In the vibrant capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a bustling urban vibe and centuries of heritage combine to create a fascinating experience to captivate every visitor
Travel to Saudi Arabia is now easier than ever, with visitors from most nations now able to apply for a tourist visa online in a matter of minutes, making the kingdom ready for exploration.
Its capital, Riyadh, is a sprawling metropolis of modern design, where cutting-edge architecture is now a trademark of this global business hub. But it’s no longer just the business travellers who get to explore the Saudi capital. Leisure travellers have an equally fascinating offering to discover in this fascinating city and even further afield.
In addition to its unreal desert landscapes, Riyadh is home to the kingdom’s best museums, a host of new art galleries, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a fortress and a palace. Clearly, there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied on every single day of their visit. But if you have only 48 hours at hand, our guide to roaring Riyadh will help you make the most of what’s on offer.
Begin your day at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, which offers a window into the kingdom's fascinating history over two floors of well-curated galleries. Featured inside this stunning space is a detailed insight into Arabian history, culture and art. Visitors can see everything from evocative rock carvings to virtual tours of the country’s remote historical sites.
Saudi Arabia’s arts scene is definitely beginning to blossom and Naila Art Gallery is one of the city’s pioneers. The gallery has worked with world-class cultural institutes such as the British Council, the Goethe-Institut and Institut Du Monde Arabe. The centre has a changing and active exhibition programme, with a line-up of events including workshops and art talks.
After soaking up some creative inspiration, head to Masmak Fortress, which was built in 1865 and was once a key defence structure for the country. The site is steeped in history and, through its huge collection of artefacts and historical photographs, it chronicles the early days of the nation before the discovery of oil.
For a spiritual connection and a fitting end to your first day in Riyadh, visit Al Dawasir Mosque. One of the city’s traditional mud and wood mosques, nestled in the historic district of Diriyah, it has been beautifully restored and stands as a quaint monument to the traditional Najd style architecture.
Visitors can climb the small stairs leading up to the roof garden, beside which is the mosque’s square minaret. From atop here, the view over the dense green forest of date palms offers a brief glimmer of an ancient Saudi society that has given way to a more modern, faster pace of life.
A trip to Riyadh would not be complete without escaping the bright lights and soaking up its magnificent natural beauty. Just 30 minutes from the city, the Dirab Desert is home not only to some magnificent rock formations but is also host to a range of outdoor activities from dune bashing to paragliding, horse riding to walking tours.
After a morning of adventure, Centria Mall has an array of high-end boutiques and high street shops for a spot of retail therapy.
To get a bird’s eye view of Riyadh, visitors can take in the sunset at Kingdom Centre, a 302-metre tall tower now a symbol of Riyadh’s modernisation. High-speed lifts whizz visitors up to the 99th floor, where the Sky Bridge is housed. The 65-metre steel structure offers aerial views across Riyadh, where the views at sunset are most magical.
Another unique experience in the city is The Globe Experience, a spectacular viewing platform inside an enormous class ball made of 655 panels. Located just below the top of Al Faisaliah Tower, the panoramic views make this the most unforgettable way to end a trip in the city.
More to explore
If you have a few more hours to spare, or an additional day to fill with new adventures, venture outside city limits to take in one of the kingdom’s most breathtaking sites. A two-hour drive from the capital, the Edge of the World or Jebel Fihrayn offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape and horizon atop its 300-metre-high cliff.
It’s part of the much longer Tuwaiq escarpment and drops down roughly 305 meters into an ancient ocean bed. From the top of the cliffs, you’ll spot dried rivers weaving across the land and may even see camels moving far below – a tribute to the ancient caravans that once passed through these sands.
Where to stay
With a selection of three unique properties in Riyadh, there is something for everyone at Rotana. Whether you prefer something a little more centrally located or a property that offers the best of both worlds with convenient business facilities and multiple leisure options, with Rotana, you are sure to find your match.
To book your hotel in Riyadh, visit: rotana.com