<This article was written on November 2015, some information might be outdated>
How about some tips on things to do in Riyadh? Despite the strict rules and the conservative nature, Riyadh is a place that you will surely love. It has lots of things and places for both expats and locals to enjoy. There are different ways to explore this beautiful city.
- For expats who can afford to live on a western compound, activities are arranged by the compound’s recreation staffs.
- There are also tour groups and companies that offer sightseeing and other activities across the Kingdom.
- For single ladies, as long as you are taking extra precautions you will be fine and please never go out alone.
Check your visa requirements prior to travel to Saudi Arabia and make sure Saudi Arabia visa application is completed plenty of time prior to your departure.
Here is my list of 10 Awesome Things to Do in Riyadh
1. Visit Al Masmak Fort
Located in downtown Riyadh, is a castle made of clay and mud-brick that once played a significant role in the Kingdom’s history. It was where the recapture of Riyadh took place in 1902. Even today, Al Masmak Fort still plays a big part in the country’s tourism. This stunning architecture lets you re-live the memories of the years gone by as the old castle was turned into a museum.
It showcases a variety of antique guns, costumes, set-ups of a traditional Saudi house and exhibits of old photos of places and civilizations of the kingdom. Another good thing about this awesome place is that the entrance is FREE. But be sure to check the schedules first, as there is a separate visiting schedule for men and families.
2. Explore Deerah Souk
After you get a dose of Saudi history, it’s time to do some bargaining at Deerah Souk. Souk is the Arabic word for market or bazaar. It is located just behind the Masmak Fort. This is the best place to buy souvenirs for your family and friends back home as there are lots of stalls to choose from and the price here is cheap. Toys, ref magnets, key chains, scarfs, shawls, carpets, lanterns, scented oils, dress, make-ups, gold, accessories, spices… Everything you need can be found in the souk. There is a separate area for each. Do not be shy to haggle!
3. Sky Bridge at Kingdom Center
If you want to see Riyadh from up above, this is the best place to be. Located on the 99th floor of Kingdom Tower, the third tallest skyscraper in Riyadh is a 56-meter sky bridge where you can have a panoramic view of the city. It takes two speedy lifts to take you to the top. Whether you come to visit it during the day or night, both offer a spectacular view.
There are also shopping malls and restaurants on the ground floor. The Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh is also located at the Kingdom Center.
4. Tour at the Largest Integrated Farm in the World
You heard it right! The world’s largest integrated farm can be found on this desert land. Al Safi Dairy Farm in Al Kharj is a Guinness World Record Holder with more than 50,000 Holstein cows.
Upon entering the company’s premises, cars will undergo a series of disinfection. A company staff will welcome the visitors and conduct the tour using their spacious bus. First stop is the farm. Just like any other place in the Kingdom, male and female cows cannot just mix up. Cows are also separated based on their age. A great experience for children is that they can touch and bottle-feed the baby cows.
Next stop is the state-of-the-art milking parlors. Be amazed on how they pamper these female cows to get the best quality milk. A short visit to the machine-operated factory is also part of the tour. But the best part of the trip is at the end where they are giving away lots of freebies. The trip is free, but you have to contact the company first and book in advance.
5. Quad Biking at the Red Sand Dunes
For a quick weekend getaway, head to the Red Sand Dunes. Rent an ATV, do some picnics or barbecue with the magnificent view of Tuwaiq Escarpment on the back drop. It’s better to go there in the morning or the late afternoon when the sun’s heat is still bearable.
6. Edge of the World
Almost 90 km north of Riyadh hides this breathtaking rock formation. Located at the Acacia Valley and part of Tuwaiq Escarpment, this amazing place is a common trekking spot for expats. Standing on the edge of the cliff with the endless view of the valley below will make you feel as if you are on the edge of the world. It is believed that this place was the bottom of an ocean some thousands of years ago.
The Edge of the World
The best way to get there is by using a 4×4 vehicle as the road is rocky and sandy. This is where your driving skills will be put to the test.
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7. Visit the National Museum
What better way to understand Saudi Arabia than by visiting its national museum. The museum is divided into eight well-designed halls namely: Which are Man and the Universe, Arabian Kingdom, The Pre-Islamic Era, The Prophet’s Mission, Islam and the Arabian Peninsula, First and Second Saudi States, The Unification, and The Hajj and the Two Holy Mosque. It offers a vast display of antiques, manuscripts, miniatures, and artifacts. There are also audio-visual presentations both in English and Arabic for the more enjoyable experience. Entrance fee cost SAR 10 for adults and FREE for children.
8. A Walk in the Past at the Historical Diriyah
This UNESCO World Heritage Site should not be missed when visiting Riyadh. It was the original home of the Saudi Royal Family and the first Saudi capital. Old houses made of mud are such a wonderful sight to behold knowing the glorious past it once witnessed.
9. Go on a Road Trip
Since the price of petrol in Saudi Arabia is incredibly cheap, why not invite your family and friends on a road trip. From quirky-shaped buildings, beautiful mosques, huge palaces, green date farms, a vast desert scene, superb sunrise and sunset views and much more, Riyadh has it all.
10. How About a Food Trip?
With a large percentage of expat population, Riyadh is surely the best place to try a wide array of cuisine. From Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani, Asian, Italian, American and more, Riyadh will surely satisfy your craving appetite.
Here is a few list of some must try dishes and snacks in Riyadh.‘Kabsa’ is like the national food of Saudi. It is a rice meal with meat, vegetable, and lots of spices. The best way to enjoy kabsa is by eating with your hands while the food is scattered on a plastic sheet just like boodle fight. Shawarma, do I need to say more? Broasted chicken is another favorite. It is usually served with fries, hummus, garlic sauce and flat bread. There is also a variety of fish and shrimp broasted for you to try. Another tasty dish that is worth a try is ‘foul and tamis.’ Foul is a dish made from fava beans with vegetable oil and spices while tamis is the flat bread that you will dip in the foul.
RULES TO REMEMBER:
Situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau is Riyadh, the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. Unlike other modern cities in the Middle East, Riyadh is known for being conservative, even compared to other cities in the Kingdom like Jeddah and Dammam. Others might also think of it as a very boring city. Women cannot go out in public without wearing the abaya. A long, black cloak used to fully cover the body, while men are discouraged from wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts.
Women are not allowed to drive, and they cannot mix with men unless they are married to them, or they are direct blood relatives. All establishments stop their operation during prayer times which is five times a day. Religious police or mutawa are a common sight even in the malls. The word “culture-shock” really applies if you are a newbie on this part of the planet. But just like any other places, obeying the rules is the best way to cope up with the daily life in Riyadh.
Given this list, I hope it helped to change the perception of Riyadh as a boring city.
About The Writer
Charmaine Imperial grew up in Tagaytay City, Philippines and took Bachelors Degree from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She is currently working in Riyadh as an accounting staff. She is a simple person who loves to eat, to sing in the karaoke, taking photos, and of course traveling. Her greatest travel dream is to see the Kremlin in Russia.
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