Once a desert capital, Riyadh has bloomed into a thriving modern city. As Saudi Arabia continues to open up, curious travellers are discovering that there’s more than meets the eye to this gleaming modern metropolis. Its evolution over the past 20 years is emblematic of the country as a whole, as Saudi Arabia progresses towards its Vision 2030.
With the population tripling to nine million over that 20-year period, much infrastructure and energy has been applied to keeping the capital's citizens entertained. New events, attractions and experiential opportunities have blossomed for those ready to enjoy themselves in Riyadh.
The multi-faceted Riyadh Season is the flagship festival of the city’s impressive event season. In and around Riyadh Season are world-class music concerts, festivals, and a multitude of other big-scale happenings. Little wonder Riyadh has shot up to 13th place in the World Tourism Organization index of most visited countries. Discover why with this checklist of essential Riyadh experiences.
Diriyah, an ancient UNESCO-protected town found 12 miles northwest of Riyadh, holds profound significance as the birthplace of the modern Saudi state. The first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, its founding in 1446 AD preceded centuries of growth and prosperity.
Explore this crucible of the Kingdom, admiring the stately mud-brick palaces of the At-Turaif and Bujairi historic districts. Although wonderfully antique, this town is far from dead. This cultural jewel's atmospheric streets come alive with events such as Diriyah Season when the town becomes an emotive backdrop for a vibrant cultural celebration.
A short drive south of gleaming Riyadh finds you in a stunning swathe of crimson dunes, an essential part of any Riyadh itinerary, these natural wonders are also an outstanding location for a quad bike excursion or a camel-mounted safari.
Travel a little further, and you’ll arrive at the the so-called “Hidden Valley”. Characterised by towering rock formations and near-miraculous vegetation drawing on natural springs beneath the desert sand, this is one of the region's best hiking trails. Keep your binoculars ready for glimpses of elusive ibex, wolves, or hyenas drawn to the oasis-like conditions here.
Binoculars might also be helpful on a trip to the ‘Edge of the World’. Just beyond the city limits, this remarkable geological formation acts as a natural balcony offering you far-reaching views across a vast desert plateau. Book in for a guided tour, learn about the area’s fascinating history and geology, and scan for mountain goats, desert foxes, and (easier to spot) spellbinding sunsets.
A prime shopping destination in the Middle East, Riyadh delivers everything from traditional souks to space-age, super swish malls.
Begin at Souk Azal —a pulsating souk located in the city’s heart. Lose yourself in this labyrinth of commerce, breathing in the floral scent of saffron and other spices, and feeling the quality of the textiles and handicrafts beneath your fingers.
For something more contemporary, enter the air-conditioned modernity of the Kingdom Centre. Dip into Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton boutiques and discover its high-end restaurants and cinema. Also available are the architecturally-striking Al Nakheel Mall, or the Panorama Mall where luxury and mid-range brands can be found in a traditional-meets-modern space.
While in Riyadh, undertake a diverse culinary odyssey. A city famous for its impressively omnivorous food scene, begin with local treats such as the aromatic meat and rice dish, Kabsa, or pick up an authentic Shawarma.
Make the most of the city's eclectic dining scene and switch between Saudi to sushi or Indian and European while staying in the Saudi capital. On the rise is its gourmet outposts, offering tasting menus that elevate a meal into an art form. Not to miss is a visit to Via Riyadh home to some of the most famous restaurants from around the world.
But, amid the variety in flavours and styles, there’s a through line in the food culture that makes it distinctly Saudi.
Perhaps above all else, Riyadh is a city famous for its packed annual event schedule. Chief among these is the Riyadh Season—a festival with something for everyone, from high drama Formula E races to contemplative art exhibitions, dazzling food festivals, and concerts from international and local artists.
If you're considering a visit to Riyadh and would like to consult with one of our Travel Advisors to tailor your plans, please reach out to us through the link below. Roam specialises in crafting customised packages tailored to your specific requirements, taking care of all the finer details, so you don't have to.