Once nothing more than a dusty, desert outpost, Riyadh has blossomed into one of the most influential and intriguing cities in the Middle East. The Saudi Arabian capital is home to soaring modern towers, high-rise hotels, fabulous fine dining and considerable culture. Although luxury cars speed down the boulevards and sparkling office buildings are added to the cityscape seemingly every day, Riyadh still maintains a conservative, slightly somber atmosphere. This juxtaposition only makes the capital even more interesting.
The National Museum is hands-down one of the Middle East’s best museums. The state-of-the-art space contains eight floors of galleries dedicated to Arabia’s art, history and culture. Highlights include original rock carvings, a full-scale replica of a Nabataean tomb and the 180-degree screens that show films complementing the exhibits. Visitors leave the museum with a better understanding of Saudi Arabia and a context for appreciating Riyadh even more.
Remnants of Riyadh’s simple past still survive, although oil money has launched massive building projects in the last three decades. The most significant historic sight in the city is the imposing Masmak Fortress, once the heart of the old town. Built in the late 19th-century and stormed by King Abdul Aziz just years later, the fort was renovated in 2008 and today contains a museum filled with fascinating photos of old Riyadh. The museum’s second half is dedicated to extolling all the virtues of Saudi education, architecture, art and agriculture.
Permits were once required to explore the Murabba Palace, but visitors are now free to roam the mud-brick palace constructed by King Abdul Aziz following his conquest of the Masmak Fortress. The intimidating exterior gives way to two stories of marvelous objects, including the first royal Rolls-Royce.
After getting a taste of the city’s past, fast-forward to the present day by visiting the Al-Faisaliah Tower, built in 2000 by architect Norman Foster and the Bin Laden construction company. Marked by an enormous shining glass globe made of more than 650 panels, the stunning structure was one of the first to tower above the city’s skyline. The 34 floors are filled with some of Saudi Arabia’s most luxurious restaurants, apartments, shops and a five-star deluxe hotel. From the viewing platform, visitors can see nearly the entire city.
The capital’s newest landmark is the Kingdom Tower, rising 302 meters above the ground. The incredible example of modern architecture is especially breathtaking at night, when constantly-changing colored lights illuminate its steel and glass design. High-speed elevators fly visitors to the 99th-floor Sky Bridge at 180 kilometers per hour, offering unbelievable views of the city.
Riyadh is a shopper’s paradise, and the main roads are lined with one mall after another. Women can shop on the third floor Ladies Kingdom at Al Mamlaka without being disturbed by men, designer stores are abundant and most malls contain at least one Western-style department store. For a more traditional shopping experience, head to the Souq al-Thumairi. The maze of shops selling Arabic coffees, spices, carpets, jewelry and more is positively enthralling.
Riyadh Geographical Location
Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh Predominant Religion
- 100% Muslim
Islam is the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Muslims who convert to another religion are subject to the death penalty.
The Saudi Riyal is the official currency of Saudi Arabia.
There is very little precipitation in Riyadh and the summer temperatures are extremely hot. The winters cool down to warm temperatures and usually experience marginally more rainfall.
Riyadh Main Attractions
- National Museum
- Kingdom Centre Tower
- Old Dir-aiyah
Other Attraction in Riyadh
- Riyadh Zoo
- Masmak Citadel
- Murabba Palace