Riyadh

It’s difficult not to smile at the irony of Riyadh. There’s more money than you can poke a stick at, but most forms of entertainment are outlawed; Cars are luxurious and petrol cheap, yet women are forbidden to drive; The weather is always clear and sunny, but alas - it’s too hot to go outside. The Saudi capital is strictly business.

With Islamic law enforced far more strictly than it is in Jeddah, the mood in Riyadh is less inviting for tourists. However, for those who manage to settle in and find their groove in Saudi Arabia’s biggest city, there are plenty of great experiences to be had.

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Currency Saudi Arabian Riyal
Population 7,125,180
Book Flights to Riyadh Book now
Area 1,798km2
Time Zone UTC+3
Languages Arabic
Holiday Packages to Riyadh Book now
Dining

Dining opportunities are many and varied in Riyadh, with an incredibly broad range of cuisines and dining styles to choose from. Don’t forget that alcohol is outlawed by Islamic law; so visitors to Riyadh must quickly get used to drinking ‘Saudi champagne’ (juice, fruit, mint and sparkling water) with meals.

The Al Olaya district in the centre of the city is one of Riyadh’s dining hotspots, with a large number of great restaurants all very close to one another. These range from quick and convenient shawarma vendors through to more formal, sit-down restaurants spanning traditional Saudi cuisine, contemporary Western, American, Chinese and Indian. Stroll along Prince Muhammad Ibn Abdulaziz Road and browse the selection.

Riyadh is home to a huge number of Pakistani and Indian restaurants, which are generally the cheapest way to enjoy a great sit-down meal. A meal of curry with rice will rarely cost more than about four dollars at these restaurants. Several of these are located on or just off Olaya Road, for those who happen to be in the area.

As delicious as the flavours of the Middle East are, it’s not unusual to crave a nice big steak from time to time. When this moment arrives, look no further than the Outback Steakhouse in Al Olaya - one of Riyadh’s most popular restaurants. The delicious, tender steaks here are well worth the hefty prices.

Shopping

A few key ingredients such as oil wealth, time-rich women and a general lack of other entertainment offerings mean that shopping is rampant in Riyadh - and the quality, quantity and size of the city’s malls reflect this. For families in Riyadh, the great news is that most malls have fantastic amusement facilities to keep the kids busy.

One of the most popular shopping malls in Riyadh is the Panorama Mall, situated in the district of Al Madhar Ash Shamali. Like most malls in Riyadh, the Panorama Mall is targeted heavily towards women, with a large contingent of clothing, jewellery, shoe, accessory, homeware, furniture and beauty stores. The kids will love the mall’s Metropolis Time Factory, a huge amusement centre consisting of an ice rink, paintball field, cinema and games.

Centria Mall is also worthy of a mention. The focus here is ultra-high-end fashion, with labels like Gucci, Balenciaga, Ferrari and Fendi all represented. Keeping in line with its luxurious image, Centria Mall offers visitors a selection of fine dining restaurants, instead of the usual fast food chains one would expect to find in a mall.

Authentic market shopping can be found at Riyadh’s many traditional souks. Perhaps the pick of the bunch is Deira Souk, situated next to the Masmak Fort in the heart of the city. Unlike the more touristy Souks selling fake designer handbags and watches, Deira Souk is as traditional as it gets, with vendors selling antiques, carpets, textiles, spices, traditional clothing, wooden carvings and much more. Haggling is expected so don’t be shy.