A trip to Dammam, the capital of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, is a fascinating experience. Dammam itself is not an old city, but the area had been populated many centuries ago before encroaching deserts drove its ancient people away. The current city is very much a 20th-century one, albeit with an unusual relationship to a history its people have barely begun to scratch the surface of. Here you’ll discover all manner of age-old curiosities amid an assortment of modern attractions.
Many artifacts from the region’s long-lost tribes survive to this day and most can be found at the the five-story Heritage Village nearby, including ancient weapons, jewelery and other rare items. Nearby you’ll also find the Dammam Public Library and National Museum. It exhibits important artifacts with more of a focus on the region’s proud Islamic history. Exhibits have been collected not just from Dammam and the Eastern Province, but from across Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and beyond.
The province’s major historic landmark is Tarout Castle, found on Tarout Island just north of the city, and it’s an absolute must-see. The castle’s Phoenician foundations date back to 5,000 BC. The rest of the fortress dates back to the 16th century, although nobody actually knows who built it. The two main theories are that it was either built by the citizens of Qatif and Tarout to ward off Portuguese invasion, or by the Portuguese themselves, to defend their newly acquired territory from the Ottomans.
People and Traditions
Dammam is a religious city and a largely conservative one, where men and women rarely mingle outside of family matters. Visitors are expected to follow cultural rules. These are worth looking into in more detail before you travel but, in general, dress conservatively (covering arms, legs and, for women, hair) and avoid controversial subjects (sex, alcohol or criticism of religion or the country, for example). Muslim visitors should have no trouble finding prayer rooms and other religious amenities at most sites and attractions.
Dammam is warm all year round, with winter temperatures hitting lows of around 10ºC from November to March, and summers regularly exceed 40ºC. Rainfall is rare, with summer dust storms more of a concern.
Dammam has many modern shopping facilities and a range of goods to suit all budgets can be found at the Othaim Mall, Al Hayat Plaza, the Marina Mall, and the Ibn Khaldoun Mall. If you plan to shop till you drop, head to Half Moon Beach to relax afterwards. Located in the neighbouring town of Dhahran to the south, this beautiful bay is one of the region’s top beaches. It is also the location of the resort village Al Khaleej Makarim, which offers leisure activities and luxury amenities, and is popular with locals as well as tourists.
Alternatively, get tickets to an event at the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium, which is a multi-purpose sports arena in the centre of the city. There are also plenty of day-trip options, with Dammam’s travel network offering easy access to Riyadh, Jeddah and, via the King Fahd Causeway over the Gulf, Bahrain. Jeddah offers theme parks that easily top Dammam’s own King Fahd Cobra Amusement Park, such as Jungle Land, Atallah Happy Land Park and the Al Shallal Theme Park. Jeddah is also home to the Mecca Gate and King Fahd’s Fountain, the tallest fountain in the world.
The main attraction in Dammam is its corniche stretching along the Al Azziziah Beach. With manicured green parks at its north and south ends – the South Khobar Corniche and North Corniche, respectively – it’s a terrific place for a stroll in the sun. The Corniche road is a popular family meeting place with many open-air artworks on display to sit and ponder.
North of the Corniche is Dammam Pier, which is home to the Dolphin Village. In addition to daily dolphin and seal shows, there’s a huge swimming pool and a number of rides and other amusements. At the end of the pier lies Al Marjan (Coral) Island, which is a great spot for picnics and boat rides.