Riyadh’s iconic Kingdom Centre (Tower) is instantly recognisable in the city’s skyline. A skyscraper resembling a bottle opener or a garden hoe, the building’s splendour demonstrates the power of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For sublime views far and wide, pay the 63 Riyal charge and head to the top. Here, on floor 99, you can walk across the Skybridge admiring this huge city from above. Views are exquisite and, there is also a restaurant called Spazio on floor 77 and a huge shopping mall on the lower floors.
King Abdullah Rd, King Fahd, Riyadh 12271, Saudi Arabia +966 11 211 2222
Riyadh’s famous Souq is a lively market where local Saudi Arabian traders sell their goods and have done so for generations. Wander through the narrow passageways looking for items that catch your eye. Most of these little shops are cash only, and bargaining is essential if you want to get a good deal. You can buy all sorts of things within, ranging from art to carpets to clothes to gold. Souvenir hunters can also find what they need, including old coins, stamps and banknotes as well as stalls selling postcards, fridge magnets and Saudi branded gifts.
Boasting the holiest two cities in Islam (Mecca and Medina), Saudi Arabia is the spiritual home for Muslims the world over. Riyadh has thousands of Mosques, but if you can see just one, make it the King Khalid Grand Mosque. If you have time to see a second one, visit the Alowidah Mosque. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter, but if you go here during one of the day’s five prayer times, you can see the Islamic religion in action. From outside, you can watch the hordes of worshippers go in and out of one of the city’s most important buildings.
Umm Al Hamam Al Gharbi, Riyadh 12326, Saudi Arabia +966 11 488 9700
Get a feel for the old and new in Riyadh by visiting the Old Town and the more recently renovated streets around it. The old streets and buildings remain pretty, despite being in urgent need of repair. By wandering these vintage little streets you can chat with local vendors, grab a coffee by the main square (Alsafat Square) and visit the old fort, city gate and clock tower. The area has had funding in recent years in an attempt to restore these buildings to their former glory. Palm trees line the boulevards while mud-style buildings set the scene for what life would have been like before the city was a skyscraping metropolis.
In the heart of Old Riyadh sits a magnificent fortress. Masmak Fortress is a square building made of mud and concrete. It was built in 1865 and later played a significant part in Saudi Arabian history since it was right here in 1902 that Ibn Saud led his troops to recapture the city of Riyadh. Check with the locals for opening times and information on how to organise a guided tour. The tours are available in Arabic and English, but please note there are different visiting times for males, females and families.
In an elaborate building in central Riyadh sits the city’s state of the art National Museum. Also known as the King Abdul Aziz Museum, this is an important exhibition detailing the development of the city and country through the years. The ground floor takes you all the way back to prehistoric times with dinosaur fossils on view. After that, there are exhibits from the birth of Islam and the Nabatean Kingdom era. As part of this display, there are mock replicas of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Mada’in Saleh and Jeddah Old Town. On the upper floor, there is a corridor dedicated to the life of the Prophet Mohammed and numerous displays of Saudi Arabian life since the kingdom was formed in 1932.
King Faisal Rd، Al Murabba, Riyadh 12631, Saudi Arabia +966 11 402 9500
For a spot of elegant dining with a view, go up the elevator of the Al Faisaliah to the famous Globe Restaurant. This is one of the swankiest restaurants in Riyadh and also offers incredible views over the city’s skyline. The building was built in 2000 by the Osama bin Laden construction company. If you time your visit for sunset, you will be able to enjoy a vantage point of the city as day becomes night. The restaurant requires bookings in advance and the prices are expensive.
7411 King Fahd Rd, Al Olaya, Riyadh 12212, Saudi Arabia +966 11 273 2222
On the west of Riyadh sits a magnificent UNESCO-listed world heritage site. Diriyah contains a district known as Turaif. Here in Turaif, you can tour the old city walls and ruins and check out the stunning Salwa Palace. Recent funding has meant the site has been closed for renovation work as the entire area has been converted into a modern, open-air museum. Across from the UNESCO site, there are new, well designed promenades to stroll along. There are leafy parks, lots of cafes and restaurants and four museums in the modernised zone.