Visiting Riyadh – A City Guide
Though deeply traditional in many ways, the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh is also one of the wealthiest cities in the world, with extravagant modern architecture rising over the golden desert sands. It’s also the Saudi centre of politics, finance and culture.
Riyadh features a contemporary highway system, with two ring roads connecting the main neighbourhoods, and King Fahd Road running through the city centre from north to south. Makkah Road likewise cuts through the centre running east and west, facilitating movement between the business district and diplomatic quarters.
The Olaya District is where to find renowned restaurants, entertainment and the best hotels in Riyadh. The downtown area is home to Al-Batha and Al-Dirah, some of the oldest and most diverse neighbourhoods, including a strong Filipino population in Batha.
King Khalid International Airport is about 35 kilometres north of the city centre. The Izdihar district lies about halfway between the airport and the city centre, providing affordable hotels.
One of the most recognisable landmarks in the Kingdom is the strikingly modern Kingdom Centre with its 300-ton sky bridge stretching across the heights of the city for 65 metres. A close second in notoriety is Al Faisalyah Tower, piercing the sky with its prominent glass globe made of 655 glass panels.
The concierge recommends…
Eating Out in Riyadh
Though international cuisine is easy to find in Riyadh, traditional Middle Eastern food has enough variety to keep you tasting your way across the region. Restaurants serving Saudi, Jordanian, Turkish and Lebanese dishes abound.
Najd Village on Al Takhassusi Road dishes out old-time Saudi culture, both on your plate and in its décor, which resembles a quaint Arabic village building. This is the place to try hashi, baby camel prepared with traditional Najd-region recipes.
Pockets of Filipino cafes thrive in Batha, such as Pinoy restaurant, renowned for its authentic kare-kare, an oxtail- and peanut-based stew.
Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Street, nicknamed Tahlia Street, is home to quite a few Western-style eateries, including Johnny Rockets and Dulce Café, serving Italian pasta, pizza and sandwiches.
Spazzio 77 in Kingdom Tower caters to the international crowd, diplomats and visiting dignitaries, with fine dining, a cigar bar and an oxygen bar. A family-friendly brunch on Fridays provides entertainment for young guests.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Riyadh
Shopping in Riyadh exemplifies the striking contrast in contemporary and traditional Saudi life. High fashion and technology dominate glittering malls inside the city’s most prominent structures, while street markets, known as souks, offer handmade local crafts, jewellery, spices and housewares.
The Sky Shopping Mall in Al-Faisaliah Tower harbours designer names such as Cartier, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, as well as smaller exclusive boutiques. It‘s also a virtual parade of Western food franchises, surrounded by shops selling electronics, watches and sports gear.
Kingdom Tower packs its own punch in the world of fashion with the Mamlaka Mall. The entire second floor is devoted to women’s fashion, with more than 40 specialty boutiques in a setting dubbed “Ladies Kingdom.”
Souq al-Thumairi in the Al-Dira section of old town is a dizzying collection of small shops and stalls selling everything from musical instruments to daggers and hand-woven textiles.
Culture & Nightlife in Riyadh
Many of the cultural venues in Riyadh are relatively new, due to the city’s restructuring in the mid-1900s. However, it’s possible to experience centuries of the region’s history in modern museums. The few art galleries tend to favour contemporary Saudi artists and designers.
Alanart Gallery seeks to reflect emerging art and design through curated exhibits, and encourages interaction through its café, library, coffeehouse and education hub.
The National Museum highlights everything from Arabian art to ancient architecture, such as a life-size recreation of a Nabataean tomb. King Saudi University is home to the Antiquities Museum, showcasing artefacts from archaeological excavations, including pottery, coins, frescos and statues.
Nightlife in the traditional sense is nonexistent, as alcohol is forbidden throughout Saudi Arabia. Evening coffee and nonalcoholic drinks are served at the best hotels in Riyadh, including Addiwan Tea Lounge in the Intercontinental Hotel on King Saud Road, which stays open until 1am.
Restaurants for Socialising
Leisure in Riyadh
Getting out of the city for some fresh air and exercise is easier than you may think. Lake Kharrarah Park lies outside the city limits, where you can spread out a picnic or hit the red sand dunes for sandboarding and dune-buggying.
The Diplomatic Quarter Gardens, about a five-minute drive from the city centre, is a collection of over 30 parks with lush vegetation, water features, a children’s playground, picnic areas and sports courts. The gardens are open to the public every day for free.