Transportation in Riyadh
Riyadh's King Khaled Airport (IATA: RUH) 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. However FRAPort, the owners of Germany's Frankfurt airport, have recently started to manage KKIA and are slowly improving things. Fairly spacious shopping areas can now be found in terminals 1 and 2, there is a choice of coffee and snack shops, and new light and spacious, if a little warm, Lounges have been opened for Business and First Classes on the right side upper level of terminal 1 (by Gates 17/18) where the old viewing area was. Please note that some airlines are not partnered with the Lounge and there is a charge of SAR160 (Business) or SAR210 (First) for those airlines' passengers to use the Lounges. The business class lounge offers free wi-fi, hot and cold buffet, and hot and cold drinks (and probably cleaner toilets!)
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. It is also possible to walk between terminals 1 and 2 once air-side.
Aside from Saudia, direct connections from outside the Gulf and South Asia are surprisingly limited, but options includes Lufthansa from Frankfurt and Munich, British Airways and bmi (becomes BA only from October 2012) from London-Heathrow, Air France/Saudi (code and operator share) from Paris, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul-Ataturk and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. The most international 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; although this is often ignored.
You'll probably be accosted by touts as 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).
Allow plenty of time when traveling from this airport. Only travelling passengers will be able to proceed more than a few meters beyond the airport entrance. There are 2 sets of check in counters available in terminal one - left and right. In general these counters open 2 hours before flight time as many are shared with other airlines. Each set of counters has 2 x-ray machines where you must first scan all your luggage (hold and carry-on) before you get to the check-in counters; and only travelling passengers are allowed through this area and the lines can be quite long. Once you have checked in and obtained boarding documents, you must then pass through passport control and additional x-ray machines. The length of time for this part of departure is difficult to predict given the number of flights leaving in proximity to one another. There is a "Family Lounge" area upstairs on the left from the Terminal 1 check-in area before passing through passport control (as of 18 Sept 2013 - this lounge is closed and under renovation).
Riyadh's train station is approximately in the middle of the city, with seven trains daily to Dammam (six stopping at Al-Hofuf and Al-Hasa and one nonstop) in each direction. Try to show up 30 minutes early, as you'll need to pass through security before boarding. There is a brand new train station located on the northern outskirts of the city (near the airport) with daily trains to Ha'il via Majma'ah and Qassim.
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.
Riyadh is very much a car-oriented city, and public transportation in Riyadh is badly underdeveloped. There are street addresses everywhere in Riyadh, but normally mail is delivered to post office boxes. 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. Plan your route before start of 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.
Riyadh is building a metro system, which will be operational in 2019.
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 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.
Since June 24/2018, women are allowed to drive. If you are visiting the Kingdon you can use your international driver license.
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.