Since the announcement that Saudi Arabia would start issuing tourism visas for the first time in 2019, one of the obvious first questions is, when is it a great time to visit Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia Climate
Saudi Arabia is a vast country covering some 2.15 million square kilometres (the 12th largest country in the world) so it should come as no surprise there are several climates within Saudi Arabia – from the vast desert plains to the coral reefs of the Red Sea and lush green mountains.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Saudi Arabia is during the cooler winter months between late October and early March.
Winters in Saudi Arabia
During winter in Saudi Arabia, much of the country experiences mild days and cool evenings. Rainfall can be experienced and in some parts of the country (which we’ll detail more on below) overnight temperatures can drop to freezing and snow can be experienced in the highest peaks.
Rainfall isn’t limited to the winter months, there can be considerable rainfall over spring and even into summer. This rainfall may come in the form of a few heavy thunderstorm downpours though, rather than consistent rain.
Summer in Saudi Arabia
Conversely, much of Saudi Arabia experiences a scorching hot desert summer with temperatures as high as 50°C (122°F).
Influenced by a subtropical high-pressure system, there is considerable variation between temperature and humidity. The coast of Saudi Arabia is more humid than the inland desert regions, whilst the temperatures are relatively lower in the coastal cities such as Jeddah and Mecca than Riyadh. The mountainous areas such as Taif are also relatively cooler in the summer.
Riyadh and central Saudi Arabia
Sitting inland, Riyadh has a dry desert climate. Summers are long, hot and dry – highs average around 43°C (109°F) with average lows dipping to around 27°C (81°F). In mid-winter, daily highs may only reach to 19°C and lows around 10°C (50°F). You will notice a significant lack of humidity.
Dust storms are a common occurence at least a few times a year.
Jeddah – Red Sea Coast
The coastal city of Jeddah experiences slightly cooler summer maximums, though still expect around 39°C (103°F) and high humidity. In mid-winter expect fairly pleasant day time highs of 24.5°C (76°F) and lows of 20°C (68°F). Rainfall is sparse, though thunderstorms can occur.
Sea temperatures in Jeddah reach a rather warm 31.6°C (88.9°F) in mid-summer and drop to only 26.3°C 79°F in winter.
Asir Region – Western Coast
The Asir region further south along the west coast (Capital Abha) is influenced by Indian Ocean monsoons, usually between October and April. For this reason, quite different from the rest of Saudi Arabia it is classed as semi-arid. With capital Abha sitting some 2,270 metres above sea level, summer highs are significantly cooler here at 34°C (93°F) and winter overnight lows can drop to 7°C (45°F).
If can be quite wet over the spring (March to May), with a further summer wet season July & August.
Another thing to note along the Asir Mountains is winter fog. The region is best visited before November or after February if you wish to avoid this – though some adventure travellers and avid photographers will seek this out visiting the regions famed “Fog Walkway“.
The southern desert region
The vast Rub al Khali or Empty Quarter is the largest sand desert in the world and seldom receives rain, classifying this area as “hyper-arid”. Largely uninhabited, summer highs here hit a scorching 55°C (130°F), whilst minimums in winter can hit 12°C (54°F).
AlUla and the north-west
Sitting much further north in Saudi Arabia than most of the major cities and inland, AlUla has an arid desert climate, though not nearly as hot as Riyadh. Average summer highs only hit around 30°C (86°F) and winter highs, over the much-acclaimed Winter at Tantora Festival season 20°C (57°F) with quite chilly overnight lows down to 7°C (45F).
What should you pack for Saudi Arabia?
Regardless of the time of year, you’ll be visiting Saudi Arabia, conservative long-sleeved and long-legged clothing is recommended for all travellers. You can see our complete guide to Saudi Arabia dress code here.
In the summer, light and loose breathable material that’s not transparent is recommended. If you are visiting the internal cities over the winter months, especially Riyadh you will definitely want a warm winter coat. The coastal city of Jeddah and north along the Red Sea a light jacket will probably be sufficient for the cooler months.
Holidays and Major Events in Saudi Arabia
Religious holidays in Saudi Arabia
The main religious observances are:
- The Holy Month of Ramadan (1 Ramadan)
- Eid al-Fitr (1-3 Shawwal)
- Arafat Day (9 DhulHijjah)
- Eid al-Adha (10-12 DhulHijjah)
- Hijri New Year (1 Muharram)
- Ashoora (9 & 10 Muharram)
- Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif (the Prophets birthday)
These dates move forward on the Gregorian calendar approximately 10 days each year.
You can convert the Gregorian Calendar to the estimated Hijri calendar here (do note though that the exact date of religious holidays are officially announced by the moon sighting committee).
Generally speaking Eid-al Fitr holiday is marked for 4 days, whilst Arafat Day and Eid-al Adha may be marked by up to a week long holiday in the public sector.
Not all observances are necessarily a National Holiday. Some religious dates may only be observed, or only the public sector will take additional days of leave. It is better to plan any tours in advance though around these potential dates.
Saudi Arabia also recognises:
- Saudi National Day 23 September (surrounding dates may also be observed if this falls near or over a weekend)
Note that the weekend is Friday/Saturday making these days much busier at popular attractions than during the week Sunday through Thursday.
Government hours in Saudi are 8:00am to 2:00pm, whilst businesses generally work 10:00am to 12:00pm and re-open 4:00pm to 10:00pm.
School Holidays in Saudi Arabia
Local school holidays are unlikely to have much impact on Saudi Tourism in the big cities, however, you may find tourist-focused areas such as the Red Sea resorts busier over school holidays.
Schools operate on a three-term year with short breaks over winter and spring and a long summer break over July and August. Referral to the Saudi Government portal (English translation available) for further information.
Major Events in Saudi Arabia
Most of Saudi Arabia’s major events go hand in hand with the religious dates mentioned above.
The annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able.
In 2021 Hajj will likely begin on 17 July and end on 22 July.
The Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to the Ḥajj, which has specific dates according to the Islamic lunar calendar.
Pilgrims attending Mecca for Umrah or Hajj require a separate visa to the tourism visa – learn more here at the Ministry of Hajj.
Note non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Holy City of Mecca.
Other events in Saudi Arabia to be aware of
In the push to increase tourism into the country, you may be interested in:
- Winter at Tantora Festival – from spellbinding concerts to discovering the AlUla open-air museum. This has quickly become a much anticipated annual event for the north-western region of the country.
Winter at Tantora was first held in winter 2018/19 and again 2019/20, the 2020/21 event has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
What to expect during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia
Like all of the Muslim countries of the Gulf region, Ramadan is strictly observed. In 2021 the dates are expected to fall from 12 April 2021 to 11 May 2021 (subject to moon sighting).
During the Holy Month, you can expect life to slow down significantly. Working and school hours are reduced and life becomes quite nocturnal whilst fasting occurs over daylight hours. It is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public during the day in Ramadan.
Although visitors and resident expats should always be dressing modestly, this is even more strictly enforced over Ramadan. Roads will become much busier (and driving even more erratic) immediately before sunset.
Whilst an interesting cultural experience, especially partaking in Iftar and Suhoor, due to the likely closure of many attractions throughout the entire month, it is not the best time for tourists to plan their trip to Saudi Arabia. (Though with the Tourist Visa only being in place for such a short time, this recommendation could change as the years go by).
Read more about visiting Saudi Arabia and the Middle East:
We hope you’ve found this Saudi Arabia visitors guide helpful in planning your potential trip to KSA. Whenever you visit, sure to be a fascinating cultural experience. You may also find useful:
- Complete guide to visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Kids
- The new Saudi Tourist Visa and what to expect in Saudi Arabia now and in the future
- What to wear when visiting Saudi Arabia; Dress code advice for women, men & children
- Family travel safety advice for visiting the Middle East
Don’t forget to sign up to our Family Travel Middle East Facebook Group. Many of our members live in KSA and can help you with more personal guidance on the country.
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Disclosures: This post is in no way sponsored but may contain third party affiliate links. Feature image credit Winter at Tantora.