For the longest time the only way to travel in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was for business, and if you’re a woman, you needed a male guardian to accompany you. The situation then and now though, is like night and day. Sweeping reforms have opened up the country to tourists, male and female alike. Here are our observations from our recent trip for female travellers.
Can you travel solo?
Yes! Absolutely. In fact in large cities and tourist areaa it is common to see women by themselves. Saudis are extremely friendly people and cities are very safe places for women. You do not need a guide nor a guardian to take you around. Those days are well in the past!
Can women go to restaurants alone?
Mostly yes! In Saudi, previously women couldn’t go to restaurants without being in a family, as the singles section was only for males. Now, that is mostly gone and while some restaurants have “family” and “singles” sections there doesn’t seem to be any restrictions. Most restaurants no longer care and if you are in big cities like Jeddah or Riyadh you most likely will have no issue. Especially in malls there is no issue whatsoever.
Now there are still some restaurants that only allow men, but these are becoming fewer and fewer and are often not in central areas or touristy places. In some of these places as well if you are in a group with other westerners, they often overlook it and don’t care as different cultural rules seem to apply to westerners and Saudis, as is the case in many Islamic countries.
Can I speak to men?
This sounds like a strange question, but in strict Islamic societies interaction between men and women who are not married or related are limited. Now times have drastically changed and especially for western women this is not really a thing anymore. Some men will keep their distance and they may not shake your hand when meeting, but they will still chat.
Can I go everywhere a man can go?
Simply no, but these places are limited to religious sites such as mosques. This is not really an issue for women though when travelling as a tourist. There may also be some places like security checks where they have segregated lines, but this is not different than many other places in the world.
Do I have to cover up?
There is still a dress code, however this does not mean a headscarf. As long as you have long pants and don’t show cleavage or shoulders you are fine. Many people wear an abaya (the thin cloak that goes over clothes), but many also don’t and that’s also fine as long as you are dressed conservatively. Most Saudi women will be covered head-to-toe, complete with face covering, but there are also plenty of others who won’t be.
Do we recommend Saudi for female travellers?
Absolutely yes! While yes there are certainly some challenges, we don’t see it as a reason not to explore what this amazing country has to offer. The best obviously would be to join us and see the country on one of our epic group tours !