Culture, Traditions and Art

The culture of Saudi Arabia is defined by its Islamic heritage, its historical role as an ancient trade centre, and its Bedouin traditions.
Saudi society has evolved over the years, their values and traditions – from customs, hospitality to their style of dressing, adapting with modernization.

Arab and Islamic Traditions
Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs, which Saudis learn about at an early age from their families and in schools.
The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, in which it is a tradition go visiting and to give gifts to children.

The Hajj season draws millions of Muslim pilgrims from around the world come to Makkah every year. It concludes with the Eid Al-Adha holiday whereby families slaughter a sheep in memory of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.
Saudis’ valuable Arab traditions include generosity and hospitality, which every Saudi family. Arabic coffee (its preparation is also a form of cultural tradition) is often served in small cups along with dates and sweets as a hospitality gesture offered to strangers, friends, or family. The Saudis also burn incense to welcome guests.

Folk Music, Dance & Poetry
The nomadic Bedouins (indigenous people of Saudi Arabia) have great influence on Saudi folk music. The music varies in every region, for instance, in the Hijaz, the music of al-sihba combines poetry and songs of Arab Andalusia, while the folk music of Makkah and Madinah incorporates both local and music influences from other Islamic countries.
The national dance, Ardha, is an ancient tradition with its roots in the country’s central area known as the Najd. The Ardha used to be performed before a battle by soldiers and involves singing, dancing with swords and poetry. This dance is one of the key performances in Saudi Arabia’s most famous cultural event, the Jenadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival. Organized each year by the National Guard, it is held over two weeks every year, with its first one held in 1985. This festival highlights the Kingdom’s commitment to preserve and display the rich, traditional culture and crafts of Saudi Arabia.

Ardha, traditional 'sword dance' of Saudis.

Poetry is especially important to Arab cultural life, and has long been considered one of the highest expressions of literary art. It was primarily an oral tradition during the nomadic days of Bedouins, a form of preservation of history, traditions and social values. People would gather around a storyteller, who would spin tales of love, bravery, chivalry, war and historic events. Poetry remains popular among Saudis today in the form of media (e.g. televised poetry competition) or traditional oral poetry. For instance, the annual Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival, features the reading of poetry by established poets.

Traditional Dress & Jewellery
Saudis prefer traditional clothes to Western styles of dress, and generally wear modern adaptations of traditional designs. The loose, flowing traditional garments are practical for the Kingdom’s hot, windswept climate, while symbolising the Islamic ideal of modesty.

Saudi men in their traditional 'thawb'.

Men wear an ankle-length shirt of wool/cotton known as a thawb. On their heads, they wear a large square of cotton (ghutra) that is folded crossways over a skullcap (kufiyyah), and held in place with a cord circlet (igaal). The flowing, full-length outer cloak (bisht), generally made of wool/camel hair, completes the outfit. In the early days, the bisht was also used as a blanket while travelling.

Saudi women in their 'abaya', the plain black, traditional type.

Women customarily wear a black outer cloak (abaya) over their dress, which may well be modern in style even in today’s society. Saudi women traditionally wear a shayla on their heads which is a black, scarf that is wrapped around the head and secured with circlets, hats or jewellery. Traditional dress is often richly decorated with coins, sequins or brightly coloured fabric appliqu├ęs.
Some Saudi women wear veils made of sheer material. The practice of wearing a veil is dates back at least two millennium, before the dawn of Islam. The veil is a cultural symbol which also has a practical purpose. Besides being fashion symbol of modesty and virtue, it provides protection from constant exposure to the sun in the harsh desert environment. The Mutawwa'in (religious police), ensures that both women and men do not violate any regulations by dressing inappropriately as it is part of the conservative culture of the Saudi Arabian society.

Saudi women's jewellery set, a mix of precious stones and gold.
Jewellery has been an essential part of Arabian dress for centuries. It represents social and economic status rather than just for mere decoration. For the Bedouins, it was a convenient form of wealth and security.

Traditional jewellery was mostly made of silver, although gold was also used. Stones such as turquoise, garnets and amber from the Kingdom’s rich mines, and pearls and coral from the coastal areas are incorporated into the designs of the jewellery. Tiny bells, coins and chains were also used for decoration. Designs mainly influenced by Islamic calligraphy and motifs, and featured elaborate patterns of geometric shapes, leaves, crescents and flowers.
Today, Saudi women still receive gifts of jewellery from their husbands when they marry or have children. Unlike their ancestors, who received large amounts of bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces as part of their dowry, modern Saudi women wear jewellery with a mix of traditional and contemporary designs with diamonds and a variety of precious metals. Solid gold bracelets remain a traditional gift for girls.

Traditional Sports & Recreation Activities
Some popular types of leisure programmes include horse/camel racing and falconry. From these, we can tell that sports, adventure and recreation in Saudi Arabia is an indispensable part of the day-to-day lifestyles of the Saudi Arabians. Some of these sports are included in Saudi Arabia’s famous festivals like the annual Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival which includes camel racing.

Horse RacingOne of the most thrilling and invigorating recreational sport in Saudi Arabia is the horse race. The race is a test of endurance and stamina as these horses are carefully bred and trained. Nowadays, horse racing is held at a stadium in Riyadh and is very popular throughout the world.

Camel racing on the 24th annual Janadriyah Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh.

Camel Racing
Camels from around the country are brought to the sporting ground for the race. Camel racing is much more than just a sporting event to the Saudis; it is a question of honour. The winning camel is worth thousands of riyals and also brings pride to both the trainer and its owner. Thus, competition and rivalry among the camel owners is intense.

Camel races are often held in the King Fahd International Stadium during winters and King's Camel Race, the world's largest camel race is held there too, attracting spectators from worldwide.
Falcon hunt in the desert of Saudi Arabia.
Falconry sport
Falconry is yet another traditional sport which originated centuries ago. The Art of Falconry is a challenging feat and it is time consuming as the falconer must tame the falcon.

Modern sports 
Soccer has become one of the most popular modern sports among Saudis of all ages, from children scrimmaging on playgrounds to international matches battled out in spectacular modern stadiums. Friends and families often watch at home or at stadiums to embrace their love for this sport and to support their favourite teams.

Saudi supporters at World Cup Asian qualifying playoff soccer match.

The professional Saudi soccer league is wildly popular among Saudis. The highlight of the Saudi soccer league is its championship tournament known as the King’s Cup. Fans also enthusiastically follow the Saudi Arabian national soccer team in World Cup competition.
Saudi Arabia has a number of first-class golf courses. One of them is the Dirab Golf Course, found in Riyadh in the Dirab valley. It is Saudi Arabia's first ever 18 hole championship quality golf course, situated near the Mountain Escarpment of Tuwaiq.


The interest shown by the Saudi Arabian people in the sport of golf has also been growing ever since the Americans introduced this sport to them about twenty years ago when they created a course in the sand near Dhahran. Prominent Saudi golfers like Mohammed Fahad Al Khaldi and Ali Hamad Bin Harith both served as caddies for the employees of Aramco and during that period they learned the sport and right now are both members of the National Golf team of Saudi Arabia, participating in golf tournaments all over the world.