Every city in a majority-Muslim country has what you might call the main or Grand mosque. Riyadh, with its low-density spread and its disparate centres of population, does not have an equivalent of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus or the Blue Mosque in Beirut, but the Imam Turki Bin Abdullah Grand Mosque at least occupies this role in name. It is located between the infamous Justice Square and the Governor’s Mansion, and, as such, plays a prime role at least in the religious life of the centre of Saudi bureaucracy. The Mosque itself is not an architectural wonder. It incorporates many of the designs and patterns that are characteristic of Najdi architecture, albeit adapted to modern sensibilities regarding the straightness of lines and the cleanness of cuts and corners. There are numerous lanterns meant to be copies of the old Fatimid or Seljuk-style ones you might see in Egypt or in Syria, although these are doubtlessly from the eighties at the earliest. I have never been to the mosque during a holiday or even a Friday, and I would suspect that on either occasion it can get quite full. Nevertheless, on the off days, it offers little by way of architectural or historical interest to visitors.
Qasr al-Hakim, or the Governor’s Mansion (to use a loose translation that relies on an American reference) is not a tourist attraction. I learned this the hard way, as I was briefly detained by the National Guardsmen who patrol the area. They first wondered if I was a Mossad spy (yes, because that’s what interests Mossad: brass engravings and fountains) and then ridiculed my knowledge of Arabic and Islam before allowing me to go – without having erased the pictures that I took. I’m not sure why I was particularly impressed by the Mansion, as it is built in that faux-Najdi style that is so common with official buildings in Riyadh. Whatever it was that attracted me, I was drawn most to the carved brass plaque. It may have almost landed me in a Saudi jail, but it was damn well worth the picture.
Tahliya Street is often described as Riyadh’s Champs-Élysées. I’m quite sure that there is no KFC on the Champs-Élysées, nor are there young men doing death-defying stunts on quads. Nevertheless, this is Riyadh’s busiest and poshest street, and it will quickly fill up with traffic as soon as the sun goes down. It is done up with lights all along the (fake)palm trees, giving it a bit of a glamorous feel. I, for one, did not feel any particularly compelling reason to spend much time on Tahliya Street, but you will undoubtedly find plenty of people who sing its praises for hours on end.
While malls really shouldn’t be considered some sort of special attraction, especially in the Middle East, I am hard pressed to describe Centria Mall as anything but a sort of tourist site. This is the upscale mall of Riyadh, featuring Gucci, Tod’s of London, Balenciaga, Manolo Blahnik, Ferrari, Fendi, La Durée, Gschwender and a plethora of small, Saudi names that are essentially retailers of ultra-high-end fashion houses. This is a glimpse into the lives of Saudi Arabia’s élites, and it is one of the few places where men are best advised to be in the company of women. The restaurants here, which are among Riyadh’s best, will often be family-only at night and on the weekend, so as to accommodate the daughters and wives of Riyadh’s richest, who are used to dining out on their own in Dubai or Paris. The Armenian restaurant is a real treat. You will never forget that you’re in Riyadh when you’re here, but you will get an idea of what the city would be like if the Saudi government adopted the view of neighbouring Qatar with respect to social restrictions and personal freedoms.
Perhaps it is confusing as to why I have this furtive picture of the Ministry of the Interior on my reviews of Riyadh. The reason is that photography of the Ministry is particularly taboo in Saudi Arabia, as it has been the target in the past of terrorist attacks and bears the brunt of much of the whispered criticism that is voiced by Saudi citizens and the expats living in the Kingdom. Despite this, the Ministry’s building is just as iconic of Riyadh and its architecture as the far more frequently photographed Mamluka Tower or the Faisaliya Tower and shopping mall. The spaceship that has landed in the middle of this dusty city is often an object of curiosity for visitors to the city. You should expect that, on the off chance that there are demonstrations (these occur extremely rarely, but do happen), they will target the Ministry of the Interior and cause complete lockdowns of the centre of the city.
The Princess Souq has another, official name, I’m sure, but I’ve never heard it uttered. Perhaps this is known as the southern souq, as it is just north of the Southern Ring Road. In any event, you are unlikely to venture out here unless you’re with someone who lives in Riyadh, as this is not exactly in the area of the main foreign compounds, the Diplomatic Quarter or the posh malls of central and northern Riyadh. Still, for anyone who enjoys garage sales or flea markets (although not quite of the caliber of those in Paris or Tokyo), the Princess Souq will be quite a treat. The souq is thus named because of the specialization of some vendors in the evening gowns that Saudi “princesses” (more likely just the daughters of wealthy Saudi businessmen) have discarded after one or two uses. True to the extravagant form of many of the Kingdom’s forays into Western style, the dresses and gowns tend to be on the flamboyant side, although a number of them could be worn in Western countries by someone with a more, shall we say, adventure sense of fashion. The Princess Souq isn’t just for fashionistas, though. There is a wide variety of merchandise on display here, from pirated movies and music to satellite dishes to shoes to furniture to – my favourite – second-hand medical equipment. Who would want to buy a used bed pan? I shudder at the thought, but it still makes for a good story.
The perfume and spice section of the Deira Souq should be thought of a separate treat for anyone visiting this part of the capital. While there is still a heavy presence of South Asian workers in this part of the souq, there is also a notable number of Yemenis and Levantines who ply the traditional perfume and spice trade. This part of the souq is also geared more towards Saudis than it is to Western tourists, as the items on display here, while of interest to North Americans and Europeans, are more likely to be purchased by lower and low-middle class Saudis. They include a wide range of traditional clothing (primarily for men), including thobes, bishts, Saudi sandals, oqals, ghutras and shomags. Bins of incense, perfumed oils and braziers are also on display, although I can vouch that you would be better off purchasing such traditional goods in a mall, where there will be at least some quality control on anything you might put on the skin. These vendors are joined by the carpet sellers, who ply rugs of all sizes imported primarily from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, although you might also find the rare Turkish or Iranian carpet. Also worth a look are the sellers of tent furniture, including the majlis seats that are popular in Saudi homes and restaurants.
Thumairi Gold Souq is part of the wider Deira complex, but, like the Gold Souqs throughout the Middle East, it has its own unique characteristics and charm. While the stalls throughout the rest of the marketplace are often manned by South Asians, Thumairi appears to be a Yemeni bastion, with many of the silver and goldsmiths in this part of the market hailing from Saudi’s southern neighbor. You should not expect to find here either the quaint generations-old shops one might find in the Levant or the intricate patterning of Damascene filigree, but there are a few nifty souvenirs that are sure to win praise from friends back home. One popular such souvenir is a necklace with the bearer’s name in Arabic. They’re fairly easy to get from the shops and take two or three days to produce, costing between SAR100 and SAR150 (USD28 and USD42) depending on the price of silver.
Deira is souq is one of the few tourist attractions in Riyadh that provide some sort of exotic flavor for visitors. Of course, like many of the souqs in the Persian Gulf region, the bulk of the traders in the souq are from the Indian Subcontinent and many of the merchandise on display is produced in China, Central Asia or South Asia. Still, the experience is worthwhile, as there are a few gems inside the souq, particularly the stores that sell items that have been salvaged from the desert or from old houses (think shutters, doors and other items of carved wood) and, most impressively, the stores that feature antique firearms and knives. Whether kindjals from Yemen or old, ornate muskets and rifles, the items on displays are undoubtedly unacceptable for baggage passing through customs, but the sight of them is a real treat for anyone interested in the culture of the pre-oil Bedouins. Bargaining is acceptable here, but it can be a hard sell, as none of the shops are managed by their owners, and the employees are often fearful that allowing something to go for less than the established price will elicit the rage of their employers.
You may can't believe this desert region can host the largest dairy farm in the world.
Well, Al Karj area, about an hour drive south Riyadh, host the largest dairy industry in the Kingdom where more than 70% of dairy products produced daily.
Al Safi Farm is the largest integrated dairy farm in the world. (Guinness Book of World Records 1998). You can plan a visit to the farm, you need to contact the company and they sure will welcome your visit to see where 35% of the local dairy market come from.
The farm is located in the Al Sahba Valley some 100 kilometers south-east of Riyadh, not far from Al Kharj.
3,500 hectares (35 square kilometers).
Over 32,000 head of Holstein Friesian cattle.
600,000 liters of milk processed daily.
14 fully automated milking parlors.
Another large dairy products producers Al Marai also welcomes visitors to its farm in Al Kharj area and as I heard from the company's officials, they organize daily trips for school students.
Look at: www.almarai.com
or call: +966 1 4700005
Go to amusement park is one of the best way how to enjoy life in Riyadh, and one of the most famous family activities for both local and expat, mostly it would be done during the weekends when the parents have no work.
There are lots of amusement park around the city where the kids must be enjoyed the all kids of rides as well as the adults and as a rule there are amusement park that built for family only and so exclusive for ladies only.
Middle east is a land of desert and Saudi Arabia has magnificent sand dunes that you may enjoy out skirts of Riyadh, you would see them in different colors like I’ve shown in this picture,the colors mixed with red and orage, it is the most beautiful sand I've ever seen, this picture was taken at the Red Sand 4km from hidden valley.
Red Sand is also famous place where locals and expat have visited for having a picnic and find some adventures, you can find here quad bikes as they used to drive up on the sand hill and the rent it cost about 30-40 riyals per hour.
I visited Riyadh over 30 times in the past due to my mother's relations there. To tell you the truth I never liked it!!! simply there isn't much to do there.
If you happen to be there, stick around your hotel or find a Starbucks, take a good seat and watch people at they watch you.
Once i thought that that bowling was also banned in Riyadh.Though its not very open like in malls etc. unlike other cities of the kingdom like jeddah, there are a couple of bowling clubs. Once can be located in Khozama hotel next to Faisalyah tower. Its in the basement and you can get there by asking one of the hotel staff. The drawback is there is always a filipino bowling competition going on so i discovered another place which is at Shahra-e-Maatheer when you towards king's palace. I am forgetting the name of the place but its a good family place and the sign board is very prominent. there is a game club only for ladies at kingdom tower ladies section where there is bowling and snooker.
Off Dammam High Way, a cluster of Shisha coffee shops.
Probably the largest coffee shops in term of size in the world.
Danah Coffee shop for example is 10,000sqm! & host around 2000 guests at a time.
Fun to go to watch football matchs on TV with everyone around you cheering for their favorate team.
Give it a try while in Riyadh, you might become a reguler :)