2,149,690 sq km (830,000 sq miles).
27.3 million (2014).
12.7 per sq km.
Head of state:
King and Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud since 2015.
Head of government:
King and Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud since 2015.
127/220 volts AC (with plans to change completely to 220 volts), 60Hz. Two-pin plugs (flat and round pins) and British-style plugs with three square pins are used.
No other country in the world is as misunderstood as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and perhaps no other country – rich with culture, heritage, and natural beauty – is as worthy of a visit. It is more than a harsh desert (though the sands it does boast include the Empty Quarter, a beautiful expanse of undulating dunes unlike anywhere in the world), it is a country with many areas of beautiful oases and dramatic mountain-tops, beaches and rivers.
There are also the untamed stretches of Red Sea coast in the west of the country, southwestern mountain towns such as Taif, plus the ancient history in the north, where the town of Al Ula serves as the gateway to Medain Saleh, a collection of stone dwellings as magnificent as Petra.
Then there are the cosmopolitan city centres of Jeddah, the Red Sea port; Riyadh, the throbbing central capital; and Gulf-side Dammam, the large city in the east. All feature chic cafés and top-notch restaurants. There are shops galore, from traditional souks to glittering malls with all the latest fashions. Hotels are being built at a rapid clip, and each seems to feature a chef of ever-increasing pedigree.
For the tourist interested in religion, few other countries are as rich in historical sites as Saudi Arabia. As the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Saudi Arabia is home the two holiest sites in Islam: The Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina (although these are off-limits to non-Muslims). The Saudis take pride in protecting the integrity of this holy land and Islamic laws are strictly enforced by the mutawwa (religious police).
To a novice visitor, Saudi Arabia can seem like a daunting place for a vacation, and it certainly pays to swot up on cultural rules (such as women not being allowed to drive) before you arrive. But for the intrepid traveller, this is a complex country with much to offer.
Last updated: 19 October 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Each year around 3.7 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj. Since 2013 the Ministry of Hajj has been imposing a global 20% reduction in the numbers of Hajj pilgrims due to infrastructure works in Makkah. Pilgrims who have performed Hajj in the past five years will not be granted a visa, although we understand certain exemptions will be applied, such as for those accompanying disabled pilgrims.
A crane collapsed at the Holy Mosque in Makkah on 11 September 2015 resulting in over 100 fatalities and casualties. On 25 September 2015 a crush in Mina resulted in over 750 fatalities and many more casualties. The Saudi Arabian government has announced it will hold investigations into the incidents and will publish the findings.
Before you travel for the Hajj, you should carefully consider the information and advice on the website of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, and in the Health section of this travel advice.
If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia through another country you should check for advice on possible travel restrictions with that country’s Embassy in London.
Saudi government regulations require British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj to travel with a UK travel agency that is accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.
You should confirm the full itinerary for your pilgrimage before departure. The British Embassy receives a large number of requests for help in relation to disputes and dissatisfaction with tour operators.
There has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pick pocketing and other forms of theft in Makkah, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque and in Medina. You should take extra care of your passport, tickets and other valuables while visiting these areas. Make a copy of your passport before you travel, and keep it in a safe place.
You are not allowed to take photographs (still or video, including on a mobile phone) at the Holy Mosque at Makkah or at the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina. This restriction also includes the courtyards surrounding these two holy sites. Any violation of these instructions is likely to lead to the confiscation of your film, camera or phone.
Public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Follow local media and be alert to local and regional developments, which might trigger public disturbances. You should avoid public gatherings or demonstrations. Despite warnings issued by the authorities, demonstrations do take place from time to time, mainly in the Shia communities in the Qatif area of Eastern Province and Al Hasa. Violent clashes have occurred between demonstrators and security forces.
Saudi Arabia-Yemen border
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to within 10km of the border with Yemen, and against all but essential travel between 10km and 80km of this border. If you’re currently in an area to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel, you should consider whether you have an essential reason to remain. If you do not, you should leave the area.
Since 25 March, Saudi Arabia has been leading coalition air strikes in Yemen following the request for support from President Hadi to deter continued Houthi aggression. Clashes along the Saudi-Yemeni border have increased in recent weeks, resulting in military and civilian casualties. There have been sporadic instances of SCUD missiles being fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia in recent months. Military facilities in Najran Province, Asir Province, Jazan Province and the most south-westerly part of Riyadh Province may be targeted by missiles but it’s also possible that attacks could be made on other locations.
Airports near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border have been closed temporarily from time to time: you should check with your airline before travelling to airports near the border.
Saudi Arabia-Iraq border
Take great care in all areas close to the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. On 5 January 2015, 3 Saudi Arabian border guards were killed in clashes close to the Arar crossing point.
Although the crime rate in Saudi Arabia is low, there have been some isolated incidents of more serious crimes. On 3 November there was a shooting incident outside of a mosque in Dalwa which resulted in 5 reported deaths. Take particular care when travelling outside towns and cities. On 13 January 2014 a car carrying 2 German diplomats was fired at in Eastern province. Petty crime does also occur.
Standards of driving are poor and there are a high number of serious accidents. You should wear seatbelts at all times. Distances between cities are large and emergency services can take some time to get to any accidents or emergencies.
Some Saudi cities have implemented an automated traffic system. You will need to pay any fines issued through this system before leaving the country. You can pay at the airport but only during regular Saudi office hours.
Oil infrastructure remains a possible terrorist target. Shipping serving the oil installations should make sure SSPs are implemented fully and robustly while operating in the area. All ships should maintain a high state of vigilance while in Saudi Arabian ports, and report anything suspicious to the authorities.
Vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab El Mandeb areas may be at increased risk of maritime attack from pirates.