I've been extremely busy the past few weeks! My family from Finland were visiting us in Saudi and we had a tight schedule including a trip to Jeddah and Dubai. It was an amazing holiday and we all enjoyed it very much.
One of the most unsettling aspects of traveling to Saudi for women including my mother and sister are of course the abayas. This was already their second time visiting KSA so they had some previous experience on wearing abaya. The abaya always seems to make women wearing it for the first time feel insecure and very self-conscious.
I noticed from my mom and sisters behavior how they became constantly aware of their looks and very self conscious stressing about their abayas being on correclty or not. Every time someone would stare my mom and sis felt maybe they did something wrong. They would ask questions like what is allowed to wear underneath, is it ok if the lowest button is open or will wearing high heels with it get them into trouble.
Keeping this in mind I tried to include as many activities in our programme as possible that would enable them to be without abayas and relieve some of that stress.
Here's a list of things to do and places to go in Saudi that do not necessarily require wearing of abayas:
Naturally any place far off in the desert will be safe for women to take their abayas off.
This time we went to Rawdhat Khuraim and the girls made long walks around the huge area without abayas, there was literally no one else there. Also good for some female driving ;) Read more about the place here:http://blueabaya.blogspot.com/p/desert-treks.html
Thumamah park is a beautiful nature reserve outside Riyadh, we went there for a picnic with no one else in sight.
The historical area which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site is virtually empty from visitors on weekdays. We enjoyed a short walk on a farm and later a picnic in Wadi Hanifa.
Women can take their abayas off at the top of the tower in the "Globe" restaurant, the Cigar club and the viewing platform.
Ladies only Kingdom
For first timers in Saudi it's always interesting to see how Saudi women really look like behind their veils. Third floor in Kingdom shopping center women shop and work in normal clothing
There are few areas around Riyadh for quadbiking but the most scenic ones are Red Sands and Thumamah. During the weekdays its very quiet and women can drive around without being disturbed especially in the mornings. I would not recommend going to these places alone or without males on weekend peak hours though. Guaranteed unwanted attention from the hundreds of male drivers.
Women can take their abayas off as soon as they pass the checkpoint at Jeddah harbour.
In Farasan Islands women can explore the hundreds of deserted islands in peace.
The DQ in Riyadh is the area where most of the embassies are located. The huge area has some amazing parks worth visiting. The area is safe for women to walk around in western attire.
Some compounds even BAN abayas inside. Romaizan compound in Riyadh has a lovely restaurant by the pool open to non-Saudis only.
KFSH Cavepark inside the hospital compound has some lovely fountains and places for bbqs.
Dirab and Riyadh golf clubs out of the city allow women to golf sans abaya.
Dirab stables, the stables in DQ and the Riyadh Equestrian club are abaya free zones.
Istiraha and other rentals
An istiraha is a place sort of like a vacation rental outside the city where people go on weekends to relax. A family can rent out their own istiraha complete with private swimming pools, yards and housing equipped with living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.
Another option is to rent a Bedouin style tent which will come with a private area where its perfectly fine for women to remove their abayas. Some nice tent rentals can be found in Thumamah park.
Women swim in "normal" swim gear in the numerous private beaches in Jeddah and AlKhobar.
Do you know of any other places worth mentioning?