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Saudi Arabia’s capital city is today a sprawling metropolis that has rapidly grown to have a population of over five million people. Home to modern skyscrapers as well as many historical sites, there’s something for everyone here.
Strapped for time? You can still experience the best of Riyadh while staying at Fraser Suites Riyadh – these places of interest are no more than a 25-minute drive away!
Open since 1999 in the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre, the National Museum is an excellent place to start your sightseeing as it gives a great overview of Arabian history, culture and art.
Across two floors, there are eight galleries covering prehistoric times with dinosaur fossils on display, rock carvings, the era of Islam and the formation of Saudi Arabia in 1932. There are also models of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Mada’in Saleh and Jeddah Old Town.
The museum has interactive displays and almost everything is in both English and Arabic. It stays open till 8pm daily except till 2pm on Sundays.
Tip: If your taxi driver doesn’t recognise the English name, ask for the adjacent Murabba Palace (Qasr al Murabba) instead.
A 10-minute drive from the National Museum, the Al-Masmak Fortress is an architectural gem. Dating back to around 1865, it represents the country’s unification under the rule of King Abdul Aziz.
A squat, square fortification made of clay and mud-brick, with four 18-metre corner watchtowers, it encloses an ancient castle that now serves as a museum. Inside you can see maps, antique guns, costumes and old photographs from 1912 to 1937 in galleries converted from diwans (living rooms).
In 1902, the Fortress played a significant part in Saudi Arabian history – it was here that Ibn Saud led his troops to recapture the city of Riyadh. It is said that a spear was hurled with such great force during capture that it remains lodged in the main entrance door till today.
Tip: The museum is free to visit, and tours are available in both English and Arabic. Do ask locals to confirm the opening schedule as while Al Masmak Fortress is open from Saturday to Thursday, there are different visiting times for men, women and families.
Take a break from sightseeing and head to the many souqs (markets) in the city for a traditional shopping experience. Browse the cash-only little shops along narrow passageways and be ready to haggle for the best prices. Whether you are looking for carpets, local art, lanterns or gold you’ll find it in the souqs.
Deerah Souq (also known as Souq al-Thumairi) is good for Arabic goods such as coffee pots, silver and textiles. Just behind Al Masmak Fortress, it is also the best place to buy cheap souvenirs – old coins and banknotes make for popular gifts.
Tip: Always ask permission before taking photos of vendors in their shops. It is also recommended you do not take photos near government buildings, mosques and airports. Taking photos of local Muslim women without permission is prohibited.
For a glimpse at how Riyadh looked before the skyscrapers, this is the place to come. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the original home of the Saudi Royal Family and the first Saudi capital.
While only some ruins of the old city are left, the site has been spruced up with new promenades lined with palm trees. Do not miss seeing the old fort, city gate and the clock tower.
Tip: Stop for coffee by the main square (Alsafat Square) and remember to tip in all restaurants and cafes – around 10% is the norm.
The wadi was originally known as Wadi Al-Irdh in the pre-Islamic era but was later renamed after the Bani Hanifa tribe that inhabited the area. The wadi is a valley that runs for 120km from northwest to southeast through Riyadh.
Just south of the city, this natural valley is a public park with nature trails and lakes. Despite the city’s rapid development, Wadi Hanifa has been restored and preserved as an environmental, recreational and tourism resource.
If you have time to spare, check out the Diplomatic Quarter Park (DQ) on the edge of the wadi. The park consists of over 30 gardens, beautifully maintained with green grass lawns, fountains, picnic areas, pavilions and native flowers that are in bloom all year round – perfect for a short escape from the city.
Both parks are free to visit daily. Expats will be pleased to find a 20km track around the DQ that’s an abaya (Muslim women’s robe-like dress) free zone.
Tip: Wadi Hanifa and DQ are popular for picnics but do remember it is illegal to eat or drink in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan.
Saudi Arabia’s first skyscraper is designed by renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster, who also happens to be the brains behind the 42-storey glass building where Fraser Suites Sydney is located.
The 267m tower is easy to recognise with its huge glass globe (24 metres in diameter and made of 655 glass panels) near the top and a sharp point at the summit. Come night fall, the tower lights up – a stunning sight on the city’s landscape.
Below you’ll find Al Faisaliah Mall, home to a Harvey Nichols flagship department store and a restaurant situated in the mall’s giant, golden geodesic orb. The three-storey dome offers panoramic views of the city – even more spectacular if you manage to book a table for a special occasion at sunset.
If you’re looking to enjoy a drink or two, why not try the Saudi Champagne? A blend of apple juice, sparkling water, sliced fruit and fresh crushed mint, the non-alcoholic alternative is perfect for Riyadh’s hot climate.
Tip: For a more authentic and wallet-friendly dinner option, a short 5-minute drive away is Najd Village. Do try the kasba (meat with rice) or Najd-region speciality, hashi (baby camel).
From Al Faisaliah Tower you have a clear view of the Kingdom Centre, the fifth-tallest skyscraper in the country.
With a sweeping cutaway at the top, the two sides are connected by the Sky Bridge sitting 300 metres above ground level. Two high-speed lifts whoosh you up to the 99th floor to brave the walk across the enclosed bridge. While there are some restrictions on taking photographs in the country, you can feel free to snap away at the breath-taking view here.
If heights are not for you, spend the hours at the shops instead. The luxury mall here is all about designer outlets. There’s a popular women-only shopping floor for a more comfortable experience.
Tip: Avoid the Sky Bridge on weekends and evenings after 6pm when it can get very crowded. Many malls, souqs and tourist destinations have special hours set aside for single men to visit so check in advance.
Round up your experience of the capital by making Fraser Suites Riyadh your luxurious home away from home. Ideally located in the growing financial district of Olaya and minutes away from many of the best places to visit in Riyadh, it is the perfect base for both business and leisure.