died? I just want to know if cancel or not cancel. Thank you very much. Please reply. Thank you for your help.ReplyCancel

  • eric jeffJanuary 27, 2015 - 10:04 pm

    Hello. I am little confuse. Is janadriyah festival 2015 cancel because king abdullah died? Is it cancel or not cancel. Please help me. Please reply. Thank you very much!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJanuary 27, 2015 - 11:18 pm

      it’s cancelled for 2015, because it would be too soon to celebrate after the King passed away.ReplyCancel

      • eric jeffJanuary 30, 2015 - 8:38 pm

        Thank you very much for your reply Layla. This website is the best and helps me a lot. More power to all of you!ReplyCancel

  • […] Janadriyah Cultural Heritage Festival With Children   Why I Love The Janadriyah Festival Complete Guide to Janadriyah Festival Top Ten Things to do at […]ReplyCancel

  • Bushra Qamar AhmedFebruary 1, 2015 - 12:45 pm

    ahhh too bad its canceled :'(ReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 1, 2015 - 4:54 pm

      yes it’s unfortunate they cancelled it altogether, no just postponed like they did the year Prince Sultan passed away.ReplyCancel

  • Ruhi KılıçFebruary 5, 2015 - 2:07 pm

    I will certainly attend the J. Cultural Fest-2015ReplyCancel

  • […] for all expats at least once! Starting 8th Feb running through 24th Feb 2012. Check more info about timings and dates here and for pics from 2011 […]ReplyCancel

  • […] first encounter with the Saudi religious police aka muttawa or Hai’a, was at the Janadriyah heritage festival held once a year on the outskirts of Riyadh. It’s a huge exhibition area that displays saudi […]ReplyCancel

  • LauraJanuary 18, 2016 - 10:37 pm

    Hi, thanks for all the useful tips. Do you have any info about the 2016 edition? Dates/Locations/Etc?
    Thanks in advance!

  • Janadriyah Cultural Festival 2016 | The Riyad RagJanuary 29, 2016 - 4:34 pm

    […] Check out Blue Abaya’s comprehensive guide: The Janadriyah Cultural Festival […]ReplyCancel

  • […] aimed at families with children for visiting Janadriyah: Janadriyah with Kids Complete Guide to Janadriyah Festival 2015  […]ReplyCancel

  • AfiaFebruary 18, 2016 - 6:42 pm

    We visited janadriya festival 2016. Its simply owesome. I was not expecting that much fum and so many activities me and my kids love it.Actually we want to visit it twice because it was so big to cover in one day.ReplyCancel

185 things to do in Saudi Arabia! All the best Saudi Arabia ‘Top Ten’ travel posts that have been published on Blue Abaya are now easily accessible at your fingertips all in one place. Find travel inspiration and things to do in Saudi Arabia from Riyadh and beyond.

In this compilation of guides and listicles you will find…

Things to do- lists from Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha and beyond. Outdoor activity guides, travel tips, hidden gems, sightseeing locations and desert hiking treks.

That’s a total of 185+ Things to do in Saudi Arabia!

Click on each post title to open the post and read the article!

You can also check the Explore Arabia page for a list of all the Saudi Arabia travel destination posts

185 Things to do in KSA



“1. Madain Saleh, 2. Najran, 3. Farasan Islands, 4. Empty Quarter, 5. Al Soudah, 6. Wahba Crater, 7. Al Lith, 8. Edge of the World, 9. Taif, 10. Qassim”

10 amazing places to visit in saudi arabia


15 outdoor activities that are perfect for the pleasant winter weather.



Fun things to do with the whole family in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city Jeddah.



How to spend the perfect weekend in al Khobar?


“Most companies and businesses in Riyadh will be closed for the first three days of the Eid celebrations. What is there to do in Riyadh during Eid? Every year the Riyadh Municipality organizes various celebrations and festivals all around the city.”


“it’s not just a pile of sand and rocks.”


“The best restaurants and bakeries in Riyadh that families with small children will enjoy.”

restaurant reviews


“One of my personal favorite areas in Riyadh is the Diplomatic Quarter, often referred to as “the DQ”.”



“There’s no doubt that summer is here to stay. It’s getting hotter by the day with recorded temperatures reaching almost 50C! Lots of women are looking for swimming pools in Riyadh that could be used by females only.”

top best swimming pools riyadh


“All types of restaurants were included in the survey and each person was allowed to vote for their top three favorite restaurants. The criteria for picking the top restaurants were: Quality and taste of food, service, ambiance, and price-quality ratio.”

EP Foodies


“At an elevation of 2200m above the Red Sea level, the mountainous Abha region enjoys pleasant weather year round. Asir region has plenty of attractions to do and it might be a challenge to decide between all of the fun and interesting activities.”

abha top ten


“The annually held Cultural Heritage festival Janadriyah, is undeniably one of the most important cultural events of the year and a must visit for all expats in the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia.”

experience janadriyah


“Riyadh and Romance don’t exactly go hand in hand do they? Despite its boring reputation, Riyadh has some surprisingly romantic restaurants where lovers can find a nice quiet spot.”

romatic restaurants 300


“We took my mother along on a week long road trip adventure around Saudi-Arabia. Our journey was awesome, surprising and eventful.”

Saudi road trip200


“Many expats and locals find themselves “stuck” in Saudi for the summer with nothing to do, fearing death caused by boredom. Not everyone is lucky enough to escape the Saudi heat. Here are 15 things you can do in Riyadh to beat the heat!”

15things to do in riyadh


“I will never become bored of wandering in the narrow alleyways, discovering brightly colored Mashrabiat and rawashaan, the specs of color, the friendly people, the smells and sounds of Balad. Al Balad will literally tickle all your senses. Here are ten reasons why you should not miss a visit to this unique heritage site!”

10 things to do balad jedda


“Have you ever tried golfing in the desert? Ever been to the beautiful desert to see the stunning Red Sand dunes, which are now in full bloom after the winter rains? How about a leisurely walk or a sweat inducing run in the desert with fellow expats? Spring is the best time to head out for some hiking and camping trips just outside Riyadh.”

riyadh spring activity


” Life in Saudi Arabia is of course different to what most are used to back home, but it’s only going to be boring if you choose to make it so! Staying active and connecting with the local culture will always help with dealing with culture shock and getting settled in the land of the sand better.”



“Riyadh’s Historic district and UNESCO World heritage site has finished the first phase of the huge restoration project. It will become the world’s largest open air museum when finalized”

diriyah top ten things to do


“Here are my top ten restaurants in Riyadh. There are so many good restaurants it’s not easy to pick only ten!”

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  • Bernie PoundDecember 6, 2014 - 5:04 pm

    Very nice. Can you email this to me please?ReplyCancel

    • LaylaDecember 6, 2014 - 5:09 pm

      Thank you Bernie, you can get this and more awesome posts directly to your inbox by subscribing to Blue Abaya by email. just enter your email on the subscription form on the top of the sidebar :)ReplyCancel

  • missyDecember 9, 2014 - 6:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing! This is a lot to add on my bucket list :PReplyCancel

    • LaylaDecember 9, 2014 - 8:15 pm

      You’re welcome! Well, we gotta start somewhere ;)ReplyCancel

  • MattDecember 15, 2014 - 7:32 pm

    Thanks! Shared it with all my KSA friends.ReplyCancel

  • AymenJanuary 16, 2015 - 5:05 pm

    That’s 135 for my to do list.ReplyCancel

The Blue Abaya blog has reached over 3 MILLION views and it’s time to say a huge big heartfelt THANK YOU for all the readers and fans of Blue Abaya for the continuous support and encouragement since this blog started in 2010.

To celebrate this milestone and share some love, we’ve collected some of the lovely comments Blue Abaya readers have left here on the blog over the past 4 years.  More testimonials can be found here: Blue Abaya Hall of Fame: Blog Fan Mail

Words cannot describe how grateful I feel and how humbling it has been to read through all these comments again, now that they’re all in one place it feels more profound…this has been the best reward for blogging so far and makes all the hard work worthwhile. I must come back to this post every time I feel I need a kick in the butt or when I have those days that I feel nobody reads my blog and I need a little reminder, that yes, there are people who read and appreciate what I do. Which is really amazing and something I appreciate immensely. -Laura (Laylah)

Blue Abaya Testimonials & Blog Love est. 2010:

“When I moved to Riyadh from the US two years ago I was in culture shock and very depressed to be in such a foreign and strange place. Blue abayas blogposts helped me cope with the craziness and look at the negativity of this country from a different light. Layla put humour and sarcasm in such bizarre situations that made me only laugh and actually look fwd to hear about more experiences … Everyday is a new experience in Ksa…Love you Layla!”


“If only, every culture around the world would have a Laylah.”


“Blue Abaya gives a wonderful insight into Saudi Arabian culture and isn’t afraid of being critical. It is always a pleasure to visit her blog because there is always something new and interesting to discover.”


“…Of all the ramblings I just wanted to say I found your site & musings the most informative & realistic.And by far the most tongue-in-cheek humourous!
I am under no illussions now about what I am coming to, yet at the same time filled with a sense of positivity to see, experience & sample as much as I can with what there is on offer. I am even looking forward to the move with excited trepidation, though I know it is going to be a challenge of note.
I just wanted you to know that all your ramblings are very appreciated & that a simple picture of your great dane touched my heart (we have had 6 over the years) as did a simple little patch of wildflowers in the desert.And allthough you have highlighted the hard truth realism, it’s the human factor that embodies your spirit of positivity, that shines through and triumphs any of the adversity……
Thank you for shining your little light!…”


“Great article! you should be in Shura Council instead of those dysfunctional members who hardly address the issue of poverty and inequality.”


“you are the best example to follow and learn from .. Don’t give up. You bring up a high ratios of people via your style of writing, the correct beautiful words & eloquence, thank you for everything …I am sure that you will be rewarded for changing this world to better..”


“I spent more than a year in Riyadh struggling with the culture shock before I accidentally found Blue Abaya’s blog. It made me understand, be more aware, and laugh. It opened my eyes to see the positives in KSA and see the humor in the negatives. I look forward to each blog; it’s a family event for us to read the new blog together, laugh together, then discuss it. THANK YOU Layla!”


“Please never stop writing! Reading your stories is the last thing I do before I go to bed. I feel I already know you. You are an inspiration to all of us by your positive attitude and your humour. God bless you and your family :). Xoxox from Ottawa”


“I am Saudi and I was looking expats experience about Janadriah and found your blog! I’ve never been to this blog before, and surprisingly, I finally find someone who talks about the KSA with true and fair stories.
I am really proud of you and people like you..!”

“…From your new follower.. please dont stop what you do cause unknowingly you are helping and changing people’s lives.. you are a blessing and continue to be one. May God bless you always. In your cause may Allah bless you.”


“That is the most sweet letter I’ve read. I’m so touched and really overwhelmed.
People like you, Princess Laylah, are always a delight to have around.
Hope you stay in Saudi forever. We need people like you.
I hope I can talk on behalf of all the patients, if not all Saudis, and say THANK YOU for you to come to the desert land and help in healing and make it better for those who needed it the most. For your merciful work and efforts and for your gratitude.
We feel humble by your kindness.
Wish you all the best and happiness in your life.””Excellent photographes once again ms Layla! You are a spokesperson for the Saudi Kingdom.”


“Her blog opened new worlds and countries(Finnland, Saudi Arabia) to me, and reading differences and similarity brought me to be a person to adapt and accept differences in my own life as well. I love the way she expresses her experiences.”


“People like me would never find out about these place if not visiting your site.Thank you and keep sharing!”


“you have encouraged me to start my own blog! you are a force to be reckoned with laylah.. you had me laughing so loud.  thanks, just the pick-me-up i needed ”


“I love your blog, it makes me laugh at work when all I want to do is take cover. I find it witty, intelligent and extremely resourceful. I must admit that I often come here on a daily basis to check if there is something new. My advice to you is to keep writing as you are clearly blessed to be able to write so well. It would be haram if you were to stop.
Lotsa love and encouragement always,”


“You should write a book! seriously i would buy it asap you writing skills are intriguing and I’m sure you have so many stories to tell. Ever thought about it? You’ll give Jean Sasoon and her false stories a run for her money.”


“Mashallah sis……I’m so HAPPY I discovered your most interesting blog. It was very informative and I feel so refreshed after reading your stories and checking out your most AMAZING pictures!……May Allah bless you and us all for all our good deeds in this life and Inshallah grant us the hereafter!  Jazak Allah Khair!”


“Better than National Geographic : ))) thanks for sharing”


“Thanks for your wonderful blog. I lived in the kingdom for 9 years 77-86 and was a journalist for Arab News. Your blog helps me keep up with the changes–important for me as I frequently speak on the kingdom”


“Inspiring work , Realizing there is more things beyond camel ,desert and palm tree ”


“Hi, I am a regular reader of your blog from India and reading your blog makes me really feel that I have travelled to Saudi and I am experiencing all the beautiful things you decribe. I love your humour and satire and I have spent many a enjoyable hour browsing through your site. This is the first time I am commenting though .Keep up the good work and God bless your family.”


“Your blogs are really informative.. Being busy in work left my exploration hobby aside, but thanks to your articles we get to know so many things about the kingdom..”


“I’ve noticed that you surely use a LOT of time and work hard to create your posts. Your blog is so informative and rich, showing KSA from a different and thus interesting perspective. And the photos make it feel just like a free holiday in a country where I’ve never visited.”


“How beautiful! Your pictures are so vivid Layla! I am new to this blog but loving it already!”


“I’m few months in Arabia and your lovely blog is helping me to survive here!! thanks for all your suggestions!! I have a 3 years old daughter and it’s hard to keep her busy, but I,m trying everything you suggested!!!thank for sharing with us your experience!! hope to meet you!”


“Salam alaykum
I discovered your blog few days ago while searching for swimming pools for women in Riyadh. You really have a nice blog and really informative. I learned a lot of things about Riyadh and Saudi people (I am not saudi, I am from Algeria liviving in Riyadh). Please keep blogging.


“Love your blog and thank you for providing the information about life in KSA.”


“Hi! I read your blogs and I wanted to say thank you and keep writing! Your photos are always so beautiful.”


“Your blog is very unique, I love seeing the personal pictures you post as well as your captions…
…I’m living the Saudi life vicariously through your blog.”


“I read your blog and I love it!! You give me hope for my life in the future….

…The thing I love best about your blog is the pictures. Lets face it; a pictures worth a thousand words. I feel like even if I never go to Saudi I’ll have seen it all.”


“…I love that your blog also has a personal touch- you share some of your experience in KSA, which can be very useful to people in similar situations. Your blog shows that working and living in KSA is not scary but can be even enjoyable.”


“…I love this blog so much. I live in Scotland and it seems whenever I’m really cold and miserable, you’ve posted something awesome with beautiful pictures.”


“…as i said before,you make saudi look like a charming place to be,and i really like how positive your blog portrait saudi and brings the good in a time where bad is what all being said about it….”


“Thank you very much for your informative blog. I spent a good part of the afternoon today, reading and learning interesting tidbits about life in Saudi…”


“assalamu alaikum sister mine is to say jaza killahu khair, for making the world see one of the authenticity of Islam’s prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) sayings may Allah make it easy for all of us.”


“Seriously, I thought my life ended after I moved to Riyadh this Summer, but after discovering your blog today, I realised there is so much fun to be discovered! So thanks so much for that (: Also, after a bit of reading, I can safely assure you that you’re aMazING! Eeek, I love what you write! Your positive tone, unwavering Eemaan, and refreshing outlook on life has presented Saudi to me in a whole new perspective.”


“Thank you for your courage, commitment, and honesty”


“Hi !
I just wanted to thank you for your website, I love it … I’m a french student in arabic language, I lived in different arab countries but I’ve been dreaming of visiting/living in the Kingdom for a long time now, and I hope that one day I might be able to (though I’m a convert for now I can’t, because I don’t have a mahram). Meanwhile your blog helps me a lot to learn and discover things about this country (other than the usual bad stuff your hear in the media), so thank you again !
Best regards”


“This blogs makes you believe that ‘LIFE’ do exists in KSA :)”


“The best and the most interesting blog I have read so far. Talented writing about important topics in KSA and the writer has great sense of humor as well. Also the photos of the blog are amazing.”


“By far the best Saudi expat blog! Blue Abaya gives true insight on the pleasures and hardships of being an expatriate (woman) in Saudi Arabia, all the while maintaining a great sense of humor. This blog has had great impact on me personally, as well. I discovered it a year before moving to the Kingdom and started following it faithfully, as each post gave me courage and reduced my anxiety about moving to this foreign land. Not only that, but it inspired me to create my own expat blog. Thank you Blue Abaya, keep up the amazing work! :)”


“Thanks for showing us the real and contrasting sides Laylah. Write more about the ordinary side of KSA.”


“Thanks a lot for the beautiful pictures. who would have thought KSA has such beautiful scenary….”


“Assalamu 3alaykom wr wb sis,
I ran across your blog recently, and I’ve enjoyed receiving your articles in my inbox, and browsing the archives. I really appreciate the work you’re doing, and I sincerely hope you’ll continue to write. Already you’ve inspired and encouraged me in the few weeks I’ve been acquainted with your blog, so I’m sure you’ve done the same for countless others. There will always be those whose wrongdoing discourages us and makes our work feel pointless, but Allah is the final Judge and Rewarder – keep writing to please Him
Your sister in Islam <3″


“Haha Laylah, you made my morning at office again – what a fun to read your humorous post!…”


“…thanks for your blog, its making this city a little bit easier to live in.”


“Hi. I just found your blog yesterday, but Have read through a lot already. Very very interesting posts… I hope you’ll write a whole lot more…”


“I just found this blog, and as a new expat in Riyadh I can’t begin to thank you enough. I will be reading the whole site over the next few days. The pages I have seen thus far are very well written, informative, and genuine. Thank you for taking the time to do this…”


“We are moving to Saudi next year and I just love your blog. Keep us updated on living in Riyadh. So looking forward to it!”


I had heard about your blog for a long time and I recently started reading it. I really appreciate your work as a recent expat to the Saudi community…”


“Hello from Canada, I Love your sense of humor. You made me laugh, and I really needed that today.”


“Blue abaya’s style of writing is witty and funny, she candidly describes exactly the same frustrations, trials and tribulations ex pats face living in the kingdom, she tells it so well! Keep up the good work!”


“Laylah tells us her real and personal experience inSaudi and that is why I love her blog. Although I may not totally agree with everything but she is one of the rare expats who truly embraces a different culture and doesnt complain too much hehe. She has a positive outlook on life and that is how everyone should live be it in KSA or USA. Love you Laylah”


“I am an avid fan…as others stated before, you have a unique style of communicating…open, funny and honest. I also live the experiences though your blog even though I have been living in KSA a number of years, guess am not as keen or adventurous…so it is fun to visit all the places from the comfort of my home LOL keep on blogging!”


“That is sooo unbelievably beautiful! And magical! I wish I handled cold better I might try to go! Thank you so much for sharing these. I’ve never seen anything like it.”


“I’ve been a reader for a while now and every time I come to your blog it amazes me. Your stories are interesting yet different compared to many other blogs, and at the same time your writings are honest, but Oh, for Pete’s Sake, you do your best trying to be fair. Afterall we Finns know a little bit about honesty, or at least we are supposed to. I don’t think many readers can get this. I know it’s hard to get accustomed to a new country and their traditions and cultural settings. I’ve been thru that too. But you coming from Finland to KSA. I don’t think I could have done that. Too many restrictions, but yet you seem to look at the glass half full! Keep on writing! “


“It’s pleasure to read your opinion about our lifestyle and culture in Saudi Arabia, it means a lot to hear this type of positive reactions about Islam and people here….”


“Asalamu alaikum,
I am on Blue Abaya because I love the writing, the pictures and more than everything to see an outspoken successful woman making the best of her life in KSA….”


“You make me no longer dread the impending move to Saudi! Thank you for you always entertaining commentary and wonderful outlook on life! You are fantastic, mashallah!”


“Was gifted your web name by a precious friend about to join the expat life. As a RN in South Africa with a few RN friends in Saudi I am amazed to see how beautiful it actually is through your hard work. Blessed thank you so much.”


“Wonderful blog and website. It’s been so useful since we arrived in Kingdom.”


“Thank you so much for your postings. Every since childhood I’ve been fascinated by the cultures of the dessert! Your pictures and posts make it come alive for me.”


“…Thanks for putting out such great information for all of us to access. It has been very helpful to me as I weigh my options.”


“I love your blog so much, I am from Canada and find it so interesting hearing a “western” view of the very different country of Saudi Arabia. I find it funny to see that the women in Saudi Arabia find Western women as interesting as I find them. If I could I would like to go to Saudi as you have described a very positive interesting and beautiful place. Keep on telling it the way it is as I look forward to reading your blog…I have read every post!!”


“Thanks for all of the good info. We are scheduled to arrive in country this summer. I’m trying to gather any “doss and don’ts” that I can. Love your blog!”


“Your blog is very informative, interesting and fun to read.  I’m definitely a fan!..


“Blue Abaya is a fantastic blog. The writing is entertaining, honest, and compassionate. The pictures are excellent, and the mood and feel of the blog transport me. I love the mix of cultures— glimpses of Finland and views of the Desert and real life in Saudi Arabia. It’s one of my very favorite blogs”


“This is so beautiful…I think you should publish a book with all these amazing photos of The Magic Kingdom. Just like you did the photo blog…I would definitely buy it.”


“Laylah, just wanted to say that I adore your blog and check in a couple times each week to see if you’ve posted anything new. When I first stumbled upon it I was absolutely delighted because although I’m America, my Dad’s family is from Suomi. And I’m in grad school studying the Middle East and Arabic. You offer unique observations and help demystify Saudi. I even cited your blog for my undergraduate thesis about modernity in Saudi Arabia. Keep it up and let the haters hate!”


“Hi Layla,
I just moved to Riyadh and I found your site helpful, funny and beautiful.I am Saudi by the way .
Thank you so much”


“This is the only blog I read. Enough said.”


“Wonderful post and photos such a positive message that you are sending!
You make me wish I were in Saudi Arabia! Did I just say that out loud???”


My son is an expat working in Arabia and, like others, I was apprehensive about his safety. I stumbled on your website and it made a huge difference in easing my mind. Thank you.
I am now looking forward to traveling to Riyadh to visit him. I would love to be there during Janadriyah…”


“You’re article deserves standing ovation, I dont know if you’re a Saudi or not But if you are you have my Oscar layla, I wish there are more people like You this world would become a living heaven!!” 


Thank you each and every one who commented! Words can’t describe how grateful I feel and how humbling it has been to read through all these…this has been the best reward for blogging so far and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Love, Laura (aka Layla)



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  • MariaNovember 10, 2014 - 3:07 pm

    Thank you for the tremendous efforts Layla and welcome to Caroline!ReplyCancel

  • Susie Johnson KhalilNovember 11, 2014 - 8:50 am

    Ditto what all of them said! You are the most talented, the funniest, the best – I am so proud to call you my friend! xoxReplyCancel

  • ZahraNovember 11, 2014 - 12:45 pm

    Asalamu alaikum Layla! I am a reader from Algeria for many years already because I love your postings and beautiful photos of this land I so want to visit. I hope to see more of your humour posts in the future?? Will you be finishing the story of Sinta housemaid soon?ReplyCancel

    • LaylaNovember 11, 2014 - 3:59 pm

      wa aleikum salaam Zahra!

      thank you for being a reader and I promise to do my best for the final part of the Sinta story! I’m sorry for the delay, just so incredibly busy with the projects mentioned in this post and also remember I’m a stay at home mom of two very crazy toddlers! Life is hectic :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaNovember 18, 2014 - 2:35 am

    Thank you Leanne for reading and commenting :) Wish you all the best in your endeavors!ReplyCancel

  • Bushra Qamar AhmedDecember 3, 2015 - 9:23 am

    Moving to ksa was scary and it was soooo difficult for me to find something fun for me here until I found blue abaya website:-)
    For all the places I visited including tourist sites, peaceful gardens, spa or shopping places in kingdom ,I have always followed the blue abaya website. The best thing I like about her is her honesty focusing details which are “actually” important or interesting.
    So thanks to you for your wonderful guidance on road trip to abha we followed exactly the same and checked all top ten things to do smile emoticon it made our Eid very special.
    Keep it up Layla ! Your blogs are as amazing as you are!
    Bushra qamarReplyCancel

How can a pumpkin cake be life changing, you ask? Well have you met a person who never tried pumpkin cake before?

Can you believe I lived on this planet for over 30 years without having experienced pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread or pumpkin cupcakes? This might come as a surprise to my American friends who are currently going through a pumpkin recipe frenzy for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Pumpkin recipes are literally coming out of every tube right now! Pinterest is on fire with wild pumpkin combos such as pumpkin pie fudge, pumpkin cinnamon rolls or how about pumpkin butter or ice cream?

Let me explain that in Finland where I come from, using pumpkin for desserts and cakes is virtually unheard of. Pumpkin is like a strange-looking hybrid between an exotic fruit and a basketball for us. It also does not smell that great, which implies it would not taste great either. Who in their right mind would eat something called KURPITSA anyways? If you’re curious about what Finnish baking is like and for some of my all time favorite traditional recipes, check out my Finnish Baking Pinterest board. Noor over at Ya Salam cooking is a fan of Finnish treats so you should check out her recipes too!

I must mention that while I was a kid my family lived in the U.S, and I do remember tasting pumpkin PIE.. Maybe the ones I tried were just terrible, but for some reason I never liked it. In fact the consistency and taste of the ooey gooey pumpkin filling just somehow put me off anything pumpkin related for 30+ years.

But as the curious person that I am, I thought, why not give this pumpkin thingy a second chance?

As I was looking through Pinterest for a pumpkin recipe that inspired me, I came across this recipe found on Nancy Creative’s blog. This was it I thought. The recipe sounded delicious and it sure was. It not only made me fall in love with the flavor, but I became obsessed with trying out other delicious pumpkin recipes. I could not believe what deliciousness I’d been missing all these years. My life definitely changed for the better :)

(Don’t miss these incredibly amazing recipes including many other pumpkin recipes I’ve gathered on my “Awesomest Recipes Pinterest board“!)

For some even stranger reason my husband, who spent half of his life in the States, was not a fan of baked pumpkin goodies either. In fact, he seemed very anti-pumpkin when I brought up the subject of going pumpkins one evening. I was so pumped up from excitement about my new found fascination for pumpkinery, that I could’ve started baking on the spot.

Me: I found an awesome pumpkin recipe, I want to try it.
Him: I hate pumpkin pie.
me: It’s not actually pumpkin pie, it’s pumpkin cake, same like banana cake or bread..
him: what? it can’t be good though.
me: why? Don’t be so anti-pumpkin. I don’t like pumpkin pie either, but when pumpkin is combined with the right ingredients, it’s supposedly amazing actually.
him: I don’t think so, pumpkin always tastes like pumpkin.
me: but this is not as pumpkiny as the pie. I don’t think there’s as much pumpkinness to it.
him: pumpkin just tastes so…pumpkin!
me: but you have to try, I promise it’s not going to be too pumpkinnish. I’ll make these tomorrow, just get me pumpkin first.
him; ok. but I doubt I’ll like them.
me:  you’ll love them, trust me.

pumpkin nutella bread recipe

And guess what? He not only loved it and finished the whole thing within hours, but requested I bake another two :)

Sometimes husbands just need some convincing and a gentle push because they might not be aware of what they’re missing out on!

Below is my version of the recipe from NancyCreative which was adapted from ‘Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More’ book.


Heat a small jar of Nutella for 30sec in the microwave. Drizzle on top of the loaf. And you’re done!

I will add that this cake is absolutely heavenly even without the Nutella on top! It’s so super moist and rich in taste it’s perfect on its own too. But the Nutella does complement the flavors nicely :) Lets face it, anything drizzled with Nutella is delicious! So can you imagine how good this is? Give it a go and please let me know how it came out in the comments!

pumpkin nutella bread recipe

P.S. A Finnish friend of mine tasted this cake and she was super impressed and surprised how yummy this was, having had the same weird feeling toward using pumpkin in baking as me. We both thought this cake tastes a lot like the Finnish gingerbread. I highly recommend using fresh pumpkins for this! If you’re clueless (like me ) how make the actual pumpkin puree, check this tutorial by Sweet Spot blog: Home Made Organic Pumpkin Puree!


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  • PiaNovember 4, 2014 - 3:18 am

    tein eilen ja oli mahtavaa! Kiitti :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylaNovember 4, 2014 - 3:32 pm

    Kiva kuulla! Olitjo aikaisemmin kokeillut tehda mitaan kurpitsasta vai oliko tama ensimmainen kerta sinullekkin?ReplyCancel

  • LaylaNovember 25, 2014 - 3:41 am

    Hi Meaghan!
    You can find nutmeg in Lulu’s, Danube and sometimes Tamimi. What I’ve noticed is the stock finishes quite quickly when the store gets it you have to keep looking for it :) Good luck!ReplyCancel

    • MeaghanNovember 26, 2014 - 1:19 am


Whether people have travelled to Finland in order to experience Aurora Borealis or have seen them in photos or videos, Northern lights – as they’re also referred to as – are spellbinding for almost everyone. Here are ten interesting things you might not know about the amazing auroras, written by Thomas Kast, Aurora Borealis photographer and enthusiast living in Finland. All images on this post were provided by Thomas Kast, check out more of his amazing imagery of Finland’s Northern Light’s and guides on how to shoot the Auroras at his website If you’re interested in Finland’s Arctic Circle and Lapland, check out this post for more breathtaking images and information: 10 Cool Things from Lapland

10 Amazing Things about Northern Lights in Finland

10 Things you didn’t know about Northern Lights in Finland

1.  The words Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn) and boreal (the Greek name for north wind) create the name Aurora Borealis. Auroras can also be seen in the Southern hemisphere, where they are called Aurora Australis or Southern lights.

2. There are many tales and beliefs about the mysterious Aurora Borealis. One folk tale from Finland tell the story of an Arctic fox that runs across the fell mountains of Lapland. Up and down the fells its way leads through a wintery landscape. The fox’s tail sweeps snow high up into the sky, and that’s how the Northern lights appear.

3. Northern lights are formed high up in the sky; 80km and higher. That’s why clear skies without clouds are needed. For some reason most clear nights in Finland, and the best times for seeing Auroras, occur around both equinoxes (September/October and February/March).

Northern Lights in Finland

4.     Auroras originate nearly 150,000,000 km away from Earth. Our sun sends clouds of charged plasma particles towards Earth, which is called solar wind. If that wind is strong enough, it penetrates our magnetic field and enters Earth’s atmosphere. There, the charged particles collide with oxygen and nitrogen to create colorful light. Auroras are ‘born’.Magnificent auroras over the frozen Baltic Sea.

5.    Most commonly Northern lights are visible in Northern Scandinavia (Lapland), Northern Russia, Alaska and Canada. In favorable conditions the ‘aurora zone’ expands further South.

6.    At the end of summer, the midnight sun fades away in Finland, making way for darker nights. Only then it becomes possible to see auroras. Many people are not aware that the season for Aurora-spotting in Finland begins as early as September and continues until March.

aurora reflections in finland by thomas kast

7.    During solar max the sun produces many bursts on the surface releasing solar wind. That is the best time to travel and hope to see auroras. Solar max occurs about every ~11 years and right now we are in solar max (2013-2015)

8.     Northern lights can appear in different shapes. A green curtain stretching all over the horizon is very common. As that curtain rises higher and travels through the sky more details can be visible, such as fast-moving needles. When the solar wind is strong, the lucky ones can see a corona opening up right above in the sky. Countless rays spread out in multiple colors. This usually lasts less than a minute. It is like looking into the soul of Northern lights and for many it is considered the most powerful experience.

Aurora Borealis Corona

Aurora Borealis Corona

9.  Auroras can be in the sky for only minutes or as long as the whole night. The colors are pale and usually not as vivid as in photos. The reason is in the camera, which is able to record these colors much stronger.

10.    To bring back some nice photos, a camera with manual mode is needed, as well as a tripod for sharp images and a flashlight. Temperatures at night can be anywhere between +5C…-40C, so spare batteries and appropriate clothing are a big advantage.

Only a small percentage of people actually live in the ‘aurora zone’ where Northern lights are seen frequently. That, and all the uncertainties of seeing the magic Aurora Borealis, makes it so special to see them. Every night is a surprise, you never know what to expect. After all, it’s up to that fox sweeping up snow into the sky..

Aurora Borealis Finland


“Northern lights are one of nature’s most amazing miracles”.

Thomas Kast is a landscape photographer living in Finland, spending countless hours in nature to capture auroras. Sign up at his blog Salamapaja to follow his adventures in chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland’s Lapland.
You can also follow Salamapaja on Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook
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It’s my pleasure to share with you a guest post written by an amazing lady I’ve been blessed to have “met” through blogging. Jenny Ballif has been a fan and follower of Blue Abaya blog for many years and two years years ago she contacted me with a very special request.. Jenny and I both share a special love for books and reading to our children so she wanted to send me some books that her kids had already outgrown.

So imagine my surprise when I heard that Jenny wanted to send us a total of 27 children’s books all the way from Nevada! I was not only super excited, but touched by this generous and warm gesture. A few weeks later we received the package along with a beautiful letter. My daughter was ecstatic and we went through all of them in one sitting. Some of the books Jenny sent have now become our kids favorites. Each night they want to read “Good Night Moon” and they are OBSESSED with the book they call “Dum Ditty Dum” (Hand Hand Finger Thumb). We are so grateful for this gift!

our new books

Anyways enough about the books, here are Jenny’s five reasons she would want to visit Saudi Arabia! The images she sent me from her area in Nevada have a remarkable resemblance to the geography of Saudi Arabia don’t you think? Do leave her a comment below :)

5 reasons an American wants to visit Saudi Arabia

A few years ago my husband and I met a man from Saudi Arabia. When we told him that we wanted to visit his country he said “That’s crazy! It’s a good crazy, but it’s crazy! I never meet Americans who want to go to Saudi Arabia.”

I’ve met several. I can’t speak for others, but here are five reasons why I dream of visiting Saudi Arabia, or one of its neighboring countries:

1. Arabic.

Languages have different feelings to them, and I’m not exactly sure what it is about Arabic that gives it such an exotic yet comfortable feeling. The script is beautiful, the grammar intriguing and different. And it’s more in-the-throat, like I’m holding all my sounds behind my tongue for a moment before letting them leave to convey meaning.

2. Families mean more.

Everyone I’ve ever met from the Kingdom, Oman, or Jordan visits their family at least weekly. They have closer contact with their extended family than many people I know in America have with their immediate family. The stronger family ties is a quality that I love about Eastern cultures.

3. I’m fed up with commercialism and materialism.

I know that I can’t escape commercialism by going abroad. This preoccupation with acquiring more stuff is a world-wide disease. But we tend to worship it more here in the U.S., and in Islamic culture I see an emphasis on the nonmaterial that is refreshing.

4. I want to understand Islam better.

This one sometimes gets a sharp reaction. Yes, I know that corrupt political systems have done bad things in the name of Islam. But when I look at the tenants of the faith I see such commonality, such similarity to my own beliefs. I would love to hear the call to prayer sounding from the mosques, and observe how the rituals of Islam effect ordinary people in their everyday lives.

5. I love dates.

The medjool variety in American grocery stores- they’re not bad, but the real dates that I’ve had from the Middle East, ahhh, those dates are phenomenal.

So someday, inshallah, I hope we’ll get to visit Saudi Arabia. But if not, I’m glad that I can catch a glimpse through Blue Abaya.

nevada collage

Jenny Ballif is a writer, doula, language enthusiast and mother. She lives in Southern Nevada with her three kids and husband.  Jenny blogs at The Write Shelf and you can find her personal website here, where you can read her touching journey through surviving and overcoming cancer at a young age and postpartum depression later on in life.

“I’m currently the At-Home Parent and “Mom” is the best, and hardest, job I’ve ever had.”

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  • Lise GagnonSeptember 30, 2014 - 7:57 pm

    I experience calm and peace when I hear the call to prayer from the mosques. The dates in Saudi Arabia are amazing! It’s like eating healthy bonbons.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaOctober 1, 2014 - 10:29 am

      true! Dates have so many health benefits many are not aware of actually :)ReplyCancel

  • Betsy Sanders-BinzagrOctober 1, 2014 - 8:23 am

    Dates here are incredible. I would’t learn about Islam her though! Commercialism AT LEAST as prevalent in Saudi and I think families are close or not close based on family -not country. But I hope she gets to visit. It is worth a visit.ReplyCancel

  • Diana Spruell KillmerOctober 1, 2014 - 8:55 am

    I grew up in Boulder City, NV and the weather is similar. A little more humid here at times, however.ReplyCancel

  • Susie Johnson KhalilOctober 1, 2014 - 12:24 pm

    I hope you get to visit Saudi Arabia one day because it truly is a jaw dropping experience. You will see things here that you’ve never seen before. I’ve been here 7 years now and I still get that surreal feeling many times when I am out and about. ReplyCancel

  • Um E DaniaOctober 1, 2014 - 1:35 pm

    Dates are delicious and cheap too. Large quantity with variety. I think the reasons you have listed are same for all of us. It is always nice to read your blog. ReplyCancel

  • Hsn HsnOctober 1, 2014 - 5:14 pm

    Main reason is money…Don’t lie to yourself dear.

  • Jenny BallifOctober 1, 2014 - 10:32 pm

    Thanks everyone. Diana, we currently live in Boulder City. Small world :)ReplyCancel

  • Mohsin ZafarOctober 2, 2014 - 4:33 am

    Oh madam Um E Dania G, Kidi sano v bulla lu KSA…………….ReplyCancel

  • AhmedOctober 8, 2014 - 9:21 am

    It’s pleasure to read your opinion about our lifestyle and culture in Saudi Arabia, it means a lot to hear this type of positive reactions about Islam and people here.

    I would love to thank you and welcome you to KSA

    regards, ;)ReplyCancel

  • MollyOctober 16, 2014 - 3:40 am

    Could you please write us a list of the books she sent you? I would love to read them to my sons. :). Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaOctober 17, 2014 - 2:48 pm

      Ok, here are some of their favorites:
      Goodnight moon
      Little Gorilla
      Bear Snores on
      The Mitten
      Is your mama a llama?
      Hand Hand Finger Thumb
      The Going to Bed Book
      these are the book titles I can remember from the top of my head, I will check for more later!ReplyCancel

  • Dee MangalinoNovember 5, 2014 - 9:12 am

    Points 1, 4 & 5 made me stay in the Kingdom. And now I strive to learn more of their culture and Islam.ReplyCancel

  • Tayyaba HaqMarch 19, 2019 - 9:53 am

    ASalaaam O Lakuim

    Its good to read all these nice comments abt K.S.A.Any one s visit to this country will understand Islam better as the country is a gate way to understanding Islam and how it evolved .The sound of azaan from the mosques is really is surely symbolizes the peace message that the religion generally gives .Apart from this the country also provides beautiful malls ,well built highways and an advanced way of life in many ways .ReplyCancel