Saudi Arabia provides a variety of unusual experiences as a nation that is still relatively unknown to visitors from other countries.
Having been closed to tourism until 2019, a lot is beginning to change across the Kingdom, and as it begins to embrace modernization, movie theatres have been built, and international festivals have started being held.
As with any nation with a controversial cultural history, travel to Saudi now presents an opportunity to widen perspectives about the world, and interact with a society who are broadening their own perspectives through interactions with foreigners.
So to help you fully immerse yourself in the culture of the Kingdom, we look at some of the best events in Saudi Arabia, from poetry readings to flower shows, and traditional souks to camel racing.
As the largest country in the Middle East, Saudia is the national airline for inexpensive tickets, and there’s an extensive network which will allow you to fly between destinations if you choose to do some festival hopping.
First: Modesty is Essential
While Saudi Arabia is modernizing, and so too are laws and attitudes throughout the Kingdom, there are still complexities around visiting, and modesty is essential, especially when it comes to dressing, and interactions between the genders.
Appropriate clothing can depend on the venue of the festival you’re attending, so we recommend doing thorough research before departing.
However in general, “women should wear loose-fitting clothes that don’t show skin above the knee or elbow, and men shouldn’t go shirtless or wear tank tops. Shorts are uncommon across the board.”
If you wear revealing or offensive clothing you’ll be fined, though it’s also illegal to promote religions other than Islam, so it’s worthwhile leaving jewelery, crucifixes, and anything with religious symbols on it, at home.
Unrelated men and women can interact in public (though you may encouter gender separate spaces in some places), though public touching or displays or affection are considered indecent, and carry an $800 fine.
Be modest on social media, without criticizing the government, the royal family, or the Muslim faith in any way, and understand that these will be alcohol free events, as alcohol and drugs are prohibited in Saudi Arabia.
And be modest with your photography; photographing a person (especially a woman) without permission is also illegal. Festivals are naturally cowded spaces, so it’s worthwhile practicing extra care here.
With that in mind, here is our list of top festivals!
Summer Festival in Jeddah
This month-long summer spectacular, which takes place in Jeddah, has quickly established itself as one of the top festivals in Saudi Arabia for foreigners.
The city as a whole comes alive during the festival with a variety of events. Everyone can enjoy events ranging from sporting events to poetry readings.
Jeddah World Fest, a single-night music extravaganza that is a festival highlight, draws sizable crowds. In reality, the 2019 version, which included appearances by 50 Cent and Liam Payne, was a huge success with local audiences.
So, the Jeddah Summer Festival is a sure place to go if you want to enjoy both the traditional and the modern.
A trip to Souq Okaz is for those seeking traditional culture; this was one of the biggest pre-Islamic markets in antiquity, and tradespeople from the entire Middle Eastern region were drawn here
The Saudi government organizes a yearly reconstruction of the souq in its original site in an effort to promote regional culture and heritage. It has now made a name for itself as one of Saudi Arabia’s top festivals.
The souq features a variety of Arabic cultural activities in addition to traditional arts and crafts booths. There are twelve coveted awards up for grabs in a variety of categories, including theater, poetry, and photography.
One of Saudi Arabia’s greatest festivals arrives at the closing of Ramadan, much like in other Muslim countries across the world. In Saudi Arabia, the three-day festival of Eid Al-Fitr marks the completion of the fasting month.
The event begins with morning prayers at the mosque and a simple breakfast. Following that, the celebrations gain momentum as people throw larger feasts and gatherings for friends and family.
National Festival of Janadriyah
The Janadriyah National Festival is regarded as one of the biggest occasions to honor the nation’s history and culture.
Over the course of a few weeks, this folk event features camel races, folklore art galleries, poetry recitals, and other cultural activities.
All ages of visitors can take in the excellent local fare and beverages while watching the camel and horse races. Additionally, Saudi Arabia annually invites a different nation to be the guest of honor.
You may even see your own country this time around, as France, Germany, and Indonesia had the honor in recent years.
Spring Festival in Riyadh
Some spring in Saudi (21 March – 21 June), Riyadh awakens each year to a blaze of vibrant outdoor activities. The floral displays are the main draw in addition to numerous agricultural shows.
During the Riyadh Spring Festival, this region of the Middle East does indeed resemble the Netherlands more so than Saudi Arabia.
The ideal Instagram images are produced by enormous carpets of more than a million flowers arranged in beautiful patterns.
Festival of the Buraidah Date
The production, processing, and byproducts of dates, including molasses, dough, sugar, jam, and chocolate, are the main topics of the Buraidah Date Festival.
With more than 30 different varieties of dates available, the yearly festival is the largest date market in the world. Three months of the festival are spent taking place, beginning in August.
Day of the Kingdom’s Unification
The day commemorating the 1932 unification of the Saudi monarchy is, understandably, one of the most significant cultural occasions in Saudi Arabia.
Contrary to popular belief, this national holiday is traditionally more subdued. Many Saudis prefer to spend their national pride festivities at home with their families.
However, more and more young Saudis are opting to demonstrate their patriotism on the streets, so you might occasionally witness some jovial flag-waving.
The only non-religious public holiday in Saudi Arabia is the Unification of the Kingdom Day. It’s also the only holiday that falls on September 23 every year and is determined by the calendar used in the West.
Season of Sharqiah Festival
The Sharqiah Season Festival is a significant cultural event that features numerous international musicians, traditional activities, movie screenings, and athletic competitions.
The 10-day celebration is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and appreciate Saudi Arabia’s history and culture.
All Saudi Muslims decorate their houses and mosques ornately in honor of the birth of their Prophet, Muhammad.
Young Saudis read poems praising the Prophet, and older Saudis share tales about the Prophet’s life and achievements.
Other customary events at Milad al-Nabi include big feasts and parades. The Islamic calendar fluctuates from year to year about the date of Milad al-Nabi.
Another celebration is the four-day Eid Al-Adha, which is not unique to Saudi Arabia but does play a significant role nowadays, observed by Muslims worldwide.
This holiday commemorates the moment when Ibrahim was prepared to give his son to Allah. During this time, Muslim families from all around the world join together to celebrate with their close relatives.
In fact, Eid Al-Adha in Saudi Arabia is largely centered around cuisine, which is also one of the main draws for visitors to the country at this time.
A lamb is typically butchered during the event and its flesh is given to the neighborhood. The festival typically takes place in July.
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