Kempinski Blog Article
The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is a thriving cosmopolitan city, totally contrasting the arid desert that surrounds it. While not traditionally seen as a major tourist destination, Riyadh does, in fact, have a huge amount to offer to visitors who have come to the country for business, family, or religious purposes, or simply for pleasure.
With a heritage stretching back to the pre-Islamic era, Riyadh has a historical and cultural collection in the same league as the country's other particularly notable cities of Mecca and Medina. From its tribal beginnings, the city was once a regional capital of the Umayyad and Abbasid Islamic dynasties during the Islamic Golden Age (between the eighth and thirteenth centuries).
Later, Riyadh was one of the key places in which the Saudi nation came together, being the capital of the First Saudi State, and later, a rallying point for the nation during the following centuries of Ottoman occupation and inter-clan conflict. In 1902 the city was retaken by the founder of the modern Saudi state, Ibn Saud, and used as a base from which to conquer Arabia as a whole, thus becoming etched into the country's identity.
As one can imagine, with such a rich history, Riyadh is blessed with a vast selection of historical sites and cultural curiosities – including ruins of the old incarnations of the city, museums, and exceptionally beautiful mosques. Make sure to visit the gleaming Masmak Fortress, richly elegant Al Murabba' Palace and fascinating National Museum.
The heart of Saudi Arabia has an understandably excellent selection of restaurants that guests can enjoy, located across the city.
Perhaps the most delicious of these is Lusin, located in the centre of the capital. Here, guests can embark on an adventure of culinary discovery, sampling a fine selection of traditional Armenian dishes. Even for the unfamiliar, Lusin's selection of dishes is not to be missed.
For dishes with a touch of sophistication, The Globe, located in the Al Faisaliah Tower's golden ball, offers a truly elegant, sumptuous dining experience. Offering fine European cuisine, the views given to diners are similarly excellent – as the city-top location lets you gaze out many miles over the city.
As with any capital, there are a great number of international delights to be enjoyed across Riyadh, with Nozomi being one of the best and most popular. A modern and contemporary dining experience, here one can find excellent Japanese dishes, enjoyed in truly comfortable surroundings.
Lastly, for traditional dining in a Bedouin setting, there is the Al-Najdiyah Village- an oasis among the bustling streets of Riyadh. The restaurant serves traditional Bedouin dishes in the culture's timeless manner, and as guests sit on the carpeted floors, utterly authentic dishes are served up – a magnificent dining experience.
As well as modern amenities such as shopping centres, golf clubs and outdoor activities, Riyadh has a great many historical curiosities to take advantage of – perfect for new or returning visitors.
King Abdulaziz Historical Centre
A large area featuring parks, plazas, mosques and museums, the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre is a must-visit for those wanting to learn more about Riyadh and the Saudi Kingdom as a whole. Escape the heat and bustle of the city at the Centre's six large parks, before heading to the Al-Murabba' Palace – a huge complex of historical residences dating back to 1357.
Located within the Historical Centre, the National Museum is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Featuring eight galleries, together focusing on the country's prehistoric past, ancient history, Islamic heritage, national creation and the Hajj, the museum is renowned as one of the best in the world, giving visitors an insight into Islamic understandings of the universe and man's place in it.
One of the country's best UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Turaif district of Dir'aiyah is a captivating glimpse into the ancient past of Saudi Arabia, and is the ancestral home of the Al Saud family. Although currently undergoing restoration works, special permission can be easily gained to tour the site with a private guide – an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.
Equestrian Club of Riyadh
Horse riding has long been a part of the Saudi Arabian culture, and the Equestrian Club of Riyadh is the best place to view this relationship in the flesh. Visiting in the winter months, guests can enjoy a fine meal while catching an exciting race.
An Islamic country that adheres to Sharia law, visitors to Saudi Arabia should be wary of its cultural customs. Women must wear headscarves at all times, alcohol is banned, LGBT activities are illegal, the mixing of unrelated people of the opposite sex is illegal, and women may not travel without being accompanied by a male guardian. Long-sleeves and long-trousers are imperative dress for men, and women must wear a full-length cloak in public areas.
For more information on the moral culture of Riyadh, please contact us or visit our local culture page.
When travelling to the city, the easiest form of transport is via flight to the King Khaled Airport. Primarily served by domestic carriers, the airport can nevertheless be reached from Frankfurt, Munich, London, Paris, Istanbul, Dubai and Hong Kong, lessening the need for changes mid-journey.
After arrival, official or private taxis are the best way to cover the 35km (30-minute) trip to the city centre, and asking for a flat fee can bring down the price, especially when police checkpoints and traffic are taken into account – Saudi Arabia is a heavily car-orientated country.
In the city itself, cars and taxis are the only viable means of travel, however only experienced and confident drivers should try, as driving in the city can be hazardous. The lack of pedestrian crossings and pathways also makes automobiles a necessity. If using a taxi, be sure to know the name of your destination in Arabic before alighting – levels of English proficiency in the city are generally quite low.
Traditionally, gaining a tourism visa to Saudi Arabia has been difficult, however this is soon changing as the country moves towards inviting more tourists to its shores – contact us for more information.
The gem of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is one of the Kingdom's most interesting locations, and one that certainly shouldn't be missed.