For Western expats, Saudi Arabia can often feel restrictive. This is especially true in Riyadh, the country's capital and one of its most conservative cities. Many expats find themselves wishing for an outlet, especially on weekends. Luckily, taking a weekend break from Riyadh's working world is certainly possible.


Weekend breaks in Riyadh

Desert drives and hiking

Activities in and around Riyadh may be limited, but there's no shortage of activities in the surrounding desert where soft red sand becomes rougher terrain that transforms into magnificent escarpments.

There are no designated camping areas, but most areas that aren't fenced off are opportunities for exploration.

That said, going into the desert alone can be dangerous and expats should go with formal groups or experienced people who know the terrain.

It's also possible to drive through the desert using four-wheel-drive vehicles. Several organisations plan day trips and weekend campouts. Some even offer GPS and sand driving courses.

Desert safety tips

  • Heat stroke is a risk. Expats should bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen and a hat with good coverage or a scarf, and bring snacks for energy and to replace lost minerals.

  • A GPS is highly recommended and can be bought in the city with all the necessary maps preloaded – everything looks similar out in the desert. 

  • While the desert is hot during the day, temperatures drop at night and expats should be prepared. Luckily there are plenty of camping stores in Riyadh offering the necessary supplies.

Diving in the Red Sea

Expats often have no idea that Saudi Arabia is perfect for snorkelling, fishing and diving. Jeddah is an hour-and-a-half flight from Riyadh and is a popular weekend getaway that offers amazing sea life without the big crowds. Expats could also visit the Farasan Islands off the coast of Jizan.

Visit Dubai, Bahrain or Qatar

Expats who want a more drastic change of scenery could also consider a weekend break outside of Saudi Arabia.

It's an hour-and-a-half flight to Dubai, which provides a stark contrast to austere Riyadh. Alternatively, Bahrain is a four-hour drive away and it takes seven hours to drive to Qatar (but flying is an option too). It's advisable to leave early in the day so there's enough daylight to watch out for camel crossings. 

Although all of these destinations are Islamic states, they're more liberal than Saudi Arabia and often have more varied entertainment options.

Depending on their nationality, expats can usually obtain a visa at the border. However, they should check each country's regulations before they travel.