Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is the largest city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh might not be your first choice for a big-city weekend destination for western tourists from Europe.
But after Saudi Arabia recently opened up, tourists will finally be able to see the sites that Riyadh has to offer and enjoy the many things to do in Riyadh. Especially since the city is only about 6 hours flight time away from Central Europe
In only a few decades Riyadh has developed from an isolated town into the 3rd largest Arab city in the world, only after Cairo and Baghdad.
Now a spacious metropolis with a colossal development going on, but luckily some of the historical buildings survived one of the world’s most significant current building boom.
The historical district: Diriyah, the original home to the Saudi Royal Family is today UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While Saudi Arabia is still a strict Islamic country, the country has undergone a massive change over the last three years, and walking around Riyadh is just as magical as walking around the rest of Dubai.
If you are still organizing your trip, here are a few tips on how to get a Saudi Arabia Visa.
Most people you will see on the street around Riyadh are not local Arabs but are instead Indians, Filipinos, or Pakistanis, and other foreign workers.
And there seems to be a Starbucks or Dunkin Dontous on every street corner around the city, KFC, Macdonalds, and Burger King are also heavily represented around the city together with all other infamous international shops and restaurants. This Saudi Arabia capital has all the international dining options you could hope for.
You have to look in the old part of Riyadh to realize you are in the world’s second-most religious country. But be aware that everything closes down during prayer time and that NOTHING is open before 16.00 on Fridays.
Wondering what the 16 best places you should visit in Saudi Arabia are?
Top Things to Do in Riyadh Saudi Arabia Capital
Wondering what to do in Riyadh city? The capital city of Saudi Arabia has so much to offer. Here’s what you should be getting up to.
Visit Masmak Fort
Maskmak fort is the birthplace of modern Saudi Arabia. The old fortress from 1865 is the heart of old Riyadh. Masmak Fort is a magnificent citadel that takes us back to the history of Saudi Arabia.
This is the fort that was stormed by the late Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud known in the Arab world as Abdulaziz and in the West as Ibn Saud. The Masmak fort was stormed in the early hours of January 14th 1902.
Abdulaziz captured the fort and took control of Riyadh and created what´s today’s, Saudi Arabia. Today the fort is fully restored and is one of the most important museums and landmarks in Riyadh.
The museum has a lot of historical artifacts on display, including weapons, clothes, pictures, etc. Everything is displayed in both English and Arabic.
The fort is open from Saturdays to Thursdays from 8 am till 12 noon and again from 16.00. Until 21.00.
Go Shopping in Riyadh Souq for Antiques and Handcraft
Like in other Middle Eastern countries, the daily shopping is done in souqs (bazaars), the most popular souk in Riyadh is Souq al-Thumairi, also known as the Antique Souq located close to the Masmak Fort.
This is one of the best places to visit in Riyadh to buy handicrafts, antiques, perfume, traditional clothes, carpets, coffee pots, silver daggers, jewellery etc.
But remember to haggle, the Souq is located immediately south of the Masmak Fortress in the Al Diraiyah area.
Watch A Antique Auction
Local Saudi’s love antiques; you will notice this with all the private museums around the country, especially in south Saudi in Jizan province, wondering where they get all their collection from? From the antique action here at Souq al-Thumairi.
A bunch of old Coca-Cola cans from the ’50s went for over 1000usd during my visit, or what about a teapot for 2000usd? This is where the locals are spending their money on their private collections.
Enjoy the 360* view from Kingdom Center
Every big city with respect for itself has a skyscraper with a viewing platform these days. The most popular viewing platform in Riyadh is the sky bridge on the top of the 302.3 m /992 ft and 99 story tall Kingdom Center.
It’s a Saudi landmark and locally nicknamed the bottle opener, one of the best Riyadh attractions. The skyscraper is easily visible from all over Riyadh, especially at night when it’s lit up.
While the sky bridge at the top of Kingdom Center is the most popular viewpoint over the city, it’s the viewpoint at Al Faisaliyah Centre just about 1 km from the Kingdom Center which is another and less popular place to get a 360* view over Riyadh.
And best of all, from the viewpoint at Al Faisaliyah Centre, you can also see the Kingdom Tower.
The Kingdom Center also called the bottled opener.
9:30 am – 23.00.
Fridays 16:30pm – 23.00.
SAR 60 (16USD) for Adults.
SAR 20 (5USD) for Kids under ten years.
Dine in the World’s Highest Glass Ball at Al Faisaliyah Centre
On the top of Al Faisaliyah Center is one of the fanciest restaurants in the whole Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Globe is the world’s highest located glass ball, 242m in diameter, made of 655 glass panels and suspended just below the top of Al Faisaliah Tower, the most romantic place to enjoy the view over Riyadh.
This restaurant is one of the centrepieces of the local tourism and one of the best places in the city for a stunning view.
There’s also a viewing platform here underneath the glass ball. Entrance ticket and opening hours are the same as at Kingdom Center.
Be sure to book a table in advance if you want to enjoy a magical sunset from the restaurant.
Visit The First Suadi Capital Diriyah
On the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh is Diriyah, initially being a small oasis on the banks of Wadi Hanifa and the original home of the Saudi royal family.
The city served as the capital of the Emirate of Diriyah under the first Saudi dynasty from 1744 to 1818. Still, the history of Ad Diriyah goes back thousands of years.
It was once an ancient trade and pilgrimage route and a meeting point for those traveling to or from Asia, Africa, or Europe. The ruins of Diriyah was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010. This is a wonderful Riyadh tourist attraction.
The Saudi government has spent a tremendous amount of money, restoring the old ruins, making them ready for western tourists to arrive. A new hi-tech museum has also been constructed. They have also built a new district just outside the ruins, the new Al Bujairy centre.
The Al Bujairy centre is built traditionally, but are full of modern shops, ice cream shops, and restaurants. During my visit to Diriyah there was a historical part closed due to restoration but it has since been opened.
Attend Riyadh Season
Riyadh Season is a three-month mega-event that will take place from October 15 to December 15 all over Riyadh, and is one of the best things to do in Saudi Arabia.
There are twelve different zones, more than 100 events and 3000 different things to do and see. There’s something for everyone here. There is everything from a huge parade, concerts, and restaurant pop-ups from all over the world.
Enjoy a winter wonderland where you can go ice skating or watch some of the biggest stars from WWE, A Real Madrid Expo, and even a League of Legends competition. You can also visit the Ferrari show, where they have over 50 original Ferraris on display.
Riyadh Season is everything you expected the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia not to be. It’s crowded, and it’s fun.
Visit The National Museum of Saudi Arabia
The most popular site in all of Riyadh, like any other National Museum in the world, shows the history of the country through eight Exhibition Halls.
The different exhibitions will take you from the beginning of the universe. The exhibitions take you through the whole history of the Arabian Peninsula from the Pre-Islamic era, the life story of Prophet Mohammed, the different Saudi States to modern-day Saudi Arabia.
The last exhibition hall is the Hall of Hajj and Two Holy Mosques History of Mecca and Madina with one of the most valuable items in the Museum. Cover of the Kaaba door in Mecca.
As a non-Muslim is probably the closest, you’ll come to going to these two Holy sites of Mecca and Medina. It’s a very hi-tech museum with a lot of video presentations and virtual tours of the history of Saudi Arabia. This is one of the must-see Saudi Arabia attractions.
Sunday to Thursday from 12.00 – 20.00.
Take a Day Trip to the Edge of the World
The most popular day trip from Riyadh is to what the locals call Jebel Fihrayn, but is better known as the Edge of the World for tourists.
A natural wonder that earned its nickname from the viewpoint on the top from some 300 meter high cliffs overlooking the surrounding plain beneath. From the top of the cliffs, it does really look like you are looking into the end of the world.
There’s not much around here, but look closely, and you will see plenty of fossils of corals that are still visible all over the ground.
On the way to the Edge of the World is a cave with thousands of bats that you can explore. It’s easy to miss, but it’s marked on Google Maps as the “secret cave.”
The Edge of the World is located in what literally looks like the End of the World. It’s around 100km/62miles north of Riyadh, which is not far but it will take you around 2 hours do to the off-road driving which is only possible by 4×4. And even the larger 4×4 can quickly get stuck if the driver is not experienced. The road is very rocky and sandy.
Be sure to bring enough water; there are no shops around for miles. And not much shade in the area.
Additional information about Riyadh
Riyadh is one of the famous places in Saudi Arabia. Here is some additional information that you may need to know about Riyadh before you visit.
Getting To Riyadh
Riyadh is located almost in the centre of Saudi Arabia, so every part of the country is accessible within 1.5 hours if you decide to fly.
The city is also connected to most of the country with a vast bus network, but due to the country’s enormous size, bus travel is not very viable if you are on a time limit.
Also be aware if you are planning to go to the north and north-west, you will often have to change buses in Medina, which is not possible for non-Muslims.
Flights To Riyadh
Riyadh Airport is also known as King Khalid International Airport. It’s a huge airport and connects to almost everywhere in the world through most of the big airlines in the world.
The airport is located around 35km/22miles north of the city and the only way to get there are by Taxi (Uber and Careem)
Bus to Riyadh
Riyadh Central Bus Station is located 17km/10,5miles south of the city center.
Train to Riyadh
Riyadh is connected to two different railway networks, the eastern line to Damman with Saudi Railways Organisation and the northern line to Qassim, Hail, and Jauf with (SAR).
A high-speed train line between Riyadh and Jeddah is currently under development.
Getting Around Riyadh
The first Metro in Saudi Arabia is currently under construction in Riyadh, when done it will consist of six metro lines spanning a total length of 176 kilometers and 85 stations. A small part of the network will open by the end of 2019, and the complete system should be open in 2021.
Riyadh suffers from some of the worst traffic jams in the world during rush hours, so the metro will be highly welcomed when it’s fully operational.
Until then Uber and Careem taxi are the best way to get around Riyadh.
Where To Stay In Riyadh
With Riyadh being a huge city it’s important to decide what area you’d like to stay in.
Al-Batha is about 5km/3miles south of Masmak Fort and is the budget part of town while all big international hotel chains are located around Kingdom Center.
When looking for a great place to stay, Booking.com is a great website for finding accommodation.
Best Time To Visit Riyadh
When planning a trip to Riyadh you will have to take the weather into your planning for deciding when to visit.
Riyadh suffers from the worst of Saudi Arabia’s climatic extremes. Summer temperatures can get up to an extreme 50°C(125F) during the months of June and July.
While during the winter months December, January, and February temperatures can fall below zero. And if the extreme temperature is not enough, when the wind blows the city is often covered in a haze of sand and dust.
You are never far from an ATM in Riyadh. Like the rest of Saudi Arabia, money exchange can only be done in official Banks and at hi-end hotels so it´s important to get enough money before heading out of the city.
Every coffee shop, restaurant, hotel, and supermarket accepts bankcard payment with Visa.
Is Riyadh safe?
Riyadh is one of the safest cities in the world when it comes to the crime rate, but with Riyadh being one of the most conservative cities in Saudi Arabia it is crucial to respect their Islamic laws and costume.
Final Thoughts on Things to do in Riyadh
Located in the cultural hub of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is one destination you simply must add to your travel bucket-list. With so much to do in this capital city, you won’t regret taking the leap.
What are you waiting for? Start planning your Riyadh trip now!