Rising out of the Arabian Desert sand is Riyadh, the capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The city has transformed from a fortified desert village in the 17th century to one of the most modern and wealthy metropolises of the 21st century—with a wide range of activities, attractions and adventures to explore.
If you’re heading to Riyadh, we’ve got you covered with seven ways to experience the city.
Visit Al Safi Farm, the world’s largest single integrated dairy farm in the Al Sahbaa Valley, located 100 kilometres southeast of Riyadh. There, you’ll see milking parlours, processing and packing plants, and kids may have a chance to bottle feed a calf. Plan to book your tour in advance.
Riyadh Zoo and Cafe Ceramique are two other family-friendly places in Riyadh. The 55-acre Riyadh Zoo is home to 1,500 animals. The zoo has different visiting days for men, women and families. Family days are Thursdays from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and Fridays from noon to 6 pm. During the summer months, it’s best to visit after 3:30 pm when it is a little cooler.
Families can easily spend three to four hours at the Cafe Ceramique. It’s a cafe and art studio located inside Sahara Mall. Here kids can make their own souvenirs. Choose a piece of unpainted pottery and paint it while you enjoy your meal. Once the piece is completed, the cafe will get the artwork glazed and ready for pick up within a week.
Those on the lookout for Arabian history and culture should explore the Old City of Dir’iyah, located on the fertile banks of Wadi Hanifa, a historic oasis northwest of Riyadh. This UNESCO Heritage Site was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, established in the 15th century as a trading station between the east and west of the Arabian Peninsula.
Another must-see for all history buffs is the treasure-laden National Museum with eight halls featuring artifacts from the pre-Islamic era to the period of the Unification of Saudi Arabia. This museum teaches Saudi history and aspects of Arabian culture you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Al Masmak Fortress is worth a visit as well. It’s the birthplace of modern Saudi Arabia. Besides the towering clay and mud-brick fort, visitors can see firsthand an array of historical relics, an ancient working well and the al-Khokha, a gate just large enough for one person to pass through at a time.
Up for a true desert experience? Join a three-day guided desert camping adventure to the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali Desert), one of the largest sand deserts in the world. You’ll learn to make Bedouin coffee, bake bread in the sand and watch the desert sunset.
The Edge of the World, two hours northeast of Riyadh by car, is another exciting attraction. There, you can see a desert rock formation that resembles the Grand Canyon. Look out for the fossils, and enjoy the spectacular views of the Acacia Valley. Check out other outdoor hidden gems in Riyadh too.
Black Stones Spa offers massages and Hammam—a type of Middle Eastern steam bath and full-body scrub. The spa is equipped with a TV room where men can enjoy a cup of tea and watch European football.
Al Multaka Ladies Center is Riyadh’s haven for ladies in search of a full-body pampering experience. In addition to the luxury spa, the facility has an on-site cafe, library and state of the art fitness centre.
If you like playing golf, check out the 9-hole golf course at the InterContinental Riyadh, right in the heart of the city.
Any shopping enthusiast, bargain hunter or antique collector will find Riyadh’s traditional souks (markets) and chic malls hard to resist. Visit Souk Al-Thumairi, the antique souk and Souk Al-Zal, the oldest in Riyadh.
Get your tax-free shopping done at the malls in the Olaya district along King Fahd Road and Olaya Street. Some of the top malls are Kingdom Centre, Al Faisaliah Mall and Riyadh Gallery Mall.
For an authentic Saudi dining experience, go to one of the Najd Village Restaurants, where you’ll sit on the carpeted floor with cushions. Order a camel kabsa, a Saudi national dish served with rice and vegetables.
A great place to grab a quick bite is at one of the many Mama Noura restaurants throughout Riyadh. One local favourite dish is, naturally, shawarma.
Traveller with less than 24 hours
On a tight schedule, head out to the SkyBridge at Kingdom Centre for a bird’s eye view of Riyadh. Then, stop by the National Museum to learn the history of the Arabian peninsula. Though you could fill weeks with all Riyadh has to offer, if you’ve only got a day, this is the best way to get a quick perspective on this ancient city.