A fascinating blend of centuries-old souqs, a burgeoning contemporary art scene, modern architecture, ancient citadels, and top-tier shopping, Riyadh is rich in cultural experiences. Here’s our take on where to go.
Shop at Souq Al Zal
As the largest and most historic bazaar in the city, Souq Al Zal bursts with the colors, scents, and flavors that have defined Arabic culture through the years. Though its name translates roughly to “rug market,” Souq Al Zal offers a bounty of crafts, from ceremonial swords to perfumes and, of course, an abundance of handwoven tapestries. The souk is an authentic shopping center for locals complete with its own food court, and merchants are accustomed to engaging with English-speakers. The souq offers a great opportunity for travelers to mingle with Saudis, best punctuated with the ritualistic welcome of a classic, cardamom-infused Saudi coffee.
Visit Masmak Fortress
As arguably the most important historical landmark in Saudi, Masmak Fortress serves as an effective primer for travelers interested in learning about the foundation of the country. As the key battleground in the fight for Saudi unification, the castle already stands as a significant symbol of Saudi identity. Converted into a museum in the 1990s as a centerpiece of the sprawling King Abdulaziz Historical Centre, Masmak Fortress features period relics and educational films.
Go to the Saudi National Museum
As part of the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre connected through a vast network of public gardens, the Saudi National Museum lies just over a mile north of Masmak Fortress, and represents a new phase in the city’s narrative, with construction completed in 1999. Designed to reflect the sweeping red sand dunes found just beyond the city limits, the museum contains thousands of artifacts which help chart the course of history on the Arabian Peninsula, from prehistory to today. As a result, the museum stands as a great option for families and educational tours. Planners would also be advised to take note of the many events in National Museum Park and throughout the city from October to March each year as part of Riyadh Season.
Going back to the future in Diriyah
Perhaps no other place in the capital straddles the line between yesterday and tomorrow quite like Diriyah, sure to be a highlight for first-time visitors to Riyadh. Centered on a natural oasis, the region was the seat of the first Saudi capital, and today it remains remarkably well-preserved.
One of the country’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, At-Turaif District is particularly packed with largely intact mud brick ruins hinting at this rich history, with the Salwa Palace as its crown jewel. Inside, visitors can engage directly with the past, thanks to the immersive technology at the Diriyah Museum, then dine at one of twenty international restaurants overlooking the ruins at Bujairi Terrace. With many more additions forthcoming, from art galleries to an immersive Period Village, the next generation of Diriyah looks to be the best yet.
Enjoy the view from the Skybridge at Kingdom Center
One of Riyadh’s most recognizable structures is the Kingdom Center with its inverted archway and iconic Skybridgehovering nearly a thousand feet over the city. Inside, visitors can shop at 150 stores, dine at world-class restaurants, take in a film at the VOX Cinemas, and then close out the evening with one of the city’s most spectacular sunset views.
Experience the ultimate expression of Saudi style
As Saudi’s first skyscraper, Al Faisaliah Tower rivals the Kingdom Center when it comes to views. For a special occasion dinner, there may be no better spot in the city than at the Mandarin Oriental’s Globe Restaurant. Located in a suspended geodesic dome at the Tower’s pinnacle, the Globe offers one of the most over-the-top dining experiences in all of Riyadh with European-influenced tasting menus, a wide selection of imported, dry-aged steaks, and a thoughtfully curated mocktail list.
Of course, The Globe is far from the only dining option at the Mandarin Oriental Al Faisaliah, which features six restaurants, plus two designer bars, including a cigar lounge at the very crown of the dome. Guests also have an opportunity to keep the standard high with a stay in one of the hotel’s five-star suites. In addition to the hotel’s indoor pool, steam room, and spa, guests can opt for rooms with private spa and fitness areas, offices, and more, each featuring the hotel’s bold, modern, unmistakably Arabic aesthetic and stunning views of a city like no other.