How to Get Around in Saudi Arabia

JUAN MARTINEZ

April 4, 2024

How to Get Around in Saudi Arabia

Buses, trains, cheap flights, and taxis – getting around Saudi Arabia is much easier than you might think.

Just a few years ago, Saudi Arabia was one of the most secluded countries in the world, and tourism was not even permitted. Well, the situation has drastically changed. Saudi Arabia now welcomes tourists and is building a tourism infrastructure larger than that of the UAE and Qatar.

I visited Saudi Arabia during its initial opening phase and now I’m planning a second trip in the coming days. I loved traveling overland in Saudi Arabia and this time, I have plans of taking buses to remote areas, a train to the holy city of Madina and even hitchhike. With everything set to go, I want to show you what I learnt and tell you how you can get around Saudi Arabia using buses, the new train system, taxis, ride-hailing apps, and car rentals.

I visited Saudi Arabia right after the country opened for tourism.
I visited Saudi Arabia right after the country opened for tourism. First thing I did: Get a traditional outfit.

Entering Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is investing large resources to become a main stopover destination for travelers moving between Asia and Europe. With Saudia, the largest carrier in Saudi Arabia, becoming a large competitor against Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad, the aviation landscape is evolving rapidly.

Budget airlines such as Fly Dubai and even WizzAir have also entered the market, and it’s only a matter of time before we see flights from Europe with Ryanair or EasyJet.

Riyadh, Jeddah, or Dammam are the three largest airports in the country and are likely to be your initial points of entry into Saudi Arabia. Moreover, with a straightforward e-visa process for most nationalities, Saudi Arabia is poised to attract a growing number of tourists in the coming years.

I hold a Colombian passport and usually have to apply for a visa at the embassy if I want to visit Saudi Arabia. However, some exceptions might apply to you too.

For travelers requiring an e-visa or opting for visa on arrival, here is the link to apply for an e-visa.

For visa-required visitors holding US, UK, or EU visas, here is the link to obtain an e-visa.

Tip: Book your accommodation with Agoda

Skyline of Riyadh
Riyadh became a very popular starting point for a trip in Saudi Arabia

Traveling Between Cities with National Flights

Saudi Arabia is big! Very big, and traveling long distances within the country can be time-consuming. Domestic flights offer a convenient and efficient means of transportation for intercity travel.

Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam serve as major transportation hubs, with the two local airlines, Saudia and Flynas, operating regular flights between major domestic destinations. This makes it easy to explore different regions of the country without taking lengthy road journeys.

Additionally, the strategic locations of these airports, Damman very east, Riyadh in the center of Saudi Arabia and Jeddah in the west coast, enable travelers to access a significant portion of the country by visiting these three key hubs.

Other popular destinations in Saudi Arabia, such as Madina (recently opened for tourism) and Al Ula, have also several daily flights departing from these hubs, with fares starting at 50 EUR in low season.

Jeddah old city
During my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I traveled by train from Dammam to Riyadh, flew from Riyadh to AlUla and then flew again from AlUla to Jeddah.

Witnessing Eerie Landscapes with the Saudi Arabian Train System

Traveling by train is among the most enjoyable and convenient ways to get around Saudi Arabia. The country boasts the best train infrastructure in the entire Arabian Peninsula, and with ongoing expansions, it’s only a matter of time before the entire country and neighboring nations are interconnected.

Currently, there are two operational sections of the train system, each operated by different companies.

  • Saudi Arabia Railways connecting the east of the country
  • The Haramain High-Speed Railway connecting the west of the country

Thankfully, there are numerous trains operating throughout the day, making last-minute ticket purchases hassle-free.

Trains Connecting Eastern Saudi Arabia

Saudia Arabia Railways operates two passenger train lines. One connects the capital, Riyadh, to the coastal city of Dammam (4 hours), while the other links Riyadh to Al Quorayyat near the Jordanian border (11 hours).

A train between Jordan and Riyadh
The Al Quorayyat – Riyadh line will take you to the closest town to the Jordan border.

For travelers on the Dammam-Riyadh line, I highly recommend a stopover in the city of Al Hofuf. Located right in the middle of the desert, Al Hofuf is a charming town that I had the pleasure of visiting during my first trip to Saudi Arabia. It’s an ideal location for an overnight stay, or if your time is limited, a short, but rewarding day trip.

Train between Dammam and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia
A train between Dammam and Riyadh will take 4 hours

Trains Connecting Western Saudi Arabia

The Haramain High-Speed Railway connects Jeddah with the holy cities of Mecca and Madina. Bookings for this service are made through a separate website. Link Here. With one of the fastest trains globally serving these destinations, this is the optimal choice for travel within this region of Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, this train route passes through Jeddah’s International Airport, making it a convenient starting point for your Saudi Arabian journey. During my upcoming trip, I plan to take this train to visit the city of Madina, which recently opened for tourism. It’s an incredible opportunity to explore one of the holiest cities globally.

The Mecca - Jeddah - Madina train line in Saudi Arabia
The Mecca – Jeddah – Madina train line in Saudi Arabia connects millions of pilgrims every day.

Unlike Madina, Mecca is still limited to Muslim pilgrims and even though there is not any control to “verify your religion at the entrance”, it would be a lack of respect to visit this city just for the sake of visiting Mecca. I have read in forums about travelers bragging their visits to Mecca, and I find it very disrespectful to visit a forbidden city just for saying you have been there.

Upcoming train lines in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is also planning to open a few more important lines in the next years. The GCC line should connect the countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE by train, and there is a connecting line between Jeddah and Riyadh under construction.

Keep in mind, railway tickets with Saudi Arabian Railways and with the Haramain High-Speed Railway are only a fraction of the price compared to flights (even with the budget airlines), and the trains in Saudi Arabia are brand new – making the experience of taking a train in Saudi Arabia a total treat. This is my favorite way to travel in Saudi Arabia, and I can’t wait for the upcoming lines (especially the GCC line) to open.

The GCC line will become one of the most important transport train connections in Asia
The GCC line will become one of the most important transport train connections in Asia

International and national buses

Even though Saudi Arabia’s neighboring countries are not yet connected with high-speed trains or budget flights, buses are quite reliable for those who want to combine Saudi Arabia with Bahrain or the UAE.

International buses in Saudi Arabia

For international travel, SAPTCO is the only company that offers bus connections between Saudi Arabia and these countries. Tickets are quite affordable, and all departures start from the city of Dammam.

A trip from Dammam to Dubai takes around 13 hours, or a trip from Dammam to Bahrain takes only 2.5 hours. Unfortunately, there are only one or two connections every day, and booking a ticket at least a few days in advance is recommended.

Bahrain landscape
I visited Bahrain using the SAPTCO bus connecting Dammam and Bahrain. I booked everything online

What about buses between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar?

Unfortunately, there are no buses connecting these destinations. Travelers wanting to visit Qatar from Saudi Arabia have to travel with a private transfer or take a flight. In Qatar, non-GCC travelers also have issues entering the country with their own cars, so don’t try it.

For Kuwait is exactly the same. The easiest option is to get to the border town and from there arrange a private vehicle to cross you. I did this to get from Dammam to Bahrain and it worked very well. It was very expensive though.

And yes, you can get VOA (visa on arrival) at any of the land borders in Saudi Arabia (if your nationality applies for it).

NOTE: SAPTCO also manages most municipal buses in Saudi Arabia, but for the intermunicipal buses, SAPTCO is rebranded as Satrans for national intercity buses.

Saudi Stamp on passport
Getting a Saudi visa is everyday easier. It’s just a matter of time until the country becomes visa free for everyone.

National buses in Saudi Arabia

For those wanting to travel between Saudi Arabia by bus, there are two companies available on the market:

This is the most affordable way of traveling around Saudi Arabia, but also the least efficient and slowest. Buses from Riyadh to Jeddah with Satrans take around 12 hours and cost around 50 EUR one way. This is not worth the price, taking into consideration that a flight might cost only 20 EUR more and take only 1 hour.

While Satrans also connects Jeddah with Riyadh, most bus stations from Satrans are located in the south of the country.

For travelers going north, Northwest Bus is their best option. Here, you can find bus connections to Madina and even to AlUla.

Read more: Visit And Explore Medina As A Non-Muslim

Al Ula in Saudi Arabia
With local buses you can easily get to AlUla. Saudi Arabia’s big highlight.

Car rentals for total freedom

Car rentals in Saudi Arabia are also quite popular. This is the most convenient option for planning day trips around key cities and moving short and remote distances. Major cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam have standard car rental companies offering a wide range of vehicles to suit every budget. Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s well-maintained highways and roads are relatively straightforward, making self-driving a popular choice.

Most (if not all) travelers in AlUla rent a car to move around more freely, and more experienced travelers can get a vehicle in Madina and travel from this holy city to AlUla on a road trip.

Unlike Oman, where a 4WD vehicle improves the travel experience a lot, you can get in Saudi Arabia a small car for 40-50 EUR per day and make the most of the country.

Mirror museum in AlUla
The only way to visit this place in AlUla is by renting a car and traveling there.

Taxis and Ride-Hailing Services (Uber, Careem, and Co.)

Yes, Uber works in Saudi Arabia. This is one of the most convenient apps to move around large cities. Rides may be a bit more expensive than conventional taxis with a taximeter, but the convenience of Uber is simply flawless. Careem is another company that works very well in the Middle East. A ride with Careem may be a bit cheaper than Uber, but this is not always the case – there is for sure more availability.

Taxis in Saudi Arabia also work very well. Unlike countries like Egypt and Jordan, in which you have to negotiate with the driver, in Jeddah or Riyadh, you can simply hail a cab, and the driver will automatically use the taximeter. This is one of the most convenient ways to travel around Saudi Arabia’s cities.

Read more: Why should you visit Sharjah in the UAE

Al Diriyah in Riyadh
Due to the long distances and non-optimal public transport in Riyadh, Uber was my app to go.

What about hitchhiking in Saudi Arabia?

I have met several travelers who hitchhiked in Saudi Arabia and found it a great adventurous option. Based on my research on travel forums, this was an option for travelers trying to get to Qatar from Saudi Arabia for the World Cup. Other travelers have covered remote parts of Saudi Arabia hitchhiking and have not found any trouble. Saudi Arabia is probably one of the safest countries in the world (for men and women), and you will only encounter friendly people trying their best to help. The only risk is that you gain weight from all the invitations to have dinner with a random family.

NOTE: Crossing borders on foot in Saudi Arabia is forbidden. If you try this, you will be sent back at the first checkpoint.

Woman in Saudi Arabia
Despite the description of the country in some news media, I felt in Saudi Arabia extremely welcomed. Everyone spoke very good english and I was able to talk to everyone about everything.

Communication in Saudi Arabia

When it comes to direct communication with locals, Saudi Arabia has a very high index of education. Most people I encountered on my trip spoke perfect English, and those who didn’t were extremely friendly and helpful in whatever I needed.

Additionally, having a connection to the internet at all times was super practical for translating or asking where to go.

For those concern about paper tickets and communication at bus and metro stations, all bookings for busses and trains are possible to do online, and online tickets are the standard in the country.

Read more: How to plan a road trip in Oman

Holy city of Madina
Madina opened for tourism and maybe Mecca might open too in the upcoming years.

When it comes to internet connection on the road, during my first visit in Saudi Arabia, I got a SIM card from Virgin with 20GB for 20 EUR (more or less). This is still the cheapest option for travelers needing high data.

For my second trip, I will use my global plan of Flexiroam and maybe get a local SIM card with Virgin once I settle down in Jeddah.

The most convenient option is to get a country plan with Airalo a few days before traveling. A 10 GB plan costs 25 EUR, but you will get internet right after you land in Saudi Arabia.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

NEED MORE INSPIRATION

MY FAVORITE NATIONAL PARKS

Planning a Visit to Victoria Falls National Park

ZIMBABWE

Planning a visit to the White Desert and Black Desert in Egypt

EGYPT

Planning a Gorilla Trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

UGANDA

Planning a safari at Masai Mara Natural Reserve

KENYA

Planning a visit to Saxon Switzerland National Park

GERMANY