Riyadh

Travel Guide Middle East Saudi Arabia Riyadh

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Introduction

Riyadh , K.S.A.

Riyadh , K.S.A.

© krautarsch

Riyadh (الرياض) is the capital and largest city in Saudi Arabia and is located in the central part of the country on a high plateau. It has about 4.7 million inhabitants and people have been living in this relatively fertile area in the desert for over 1,500 years. The city has seen massive growth in population and 20 years ago the city had only about a third of the amount of people living within its boundaries compared to the present situation. Nowadays, it is a busy commercial city and the economical heart of the country, despite its location far away from most other populated coastal areas. Very few travellers visit the city, as most foreigners are here on a business visit or are working in some of the industries of the country.

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Neighbourhoods

Riyadh is vast and sprawling. The main roads are King Fahd Rd (طريق الملك فهد tariq al-malek al-Fahd), which runs north to south across the city, and Makkah Rd (aka Khurais Rd), which runs west to east, intersecting at Cairo Square — which is actually just a cloverleaf interchange.

The modern business districts of Olaya (العليا, pron. Oleyah) and Suleimaniyah, containing most offices and better hotels, are to the north of Makkah Rd. Here Riyadh's two skyscrapers serve as handy orientation points: Faisaliah Tower (the pointy one) is towards the southern end of Olaya, while Kingdom Centre (the bottle opener) is at the northern end. Both are located between King Fahd Rd and the parallel thoroughfare of Olaya Rd, which is Riyadh's main upscale shopping strip.

The historical core of Riyadh is to the south of Makkah Rd. The district of al-Murabba hosts the sprawling grounds of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Park, home to the National Museum and the Murabba Palace, while a kilometer to the south is the dense warren of al-Bathaa, host to the city's cheapest food, lodging and shopping and the hub of the minibus network. Further south yet is Deira, centered on as-Sa'ah Square, which has souqs (traditional markets), the Masmak Fortress, the Governor's offices and, more morbidly, the execution grounds.

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Sights and Activities

Sightseeing in Riyadh is a frustrating exercise in careful timing: not only are most sites closed on weekends (F-Sa) and during prayer hours, but visiting hours are segregated between men and families, though some flexibility might be provided for western nationals. The one saving grace is that many sites stay open until 9PM.

  • Masmak Fortress (قصر المصمك, Qasr al-Masmak), Deira. 8AM-noon and 4-9PM on Sa, M We for men, Su Tu Th for families. The heart of old Riyadh, this was the fortress stormed by King Abdul Aziz and his men in their daring reconquest of Riyadh in 1902. Renovated in 2008 to an inch of its life, the mud brick structure now looks like it was built yesterday, but the museum inside does a pretty good job of recounting the story of the raid and has some fascinating photos of old Riyadh as well. Alas, the second half is devoted to extolling the greatness of the Sauds in everything from agriculture to education. Free.
  • Murabba Palace (قصر المربع,Qasr al-Murabba) (next to National Museum). Su-F 6-9PM. Riyadh's second old mud-brick palace, built by King Abdul Aziz after he conquered Masmak Fortress and figured he should built something harder to conquer. This two-story structure does indeed look pretty intimidating, but permits are no longer needed to venture inside, where you can find sights including the first royal Rolls-Royce. Free.
  • National Museum, ☏ +966 1 402 9500. Open Su M W Th 9AM-1PM for men, 4:30-9PM families; Tu 9AM-noon women only, 4:30-9PM men; F 4:30-9PM families; Sa closed. Undoubtedly the top sight in Riyadh, this museum (opened in 1999) is done up with the latest technology and is very accessible to visitors, with almost everything available in English. There are so many video presentations and mini-theatres that you could probably spend an entire day here doing virtual tours of Madain Salih or watching re-enactments of the Prophet Mohammed's battle of Medina. Highlights include a kiswah cloth that once covered the Qaaba in Mecca. Half the time, though, it feels more like a propaganda exercise than a museum: the display on plate tectonics starts with a quote from the Quran, the history of the Sauds is rather airbrushed, and the display on the birth of Mohammed, reached from the clash and noise of the Jahiliyah (age of ignorance) by riding an escalator up into a room of soothing, pastel light while a choir of angels sings, has probably inspired a few conversions to Islam. Many cabbies will not recognize the English name, ask for the neighboring Murabba Palace (Qasr al-Murabba) instead. SR10.
  • As-Sufaat (Deira Square). Next to the Great Mosque and the mutawwa headquarters, this nondescript expanse of cement is known by expats as Chop-Chop Square as convicts are publicly beheaded with a scimitar here. Executions take place on Friday mornings (but not every week), just after the noon prayers. Beware that any Westerners nearby have been known to be taken to the front row and forced to watch the whole thing, in order to further shame the condemned. It is forbidden to take photos of executions or to record videos of them.
  • Kingdom Centre (المملكة Al-Mamlaka), No. 94, Al Olaya. Daily 4-11PM. Undoubtedly Riyadh's most stunning piece of modern architecture, at 305 m the Kingdom Centre is the second tallest building in Saudi Arabia and quite a sight, especially when lit up at night. The centre hosts an (expensive) three-story shopping mall, with one floor reserved for women, but the main reason to visit is the 99th-floor Skybridge connecting the two peaks at a height of 300 m. Best visited at dusk or after dark, from here you'll get great views over the vast and flat but well-lit expanse of the city. SR35 (Skybridge).

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Events and Festivals

Milad al-Nabi

All Saudi Muslims celebrate the birthday of their Prophet, Mohammad, by elaborately decorating their homes and mosques. Children recite poems about the Prophet, while older Saudis tell stories about Mohammad’s life and accomplishments. Large feasts and street processions are among Milad al-Nabi’s other traditional activities. The date of Milad al-Nabi varies from year to year according to the Islamic calendar.

Unification of the Kingdom Day

The country’s only secular public holiday takes place each September 23 on the anniversary of Saudi Arabia’s 1932 founding. Although many Saudis still choose to quietly celebrate this formerly low-key holiday at home, growing numbers of young Saudis have chosen to express their national pride more overtly by singing, dancing, honking car horns, and waving Saudi flags.

Eid ul-Fitr

Like their Muslim counterparts in other nations, Saudis mark the final day of the fasting month of Ramadan with this three-day religious festival. Eid ul-Fitr begins with a small morning meal and quiet prayers, and continues with larger feasts and livelier celebrations among family and friends. Saudi children receive money and elaborately decorated gift bags from adults, several shopkeepers add free gifts to all purchases, and Saudi men secretly leave large bags of food on strangers’ doorsteps during this festive time of year.

Eid al-Adha

This important Muslim festival lasts four days and marks the moment when Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice Ismael, his son, for Allah. Today, most Saudi families celebrate Eid al-Adha by dressing up in their finest clothing, saying special prayers, and slaughtering lambs to share their meat with everyone.

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Weather

Because of its elevation, temperatures are somewhat lower than other parts of the desert and during the February to April period even some light showers are possible, sometimes with hail! In general though it is a dry and sunny places, with temperatures hitting 45 °C in summer, but with some frost recorded in January every now and then.

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Getting There

By Plane

Riyadh-King Khalid International Airport (RUH) is about 35 km north of the city. A large, architecturally striking structure in white and desert brown, hypermodern when opened in 1983, it has aged reasonably well but remains a famously boring place to get stuck in: just a small and very cramped shop in Terminal 2 and a few cafes including chains such as Starbucks and Costa as well as local outlets. Sit near (or, preferably, in) the Al-Fursan lounges to mooch off their free Wi-Fi. There are three terminals in use, with Terminal 1 used by international carriers, Terminal 2 for Saudi Arabian Airlines international flights, and Terminal 3 for all domestic flights. The terminals are right next to each other and are connected at the arrivals level, so transfers involve lugging your stuff for a few hundred meters or, more sensibly, hiring a porter to do the job.

Aside from Saudia, direct connections from outside the Gulf and South Asia are surprisingly limited, but options include Lufthansa from Frankfurt, British Airways from London-Heathrow, Air France from Paris, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul IST and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. The most internationally popular route, though, is via Dubai, from where there are at least half a dozen flights daily. Domestically, Riyadh is one of the main hubs and there are flights to every corner of the Kingdom, including near-hourly departures to Jeddah.

Unlike Jeddah, immigration and customs clearance at Riyadh is usually fairly straightforward (unless the computer system is down). Standing in the wrong line for immigration may work out fine for you, or you may be catapulted back to the end of a different line when you hit the front position (making all that waiting worthless). The row for "Exit/Entry Visas" is only for resident expats that have left the country temporarily, to visit family for example.

You'll probably be accosted by touts as you soon as you exit customs, but just ignore them and head to the taxi ranks outside or use taxi hailing apps like Uber and Careem (the Middle Eastern option). While the official taxis are supposed to use a zone-based flat fare system, with most of central Riyadh in the SR45 or 55 zones, the list of zones is available only in Arabic. A metered fare to the city should cost SR70-90, but more often than not the driver will just ask for a flat fare, which may even work out a little cheaper. If you've let yourself be scored by one of the private drivers (that are not only inside the terminal building but also outside), make sure the price you agreed on is truly agreed on, or your driver may tell you that he didn't agree to SR80 but rather 180, meaning you'll settle on 120. The better bet is taking an official taxi! A good alternative - if offered - is to take a hotel limousine. These are often not much more expensive than the taxi trip, but mostly high-quality, comfortable cars rather than run-down, creaky old clunkers with worn-through seats.

The trip to the city takes about 30 minutes in good traffic. Don't be irritated if the taxi is stopped at a control point by police (at which time the driver will put on his seatbelt and his mobile onto handsfree, two actions that are usually reversed as soon as the control point is passed).

When checking in, one airport quirk bears noting: you have to pass your bags through an X-ray before checking in, and after getting your boarding pass, you have to go right through the same security gate in reverse to find immigration and departures. Don't go up the staircase — it's a dead end leading only to the viewing lounge.

By Train

Rail traffic to Riyadh is increasing, with the city being the center of a new high speed network that's under construction. The classic line runs from the coastal city of Dammam, near the border with Bahrain, via Al-Hofuf and Al-Hasa. There are five trains per day with a journey time of 3½ hours for the full length. Additionally, there is at least one train per day from Ha'il and Buraydah on the new North-South line, taking 2½ hours. In the future trains will run from Al-Qurrayat near the border with Jordan.

There are two stations: trains from Damman arrive at the older 2 Riyadh railway station (محطة قطار الرياض) is located south of the city centre, along Omar Ibn Al Khattab Road. The brand-new 3 Riyadh railway station SAR is along Ath Thumamah Road in the northern parts of the city. For both stations, it's recommended to show up at least 30 minutes early, as you'll need to pass through security before boarding.

Confusingly, tickets have to be bought from the different companies depending on which line you are travelling on. Saudi Railways runs trains from Damman while Saudi Railway Company runs trains on the North-South line.

By Car

The main East-West road through Riyadh is Highway 40 from Dammam and the causeway from Bahrain to Khobar with other road links mainly leading to the North of the Kingdom.

Most roads are tarmacked, albeit to varying levels of repair. Driving standards are slightly more sensible than those of the city centres, but caution is still needed. Some highways see heavy usage from lorries and petrol tankers, often in convoy.

By Bus

The Central Bus Terminal (tel. +966 1-2647858) is inconveniently located in the Aziziyah district some 17 kilometres south of the city centre; expect to pay at least SR30 for a taxi to get there. Buses from Dammam take a tolerable 4.5 hours, while it's a punishing 10-12 hour haul to Jeddah or Mecca with several stops on the way.

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Getting Around

By Car

Riyadh is very much a car-oriented city, and public transportation in Riyadh is badly underdeveloped. There are no street addresses as such in Riyadh, as mail is delivered to post office boxes, so getting around requires knowing landmarks near the place where you want to go.

If you are travelling by your own car then it is wise to carry a GPS system or better yet use Google Maps as it seems to be the most updated of the navigation systems with the different points of interest. Plan your route before the start of the journey. Although many streets, roads and landmarks are marked in both Arabic & English yet there are few important major streets, roads and exits that are still marked in Arabic only.

The traffic in Riyadh is, by Saudi standards, fairly sane: ubiquitous raised bumps on lane markers keep cars traveling more or less in a straight line, and radar-equipped cops on the major highways zap the craziest of speeders. Still, the local driving style can charitably be described as "aggressive", with swerving from the leftmost lane to the exit ramp on a four-lane highway being par for course, and central Riyadh jams up almost daily during rush hour.

Please be aware: It is illegal for women to drive.

Most visitors rely on white taxis, which are abundant in the city centre but can be harder to find on the outskirts or at night. Recently ride hailing apps have been operating in Riyadh, most notably Uber and Careem. For taxis, drivers will usually use the meter without asking if you do not propose a fixed price, and with a starting fare of SR 5 and the meter ticking up SR 1.60/km after the first kilometer, most metered trips within the city cost under SR 30. However, locals usually prefer to negotiate fares in advance, and this can often be cheaper than using the meter: short hops start at SR 10, a longer journey might be SR 15.

Single women are legally allowed to take registered public taxis, but many female visitors and expats choose not to, opting for transport provided by a hotel, their company or compound instead.

The level of English spoken varies from decent (esp. Indian and Pakistani drivers) to non-existent, so try to find out the name of your destination in Arabic before you head off. Solo male travelers are expected to hop into the front seat, next to the driver, while women must sit in the back.

Drivers are usually familiar with major local landmarks, but you're expected to know your way to your destination from there. Bring a map and the phone number of someone at your destination to call for directions.

By Public Transport

Flat-fare minibuses (SR 3) rumble the streets of Riyadh, but these are mostly used by laborers. They are quite difficult for the casual visitor to use: there are no posted stops, and routes are usually written only in Arabic. Most routes converge on al-Bathaa, and the adventurous visitor can try his luck on route 9, which runs from al-Bathaa up Olaya Road.

By Foot

The modern, northern half of Riyadh is very pedestrian-hostile, with 8-laned roads filled with speeding SUVs making crossing the road a dangerous exercise. Pedestrian bridges are very few and even at stoplights you need to keep an eye out for crazy drivers. Add in the fearsome summer heat, and it's little surprise that there aren't too many people walking about. In al-Bathaa, though, the situation is almost reversed: some of the alleys are too narrow or congested for cars, and walking is the only way of getting around.

But if you're the fearless type, walking along even the wider roads is a great way to see the city, as you'll be too distracted by constant near-misses while riding in a taxi. Stay in the shade, be careful along stretches without a pedestrian walkway (or one that is blocked off due to construction going on), and you'll be fine.

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Eat

Eating out is one of the few pleasures of Riyadh. There's a pretty good selection of restaurants for various cuisines, ranging from cheap and hearty to fancy and expensive. Your best bet for cheap, filling meals are Riyadh's countless small Pakistani/Indian restaurants, which can fill you up with curry and rice for about SR11.
Fast food places abound in Riyadh's shopping malls, with a full meal with drink averaging around SR20. If you want something other than the usual hamburgers and kebabs, Pizza Hut offers a pretty good salad buffet.

  • Al Fawar, Olaya St (across the road and one block south from al-Faisaliah), ☏ +966 1-4657776. Cheap and cheerful Lebanese eatery offering tasty shwarma, kebabs, dips and more. Shwarma SR3/6.
  • Al-Malaz Restaurant, off Olaya Rd (behind Holiday Inn al-Qasr). No-frills, somewhat fly-blown South Indian eatery that's always packed thanks to tasty food, low prices and generous portions. At lunchtime, you can get four curries (meat or veg), pickles, fresh veggies, rice, chapattis, pappadums, dessert and tea, all with infinite refills, for the scarcely credible price of SR6.
  • Mama Noura Juice Center, Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz St, Al-Rahmaniyah (and three other franchises), ☏ +966 1-4708881. Immensely popular chain which does excellent thick, fresh juice cocktails as well, but the main draw here is the famous shwarma, arguably Riyadh's best. They're minuscule in size but cheap at SR4 a pop, so most people order at least three! The menu (available in English) also covers freshly baked pastries, kebabs and some Lebanese treats. Place your order and pay first, then queue at the counters. You can eat in at the diner-style high counters among towering piles of fruit, but most opt for take-away. Under SR10.
  • Paragon Family Restaurant, Batha (opposite Suncity Supermarket), ☏ +966 1 4083852, ✉ riyadhparagon@yahoo.co.in. 5AM-2AM. Providing traditional Malabar cuisine, North-Indian and Chinese. Paragon specials are biriyani, kudukka biriyani (served in a pot) and traditional style fish items.
  • Shayah, Kingdom Centre B1F Food Court. A chain of Iranian restaurants available at several locations in the city. They offer a good range of kebabs and a better range of mezze like tabbouleh, hummus, eggplant, vine leaves etc. Single portions under SR10, huge set meals SR21.
  • Ya Mal Asham, Olaya Rd (off Musa ibn Nosayr St, next to Jarir Bookstore). All the ambience of a giant school cafeteria, but there's a great selection of Arabic food from shwarma to soups, grills, stews and desserts and the "take a tray and point" style of ordering makes it easy to choose (although they do have an English menu as well). Shwarma SR4, full meals SR15-20.
  • Cafe Amore, Tahlia St. (heading east on Tahlia with the Olaya intersection behind you, the restaurant will appear among a row of restaurants on your left; take the next u-turn.). Probably the best, slickest and most professionally-run Italian restaurant in Riyadh. SR30.
  • Najd Village, Takhassusi St. (on Takhassusi about 500 meters southeast of Euromarche). Probably the restaurant with the nicest decor in Riyadh, traditional saudi food, you will be sitting on the floor. SR75.
  • Abdulwahab, Tahlia St. (heading east on Tahlia with the Olaya intersection behind you, the restaurant will appear on your right.). Modeled after a restaurant in Beirut of the same name, this restaurant has quickly become one of the most popular and reputable Lebanese restaurants in town. SR30.
  • Burj Al-Hamaam, Takhassusi St. (on Takhassusi opposite to Takhassusi Hospital). One of the older Lebanese restaurants in town, this sparsely-decorated restaurant has had an enduring reputation. It is especially known for its "Sayyadiyya" and its "Kibbe in pomegranate sauce." SR30.
  • Tokyo, Oruba St. (at the eastern end of Oruba St.). This is an oldest Japanese restaurant in town (dating from the 1980s). It is said to be run by Japanese and to serve excellent Sushi. Closed on Fridays. SR30.
  • Assaraya, Talatheen St, ☏ +966 1 464 9336. This very popular Turkish restaurant is packed during the evening hours. Meat is the name of the game here, and it comes in numerous tasty variations. The bread is superb! SR30.
  • Chilis, Tahlia Street. Quite good rendition of TexMex with a typical American look-and-feel. If you're from the Northeast of the US, the Buffalo wings and tenders are recommended - excellent hotsauce. SR60.
  • Korean Palace, Makkah Rd (opp Holiday Inn al-Qasr), ☏ +966 1-4631102. Korean-run eatery offering reasonably authentic Korean, Japanese, and Chinese food at reasonable prices. Popular with the local Asian community. SR50.
  • Mirage Restaurant, Al-Takhassosi Rd, North West Riyadh (west of Kingdom Tower), ☏ +966 1-4834127. Taiwanese-Saudi run Chinese restaurant offering a variety of foods from throughout Asia, stick to the Taiwanese or Chinese menu items. The pigeon is a great appetizer as an alternative to the deep fried appetizer menu. The restaurant is accepting of business mixed gender groups. Ask for a table on top of the illuminated fish tanks in the center of the restaurant. Getting there can be difficult as it is in a side strip mall, look for the pagoda top and the neon Chinese gate. SAR80.
  • Duo, North Ring Rd.. Chain Italian restaurant that caters to families. The selection is decent, but quality is lacking. If you go, try the Spaghetti Curry dish - fried chicken, peas, pineapple curry pasta - sounds weird, but tastes good. If going as a bachelor group (all males), the room is off to the side with limited service. SR60.
  • Steak House, North Ring Rd.. Basic chain steak house - think Ponderosa - with a decent selection of steaks and other meat products. One of many locations throughout Riyadh. SR60.
  • Teatro, between Olaya and King Fahad Rd. next to Pizza Hut on Olaya. Teatro is an amazing find in the small area between Olaya and Kind Fahad Road. The bachelor side (the only side visited this trip) looks like a very odd dance club. The "VIP room" and were not told has an extra SR 30 charge per person. The area is a mix of 1960s mood lighting, lava lamps, odd kitsch, and a hunter's room with hunted animals every where. Add in Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (a bit of irony for the Kingdom) and a few huge screen TVs - the place is a den for sports fans in Riyadh. We were told the place sells out on football nights. The food is international in style and average. The food is average, but the decor and oddity of finding a place like this in Riyadh will entice a return visit during a football match. There is a family side that looks just as interesting. SR60/SR90 VIP.
  • Avadh, on Tahlia across the street from Outback Steakhouse (go west on Tahlia from Olaya until you see Avadh on the left, across the street from Outback Steakhouse). Avadh is a traditional north Indian restaurant on the Tahlia strip (western style shops/restaurants). The family section is quite nice. The food is traditional, authentic, and expensive in comparison to other Indian restaurants. The naan and roti are fresh. The lamb "dum style" was the best dish of those ordered. SR 120/person.
  • Taste Of India, Batha Main Str (Near 2nd Cross Bridge, just behind the Mist multi-shop.), ☏ +966 1-4091333, +966 50 592 3330 (mobile). regular. Indian (north and south) food at reasonable rates. The settings are nice and clean, dishes range from delicious biryanis and tandoors to south Indian rice specialties. SR10-40.
  • Mondo, Intercontinental Hotel 7F (across King Fahad Road from the Ministry of Interior). Probably the most expensive and highest quality restaurant in Riyadh, with varied, international cuisine. SR100-300 per person, not including taxes, service or drinks.
  • Al-Nakheel, Khozama Centre 7F (next to Al-Khozama Hotel). Dubbed no less than the best restaurant in Saudi by a certain well-known travel guide, one can only presume that either standards in Riyadh have skyrocketed or this place has gone into terminal decline. With decor unchanged since the 1970s and an uninspired buffet (no a la carte menu) of the usual Arabic standbys, the only visitors seem to be tour groups and hotel guests -- the locals know you can get better stuff for a fraction of the price elsewhere. Dinner buffet SR110, not including taxes, service or drinks.
  • Sheraton Riyadh offers a very rich buffet for breakfast, covering a wide spectrum of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies, as well as regular European food. The Italian restaurant in the ground floor of Sheraton Riyadh is excellent. The pasta with its freshly prepared sauce is recommended.
  • Spazio: located at the top floor of Kingdom Center, this restaurant is nominally Italian but in fact serves a varied international cuisine. Despite the view and cost, the food is not especially impressive.
  • Fairuz Garden: Excellent Lebanese restaurant with outdoor seating. Driving north on King Fahd road, just a few blocks from Kingdom Tower, you will see it on your right. The setting is lovely and food is delicious.

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Drink

With alcohol, cinema and nightclubs all banned, Riyadh's nightlife is infamously nonexistent. Even that mainstay of the Arab street, shisha (water pipe) cafes, are banned from the center of town — although they can be found just outside city limits at Thumamah St, about 10 km away from the center off the road to the airport. Ask a local (or any taxi driver) for his favorite. What's left, then, are coffeeshops, which can be found in abundance throughout the city, particularly on Tahlia St (officially Prince Mohammed Bin Abdul Aziz St) in Olaya.

For the foreign workers - the expats - the social life can be quite (well, comparatively) rich however. There are always a good party going on in the embassy area or in one of the compounds. And at these private parties there's always a chance to find some illegal booze.

In case you run into it, especially within expat communities, Saudi champagne refers to a non-alcoholic drink, typically a mix of Sprite and apple cider.

  • The Globe, Al-Faisaliah (entry via South Lobby), ☏ +966 1-2732000. Suspended 240 meters above Riyadh in the giant glass ball of the al-Faisaliah building, the Globe is the hippest cafe-restaurant and probably the single best splurge in town. So dimly lit at night that the waiters fade into the shadows, you can settle back in a plush leather seat, order a bottle of (non-alcoholic) bubbly, puff on a Cohiba and watch the lights of the city twinkle below. Reservations required, but they'll make one for you at the lobby if there's space. On the way out, stop at "the experience" level outdoor viewing platform. Day SR100, night SR170 minimum charge, dinner SR175.
  • Scoler Express, Khozama Center, ☏ +966 14622780. One of half a dozen cafes in the alley between al-Faisaliah and the Khozama Hotel, this is the only one that's not an obvious chain outlet. The menu has a good range of drinks hot, cold, caffeinated and juicy, including espressos made with fancy Tonino Lamborghini gear, and the outdoor seating is cooled down with a nifty water spraying system. SR10.

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Sleep

Most of Riyadh's budget accommodation is in al-Batha. It is advised that you should check the room condition and proper functioning of all equipment (e.g. TAP/FLUSH/TV/Power Outlets etc.)in budget hotel prior to check in.

  • Al Jazeera Hotel, Al Bathaa Street, +966 1 2863863. Good value hotel on main street, offering singles/doubles from SR60/120. Behind this hotel there is multistory building (Nesto Hypermarket) for shopping and car parking SR5/24 hr. (Pay parking fee in advance & get receipt for desired number of days otherwise there may be fine of SR50. Keep the parking fee receipt safe until last day as you need to show it every time you exit from parking. You can enter and exit parking as many times you wish within the validity of receipt).
  • Al Batraa, Al-Dai'ri Ring Road, +966 1 248 4310. Furnished, clean apartments in the Al-Quds district.
  • Almuthana, King Fahd Rd (between Tahlia St and Faisaliah), ☏ +966 1-2931230. Modern, stylish hotel offering four-star quality at reasonable price compared to its branded equivalents, but service is rather inept. Free (but not tremendously fast) wireless internet, small indoor pool and limited gym (open only in the evening). Cafe on mezzanine for buffet breakfast is relaxed, 8th floor restaurant dinner buffet expensive at SR120 but tasty. From SR500.
  • White Palace (Al-Qasr Al-Abiyad), King Abdul Aziz Street, ☏ +966 1 478 7800. Pleasant hotel in the Al-Dubat district, with character and a total of 135 rooms, all furnished with a TV and ensuite bathrooms. Singles/doubles SR160/200.
  • Swiss Spirit Hotel & Suites Metropolitan, Al Safaha District Riyadh, (Business District), ☏ +966 011 485 7777, ✉ fom.metropolitan@swissspirithotels.com. 80 spacious rooms & suites with high-end finishing, all-day dining restaurant. Complimentary high speed Wi-Fi. From SR 370 per night..

At the upper end, hotel prices in Riyadh have increased rapidly in the past few years and are now almost as expensive as Dubai. Expect to pay north of SR600.

  • Al Faisaliah Hotel, A Rosewood Hotel, King Fahd Rd, ☏ +966 1-2732000. Luxury hotel offering facilities for meetings, conferences, weddings and events. Also provides accommodations, restaurants and vacation packages for tourists as well as business travelers. SR 1,400.
  • Al Khozama, Olaya Rd, ☏ +966 1-4654650. Once among Riyadh's top hotels, but now getting a bit long in the tooth. Somewhat cramped but clean rooms. The location right next to al-Faisaliah is excellent though. The pool right by the hotel is outdoor only and not as clean as you'd hope for, but hotel guests can use the fitness center in the next building (Khozama Center, 1st floor) which offers a superb gym, a large indoor pool, tennis and bowling. Free internet in the business rooms (5th floor). SR800.
  • Ascott Rafal Olaya Riyadh, 7706, Sahafa Olaya St, ☏ +966 11 408 8700, ✉ enquiry.riyadh@the-ascott.com. Equipped with studio apartments, one and two bedroom apartments. This property offers complimentary shower amenities and on-site gymnasium.
  • Four Seasons Riyadh, Kingdom Tower, King Fahd Rd, ☏ +966 1 211 5000. It doesn't get any cooler than staying in the 302-meter Kingdom Tower itself, and the Four Seasons features what you expect from a luxury hotel. Singles from SR1200, doubles from SR1400.
  • Holiday Inn Al-Qasr, Olaya Main Rd, ☏ +966 1-4625000. Formerly the Howard Johnson Olaya Palace, but thoroughly renovated and reopened in 2007. Modern design, decent rooms, central location, basic gym. Internet SR100/day, breakfast buffet SR105. Rooms from SR550.
  • Intercontinental Hotel, ☏ +966 1 465 5000. Popular hotel for visiting businessmen. Large meeting facilities, good restaurants, close to Olaya Road business district.
  • Luthan Spa and Hotel, Aruba Rd (Near King Khalid Eye Hospital), ☏ +966 1-4807799, ✉ e-commerce@luthanhotel-spa.com. The first and only women-only hotel in Saudi. Most visitors are locals coming here for the spa, but there are also 25 rooms for overnight visitors. SR350-979. edit
  • Marriott Riyadh, ☏ +966 1-4779300. In desperate need of a facelift and awkwardly located to the east of the city core. About the best that can be said is that it's clean and quiet. Once you're in the room, you can easily imagine you're in any Marriott in the US, even the bathrooms look identical. Superb, large-size indoor swimming pool and excellent fitness room (included in room charge). SR1000.
  • Radisson Blu Riyadh, King Abdulaziz St, ☏ +966 1-4791234. Very comfortable modern hotel with a Scandinavian touch. Nice gym with two saunas and pools, free Internet and a rather good breakfast. Has four in-house restaurants including a Japanese and an Italian one. SR800.
  • Sheraton Hotel, King Fahd Rd, ☏ +966 1-4543300. Check-in: 3 PM, check-out: noon. Older but well-maintained property about 3 km north of the city center, handy for both the airport and doing business. Good restaurants, but virtually nothing within walking distance. SR900.
  • Swiss International Royal Hotel, King Fahad Rd, Al Safaha District, ☏ +966 11 234 9999, ✉ fom.roya@swissinternationalhotels.com. 4-Star hotel, consisting of 60 rooms & suites, a health club, spa, 4 meeting rooms & an all-day dining restaurant. From SR 490 per night.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes abound in major Saudi cities, and many shopping malls feature a gaming parlor or two. Rates are around SR5/hour.

While Internet in Saudi Arabia is cordoned off by a filter, it aims primarily at pornography, non-Islamic religious and domestic political sites in Arabic, and (from the traveller's point of view) is nowhere near as strict as, say, China's. Google, Skype, Wikipedia, all major webmail providers etc. are all accessible.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The three mobile operators in Saudi, incumbent Al Jawal, Emirati rival Mobily and Kuwaiti newcomer Zain (Vodafone Network) are fiercely competitive, with good coverage (in populated areas) and good pricing. A starter pack with prepaid SIM and talktime starts from about SR 75, and you can sign up in most any larger mobile shop (bring your passport). Local calls are under SR 0.5/minute, while calls overseas are around or less than SR 2/min.

And yes, you can bring in your own phone: despite grumblings from the clerics, both camera phones and multimedia messaging (MMS) are now legal.

Post

Saudi Post has a good network of post offices around the country, but offices are closed Thursday and Friday. Stamps for postcards to anywhere in the world cost SR4. The bigger problem is actually finding postcards, as the mutawwa periodically crack down on the celebration of non-Islamic holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas or even birthdays, causing all cards of any sort to disappear from bookstores! Your best bet is thus gift shops in major hotels. Mail coming in to the country from overseas is notoriously unreliable. Stories abound of things arriving months after they were sent or never arriving at all. There are branches of DHL, FedEx and UPS operating throughout the kingdom, so a good rule of thumb is to have anything important sent through those channels.

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This is version 17. Last edited at 9:49 on Jul 10, 19 by Utrecht. 38 articles link to this page.

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