Things to Do in Riyadh

Follow our guide to the shopping, sight-seeing and dining highlights in Saudi Arabia’s capital city.

Oct 31, 2013
  • Things to do in Riyadh: An evening shot of Kingdom Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Things to do in Riyadh: Traditional souk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Things to do in Riyadh: Wadi Hanifah in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Things to do in Riyadh: Series of Four Wives by Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali at Alan Artspace
  • Things to do in Riyadh: Exclusive lounge on the Pearl Floor at Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Centre, Sau Arabia
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Kingdom Centre, Saudi Arabia’s tallest skyscraper and home to Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, is the city’s most luxurious shopping destination.
Photography courtesy RIVA GMbH Engineering
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For authentic souvenirs and handmade items, visit one of Riyadh’s traditional souks.
Photography courtesy Behance
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An intricately designed landscape and secluded valley views make Wadi Hanifah a peaceful retreat from Riyadh’s urban scene.
Photography courtesy MIT Libraries
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Alāan Artspace showcases contemporary works by Saudi Arabian artists, like this piece by Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali.
Photography courtesy Sarah Mohanna Al-Abdali and Alān Artspace
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The exclusive ladies-only lounge on the Pearl Floor at Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Centre provides complimentary refreshments and sweeping views of the city.
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

A thriving international city, Riyadh is a treasure trove of exciting things to do. Tradition blends seamlessly with modern-day excitement, promising unique cultural experiences. Here are some of the best ways to get to know this vibrant destination.

Wake-up ritual

Break out of your morning coffee ritual by ordering a steaming cup of gahwa at The Grill. This local specialty is a light, aromatic coffee imbued with Bedouin tradition. Serving and sharing gahwa indicates welcome and respect, so you’ll feel at home in Riyadh from the very first sip. Skip the sugar: It’s not a customary request, and you won’t need it—fresh dates accompany each serving. Learn more about gahwa traditions and etiquette on Taste.

Where to shop

Granada Center is both an extravagant architectural achievement and home to more than 200 international brands. Tech enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the centre’s showroom dedicated entirely to electronics.

A visit to Al Faisaliah Tower, Riyadh’s first skyscraper, blends shopping with sight-seeing. The 267-metre (876-foot) tower is located in the city’s prestigious business district and includes a three-storey shopping mall. After visiting the flagship department store, Harvey Nichols, head to the top for views of Riyadh from an observation deck.

Kingdom Centre, Saudi Arabia’s tallest skyscraper and home to Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh, houses top fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry. Standing at 302 metres (992 feet) tall, the cutting-edge structure contains a women’s-only shopping floor and an indulgent array of cafés and restaurants.

For a change in retail scenery, visit the city’s souks. Handmade clothing, textiles and souvenirs fill the stalls at these traditional bazaars, and bargaining is encouraged. A favourite among Riyadh visitors, Souq al-Thumairi is known for its variety of Arabic goods—coffee pots, silver, textiles—as well as its congenial and multilingual vendors.

An outdoor retreat

Spend your afternoon in Wadi Hanifah, a natural valley just south of Riyadh that’s been transformed into a public park. Picnic spots, nature trails and lakes lure locals, who escape here regularly for cool breezes and recreation.

Art and design

Art enthusiasts should spend time at local galleries, particularly Alāan Artspace and Naila Art Gallery. Alāan Artspace is a contemporary gallery, library and restaurant where you can view work and curated exhibitions from a diverse group of emerging and established Saudi Arabian artists and designers. Worldly perspectives come together at Naila Art Gallery, which displays works by local and international artists.

Historical sites

Delve into Saudi Arabian culture and history at the National Museum, where eight halls filled with historic documents and artefacts chronicle the country’s evolution. The nearby Al-Masmak Fortress, an architectural gem dating back to the 19th century, represents the country’s unification under the rule of King Abdul Aziz. Here, four 18-metre (59-foot) adobe towers enclose an ancient castle that now serves as a museum.

Dinner and beyond

Alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia, so toast your day at Elements with Saudi Champagne, a blend of apple juice, Perrier, sliced fruit and fresh crushed mint. After an authentic dinner at Najd Village restaurant (try the kabsa, a Saudi Arabian meat dish), head to Tahlia Street. After 9:00 pm, this fashionable area of cafés and restaurants becomes a vibrant cultural centre.

Women visiting Riyadh for business or pleasure can embrace local tradition and culture by following these helpful travel tips:

  • Always travel around Riyadh with a permitted male escort. Escorts can include relatives, such as husbands and brothers, or professional sponsors arranged through your employer.
  • Local laws do not permit women to drive, so opt for private transportation, which can be arranged through Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh.
  • When visiting Riyadh, cover your hair with a veil and wear an abaya, an overgarment worn throughout the Middle East. Trendy looks by well-known designers, including Swarovski and Dior, allow you to demonstrate respect for local tradition with glamour and ease.
  • Women travelling alone can unwind in ladies-only spaces throughout the city. The exclusive women-only Pearl Floor at Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh provides security and comfort in a luxurious setting. Amenities and services such as a female-only staff, a ladies-only lounge and gym, and in-room personal care items (think beauty products and a yoga mat) create a comfortable sanctuary for international travellers.

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