- PRICES LIST
- HOTELS (BEST RATED)
- HOTELS (BEST VALUE)
- SIGHTS & LANDMARKS
- MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
- THINGS TO DO
- THINGS TO KNOW
- STAY SAFE
Riyadh is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province, and belongs to the historical regions of Najd and Al-Yamama.
It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau, and is home to 5.7 million people, and the urban centre of a region with a population of close to 7.3 million people.
Known by local wags as the Dead Center of the Kingdom, Riyadh is considered the most straight-laced of the Kingdom's big three cities. With most forms of entertainment banned, few sights of interest and a brutal climate, Riyadh is a business-only destination if there ever was one, but it's also the best place in the Kingdom to watch the continuing collision of tribal Wahhabi conservatism grappling with modern technology and Western influences.
|POPULATION :||City: 6,125,180|
|TIME ZONE :||AST (UTC+3) Summer: AST (UTC+3)|
|AREA :||1,554 km2 (600 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||612 m (2,008 ft)|
|COORDINATES :||24°38′N 46°43′E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 51.40% |
• Female: 48.60%
|ETHNIC :||Arab 65%, Non-Arab 35%|
|AREA CODE :||11|
|POSTAL CODE :|
|DIALING CODE :||+966 11|
Riyadh is the capital city and the largest city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although much of the common forms of entertainment are limited currently, there are interesting places that can be visited in Riyadh ranging from historic landmarks to the few towers that highlight the transition of the city with more incorporation of modern technology. For most of the year, the climate is brutally hot but it is pleasantly moderate during the winter. The only reliable means of transport in Riyadh is using cars, and thus you would either depend on cabs or you would need to rent your own car. Despite general inflation, generally prices are lower in Riyadh than most other big cities in the world. However, Riyadh is usually a destination that is visited mainly for business.
Until the 16th century, Riyadh (or, more accurately, Ar-Riyadh) was known by the name Hajr, an important city of central Arabia dating from at least the 3rd century AD (and probably older). In the Middle Ages, Hajr served as the capital of the province of Al-Yamamah, whose viceroys presided over most of central and eastern Arabia.
With the decline in the fortunes and wealth of central Arabia after the 10th century, the name Al-Yamama gradually disappeared, and Hajr became subsumed under the name "Najd," which had previously referred only to areas lying further west. The name Hajr also gave way to the name "Ar-Riyadh" (meaning "the gardens"), as the old city broke into several towns and farming estates.
Only a hundred years ago, Riyadh was a dusty walled town of under 20,000 people surrounded by palm groves, fertile wadis, and a number of small villages. Riyadh (or, rather, the neighboring hamlet of Diriyah) is the ancestral home of the al-Sauds. Driven out by the Rashids in 1891, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud famously raided and recaptured the city in 1902. The city was made the capital of Saudi Arabia when the country was born in 1932, and has grown explosively ever since then — as of 2008, the city is estimated to have some 5,000,000 inhabitants, and is still growing fast.
Classified as having a hot desert climate, temperatures during the summer months are extremely hot. The average high temperature in August is 43.6 °C.
Winters are warm with cool, windy nights. The overall climate is arid, and the city experiences very little rainfall, especially in summer, but receives a fair amount of rain in March and April.
It is also known to have many dust storms. The dust is often so thick that visibility is under 10 m (33 ft).
Climate data for Riyadh
|Record high °C (°F)||31.5|
|Average high °C (°F)||20.2|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||14.4|
|Average low °C (°F)||9.0|
|Record low °C (°F)||−2.2|
|Source:"Jeddah Regional Climate Center South West Asia".|
Riyadh is divided into fifteen branch municipalities, in addition to the Diplomatic Quarter. Each branch municipality in turn contains several districts, amounting to over 130 in total, though some districts are divided between more than one branch municipality. The branch municipalities are Al-Shemaysi, Irqah, Al-Ma'athar, Al-Olayya, Al-Aziziyya, Al-Malaz, Al-Selayy, Nemar, Al-Neseem, Al-Shifa, Al-'Urayja, Al-Bat'ha, Al-Ha'ir, Al-Rawdha, and Al-Shimal ("the North"). Olaya District is the commercial heart of the city, with accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options. The Kingdom Center, Al Faisalyah and Al-Tahlya Street are the area's most prominent landmarks. The centre of the city, Al-Bathaa and Al-Dirah, is also its oldest part.
Internet cafes can be found in the computer souq in Olaya. Riyadh is also pushing forward with its "Smart City" program, which will attempt to provide wireless access throughout the city in the major coffeeshops and hotels, particularly on Tahlia St in the downtown area.
Prices in Riyadh
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Milk||1 liter||$ 1.20|
|Tomatoes||1 kg||$ 1.60|
|Cheese||0.5 kg||$ 5.20|
|Apples||1 kg||$ 1.80|
|Oranges||1 kg||$ 1.20|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$|
|Coca-Cola||2 liters||$ 1.25|
|Bread||1 piece||$ 0.65|
|Water||1.5 l||$ 0.55|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$ 30.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$ 50.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$ 75.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$ 5.85|
|Water||0.33 l||$ 0.25|
|Cappuccino||1 cup||$ 2.80|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$|
|Gym||1 month||$ 90.00|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$ 7.00|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$ 0.13|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$ 2.70|
|Deodorant||50 ml.||$ 4.20|
|Shampoo||400 ml.||$ 5.00|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$ 2.80|
|Toothpaste||1 tube||$ 3.50|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$ 70.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M)||1||$ 50.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$ 88.00|
|Leather shoes||1||$ 80.00|
|Gasoline||1 liter||$ 0.17|
|Taxi||1 km||$ 0.70|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$ 0.60|
50 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
140 $ per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
Riyadh's King Khaled Airport is located about 35 km north of the city. A large, architecturally striking structure in white and desert brown, hypermodern when opened in 1983, it has aged reasonably well but remains a famously boring place to get stuck in: just a small and very cramped shop in Terminal 2 and a few cafes including chains such as Starbucks and Costa as well as local outlets. Sit near (or, preferably, in) the Al-Fursan lounges to mooch off their free wifi.
There are three terminals in use, with Terminal 1 used by international carriers, Terminal 2 for Saudi Arabian Airlines international flights, and Terminal 3 for all domestic flights. The terminals are right next to each other and are connected at the arrivals level, so transfers involve lugging your stuff for a few hundred meters or, more sensibly, hiring a porter to do the job.
Aside from Saudia, direct connections from outside the Gulf and South Asia are surprisingly limited, but options include Lufthansa from Frankfurt, British Airways from London-Heathrow, Air France from Paris, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul-Atatürk and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. The most internationally popular route, though, is via Dubai, from where there are at least half a dozen flights daily. Domestically, Riyadh is one of the main hubs and there are flights to every corner of the Kingdom, including near-hourly departures to Jeddah.
Unlike Jeddah, immigration and customs clearance at Riyadh is usually fairly straightforward (unless the computer system is down). Beware that standing in the wrong line for immigration may work out fine for you, or you may be catapulted back to the end of a different line when you hit the front position (making all that waiting worthless). The row for "Exit / Entry Visas" is only for resident expats that have left the country temporarily, to visit family for example.
You'll probably be accosted by touts as you soon as you exit customs, but just ignore them and head to the taxi ranks outside. While the official taxis are supposed to use a zone-based flat fare system, with most of central Riyadh in the SR 45 or 55 zones, the list of zones is available only in Arabic. A metered fare to the city should cost around SR 70-90, but more often than not the driver will just ask for a flat fare, which may even work out a little cheaper. If you've let yourself be scored by one of the private drivers (that are not only inside the terminal building but also outside), make sure the price you agreed on is truly agreed on, or your driver may tell you that he didn't agree to 80 Rial but rather 180, meaning you'll settle on 120. The better bet is taking an official taxi! A good alternative - if offered - is to take a hotel limousine. These are often not much more expensive than the taxi trip, but mostly high-quality, comfortable cars rather than run-down, creaky old clunkers with worn-through seats.
The trip to the city takes about 30 minutes in good traffic. Don't be irritated if the taxi is stopped at a control point by police (at which time the driver will put on his seatbelt and his mobile onto handsfree, two actions that are usually reversed as soon as the control point is passed).
When checking in, one airport quirk bears noting: you have to pass your bags through an X-ray before checking in, and after getting your boarding pass, you have to go right through the same security gate in reverse to find immigration and departures. Don't go up the staircase — it's a dead end leading only to the viewing lounge.
Riyadh Railway station is approximately in the middle of the city, with four trains daily to Dammam via Al-Hofuf and Al-Hasa. Try to show up 30 minutes early, as you'll need to pass through security before boarding.
The Central Bus Terminal (tel. +966 1-2647858) is inconveniently located in the Aziziyah district some 17 km south of the city center; expect to pay at least SR30 for a taxi to get there. Buses from Dammam take a tolerable 4.5 hours, while it's a punishing 10-12 hour haul to Jeddah or Mecca with several stops on the way.
The main East-West road through Riyadh is Highway 40 from Dammam and the causeway from Bahrain to Khobar with other road links mainly leading to the North of the Kingdom.
Most roads are tarmacked, albeit to varying levels of repair. Driving standards are slightly more sensible than those of the city centres, but caution is still needed. Some highways see heavy usage from lorries and petrol tankers, often in convoy.
Transportation - Get Around
Riyadh is very much a car-oriented city, and public transportation in Riyadh is badly underdeveloped. There are no street addresses as such in Riyadh, as mail is delivered to post office boxes, so getting around requires knowing landmarks near the place where you want to go.
If you are travelling by your own car then it is wise to carry a GPS system. Plan your route before the start of the journey. Although many streets, roads and landmarks are marked in both Arabic & English yet there are few important major streets, roads and exits that are still marked in Arabic only.
It is important to carry your Valid Identification (i.e. Passport / National ID / Iqama) at all the times. You may experience difficulties obtaining accommodation and may experience bigger problems if you are stopped at any of the city's check points (these can be both permanent or temporary). Not being able to show valid identification when asked by the police may land you in jail. Therefore, it is also advisable to keep details of your sponsor on hand in case you require assistance while out and about.
Most visitors rely on white taxis, which are abundant in the city centre but can be harder to find on the outskirts or at night. Drivers will usually use the meter without asking if you do not propose a fixed price, and with a starting fare of SR 5 and the meter ticking up SR 1.60/km after the first kilometer, most metered trips within the city cost under SR 30. However, locals usually prefer to negotiate fares in advance, and this can often be cheaper than using the meter: short hops start at SR 10, a longer journey might be SR 15.
Single women are legally allowed to take registered public taxis, but many female visitors and expats choose not to, opting for transport provided by a hotel, their company or compound instead.
The level of English spoken varies from decent (esp. Indian and Pakistani drivers) to non-existent, so try to find out the name of your destination in Arabic before you head off. Solo male travelers are expected to hop into the front seat, next to the driver, while women must sit in the back.
Drivers are usually familiar with major local landmarks, but you're expected to know your way to your destination from there. Bring a map and the phone number of someone at your destination to call for directions.
Flat-fare minibuses (SR 3) rumble the streets of Riyadh, but these are mostly used by laborers. They are quite difficult for the casual visitor to use: there are no posted stops, and routes are usually written only in Arabic. Most routes converge on al-Bathaa, and the adventurous visitor can try his luck on route 9, which runs from al-Bathaa up Olaya Road.
The best option for traveling in Riyadh is your own car, ideally driven by somebody else used to the conditions, but many expats take the plunge and drive themselves. The traffic in Riyadh is, by Saudi standards, fairly sane: ubiquitous raised bumps on lane markers keep cars traveling more or less in a straight line, and radar-equipped cops on the major highways zap the craziest of speeders. Still, the local driving style can charitably be described as "aggressive", with swerving from the leftmost lane to the exit ramp on a four-lane highway being par for course, and central Riyadh jams up almost daily during rush hour.
Please be aware: It is illegal for women to drive.
The modern, northern half of Riyadh is very pedestrian-hostile, with 8-laned roads filled with speeding SUVs making crossing the road a dangerous exercise. Pedestrian bridges are very few and even at stoplights you need to keep an eye out for crazy drivers. Add in the fearsome summer heat, and it's little surprise that there aren't too many people walking about. In al-Bathaa, though, the situation is almost reversed: some of the alleys are too narrow or congested for cars, and walking is the only way of getting around.
But if you're the fearless type, walking along even the wider roads is a great way to see the city, as you'll be too distracted by constant near-misses while riding in a taxi. Stay in the shade, be careful along stretches without a pedestrian walkway (or one that is blocked off due to construction going on), and you'll be fine.
- BEST RATED -
- BEST VALUE -
Riyadh's main roads are nothing but one shopping mall after another.
- Al Faisaliah, Olaya Rd. At the foot of the Al Faisaliah skyscraper, this is one of Riyadh's swankiest malls, anchored by a Harvey Nichols department store. The food court on the third floor is among the best in the Kingdom; the one in the basement, on the other hand, is deserted. There is a fun park in the basement near the entrance on Olaya road. Families only Wed-Fri.
- Al Mamlaka, Olaya Rd (Kingdom Centre). One of the swankiest malls in the Kingdom, with the third floor Ladies Kingdom reserved exclusively for women. Good food court on the lower level and even a Planet Hollywood restaurant.
- Jarir Bookstore (Makatba Jarir), Olaya Rd (south of Musa ibn Nosayr St). The two-level flagship store of Saudi Arabia's largest bookstore, most of the store is actually taken up by a wide range of computer gear, stationary, music and DVDs. The best English-language magazine and book selection in Saudi — which, alas, isn't saying all that much.
- Sahara Mall, Intersection of King Abdul Aziz Rd and Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Rd. Enormous mall on the northern side of the city. The mall has 180 shops anchored by a Tamimi supermarket and features what may be the largest food court in the city — and if you can't find what you want here, the adjacent Sahara Plaza annex has more.
- Localizer Mall, Tahlia St. A great place to visit if you are in Tahlia. They have wide range of clothing store as well as fine dining restaurant such as Outback.
Granada Mall, near the airport has a Carrefour, H&M and Sun & Sands shops
- Souq al-Thumairi (شارع الثميري), Deira (next to Masmak Fortress). Also known as Antique Souq, this is Riyadh's most touristy souq, which isn't saying all that much. It specializes in Arabic goods cheap and expensive, authentic and fake, with carpets, coffee pots, daggers, jewelry and more. Most of it is made elsewhere, nothing is authentically Saudi. English is generally spoken, and haggling is obligatory.
Sights & Landmarks
Sightseeing in Riyadh is a frustrating exercise in careful timing: not only are most sites closed on weekends (Thu-Fri) and during prayer hours, but visiting hours are segregated between men and families. The one saving grace is that many sites stay open until 9 PM.
Museums and historical sights
- Masmak Fortress (قصر المصمك, Qasr al-Masmak), Deira. 8 AM-noon and 4-9 PM on Sat, Mon, Wed for men, Sun, Tue, Thu for families. The heart of old Riyadh, this was the fortress stormed by King Abdul Aziz and his men in their daring reconquest of Riyadh in 1902. Renovated in 2008 to an inch of its life, the mud brick structure now looks like it was built yesterday, but the museum inside does a pretty good job of recounting the story of the raid and has some fascinating photos of old Riyadh as well. Alas, the second half is devoted to extolling the greatness of the Sauds in everything from agriculture to education. Free.
- Murabba Palace (قصر المربع,Qasr al-Murabba) (next to National Museum). 6-9 PM Sun-Fri. Riyadh's second old mud-brick palace, built by King Abdul Aziz after he conquered Masmak Fortress and figured he should built something harder to conquer. This two-story structure does indeed look pretty intimidating, but permits are no longer needed to venture inside, where you can find sights including the first royal Rolls-Royce. Free.
- National Museum, . Open Su-Mo,We-Th 9-1 PM for men, 4:30-9 PM families; Tu 9-noon women only, 4:30-9 PM men; Fr 4:30-9 PM families; Sa closed. Undoubtedly the top sight in Riyadh, this museum (opened in 1999) is done up with the latest technology and is very accessible to visitors, with almost everything available in English. There are so many video presentations and mini-theatres that you could probably spend an entire day here doing virtual tours of Madain Salih or watching re-enactments of the Prophet Mohammed's battle of Medina. Highlights include a kiswah cloth that once covered the Qaaba in Mecca. Half the time, though, it feels more like a propaganda exercise than a museum: the display on plate tectonics starts with a quote from the Quran, the history of the Sauds is rather airbrushed, and the display on the birth of Mohammed, reached from the clash and noise of the Jahiliyah (age of ignorance) by riding an escalator up into a room of soothing, pastel light while a choir of angels sings, has probably inspired a few conversions to Islam. Note: Many cabbies will not recognize the English name, ask for the neighboring Murabba Palace (Qasr al-Murabba) instead. SAR10.
- As-Sufaat (Deira Square). Next to the Great Mosque and the mutawwa headquarters, this nondescript expanse of cement is known by expats as Chop-Chop Square as convicts are publicly beheaded with a scimitar here. Executions take place on Friday mornings (but not every week), just after the noon prayers. Beware that any Westerners nearby have been known to be taken to the front row and forced to watch the whole thing, in order to further shame the condemned. It is forbidden to take photos of executions or to record videos of them.
- Kingdom Centre (المملكة Al-Mamlaka), No. 94, Al Olaya. Daily 4-11 PM.Undoubtedly Riyadh's most stunning piece of modern architecture, at 305m the Kingdom Centre is the second tallest building in Saudi Arabia and quite a sight, especially when lit up at night. The centre hosts an (expensive) three-story shopping mall, with one floor reserved for women, but the main reason to visit is the 99th-floor Skybridge connecting the two peaks at a height of 300m. Best visited at dusk or after dark, from here you'll get great views over the vast and flat but well-lit expanse of the city. SR35 (Skybridge).
A dry and sharply defined riverbed (wadi) begins about 40 km north of Riyadh and runs in a north-south direction for over 120 km, cutting through the western edge of the city, known as Wadi Hanifah. Wadi Hanifah was once the lifeblood of the Riyadh area, rich in groundwater, filled with palm groves and farms and dotted with a string of small towns and villages throughout history. In recent decades, the Wadi has been used as a large dumping ground for wastewater, sewage, and industrial waste, but a recent ambitious rehabilitation project has just been completed. An 80 km stretch running through western Riyadh is now essentially an 80-km desert park, though many parts of the Wadi floor are occupied by private estates and farms with high walls. The Wadi has several entry points, but perhaps the easiest route is by taking King Abdullah Road west past the university and into the town of Arqah. Eventually, you will reach a large round-about. Take the exit heading downwards into the Wadi. Follow the road even as it winds and weaves its way through the Wadi (do not be tempted to turn onto any side streets). Eventually, you will reach a police checkpoint, to the left of which is an entry point to the Wadi floor. A narrow paved road runs along the Wadi floor. Heading southwards, you will eventually find designated picnic and barbecue spots facing the Wadi's cliff-like walls.
While dry for most of the year, wadis can flood very quickly with a moderate amount of rain. Never approach a wadi during the rain or even its immediate aftermath. Even looking over the edge of a wadi can be dangerous as the Wadi's edges can break off during the rain. Every year, several deaths are reported from flash floods all across Saudi Arabia.
Located on a hill overlooking Wadi Hanifa, Al-Dir'iyyah, on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh, is the ancestral home of the Saudi royal family and served as the Saudi capital until 1818. The ruins of the old city are currently being restored and renovated and are thus closed off for tourists, but the surrounding area can still be worth the visit in the meantime.
Museums & Galleries
In 1999, a new central museum was built in Riyadh, at the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre. The National Museum of Saudi Arabia combined several collections and pieces that had up until then been scattered over several institutions and other places in Riyadh and the Kingdom. For example, the meteorite fragment known as the "Camel's Hump" that was on display at the King Saud University in Riyadh became the new entry piece of the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.
The Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, or Saqr Al-Jazira, is located on the East Ring Road of Riyadh between exits 10 and 11. It contains a collection of aircraft and aviation-related items used by the Royal Saudi Air Force and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Things to do
Although few Saudis play golf, there are surprisingly good golf courses around. The best one is the 18-holes course in Dirab Golf & Country Club a good 30 minutes drive west of Riyadh. Nice layout with green and inviting grass, and the last 9 holes are even floodlit. They offer tennis, swimming and horse-back riding as well. There's also a quite nice 9-holes short range course connected to the Hotel Intercontinental almost in the dead centre of the city. Nice but short - also floodlit. If you travel about 20 minutes to the north-east you will find a not so nice desert course with browns instead of greens (the putting area consist of sand/oil mixture instead of grass).
Head west down the Makkah Road for 30 minutes, and you'll reach the edge of the Tuwaig Escarpment. As you make the 200 meter sharp drop from the Tuwaig escarpment to Najd-proper, you will get a good feel of the desert with dunes and buttresses.
Heading northeast of the airport to the Thumama sand dunes, one can engage in "dune bashing" in 4x4 SUV's or in rented ATV's.
Saudi Arabia is football-mad country, and big matches at the King Fahad Stadium can attract crowds of 50-70 thousand, creating an electric atmosphere. However, note that football stadiums are off limits to women.
With alcohol, cinema and nightclubs all banned, Riyadh's nightlife is infamously nonexistent. Even that mainstay of the Arab street, shisha (water pipe) cafes, are banned from the center of town — although they can be found just outside city limits at Thumamah St, about 10 km away from the center off the road to the airport. Ask a local (or any taxi driver) for his favorite. What's left, then, are coffeeshops, which can be found in abundance throughout the city, particularly on Tahlia St (officially Prince Mohammed Bin Abdul Aziz St) in Olaya.
For the foreign workers - the expats - the social life can be quite (well, comparatively) rich however. There are always a good party going on in the embassy area or in one of the compounds. And at these private parties there's always a chance to find some illegal booze.
In case you run into it, especially within expat communities, Saudi champagne refers to a non-alcoholic drink, typically a mix of Sprite and apple cider.
- The Globe, Al-Faisaliah (entry via South Lobby), .Suspended 240 meters above Riyadh in the giant glass ball of the al-Faisaliah building, the Globe is the hippest cafe-restaurant and probably the single best splurge in town. So dimly lit at night that the waiters fade into the shadows, you can settle back in a plush leather seat, order a bottle of (non-alcoholic) bubbly, puff on a Cohiba and watch the lights of the city twinkle below. Reservations required, but they'll make one for you at the lobby if there's space. On the way out, stop at "the experience" level outdoor viewing platform. Day SR100, night SR170 minimum charge, dinner SR175.
- Scoler Express, Khozama Center, . One of half a dozen cafes in the alley between al-Faisaliah and the Khozama Hotel, this is the only one that's not an obvious chain outlet. The menu has a good range of drinks hot, cold, caffeinated and juicy, including espressos made with fancy Tonino Lamborghini gear, and the outdoor seating is cooled down with a nifty water spraying system.SR10.
Things to know
Riyadh can be a challenging destination to live and work in. Some tips for easier adaptation:
- Arrange a car and driver, or at least arrange a regular cabbie. This is easier, safer and quite possibly cheaper than relying on taxis for transport.
- Organize your day around prayer times, with late lunches (after noon prayers) and very late dinners (after evening prayers).
- Socializing with the family-oriented Saudis is virtually impossible, so get in touch with the local expat community if you want to have any semblance of a social life. A network of people from different nationalities will allow you better knowledge of (and access to) embassies and private parties.
- Try to get out of Riyadh on the weekends for a change of venue. Though regulations for single males to enter shopping malls have recently been loosened, one quickly runs out of options without pre-planning private events.
- Respect Islam and abide by the country's strict Islamic laws. Although rare, there are cases of Westerners arrested, deported and receiving corporal punishment for showing signs of disrespect. Expect no leniency if you are Muslim, South Asian or Southeast Asian. Riyadh is one of the strictest cities in Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh is vast and sprawling. The main roads are King Fahd Rd (طريق الملك فهد tariq al-malek al-Fahd), which runs north to south across the city, and Makkah Rd (akaKhurais Rd), which runs west to east, intersecting at Cairo Square — which is actually just a cloverleaf interchange.
The modern business districts of Olaya (العليا, pron. Oleyah) and Suleimaniyah, containing most offices and better hotels, are to the north of Makkah Rd. Here Riyadh's two skyscrapers serve as handy orientation points: Faisaliah Tower (the pointy one) is towards the southern end of Olaya, while Kingdom Centre (the bottle opener) is at the northern end. Both are located between King Fahd Rd and the parallel thoroughfare of Olaya Rd, which is Riyadh's main upscale shopping strip.
The historical core of Riyadh is to the south of Makkah Rd. The district of al-Murabbahosts the sprawling grounds of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Park, home to the National Museum and the Murabba Palace, while a kilometer to the south is the dense warren of al-Bathaa, host to the city's cheapest food, lodging and shopping and the hub of the minibus network. Further south yet is Deira, centered on as-Sa'ah Square, which has souqs (traditional markets), the Masmak Fortress, the Governor's offices and, more morbidly, the execution grounds.
Safety in Riyadh
In 2002-2004, Riyadh was the site of numerous terrorist attacks on Westerners, including shootings, car bombings and kidnappings, culminating in the May 12, 2003 compound bombings that killed 35 and injured over 160. In response, Saudi security forces cracked down brutally, and there have been no terrorist attacks in Riyadh since 2004. Security remains very tight though, particularly at housing compounds for foreigners, and police and army units, often heavily armed, are a common sight in the city.
Riyadh is more conservative than Jeddah or the Eastern Province. The mutaween (religious police) are numerous in Riyadh and not to be messed with. Women must cover themselves with an abaya (available in shops everywhere in Riyadh) and it's advisable to carry a headscarf as well.
Although Riyadh is sometimes alleged to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, standard precautions should be taken. The most significant danger to you is driving. Most drivers originate from areas in developing countries and the Middle East which lack traffic laws, driving schools, or even roads for that matter. It's a 'driving culture' where seat belts, mirrors, lane stripes, turn signals and speed limits are ignored.