The city of Dammam, the capital of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, is the country’s third largest metropolis after Riyadh and Jeddah.
In 1932, the year the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded, the area of present-day Dammam was little more than a handful of tiny hamlets that depended on fishing and pearling for survival. However, the Eastern Province sits on top of one of the world’s largest oil fields and the new Kingdom soon commenced serious oil exploration. In 1936, the national oil company drilled Dammam No. 7, an oil well that made Saudi Arabia one of the biggest oil producers on earth.
Over the next two decades, the discovery of new oil fields surrounding Dammam resulted in a building boom and population explosion. The region now accounts for a quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves and great wealth has flooded into the area. Experts from across the globe have flocked to Dammam to help search for new oil fields, and the ever-expanding city is now home to more than 1.5 million residents of every ethnicity.
As the heart of the Saudi oil industry, the city of Dammam is more about trade than tourism. However, there is plenty to occupy the time between business meetings and flights.
One of the favored spots in Dammam is its sweeping corniche, which attracts people keen to enjoy its modern art installations and panoramic view. An area between Dammam and Al Khobar has been designated for athletics, and local clubs provide sporting facilities. Those looking to enjoy water sports can visit the Coastal Sports Centre, situated at Half Moon Bay, or arrange an Arabian Sea scuba diving trip from Al Khobar.
Escape the desert at the King Fahd Park, an extensive recreational area of flourishing greenery and ornamental pools. Favored by families, the park features an amusement center loved by adults and children alike.
Finally, for a look into the past, visit the Heritage Centre on Dammam Corniche. In addition to displaying a collection of Bedouin crafts, traditional costumes, and Islamic pottery, the five-story center has a popular restaurant. Other cultural offerings include the Dammam National Museum, which depicts the Kingdom’s history, culture, and inhabitants through its displays of relics and ancient handicrafts.
Dammam is an eclectic mix of nationalities and this is reflected in its many restaurants.
For a taste of the Middle East, visitors can choose from a variety of Arabic cuisines. Enjoy kabsa, a family of rice dishes commonly referred to as the Saudi national dish, containing basmati rice combined with a heady mixture of spices, meat, and vegetables with a garnish of almonds, pine nuts, or fried onions. Other local favorites include shawarma, kultra, koftas, and kebabs—grilled meats served in a variety of ways.
International food chains are abundant in Dammam, and visitors can enjoy convenience with every conceivable fast-food pizza, chicken, or burger joint. The city’s large Southeast Asian population is also well provided for, and Indian and Pakistani cuisines are prevalent, as are Chinese and Japanese. Finally, upmarket European restaurants can be found in most large hotels, but remember, there will be no Bordeaux with your beef or Chianti with your cannelloni.
Evening activities in Dammam are limited to dining out, strolling Dammam Corniche, wandering the souks, trawling the malls, or enjoying shisha at one of the city’s many coffee shops. Evening entertainment is also offered at the city’s restaurants and hotels—ask around for the best suggestions.
Ninety minutes by train and 130 kilometers southwest of Dammam is Hofuf. The city sits in the center of the Al Ahsa oasis, which features the largest date palm plantation in the world, said to have been growing in the region for the last 4,000 years.
Visit the city’s many date-themed attractions, including the Date Factory, the Date Palm Research Centre, and the Date Souq. Once you’ve had your fill of these deliciously sticky delights, visit the natural caves of Jabal Qarah and the second oldest mosque in Islam: Jawatha Mosque, built in 629 AD by the Bani Abdul Oais tribe.