Saudi Arabia has the biggest economy in the Middle East, and expats often move there for lucrative job opportunities and business purposes. In spite of a considerable international population, Saudi Arabia has a deeply traditional culture that is governed by strict rules and regulations. However, there are some unique and rewarding experiences to be had in the country, and expats should try them at least once before they return home.
The shopping haven of Jeddah
Jeddah is considered as the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia and is full of shopping malls, shopping districts and souqs.Those looking for a authentic Arabian experience must visit places such as the Souq Al Nada, a gold and silver market; Gabel Street Souq, which has shops selling spices, perfumes, dates and honey; and Souq Al Jamia, the place to go for textile shopping. Expats who are missing the conveniences of shopping at a modern mall can head to one of many posh malls in Jeddah like Le Mall, Heraa Mall and Tahlia Center. Another major attraction is the Mall of Arabia, the largest mall in Jeddah with more than 350 shops, an amusement park and even a Snow Village. Here you can choose from a range of local, regional and international brands.
A walk along the corniche
This is something the Saudis like to do too. The Jeddah corniche is a 35 km-long coastal resort area. It lies along the Red Sea and has many pavilions and recreation areas. One of the big attractions here is King Fahd’s Fountain, the highest fountain in the world. Visitors to the corniche also enjoy a visit to the Al-Rahma Mosque, also called the Fatima Al-Zahra Mosque. This mosque is a unique sight to behold since it appears to be floating on the waters of the Red Sea. This is where innovative modern architecture complements traditional art, creating a structure that draws crowds of visitors every year. The corniche is currently undergoing renovation, which when complete will feature restaurants and play areas, including a Ferris wheel.
The Najdi Village Restaurant
The Najdi Village Restaurant, located on Abu Bakr Road in Riyadh, resembles a traditional Najdi style mud house and offers an authentic Saudi experience to many expats and visitors. You can choose to sit in the open area or request for a private area or room. There are many traditional culinary delicacies on the menu ranging from lamb and camel dishes to soups, dips, tea and Arabic coffee. Some of the favorites on the menu include matazzez, an old Najdi dish with boneless lamb, vegetables and traditional bread; and sweet sabeeb, a desert made with brown village bread and honey. There is also an adjoining museum that provides a glimpse into the Najd region and its heritage.
Play a round of golf
Golf has increased in international popularity over the years and Saudi Arabia too has witnessed a golfing boom. One of the premier golf clubs in the country is the Dirab Golf & Country Club, popular among the expat population in Saudi Arabia as well as Saudi nationals. It is an 18-hole championship grass golf course surrounded by scenic hills that provide a relaxing atmosphere. The conditions for play are known to be good all year round and the course has hosted many events such as the 1st Saudi Arabian National Amateur Golf Championship in 2001, 10th Annual GCC Golf Championship and the 28th Pan Arab Golf Championship. The club is located a short distance west of Riyadh and also has facilities for other sporting activities like swimming, tennis and horseback riding.
Saudi Arabia has thousands of caves, called ‘dahls’ (holes) in Arabic, which were formed about 60 million years ago from limestone. Some distance away from Riyadh lies the Umm Er-Radhuma limestone formation, which has innumerable dahls that are still being surveyed by geologists. Other famous caves in Saudi Arabia include the religiously significant Cave of Hira; the arch-shaped Abu Qatoor Cave; the Al-Gara layer, where you can actually see the layers of sedimentary rocks that make up the cave; Cave of Thawr, another place of religious importance; and the Ibn Shaalan Cave, located in Rawdat Sudair. Many of these caves contain important fossil discoveries.