TOP THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, is an intriguing mix of tradition and modernity. After all, it is a city that has only recently outgrown from a small tribal settlement to one of the wealthiest cities in the Middle East. If you have never been to Riyadh and are wondering what there is to see and do, check out this list of the city's most amazing tourist attractions from skyscrapers to desert escapes.
TAKE IN THE PANORAMA OF RIYADH FROM 300 METERS ABOVE GROUND
Take in the vast panorama of Riyadh from the top of the 99-story, 300-meter skyscraper, the Kingdom Center. The stunning tower stands out in the skyline with its shape, looking like a giant bottle opener.
The building's most distinctive feature is the steel and glass bridge on the top, 41 floors above ground, where the the Sky Bridge observatory is located. The views are spectacular day and night.
Learn About Saudi History at Al Masmak Fortress
The thick-walled, clay and mud-brick Masmak fortress created a turning point in the history of Saudi Arabia, when it was attacked by King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud in 1902 and he reclaimed his ancestral home city of Riyadh. This event eventually paved the grounds for King Abdul Aziz, who is the late father of the current Saudi king, to establish a modern Saudi nation.
The fortress has been turned into a museum displaying exhibits of photographs, short films, maps, models, old weapons and traditional objects.
Entry to the museum is free. There are also several souks around the fortress (scroll down to learn more).
HALF-DAY TRIP FROM RIYADH: VISIT THE AWE-INSPIRING EDGE OF THE WORLD
Edge of the World, two hours from Riyadh, is an awe-inspiring sight that offers dizzying views from the 300-meter-high rock formation to the endless valley below. The untouched natural beauty of this site is simply amazing. There are no signs, no railings, no souvenir-sellers. Just walk to the cliff and admire the vast view below.
Read further here: The Incredible Edge of the World, Saudi Arabia
SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP IN TRADITIONAL SAUDI SOUKS
Riyadh's numerous souks are filled with crafts, traditional outfits, perfume, gold, incense burners, carpets, handmade footwear, pottery and much, much more.
Inside the souks, merchants relax in chairs, chatting to one another across the narrow walkways. It's a laid back atmosphere and the salesmen aren't pushy. They generally speak some English, are used to foreign visitors and are happy to showcase the traditional items for sale.
GO QUAD BIKING ACROSS THE SAND DUNES
The stunning Red Sand dunes and Thumamah dunes around Riyadh are popular spots for quad biking, both around an hour form the city center.
Rent an ATV or join the locals and have a picnic out in the desert, surrounded by rocky outcrops and camel herds.
To get to the Red Sand Dunes take Route 80 (Makka Al Mukarramah Rd), then a loop on the right to turn left onto Route 505. After 4 km, take the exit on the right to Route 5395. After about 11 kilometers you will see the ATVs in the sand. Please be careful driving the ATVs. There are no helmets and accidents happen. One-hour ATV rental is 40-50 SAR per person and more for the larger ones.
Immerse yourself in the rich and diverse history of Saudi Arabia in Diriyah
Diriyah, in the suburbs of Riyadh, was the capital of the First Saudi State. The old village, At-Turaif, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with museums and mud-brick houses and colorful hand-painted doors. It is still undergoing renovations and expected to open to the public later in 2020.
Opposite At-Turaif is the newly developed Al Bujairi, the central plaza of Diriyah with its meandering alleyways and architecture inspired by the surrounding natural environment and the mud-brick construction. Tucked into the alleyways are a number of restaurants and cafés.
Locals love having picnics by the river and the verdant Wadi Hanifah valley and the area comes especially alive during the evening hours.
DINE IN A GIANT GLASS BALL OVERLOOKING THE CITY
The enormous glass ball on top of the the Al Faisaliah skyscraper is the Globe restaurant with panoramic views over Riyadh.
Lunch, dinner or Afternoon Tea, the ambience and the views of Riyadh will not disappoint. The food is probably not the best you have had but it is a place you go for the ambience and the views.
RELAX SITTING ON FLOOR CUSHIONS AND ENJOY SOME LOCAL KABSA
Najd Village restaurant is famous for its traditional Saudi cuisine and design. Guests sit on the cushions on the floor in booths hidden behind heavy curtains, the server lays the tablecloth on top of the the carpet and food is served.
It is a perfect place to taste some lamb or camel kabsah cooked with spices like cinnamon and cardamon and served on a large platter of rice; or some jareesh, which is a crushed whole wheat dish topped with crispy onion.
WATCH HORSE RACING AT THE KING ABDULLAZIZ EQUESTRIAN FIELD
Watch the horses and jockeys compete in one of the most valuable races in the world. The prize for the winning horse of the Saudi Cup or The World's Richest Race is no less than 10 million dollars.
King Abdullaziz Equestrian Field: https://www.frusiya.com/index.php?language=en
TREAT YOURSELF TO A LAVISH BRUCH AT THE RITZ-CARLTON HOTEL
The lavish and delectable Friday Brunch at Al Orjouan in the opulent Ritz-Carlton Riyadh is a sumptuous spread of Middle Eastern and international dishes, truly a trip around the world.
The international culinary journey takes you from China and Japan to the Middle East to Italy, and is nothing short of gastronomical pampering.
Read more here: DELECTABLE FRIDAY BRUNCH AT THE RITZ-CARLTON RIYADH
HIT SOME GOLF BALLS ON THE LUSH GREENS IN THE MIDDLE OF A DESERT
Experience playing golf on the lush fairways in the middle of the desert with views of the surrounding sand dunes. You may even spot a herd of camels nearby.
Riyadh Golf Courses: https://www.riyadhgolfcourses.com/
Dirab Golf & Country Club: http://www.dirabgolf.com/
Nofa Golf Resort: https://www.nofaresorts.com/ver/tr/en-nofa-golf-resort.html
ENJOY A CUP OF COFFEE IN ONE OF RIYADH'S UBIQUITOUS COFFEE SHOPS
Coffee culture has a huge part in the Arabian daily life and traditional qahwa made of lightly roasted coffee beans flavored with cardamom, cloves and saffron, and served in a dallah, is delightful with dates.
Fashionable cafés can be found all around Riyadh from Parisian Ladurée and Fauchon to Urth Caffée from California and L'ETO from London to roasters serving the best Arabica.
Elixir Coffee Roasters: https://elixirbunn.com/
L'ETO Riyadh: https://www.instagram.com/p/BpufDC_hrya/?hl=en
White Garden Lounge: https://www.facebook.com/pages/White-Garden-Lounge/248466242348947
Urth Caffé: http://www.urthcaffe.sa/
WATCH CAMELS COMPETE AT A BEAUTY CONTEST
Each February or March, Saudi Arabia holds the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival showcasing their best camels.
Besides camel races, about 30,000 camels compete in a beauty pageant. Camel breeding is a big business and the festival hands out more than $30 million in prize money to owners of the winning camels.
Read more here: Camels are Smarter Than Horses and Other Fun Facts about Camels
ENJOY A WALK IN ONE OF RIYADH'S LUSH GREEN PARKS
Despite the hot and arid climate, Riyadh is surprisingly green. The lush parks around the city are filled with palm trees, bougainvilleas and cacti, and the locals love spending time outdoors, walking or having picnics away from the busy city center.
Some of the larger parks like King Abdullah Park and Salam Park are gated and not open 24/7, charging a small entrance fee, but because of that they are also cleaner and there are attractions from boat rides to musical fountains.
LEARN ABOUT SAUDI HISTORY AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
The National Museum's eight main halls, filled with antiques, manuscripts and documents, are designed to give a chronological history of the Arabian Peninsula. The halls cover the time from the beginning of the universe to Arabian Kingdoms to Islam and a display of the Two Holy Mosques.
Next to the museum is another museum, Al Murabba Palace, the former home of King Abdul Aziz, founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Among other displays, you can also see a Rolls-Royce that was presented to the king by Winston Churchill in 1946.
GO SHOPPING IN ONE OF RIYADH'S LUXURIOUS MALLS
Riyadh offers plenty of shopping opportunities from designer labels to street fashion. All malls have plenty of dining options from internationally known restaurants to fast food. Some of the luxury malls include:
The Mall at Kingdom Centre: http://kingdomcentre.com.sa/
Centria Mall: http://www.centria.com.sa/
Al Nakheel Mall: https://www.arabiancentres.com/mall/index/en/2/al-nakheel-mall/
Riyadh Park Mall:https://riyadh-park.com/
VISIT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY
King Fahd National Library in the heart of the city has a striking modern design.
Inside, there is an extensive collection of books and a beautiful reading area. The library is also home to exhibition spaces, a restaurant and a bookshop.
JOIN THE LOCALS AND HAVE SOME STREET FOOD
Food trucks and pop-up kitchens have become part of the popular Saudi culture. One of the areas with dozens of food trucks is King Fahad Road and they are also lined up on King Abdullaziz Road. Burgers, shwarma, waffles, Asian fusion--the choices are numerous.
Most food trucks are open only at night and mostly after the Isha prayer starting from 6.30-7 pm.