Take a step back from the glitz, glamour, and high prices of Dubai by visiting the Saudi capital of Riyadh. This metropolis is home to 6.5 million, offering the perfect city to immerse yourself in the local culture. When you visit Riyadh, you’ll notice that it’s a perfect balance of opposites of Saudi society, with luxury buildings around the corner from local mom-and-pop restaurants offering traditional food at low prices, and find the perfect weather for Riyadh for planning your visit.
This city is large (about 762 square miles), making it feel like an overwhelming spot to visit. Skip the stress by reading the below Riyadh, Saudi Arabia travel guide, which provides insight into this unique city, from its rich history to hotel options, must-see attractions, travel tips, and more.
About Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Found on a desert plateau in the Middle East, Riyadh is considered a hub for politics and commerce. Initially, this city in the center of the Arabian Peninsula was a small settlement famous for its production of dates and fruitful orchards. In the 1700s, Riyadh became part of the First Saudi State, though it shifted to the capital in the early 1800s after the downfall of the original capital Diriyah.
In 1902, the city was seized by King Abdul Aziz, who is credited with establishing the modern version of Saudi Arabia. Over the years, Riyadh has blossomed and now features incredible architecture, stunning palaces, luxury hotel options, and exciting shopping options at the Kingdom Centre shopping mall.
Best Time to Visit – Weather for Riyadh
If you’re looking for a visit jam-packed with activities, the best time to visit Riyadh is during the winter. These months provide pleasant weather (unlike the overly hot summer months), encouraging more locals to spend time outside their homes. There are also typically more available activities during wintertime because of the cooler weather for Riyadh.
Spring and Fall are also pleasant times to visit, as the weather for Riyadh is warm but not too hot. However, avoid visiting during Ramadan, as all businesses will be closed.
How to Travel Around Riyadh
Getting around Riyadh can be a bit of a challenge, as this city does not have established public transportation. Saudia Arabia is currently building the Riyadh Metro, though it’s not expected to launch until 2030.
Riyadh is also not particularly friendly for those who want to walk from attraction to attraction. Your best bet will be using Uber or a taxi and scheduling your rides via the apps. These car rides are fairly affordable and the quickest way to get around the city.
We recommend avoiding renting a car, as the traffic in Riyadh can be unpredictable along with the roads. Hiring a car for the day is also tricky and can get expensive quickly. For this city, it’s best to stick to taking an Uber or taxi when necessary.
Riyadh Tourism: Attractions and Activities
These Riyadh attractions are a must when visiting the city. If you aren’t already planning on stopping by these spots, we recommend adding them to your itinerary.
National Museum of Saudi Arabia
The National Museum is one of the top museums in the country, featuring an extensive collection of national treasures. At this museum, you can explore the history, archeology, and culture of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia through displays including weapons, documents, art, etc. The National Museum is found in a modern building with interesting interactive exhibits.
The Murabba Palace is the perfect stop after the National Museum, as it is close in proximity. This palace was the living quarters of King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Riyadh. The Murabba Palace is right outside old Riyadh and was the first building built outside the original city walls.
During spring or winter, you can access the impressive palace gardens during a visit. Otherwise, there are artifacts inside the palace worth seeing, which include various personal items of the king, like a Rolls Royce he received from Winston Churchill.
The Masmak Fort in the city center of historic Riyadh is an important part of Riyadh’s history. This fort, made from clay and mud bricks, was constructed to help protect the city. It features four impressive watchtowers and an indoor museum with weapons, tools, and more on display.
Visiting the Kingdom Center allows you to see two of the top attractions in Riyadh in one stop. The Kingdom Center, one of the tallest skyscrapers in Saudi Arabia, stands tall at 990 feet. It includes a unique architectural design with a “hole” in the middle, which helps distinguish its appearance from other buildings in the area.
The Sky Bridge, a 185-foot walkway, sits at the top of Kingdom Center and is the second attraction you’ll want to check out since it provides stunning city views. A luxury hotel, apartments, and shopping are all found within Kingdom Center.
Take a taxi to Ancient Diriyah (aka Ad’Diryah), a UNESCO World Heritage Site outside Riyadh. This town was once home to the Saudi royal family, who lived in the Saad Bin Saud Palace. There is quite a lot to do in Diriyah, making it an ideal location for a day trip. Explore the ruins of the palace, stroll around the historic city streets, visit the local market, and get some shopping done while in Diriyah.
Top Riyadh Accommodation Options
There are many accommodations to choose from when visiting Riyadh, including hotels, hostels, Airbnb, etc. Below, you’ll find a few options to check out when visiting Saudi Arabia.
The Al Faisaliah Hotel is on the pricier side, at about $300 per night for a stay. However, it’s a great option if you feel like splurging for a luxury stay packed with amenities. This hotel includes butler service, six restaurants with international food, touch screen room controls (such as lights), an indoor pool, an impressive gym, etc.
The Ascott Rafal Olaya Riyadh is a mid-tier hotel that costs about $160 per night. This hotel offers exquisite views of the Faisaliah Tower and Kingdom Centre, two of the tallest skyscrapers in the city. When staying at this hotel, you’ll find the rooms more similar to apartments, with studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom stays available. Each room has a kitchen, work areas, and en-suite bathrooms.
The OYO 150 Al Hamra Palace Al Aswaq is an excellent budget stay, with rooms for about $30 per night. Like the Ascott Rafal Olaya Riyadh, you’ll find hotel apartments here. This spot offers a clean, comfortable stay with basic room amenities. It’s also nearby top attractions like the Murabba Palace, National Museum, and Masmak Fort.
What to Wear in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
When traveling, it’s necessary to dress appropriately, especially in more conservative countries. For example, there is no specific dress code for men in Riyadh. However, it’s uncommon to see local men wearing shorts. So, if you’d like to fit in with the locals, opt for lightweight pants during your stay.
The dress code for women is a bit different, as it’s necessary to wear modest clothing that covers your knees and shoulders. In addition, the local women must wear an abaya, a long traditional black gown. While it’s not required for women visiting Riyadh, if you want to feel like a local and blend in, it’s a good choice.
Riyadh Travel Tips
These travel tips will help you have a more pleasant stay in the city!
1. Don’t be alarmed by the accommodation ratings when searching for a spot to stay, as most locals and visitors are extra critical of the available options. Aim for a seven or higher, if possible, when looking for a place to stay.
2. Try kapsa, the most popular dish in Riyadh. This dish consists of rice and meat and is a tasty option for local cuisine. Otherwise, you can expect a lot of options for Middle Eastern food and burgers.
3. When visiting restaurants, it’s important to note that some more traditional places have a “singles” section and a “family” section. The singles section is only for single men, while the family section accepts everyone from solo female travelers to families. You likely won’t experience this restaurant split if you’re visiting newer restaurants.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Riyadh travel guide! Start with the listed attractions, and don’t be afraid to explore the city as there is quite a lot to see. Next time you visit, keep the above tips in mind, and you’ll have a smooth trip. Bon voyage!
Other Places in Middle East to Visit
In addition to Saudi Arabia, we loved our time in Dubai at the WorldEXPO. You can see all of our vlogs and YouTube shorts from Dubai on our United Arab Emirates page.