Do you have to wear a burkini in Riyadh when you go swimming?
My daughter asked this while we were perusing the swimwear lines starting to grace the shops in Oz because summer is just around the corner.
What women wear to the swimming pool in Saudi depends on a couple of things - where they swim and personal preference.
At our compound pool, and all other western compounds ever visited, you will find the female form clad in a range of bikini's and one pieces. A burkini has never graced our pools waters - not in the short time I've been there. The blokes are usually in board shorts though every now and then a budgy smuggler (speedo wearing dude) drops by.
At the womens pool on the DQ, Al Manihal, the swimwear bottoms must cover the thighs and the top must cover the chest so you aren't showing off your cleavage. Some local women here wear burkini's, though quite a number jump in with their abaya's still on. Although expat word of mouth describes the pool as women only the majority of those women also take their children to the pool.
The few times I have swum at Al Manihal they have accepted me wearing my old triathlon training gear - cycle shorts and top similar to those pictured below.
My Saudi friends wear gear they feel comfortable in. One wears swimwear that resembles a track suit - long sleeved top and loose pants.
Another wears gear that resembles this burkini below though hers has no sleeves.
My young Saudi friend wears similar bottoms (she doesn't like her butt and thighs) but a bikini top. Her other friends wear skimpy bikini's because they are those lucky women who have had two or three kids but don't put on a pound anywhere. All of them lay about the pool in the sunshine working on their tans and gas bagging in between dips in the water. Invitations to swim here are women only. All men are intercepted at the gate and sent elsewhere.
When invited to the family farm by another lovely Saudi lady I was instructed to bring something to swim in as there was a pool, so along came the trusty two piece. The women I met beside the pool on this occasion ranged in age from 13 to 70. Their choice of swim attire was shorts and T-shirts. The men, who knew the women were swimming, stayed in their part of the farm building doing whatever it is men do. When the men want to swim it is the women's turn to stay indoors.
Lovely Lady has a burkini similar to the one pictured below that she wears to any public pool in or out of Saudi though hers is two lovely shades of pink.
While searching for alternative accommodation because the increase in rent at our place was becoming ridiculous we came across a small compound with a small pool. This accommodation was not for westerners only. When asked if women could swim in the pool the answer was yes it is possible - but you had to wear an abaya in the pool in case a man type showed up as the pool was unable to be controlled.
The ladies I know all love to to take a dip in the pool. Some took swimming lessons as children though the advance of years, marriage and kids has meant their trips to the pool are much less frequent than they would like. Not all of my friends have a pool in their back yard or at the farm and the cost of a pool visit can be restrictive. It cost 50SAR to Al Manahil and I also had to buy a swim cap.
There are pools at some of the ladies gyms/salons but, as an infrequent visitor, I've never swum at those places so can only presume the swimwear must be culturally acceptable.
The larger hotels also have swimming pools but they are generally men only particularly if they are outdoor pools which are harder to cordon off to provide women only hours. The Intercontinental has lovely outdoor pools that no woman shall ever swim in for fear she be gazed at from one of the windows overlooking the pool. However, the day we were there one part of the pool area was available for families so local mothers could bring the kids for a swim, sitting beside the pool wrapped in black as the youngsters splashed about in the water.
A friend who travels to Saudi for work now and then swims in her hotel pool in the morning (an indoor one) because there is no-one else around. For some unexplainable reason it occurred to her, after a few days of being solo in the pool, to ask management if swimming was allowed for women. Of course she was told no. Now her dilemma is should she ignore the rule and pretend she knows no better.
Some hotels will provide security outside the pool door if you ask nicely - I'm not sure if that particular hotel is one of those. I guess we will find out next time she is in town. By the way, she wears a one piece for her hotel swims.
So, whether or not you have to wear a burkini in Riyadh depends on a number of factors but the short answer to 'Do you have to wear a burkini ?' is, No, not really.