Riyadh, the capital of the Saudi Arabia, is a very interesting city where past mixes with modernity. Scroll on to read about different activities you can do there (and thanks to the Tourism Board of Saudi Arabia for letting me explore the best of the city by myself!)
1.Pop into Najd village
Najd village (actually there are a few restaurants under this name) is named after the region of Saudi Arabia where Riyadh is located. Although the Najd village is quite new, its architecture mimics the Najd houses of the past: it uses the natural light and traditional ventilation methods adapting to the hot climate of Saudi Arabia. All the details such as bright doors, kitchen utensils, carpets give you the feel of authenticity and comfort. Overall, it’s a very beautiful and photogenic I cannot stop taking photos of!
Your meal starts with traditional Arabic coffee:make sure you receive the cup with your right hand! A real feast follows after that. The dishes that are basically made from three local ingredients: meat (lamb, chicken or camel), vegetables and wheat. Some of them we were lucky to try are: qursan, mgalqal meat, samosas, maqlub and matazeez. All of them are traditional and have been eaten for many decades. Rice though is imported from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, and it appeared in local cuisine only after the 1940s.
The village is divided into a few areas on different floors with different levels of privacy: for instance, the family area and the ‘single’ area only for men. You can book a ‘room’ behind the curtain aka tents or sit in a more open space to your liking.
2.Explore history at Al Masmak Fort
Al Masmak fort’s construction started in 1865 and it consists of a few structures: watchtowers, wall with a gate, majlis, and a mosque. It’s an absolutely stunning building built of clay, mud bricks and wood.
The fortress was in the middle of the events during the process of the unification of Saudi Arabia: the Battle of Riyadh when King Abdulaziz gained control over the city (and specifically of this fortress) took place here. As per legend, Fahad ibn Jalawi ibn Turki Al-Saud, a cousin of Abdulaziz, threw a spear at Ibn Ajlan, his enemy from the Rasheed dynasty side, near the gates, and missed – it’s still visible in this doorframe
King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud was the one who founded the Third Saudi Arabia state in 1934, and his sons rule the Kingdom from his death on. The current king of the Kingdom is Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. After the renovations of 1979-1995 the fortress was converted into a museum and now showcases a collection of Saudi artefacts related to the history of three Saudi Arabia states and the Royal family.
3.Climb to the top of Kingdom Centre
300 metres high Kingdom Centre is one of the most widely known Riyadh skyscrapers and one of the tallest buildings of Riyadh. You’ve probably already seen the outline of a bottle opener somewhere! It was built in 1999-2002. The building itself is home to a posh Four Seasons hotel, 13 floors of offices, a wedding hall, rental apartments, a large shopping mall and of course to the Sky Bridge, an observation desk right on the inverted arch on the top of the building!
It gives a perfect view over the city – and it’s especially astonishing at night. To get there, you have to take two elevators: first takes you to the 77th floor where the highest mosque in the world is located, and from there you take another elevator to the 99th floor. If you plan to go there, please be aware that cameras, toys, food and drinks are not allowed there for safety reasons.
4. Get modern vibes at Boulevard City Riyadh
And our final destination is the Boulevard city, a large shopping zone mostly en plein air with vibrant ads shining from every corner of it. My favourite areas were the lake surrounded by shops and restaurants, a dancing fountain and the Trocadero zone with a giant LED globe! Boulevard city was inspired by Times Square in NYC and was initially launched in 2019.
Some zones are still under construction now and to enter you have to buy a ticket (at least it was like this during my visit). Finally, we had a very nice Arabic meal there at the Al Nakheel restaurant.
5. Try international cuisine
What you can try in Riyadh? Probably, all cuisines of the world! We’ve attended a few nice spots, which I’d like to share with you.
You’ve probably been to the Roka restaurant already. It’s a group of high end Japanese restaurants all over the world: in London (multiple locations, my favourite is at the Canary Wharf!), Dubai, Istanbul, Mallorca The main speciality of it is Robata grill but rolls and raw seafood is no less delicious. The interiors are really astonishing too!
Off white lounge
Off white lounge is located in a lovely food court area with a large fountain in An Nafal. The real stars of their menu are the dishes from Armenian cuisine – have you tried it before (I did and I loved it a lot! Should my next trip be Armenia?)
What else to do in Riyadh?
Other places to explore in Riyadh are Diriyah, The National Museum, Murabba Palace. Al Faisaliah Centre, Riyadh Gallery, and many more but unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to experience them myself (maybe in the future!).
Where to stay in Riyadh?
In Riyadh we stayed in the Fairmont hotel located in the Business Gate Complex not far from the airport . It has nice cosy rooms with pretty interiors and a huge breakfast area with the stalls for different cuisines (pan-Asian, Indian, Western and of course Arabic) – and I was mostly impressed by the selection of freshly squeezed juices: you could find anything to your liking there, from strawberry and pineapple to pomegranate and avocado juices! The hotel also has a pool but women have to book it in advance.
The main feature of the hotel is probably the Hanging chandeliers installation in the main area with the illuminated staircase and a small fountain at the lower floor.
You might also like my other blogs about the Arabic Middle East:
- Historical AlUla
- Amman, Jordan
- Dead Sea
- Dubai guide
- Dubai: traditional souks
- Dubai: observational points
- Desert trip and hot balloon ride, Dubai
Hope you enjoyed my blog!