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Riyadh is the largest city and capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh might not be your first choice for a big-city weekend destination for western tourist, but after Saudi Arabia recently opened up for tourist so will tourist finally be able to see the sites that Riyadh has to offer.
In only a few decades have Riyadh 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 have some of the historical buildings survived one of the worlds 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, but while walking around in Riyadh is it little that remains you of that these days, the country has undergone a massive change over the last three years and walking around Riyadh remains you more of walking around Dubai.
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 is also heavily represented around the city together with all other infamous international shops and restaurants.
You actually have to look in the old part of Riyadh to realise you are in the world´s second most religious country.
Be aware that everything closes down during prayer time and that NOTHING is open before 16.00 on Fridays.
TOP THINGS YOU SHOULD DO IN RIYADH.
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 Kin Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Faisal ibn Turki ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al Saud known in the Arab world as Abdulaziz and in the West as Ibn Saud by the early hours on January 14th 1902.
Abdulaziz captured the fort and took control of Riyadh and created 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 artefacts on display, including weapons, cloths pictures etc. Everything is displayed in both English and Arabic.
The fort is open from Saturdays to Thursdays from 8 a.m. till 12 noon and again from 16.00. Until 21.00.
Go Shopping in Riyadh Souq.
Like in other Middle Eastern countries so are the daily shopping done in souqs (bazaars), the most popular souk in Riyadh are Souq al-Thumairi, also known as the Antique Souq.
This is the best place 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 Masmak Fortress in the Al Diraiyah area.
Watch A Antique Auction.
Local Saudi´s loves 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 canes 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 for their private collections.
Enjoy the 360* view from Kingdom Center.
Every big city with respect for themself has skyscraper with a viewing platform these days. The most popular place view platform in Riyadh is the sky bridge on the top of the 302.3 m /992 ft and 99storey tall Kingdom Center a Saudi landmark, and locally nicknamed the bottle opener.
The skyscraper is easily visible from all over Riyadh, especially at night when it´s lighted up.
While the sky bridge at the top of Kingdom Center is the most popular viewpoint over the city, is the viewpoint at Al Faisaliyah Centre just about 1km from the Kingdom Center another and less popular place to get a 360* view over Riyadh.
And best of all, from the viewpoint at Al Faisaliyah Centre can you also see the Kingdom Tower.
9:30 am – 23.00.
Fridays 16:30pm – 23.00.
SAR 60 (16USD) for Adults.
SAR 20 (5USD) for Kids under ten years.
Dine At World Highest Glass Ball high up 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.
There´s also a view platform here at 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 here.
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 travelling to or from Asia, Africa or Europe. The ruins of Diriyah was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010.
The Saudi government have spent a tremendous amount of money, restoring the old ruins, making it 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 was the historical part closed due to restoration but it´s scheduled to open in January 2020.
Attend Riyadh Season.
Riyadh Season is a three-month mega-event that will take place from October 15 to December 15 all over Riyadh. Twelve different Zones, more than 100 events and 3000 different things to do and see. There´s something for everyone here.
Everything from a huge parade, concerts, restaurants from all over the world.
A winter wonderland where you can go ice skating or watch some of the biggest stars from WWE (American wrestling, A Real Madrid Expo and even a league of Legends competition or what about visiting the Ferrari show, where they have over 50 original Ferraris on display.
Riyadh Season is everything you excepted the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia not to be. It´s crowded, and it´s fun.
Visit The National Museum.
The most popular site in all of Riyadh, like any other National Museum in the world, show 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 Pre-Islamic Area, lifetime 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.
A very hi-tech museum with a lot of video presentations and virtual tours of the history.
Sunday to Thursday from 12.00 – 20.00.
The most popular day trip from Riyadh is to what the locals call Jebel Fihrayn, better known as the Edge of the World. A natural wonder the earned its nickname from the viewpoint on the top from some 3oo meeter high cliffs overlooking the surrounding plain beneath the cliffs, it does really look like you are looking into the end of the world.
There not much around here, but look closely, and you will see plenty of fossils of corals are still visible all over the ground ground. On the way to the Edge of the world is there also a cave with thousands of bats you can explore, it´s easy to miss, but it’s marked on Google Maps as the “secret cave.”
The Edge of the world I located in what literally looks like the end of the world, only around 100km/62miles north of Riyadh, which is not far but it will take you around 2hours do to the off the 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.
Additional information about Riyadh.
Getting To Riyadh.
Riyadh is located almost in the centre of Saudi Arabia, and with that are the entire country with a 1.5 hours radius 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 is bus travelling not very visible if you are on a time limit.
Be also aware if you are planning to go to the north and north-west will you often have to change bus in Medina, which is not possible for non-Muslims.
Flights To Riyadh.
King Khalid International Airport is a huge airport and connects to almost everywhere in the world through most of the big airlines in the world.
Domestic flights can be done with two of the countries budget airlines FlyDeal and FlyNas or by the national airline Saudi Airlines (SkyTeam)
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 centre.
Riyadh to Jeddah takes 12hours with a direct bus, Riyadh to Damman takes 6 hours and Riyadh to Abha (home to Rijal Almaa the gingerbread village in southern Saudi Arabia takes 15 hours with a transit.
Train to Riyadh
Riyadh is connected to two different railway networks, the eastern line to Damman with Saudi Railways Organisation (website currently not working) and the northern line to Qassim, Hail and Jauf with (SAR)
A highspeed 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 will It will consist of six metro lines spanning a total length of 176 kilometres 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 are Uber and Careem taxi the best way to get around Riyadh.