The Social Experience

Moving to a new country presents many unknowns, but of one thing you can be certain: you will never be bored in Saudi Arabia. You will have endless choices about how to fill your social calendar.

1. Organized Clubs and Activities

Housing compounds, which are gated communities, offer clubs, competing sports teams, social events, and fitness programs. Alex, a former employee at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, says her favourite activity was dancing. “My favorite thing to do in Saudi was actually all the different forms of Latin dance,” she says. watch video

The different housing compounds offer their own unique activities, and they make sure to invite residents from the other housing compounds.

“I would advise newcomers to accept all social invitations,” says Fay, a registered nurse. “This is how you will build up your own connections and make the most of your weekends.”

Online groups, such as InterNations, also organize group activities specifically for expatriates – they offer everything from tennis to photography and book clubs to billiards. They even have a group for vegetarians!

And if you want to get away for the weekend, the hospitals in Riyadh and Jeddah offer in-Kingdom package trips to places like Mada’in Saleh, a gorgeous archeological site similar to Petra in Jordan, or to the picturesque mountain communities of Al Baha, Abha, Taif, and Najran.

“The hospital has a social club that organizes trips every month: beach, scuba diving, cruise in the Red Sea, mountains, or desert,” says Abdel, another registered nurse.

Popular clubs/events include

  • Soccer competitions
  • Ice hockey (yes, there is an ice rink in Riyadh!)
  • Ice curling
  • Latin dance (especially salsa)
  • Fitness classes (spinning, yoga, boot camps, etc.)
  • Ball hockey (you get to play within the diplomatic quarters!)
  • Biking / Running groups (like the Riyadh Road Runners, a popular club celebrating its 40th year of running in the desert)
  • Tennis (there are lots of competitions between club teams)
  • Foodie clubs (sample food from different cultures from the comfort of your compound)
  • Tours of historic villages (usually with mud houses)
  • Overnight camping (sleep under the stars)
  • Movie nights

2. Sporting Events

Not only can you play the sports you love, you can watch them too. Saudi Arabia offers a wide range of spectator sporting events, such as kickboxing matches, dirt bike stunt shows, equestrian shows, basketball games, and soccer matches. Just imagine sitting in the modern King Fahd International Stadium and watching live the Saudi National Football Team compete with countries from around the world.

Golf is also very popular with both men and women. With courses like the Riyadh Golf Courses, the Arizona Golf Resort, and The Intercontinental Palms Golf & Country Club, there is plenty of opportunity to practice your swing. These courses use AstroTurf, so putting in the desert is no problem.

If golf doesn’t interest you, what about camel racing? The King Abdulaziz Camel Festivalis held once a year just outside of Riyadh. Entry is free, and festival goers can enjoy delicious food while simultaneously watching camel races and the camel beauty pageant, Miss Camel.

Around 30,000 camels compete in the camel events, and the stakes are high: the prize money for the events is worth a combined $57 million. In the races, the camels sprint down 8km of desert track, while cars driving next to them film the action. In Miss Camel, the camels are judged on various physical traits, such as the droopiness of their mouths and the colour of their fur.

Finally, a trampoline park called BOUNCE Middle East now has female-only locations in Riyadh and Jeddah.

3. Private Beaches and the Red Sea

The Red Sea is right at your doorstep and has the best diving in the world. Scuba dive by day or night, board a boat cruise, or just work on your tan at one of the many private beaches.

“They have private beaches that only expats are allowed to enter. It’s mixed, males and females, where everybody can have fun and feel comfortable,” says Abdel, a registered nurse. “I go with my friends, and we spend the day at the beach.”

You can also sign up for guided tours of the Red Sea; the tours include snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and even discovering ancient sunken dhows.

4. Natural Wonders

For a quick weekend getaway, why not explore Saudi Arabia’s many historic landscapes? Just 90 km north of Riyadh is the famous “Edge of the World” rock formation. This Grand Canyon-like landmark is located in the Acacia Valley, part of the Tuwaiq Escarpment, and is a popular hiking spot. You can rent an ATV, ride a camel, or have a picnic on the never-ending waves of sand dunes. You can even pitch a tent and spend the night under the wide open desert sky.

A notable historical landmark is Mada’in Saleh. Located in the north western region of the Kingdom, this archeological site hides an ancient desert city and is a popular spot for exploration.

5. City Life

Saudi cities offer everything you would expect from a modern metropolitan center. According to Laurenne, a registered nurse, Riyadh exceeded her expectation. She says,

“Riyadh has almost everything that any big city would provide. For example, restaurants, shopping, bowling (which I am terrible at), museums, a recently opened cinema, etc.”

Riyadh and Jeddah are home to a fabulous array of dining options. You can indulge in traditional Arabic cuisine or eat at one of the many familiar fast food chains (McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Domino’s Pizza, etc.). Or, of course, there are the extravagant buffets on Fridays at most of the fancy, high-end hotels.

A favourite spot for expatriates in Riyadh is The Boulevard, a huge outdoor mall complete with boutiques, a food court, food trucks, coffee shops, a five-star hotel, a fitness center (which includes an outdoor swimming pool), and a spa (which includes a Turkish bath and massage therapists).

The newly opened AMC Imax movie theatres are also popular attractions. As you may have heard, Saudi Arabia made headlines when it lifted its 35-year movie ban and screened the blockbuster Black Panther. Now, with more and more theatres opening, you’ll have no trouble spending a night out at the movies.

Finally, for the opera aficionado, an opera house is being planned for Jeddah.

6. Social Events at the Embassies

In Saudi Arabia, the embassies do more than fulfill their diplomatic duties – they also host fabulous social events. The Canadian Ball, we are told, is the social event of the year. It is a black-tie event, where expatriates are invited to don elegant evening wear and indulge in fine dining, all while meeting new and interesting people from around the world.

The embassies also host cultural events; for example, spring in Riyadh usually means a European film festival. International performing artists, like American rapper Nelly, also regularly visit the Kingdom to provide concerts, shows, and visual art displays.

In summary, very many people tell us that their social life in Saudi Arabia is more varied and, yes, even busier than it was in their home countries.

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