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Coordinates: 24°42′42″N 46°43′27″E / 24.71167°N 46.72417°E / 24.71167; 46.72417

الرياض ar-Riyāḍ
King Fahd Road
Riyadh is located in Saudi Arabia
Location of Riyadh
Coordinates: 24°38′N 46°43′E / 24.633°N 46.717°E / 24.633; 46.717
Country  Saudi Arabia
Province Riyadh Province
 - Mayor Abdul Aziz ibn 'Ayyaf Al Migrin
 - Provincial Governor Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz
 - Urban 1,000 km2 (386.1 sq mi)
 - Metro 1,554 km2 (600 sq mi)
Population (2007)
 - City 4 878 473
 Density 3,024/km2 (7,833/sq mi)
 Urban 5,853,912
 Metro 6,188,000
  Riyadh Development Authority estimate
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)
 - Summer (DST) EAT (UTC+3)
Postal Code (5 digits)
Area code(s) +966-1

Riyadh (Arabic: الرياضar-Riyāḍ, lit: The Gardens) is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province, and belongs to the historical regions of Nejd and Al-Yamama. It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau, and is home to 4,854,000 people, and the urban center of a region with a population of close to 6 million people. The city is divided into 15 municipal districts, managed by Riyadh Municipality headed by the mayor of Riyadh, and the Riyadh Development Authority, chaired by the Governor of Riyadh Province, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. The current mayor of Riyadh is Abdul Aziz ibn Ayyaf Al Migrin, appointed in 1998.



The name Riyadh is derived from the plural of the Arabic word rawdha, which means "garden," particularly those formed in the desert after rains. Riyadh has for more than 1500 years been a fertile area set in the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula. The settlement was historically famous for its Palm Trees and Dates and Orchards. The modern name was first applied to only certain parts of the settlement where orchards predominated. Gradually the name was used for the entire settlement.


Early history

During the Pre-Islamic era, the settlement at the site was called Hajr (Arabic: حجر‎), and was reportedly founded by the tribe of Banu Hanifa.[1] Hajr served as the capital of the province of Al Yamamah, whose governors were responsible for most of central and eastern Arabia during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. Al-Yamamah broke away from the Abbasid Empire in 866 and the area fell under the rule of the Ukhaydhirites, who moved the capital from Hajr to nearby Al Kharj. The city then went into a long period of decline. In the 14th century North African traveller Ibn Battuta wrote of his visit to Hajr, describing it as "the main city of Al-Yamamah, and its name is Hajr". Ibn Battuta goes on to describe it as a city of canals and trees with most of its inhabitants belonging to Bani Hanifa, and reports that he continued on with their leader to Mecca to perform the Hajj.

Later on, Hajr broke up into several separate settlements and estates. The most notable of these were Migrin (or Muqrin) and Mi'kal, though the name Hajr continued to appear in local folk poetry. The earliest known reference to the area by the name Riyadh comes from a 17th-century chronicler reporting on an event from the year 1590. In 1737, Deham ibn Dawwas, a refugee from neighboring Manfuha, took control of Riyadh. Ibn Dawwas built a single wall to encircle the various quarters of Riyadh, making them effectively a single town.

The three Saudi States

In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab formed an alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the nearby town of Diriyah. Ibn Saud then set out to conquer the surrounding region with the goal of bringing it under the rule of a single Islamic state. Ibn Dawwas of Riyadh led the most determined resistance, allied with forces from Al Kharj, Al Ahsa, And the Banu Yam clan of Najran.

Al Masmak Castle

However, Ibn Dawwas fled and Riyadh capitulated to the Saudis in 1774, ending long years of wars, and leading to the declaration of the First Saudi State.

The First Saudi State was destroyed by forces sent by Muhammad Ali of Egypt, acting on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman forces razed the Saudi capital Diriyah in 1818. In 1823, Turki ibn Abdallah, the founder of the Second Saudi State, revived the state and chose Riyadh as the new capital. Internecine struggles between Turki's grandsons led to the fall of the Second Saudi State in 1891 at the hand of the rival Al Rashid clan, who ruled from the northern city of Ha'il. Riyadh itself fell under the rule of Al Rashid in 1865. The al-Masmak fort dates from this period.

The city was recaptured in 1902 from the Al Rashid family by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud. He went on to establish the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, with Riyadh the capital of the nation



The city has experienced very high rates of population growth, from 150,000 inhabitants in the 1960s to over 6.4 million, according to the most recent sources.

Year Population
1862 7,500
1935 30,000
1960 150,000
1970 370,000
1972 500,000
1974 650,000
1988 1,500,000
1990 2,000,000
1997 2,800,000
2004 4,137,000
2008 6,400,000
Est 2011 8,800,000


Summer temperatures are very hot, approaching 50 degrees Celsius. The average high temperature in July is 45°C. Winters are mild with cold, windy nights. The overall climate is arid, receiving very little rainfall. It is also known to have many dust storms. The dust is often so thick that visibility is under 10 meters.

Climate data for Riyadh
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 31.5
Average high °C (°F) 20.2
Daily mean °C (°F) 14.4
Average low °C (°F) 9.0
Record low °C (°F) -0.5
Rainfall mm (inches) 11.7
% Humidity 47 38 34 28 17 11 10 12 14 21 36 47 26
Avg. precipitation days 5.8 4.8 9.8 10.0 3.5 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.0 1.2 3.4 6.3 45.2
Source: [2]

City districts

Riyadh is divided into 15 branch municipalities,[3] in addition to the Diplomatic Quarter. Each branch municipality in turn contains several districts,[4] though some districts are divided between more than one branch municipality.[3]

The branch municipalities are Al-Shemaysi, 'Irgah, Al-Ma'athar, Al-Olayya, Al-Aziziyya, Al-Malaz, Al-Selayy, Nemar, Al-Neseem, Al-Shifa, Al-'Urayja, Al-Bat'ha, Al-Ha'ir, Al-Rawdha, and Al-Shimal ("the North"). Although the Riyadh Development Authority conducts projects in Dir'iyyah, administratively, Al-Diriyah is a separate city outside of the Riyadh Municipality and is the seat of its own governorate.[5]

According to the website of the Riyadh Municipality, Riyadh contains more than 130 districts.[6][7]

Examples of some of the main districts of Riyadh are the following:

  • Al-Bat'ha[8]
    • Al-Dirah (old Riyadh)
    • Mi'kal
    • Manfuha
    • Manfuha Al-Jadidah (منفوحة الجديدة -- "new Manfuha")
    • Al-'Oud
    • Al-Margab
    • Salam
    • Jabrah
    • Al-Yamamah
    • 'Otayyigah
  • Al-'Olayya & Sulaymaniyyah[9]
    • Al-'Olayya
    • Al-Sulaymaniyyah
    • Al Izdihar
    • King Fahd District
    • Al-Masif
    • Al-Murooj
    • Al-Mugharrazat
    • Al-Wurood
  • Nemar[10]
    • Nemar
    • Dharat Nemar
    • Tuwaiq
    • Hazm
    • Deerab
  • Irgah[3]
    • Irgah
    • Al-Khozama
  • Diplomatic Quarter
  • Al-Shemaysi[11]
    • Al-Shemaysi
    • Eleyshah
    • Al-Badi'ah
    • Syah
    • Al-Nasriyyah
    • Umm Sleym
    • Al-Ma'athar
    • Umm Al-Hamam (East)
  • Al-Ma'athar[12]
    • Al-Olayya
    • Al-Nakheel
    • King Saud University main campus
    • Umm Al-Hamam (East)
    • Umm Al-Hamam (West)
    • Al-Ma'athar Al-Shimali ("North Ma'athar")
    • Al-Rahmaniyya
    • Al-Muhammadiyya
    • Al-Ra'id
  • Al-Ha'ir[3]
    • Al-Ha'ir
    • Al-Ghannamiyyah
    • Uraydh
  • Al-'Aziziyyah[13]
    • Ad Dar Al Baida
    • Taybah
    • Al Mansouriyah
  • Al-Malaz[14]
    • Al-Malaz
    • Al-Rabwah
    • Jarir
    • Al-Murabba'
  • Al-Shifa[15]
    • Al-Masani'
    • Al-Shifa
    • Al-Mansuriyya
    • Al-Marwah
  • Al-Urayja[16]
    • Al-Urayja
    • Al-Urayja Al-Wusta ("Mid-Urayja")
    • Al-Urayja (West)
    • Shubra
    • Dharat Laban
    • Hijrat Laban
    • As-Suwaidi
    • As-Suwaidi (West)
    • Sultanah
  • Al-Naseem[18]
    • Al-Naseem (East)
    • Al-Naseem (West)
    • As-Salam
    • Al-Manar
    • Al-Rimayah
    • Al-Nadheem
    • Al-Rayyan
  • Al-Rawdhah[3]
    • Al-Rawdhah
    • Al-Qadisiyah
    • Al-M'aizliyyah
    • Al-Nahdhah
    • Gharnatah (Granada)
    • Qortubah (Cordoba)
    • Al-Hamra
  • Al-Selayy[19]
    • Al-Selayy
    • Ad Difa'
    • Al Iskan
    • Khashm Al-'Aan
    • Al-Sa'adah
    • Al-Fayha
    • Al-Manakh

Olaya District is the commercial heart of the city, with accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options. The Kingdom Center, Al Faisalyah and Al-Tahlya Street are the area's most prominent landmarks.

The Diplomatic Quarter, or DQ as it is popularly known, is home to foreign embassies and international organizations as well as residential structures and malls. With lush gardens and numerous sports facilities, it is also one of the city's greenest areas. It is especially known for its fine architecture, and is considered a model for other Islamic cities around the world. Despite its name, the special privileges offered in the Diplomatic Quarter constitute a controversial issue. All Saudi laws must be obeyed and there are occasional patrols by the Mutaween, or Saudi religious police. However, foreign diplomats and their families are allowed certain privileges and it is not very uncommon to see foreign diplomats and their wives strolling on the streets of the DQ in shorts and short-sleeve shirts.

Cable-stayed bridge in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The centre of the city, Al-Bathaa and Al-Dirah, is also its oldest part. At its heart lies the 19th-century Al Masmak fort, which is one of the city's major attractions; to the west lies the Riyadh Museum of History and Archeology and the Murabba' Palace, an old residence of first Saudi king, Ibn Saud, now a museum. The Qasr Al-Hukm, or Palace of Justice, is nearby. It is here that the Governor of Riyadh Province meets citizens, listens to their grievances and problems, and stays abreast of all aspects of the region's life. The Al-Dira area also contains commercial markets and traditional buildings, such as the Al-Mu'eiqilia market and the city's Grand Mosque.

Architectural Landmarks

Vernacular Architecture of Old Riyadh

The old town of Riyadh within the city Walls did not exceed an area of 1 square km, therefore there are very few significant architectural remnants of the original walled oasis town of Riyadh exist today. The most prominent is the al-Masmak fort and some parts of the original wall structure with its gate which have been restored and reconstructed. There are also a number of traditional mud-brick houses within these old limits, however they are for the most part dilapidated.

Expansion outside the city walls was slow to begin with although there were some smaller oases and settlements surrounding Riyadh. The first major construction beyond the walls was King Abdulaziz's Murabba' palace. It was constructed in 1936, completed in 1937 and a household of 800 people moved into it in 1938. The palace was big enough to be mistaken as the city of Riyadh by travellers approaching it from the north. During the life King Abdulaziz, the palace was subject to numerous expansions (of grounds and buildings). It was constructed in the style of Najdi architecture of mud-bricks and marked a level of architectural maturity that was unprecedented on that scale. Nowadays, only a fragment of what it encompassed is restored and rebuilt in the traditional manner. However, the palace is now part of a bigger complex called "The King Abdulaziz Historical Centre".

There are other traditional villages and towns in the area around traditional Riyadh which the urban sprawl reached and currently encompasses. These are Diriyah, Manfuha and Wadi Laban to name a few. Unlike in the early days of development in Riyadh during which vernacular structures were razed to the ground without consideration, there is a new-found appreciation for traditional architecture.

Contemporary Architecture of Riyadh

Burj Al Mamlakah

The 311 m (1000 ft) high Kingdom Tower (Arabic: برج المملكة‎) is the tallest skyscraper in Saudi Arabia and the 36th tallest building in the world. The tower is built on 94,230 square meters of land. The Kingdom Center is owned by Al-Waleed bin Talal, a prince of the Saudi royal family, and is the headquarters of his holding company: Kingdom Holding Company. The project cost 2 billion Saudi Arabian Riyals and the contract was taken by Saudi Arabian El Saif and the Italian Impregilo Kingdom Center is situated in Al-Urubah Road between King Fahd Road and Olaya Street in the growing business district of Al-Olaya in Riyadh. Kingdom Center was the winner of the 2002 Emporis Skyscraper Award, selected as the "best new skyscraper of the year for design and functionality". A three-level shopping center, which also won a major design award, fills the east wing. The large opening is illuminated at night in continuously changing colors.

Burj Al Faisaliyah

Al Faisaliyah Center (Arabic: برج الفيصلية‎) was the first skyscraper constructed in Saudi Arabia, and is the second tallest building in the country after the Kingdom Center. The golden ball that lies atop the tower is said to be inspired by a ballpoint pen, and contains a restaurant; immediately below this is an outside viewing deck. There is a shopping center with major world brands at ground level.

Burj Al Anoud

Al Anoud tower is 145 meters high. It is a major commercial building on King Fahd road. The tower is owned by Princess Al-Anoud and moderated by several Saudi Arabian companies.

Sahara Mall

Riyadh TV Tower

The Riyadh TV Tower (170m high) has an observation deck and was built in 1970s.

Ministry of Interior Building

The headquarters for the country's Interior Ministry is widely considered one of the city's most beautiful landmarks with its unique design of a upsidedown pyramid

Al Masmak Castle

This castle was built around 1865 under the reign of Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Rasheed (1289-1315 AH), the ruler of Ha'il to the north, who had wrested control of the city from the rival clan of Al Saud. In January 1902 Ibn Saud, who was at the time living in exile in Kuwait succeeded in capturing the Masmak fortress from its Rashid garrison. The event, which restored Al Saud control over Riyadh, has acquired almost mythical status in the history of Saudi Arabia and has been retold many times, but has as its central theme the heroism and bravery of the future King Abd Abdulaziz Ibn Saud.

Al Nakheel tower

A tower which is under construction in downtown Riyadh, and is most likely to be completed in 2010. It is being built by Al Nakheel real estate company with an estimated cost of 400 Million Saudi Riyals.[20]


Riyadh hosts more than 50 embassies of which 22 belong to the countries of the Arab League.[citation needed]


Once a small walled city, Riyadh has developed into a dynamic metropolis over the years. Along with the urban areas of Dhahran, Dammam, Khobar and Jeddah, Riyadh has become a focal point for both travel and trade.

In addition to being the center of power, the city is also a commercial hub. Numerous educational, financial, agricultural, cultural, technical, and social organizations have set up base here. The architecture is mostly modern, including contemporary high-rise towers, but the Al-Dira district, the nucleus of the city, has been rebuilt in a style meant to evoke the old mud-brick buildings of pre-20th century Nejd.

King Saud Medical Complex

From the beginning of oil exploration in Saudi Arabia to the present day, the government has promoted growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecommunications. Saudi Arabia announced plans for privatizing the electricity companies. A lot of these new private conglomerates and companies headquarters are located in Riyadh, along with National Banks headquarters. Because of that, Riyadh is considered as the capital city financial and business center of the Middle East.

King Khalid International Airport has a major impact on the commercial movement in Riyadh, providing air transportation for millions of people each year and shipping goods to the city from all continents.

King Fahd Road

King Fahd road is the main road in Riyadh city. Many business places in Riyadh prefer to locate their head offices on King Fahad road, and headquarters of major companies and organizations are located on both sides of the road. Huge malls, business towers and skyscrapers are widely distributed on this road. However, many roads are becoming more attractive to businesses as King Fahad road is now crowded most times of the day. King Abduallah bin Abdualziz road, Mohammd bin Fahd "Tahlia", Prince Sultan, north ring road have all became alternatives for business and companies' head offices.

The northern end reaches the Airport over another highway. According to many opinions, King Fahd Road is one of the most beautiful street in Saudi Arabia, making the road a popular tourist attraction. Famous landmarks such as Kingdom Centre, Al Faisaliyah Center, Al Anoud Tower and the Ministry of Interior building are also located on King Fahd Road. However, it is fast becoming second to King Abdullah Street which has seen major building projects and a train track and tunnel system is currently under construction.

The Industrial City

The Industrial areas are located on the East and the North-East of the city, Including some of world largest factories of oil-related industry, high-tech, low-tech and agriculture. Aramco has large operations in the area which includes oil refineries. Electricity and water-treatments plants supply the city with their much-needed energy and water, which also reach the nearby towns.


As a capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh has received millions of visitors of different backgrounds from all over the world. The population of Riyadh is 60% Saudi and 40% of the population is made up of foreigners from Africa, South Asia, Europe and the Middle East, many of whom remained and became residents of the city.


Saudi Kabsa
Riyadh TV Tower
King Fahd Stadium

Religious significance

The vast majority of Riyadh residents are Sunni Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Maldives, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Asia, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, Nigeria and several West African countries. Shiite Muslims are also abundant from the Saudi Eastern Province and from countries like Iran, Syria and Pakistan. Riyadh has a very diverse Muslim population, with Muslims coming all over the world to settle in the city. There are also a large minority of Asian and Westerner and Lebanese Christians. The City also has a minority Jewish population from countries such as other Arab countries, Europe & from the Western World. The city has over 4,300 Mosques. Hindus in the city are virtually all Indian and so are the Sikhs. Even though freedom of religion is very rare in Riyadh, Non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religion privately in their homes and usually start prayer timings, rituals, gatherings, schools, and religious studies.


Like other Saudi cities, the Nejdi Kabsa is the most traditional lunch in Riyadh. The Yemeni Mandi is also popular as a lunch meal. Fast food is also popular in the city. Western cuisine also plays an important part in the city's culture, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's Pizza, Papa Johns, KFC, Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme Donuts, Starbuck's, and Subway are widely distributed in Riyadh. There are also many North American based restaurants, such as Fuddruckers, Chili's, Applebees, Tony Roma's, T.G.I. Fridays, Johnny Rockets, Gulf Royal Chinese, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits and Planet Hollywood.

Museums and collections

In 1999 a new central Museum was built in Riyadh at the eastern side of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre. This National Museum of Saudi Arabia combined several collections and pieces that had up till then been scattered over several Institutions and places in Riyadh and the Kingdom. For example the meteorite fragment known as the "Camel's Hump" that was on display at the King Saud University in Riyadh became the new entry piece of the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.


Riyadh is served by four major Arabic-language newspapers, Asharq Al-Awsat (which is owned by the city governor), Al-Riyadh, Al-Jazeera and Al-Watan. Television stations serving the city area include Saudi TV1, Saudi TV2, Saudi TV Sports, Al-Ekhbariya, ART channels network and hundreds of cable, satellite and other specialty television providers. The Riyadh TV Tower is a 170 m (558 ft) high television tower with an observation deck at Riyadh. The tower started construction in 1978 and finished in 1981 and is a part of the Ministry of Information.


Soccer is the most popular sport in Riyadh. The city hosts four major soccer clubs, such as Al Shabab, which was established in 1947, holding a great record in the Saudi Premier League. Al-Nasr club is another famous squad in the league, was named six times as a champion of the Saudi League, and was established in 1955. The well-known club Al-Hilal, Which was established in 1957 conquers the league as the winner of ten championships, is the most popular team in the country. Also, there is Al-Riyadh club, which was established in 1954 along with many other minor clubs.

The city also hosts several giant stadiums, such as King Fahd International Stadium with capacity of 70,000 seats. The stadium hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup three times in 1992, 1995 and 1997. And also the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1989.


The Riyadh city area has a distinctive regional speech pattern called the Najdi dialect. It is often considered to be one of the most recognizable accents within the Arabic language. Najdi Arabic is widely spoken in the desert regions of central and eastern Saudi Arabia.



Riyadh's King Khalid International Airport (IATA: RUH), located 35 kilometers north, is the city's main airport. It's one of the four international airports in the country serving over 20 million passengers a year.


The city is served by a modern major highway system. The main Eastern Ring Road connects the city's south and north, while Northern Ring Road connects the city's east and west. King Fahd Road runs through the center of the city from north to south, in parallel with the East Ring Road. Makkah Road, which runs east-west across the city's center, connects eastern parts of the city with the city's main business district and the diplomatic quarters.


Saudi Railway Authority operates two separate passenger and cargo lines between Riyadh and Dammam passing through Hofuf, and Haradh. Two future railway projects connecting Riyadh with Jeddah and Mecca in the western region and connecting Riyadh with Buraidah, Ha'il and Northern Saudi Arabia are underway. Developers are the RC corporation, wholly owned by H O’Donovan, W Daly and S Burgoyne, however, are now being built single-handedly by H O'Donovan.

Public transport

The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Co. (SAPTCO), the national bus system, runs a fleet of buses that provides public transportation inside the city, and also an extending service transporting passengers to several cities across the kingdom and neighboring countries.

An electric sky train system has been approved and the first phase will be installed in King Abdullah Road, King Fahd Road and Al Olaya Road. It will run for 25 km and will include communication services such as phones and internet.[21]

See also

Notes and References

  1. ^ History of Riyadh at
  2. ^ "SURFACE ANNUAL CLIMATOLOGICAL REPORT" (in EN). PME. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Official Website of the Riyadh Municipality - Interactive Map of Riyadh's branch municipalities [1] (Arabic)
  4. ^ Map of Riyadh, published by the Riyadh Municipality, showing the districts of Riyadh [2], on the website of King Saud University (Arabic)
  5. ^ Website of the Governorate of Al-Dir'iyyah [3]
  6. ^ Official Website of the Riyadh Municipality - Interactive Map of Riyadh's branch municipalities [4] (see first drop-down list on right side)
  7. ^ Official Website of the Riyadh Municipality - Subpage of each branch municipality contains list of districts. [5] (Arabic). Some districts are not listed but are documented by the Municipality's maps, e.g. [6]
  8. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Bat'ha subpage [7]
  9. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Nemar subpage [8]
  10. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Bat'ha subpage [9]
  11. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Shemaysi subpage [10]
  12. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Ma'athar subpage [11]
  13. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Aziziyya subpage [12]
  14. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Malaz subpage [13]
  15. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Shifa subpage [14]
  16. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-'Urayja subpage [15]
  17. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Shemal subpage [16]
  18. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Naseem subpage [17]
  19. ^ Official website of Riyadh Municipality -- Al-Selayy subpage [18]
  20. ^
  21. ^ "The High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh (Arabic)". 

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Kingdom Centre and northern Riyadh, seen from the Al-Faisaliya building
The Kingdom Centre and northern Riyadh, seen from the Al-Faisaliya building

Riyadh (الرياض‎ ar-Riyāḍ) is the capital of Saudi Arabia, located squarely in the center of the Nejd.


Known by locals as the Center of the Kingdom, Riyadh is the most straight-laced of the Kingdom's big cities. With most forms of entertainment banned, few sights of interest and a brutal climate, Riyadh is a business-only destination if there ever was one, but it's also the best place in the Kingdom to watch.

King Abdulaziz on the way to recapturing Riyadh
King Abdulaziz on the way to recapturing Riyadh

A dusty little oasis of under 10,000 people only a hundred years ago, Riyadh (or, rather, the neighboring hamlet of Diriyah) is the ancestral home of the al-Sauds. Driven out by the Rashids in 1891, King Abdulaziz bin Saud famously raided and recaptured the city in 1902. The city was made the capital of Saudi Arabia when the country was born in 1932, and has grown explosively ever since then — as of 2008, the city is estimated to have some 5,000,000 inhabitants, and is still growing fast.


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 and, more morbidly, the execution grounds.


Located squarely in the middle of the central highlands of the Nejd, Riyadh suffers from the worst of Saudi Arabia's climatic extremes. Summer temperatures regularly exceed 50°C, while winter temperatures can fall below zero. It's bone dry throughout the year, and when the wind blows the city is often covered in a haze of sand. However, while summers are blazing hot, they are not humid, which goes some way to alleviate the pain.

Beware that in the last few years, the climate has been shifting in this part of the world as well. Temperatures near 50°C are usually only reached end of July and in August. In 2009, the temperature in Riyadh hit 48°C mid-June. Especially if you wear a business suit, it is imperative to stay out of the sun.

Get in

Riyadh is a long way from anywhere, so odds are fairly high you'll be arriving by plane.

By plane

Riyadh's King Khaled Airport (IATA: RUH) is located 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: there aren't even any duty-free shops to entertain you, although there are a few mildly overpriced cafes and, of course, large prayer rooms. Sit near (or, preferably, in) the Al-Fursan lounges to mooch off their free wifi.

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 are surprisingly limited, but options includes Lufthansa from Frankfurt, British Airways and bmi from London-Heathrow, Air France from Paris and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. The most international 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's pilgrim zoo, immigration and customs clearance at Riyadh is usually fairly straightforward (unless the computer system is down). Beware that 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. While the official taxis are supposed to use a zone-based flat fare system, with most of central Riyadh in the SR 45 or 55 zones, the list of zones is available only in Arabic. A metered fare to the city should cost around SR 70-90, 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 80 Rial 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 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

Riyadh's train station is on the western outskirts of the city, with four trains daily to Dammam via Al-Hofuf. Try to show up 30 minutes early, as you'll need to pass through security before boarding.

By bus

The Central Bus Terminal (tel. +966-1-2647858) is inconveniently located in the Aziziyah district some 17 km south of the city center; 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.

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.

Get around

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. Plan your route before start of 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.

It is important to carry your Valid Identification (i.e. Passport / National ID / Iqama) at all the times. You may experience difficulties obtaining accommodation and may experience bigger problems if you are stopped at any of the city's check points (these can be both permanent or temporary). Not being able to show valid identification when asked by the police may land in jail. Therefore it also advisable to keep details of your sponsor to hand in case you require assistance while out and about.

By taxi

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. 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.

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. Note that solo male travelers are expected to hop into the front seat, next to the driver.

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 bus

Flat-fare minibuses (SR 2) 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 car

The best option for traveling in Riyadh is your own car, ideally driven by somebody else used to the conditions, but many expats take the plunge and drive themselves. The traffic in Riyadh is, by Saudi standards, fairly sane: ubiquitous raised bumps on lane markers keep cars traveling more or less in 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.

On 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.


Sightseeing in Riyadh is a frustrating exercise in careful timing: not only are most sites closed on weekends (Thu-Fri) and during prayer hours, but visiting hours are segregated between men and families. The one saving grace is that many sites stay open until 9 PM.

Masmak Fortress floodlit at night
Masmak Fortress floodlit at night
The pointy facade of the National Museum
The pointy facade of the National Museum
Riyadh at night, seen from the Skybridge of the Kingdom Centre
Riyadh at night, seen from the Skybridge of the Kingdom Centre
  • Masmak Fortress (قصر المصمك Qasr al-Masmak), Deira. 8 AM-noon and 4-9 PM on Sat, Mon, Wed for men, Sun, Tue, Thu 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.  edit
  • Murabba Palace (Qasr al-Murabba), (next to National Museum). 6-9 PM Sun-Fri. 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.  edit
  • National Museum. Open Su-Mo,We-Th 9-noon for men, 4:30-9 PM families; Tu 9-noon women only, 4:30-9 PM men; Fr 4:30-9 PM 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. Note: Many cabbies will not recognize the English name, ask for the neighboring Murabba Palace (Qasr al-Murabba) instead. SR15.  edit

Thinking of going to see a beheading?

"You don't want to see one," an older friend of mine named Fred told me a short time later.

"Why not?"

"Believe me, you're going to see enough ugly stuff by the time you're my age without having to carry around the memory of a beheading the rest of your life," Fred said. "You think it won't bother you, but it's a hard thing to see. Harder to forget. Wish I never went."

--Victor Hanson, Letter #11 from Saudi Arabia

  • As-Sa'ah Square (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 by sword 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.  edit
  • Kingdom Centre (المملكة Al-Mamlaka), [1]. Daily 4-9 PM. Undoubtedly Riyadh's most stunning piece of modern architecture, at 305m the Kingdom Centre is the 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 300m. 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. SR25 (Skybridge).  edit


Although almost no Saudis play golf, there are surprisingly good golf courses around. The best one is the 18-holes course in Dirab Golf & Contry club a good 30 minutes drive west of Riyadh. Nice layout with green and inviting grass, and the last 9 holes are even floodlit. They offer tennis, swimming and horse-back riding as well. There's also a quite nice 9-holes short range course connected to the Hotel Intercontinental almost in the dead centre of the city. Nice but short - also floodlit. If you travel about 20 minutes to the north-east you will find a not so nice desert course with browns instead of greens (the putting area consist of sand/oil mixture instead of grass).

Head west down the Makkah Road for 30 minutes, and you'll end up in the Tuwaiq Escarpment. Here you will get a good feel of the desert with dunes and buttresses.


Shopping malls

Riyadh's main roads are nothing but one shopping mall after another.

  • Al Faisaliah, Olaya Rd. At the foot of the Al Faisaliah skyscraper, this is one of Riyadh's swankiest malls, anchored by a Harvey Nichols department store. The food court on the third floor is among the best in the Kingdom; the one in the basement, on the other hand, is deserted. There is a fun park in the basement near the entrance on Olaya road. Families only Wed-Fri.  edit
  • Al Mamlaka, Olaya Rd (Kingdom Centre), [2]. One of the swankiest malls in the Kingdom, with the third floor Ladies Kingdom reserved exclusively for women. Good food court on the lower level and even a Planet Hollywood restaurant.  edit
  • Jarir Bookstore (Makatba Jarir), Olaya Rd (south of Musa ibn Nosayr St), [3]. The two-level flagship store of Saudi Arabia's largest bookstore, most of the store is actually taken up by a wide range of computer gear, stationary, music and DVDs. The best English-language magazine and book selection in Saudi — which, alas, isn't saying all that much.  edit
  • Sahara Mall, Intersection of King Abdul Aziz Rd and Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Rd, [4]. Enormous mall on the northern side of the city. The mall has 180 shops anchored by a Tamimi supermarket and features what may be the largest food court in the city — and if you can't find what you want here, the adjacent Sahara Plaza annex has more.  edit
  • Souq al-Thumairi (شارع الثميري), Deira (next to Masmak Fortress). Also known as Antique Souq, this is Riyadh's most touristy souq, which isn't saying all that much. It specializes in Arabic goods cheap and expensive, authentic and fake, with carpets, coffee pots, daggers, jewelry and more. English is generally spoken, and haggling is obligatory.  edit


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 under SR10.

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.  edit
  • 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.  edit
  • Mama Noura Juice Center, Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz St, Al-Rahmaniyah (and three other franchises), +966-1-4708881, [5]. 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 miniscule in size but cheap at SR3 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.  edit
  • Shayah, Kingdom Centre B1F Food Court, [6]. Iranian restaurant offering 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.  edit
  • 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.  edit
  • 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. SR30.  edit
  • 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 / Tenders are recommended - excellent hotsauce. SR60.  edit
  • 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.  edit
  • 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.  edit
  • 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.


With alcohol, movies, music 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 10km 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...

  • The Globe, Al-Faisaliah (entry via South Lobby), +966-1-2732000, [7]. 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 SR300-SR600+.  edit
  • Scoler Express, Khozama Center, +96614622780. 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.  edit
This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under SR200
Mid-range SR200-500
Splurge Over SR500


Most of Riyadh's budget accommodation is in al-Batha. It is adviced 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 (Nostro Hypermarket) for shopping and car parking SR5/24Hrs. (Note: 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 untill last day as you need to show it everytime 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, [8]. 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.sleep> * 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.  edit  edit
Faisaliah tower (right) and the al-Faisaliah hotel (left)
Faisaliah tower (right) and the al-Faisaliah hotel (left)

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

  • Al Faisaliah, King Fahd Rd, +966-1-2732000, [9]. Located in the same complex as the Faisaliah tower (but not in the tower itself), this is probably Riyadh's top hotel. Impeccably stylish, excellent service and priced to match — a coffee in the lobby will set you back SR60! SR1400.  edit
  • Al Khozama, Olaya Rd, +966-1-4654650, [10]. 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.  edit
  • Four Seasons Riyadh, Kingdom Tower, King Fahd Rd, +966 1 211 5000, [11]. It doesn't get any cooler than staying in the 302-meter Al-Faisaliah Tower itself, and the Four Seasons features what you expect from a luxury hotel. Singles from SR1200, doubles from SR1400.  edit
  • Holiday Inn Al-Qasr, Olaya Main Rd, +966-1-4625000, [12]. 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.  edit
  • Intercontinental Hotel, +966 1 465 5000. Popular hotel for visiting businessmen. Large meeting facilities, good restaurants, close to Olaya Road business district.  edit
  • Luthan Spa and Hotel, Aruba Rd (Near King Khalid Eye Hospital), +966-1-4807799, [13]. 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, [14]. 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.  edit
  • Radisson SAS Riyadh, King Abdulaziz St, +966-1-4791234, [15]. 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.  edit
  • Sheraton Hotel, King Fahd Rd, +966-1-4543300, [16]. checkin: 3 PM; checkout: 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.  edit


Internet cafes can be found in the computer souq in Olaya. Riyadh is also pushing forward with its "Smart City" program, which will attempt to provide wireless access throughout the city in the major coffeeshops and hotels, particularly on Tahlia St in the downtown area.

Stay safe

Riyadh is among the most conservative cities in Saudi Arabia. The mutaween (religious police) are numerous in Riyadh and not to be messed with. Women must cover themselves with an abaya (available in shops everywhere in Riyadh) and it's advisable to carry a headscarf as well. Read, understand and follow the guidelines in the Saudi Arabia article to stay out of trouble.

In 2002-2004, Riyadh was the site of numerous terrorist attacks on Westerners, including shootings, car bombings and kidnappings, culminating in the May 12, 2003 compound bombings that killed 35 and injured over 160. In response, Saudi security forces cracked down brutally, and there have been no terrorist attacks in Riyadh since 2004. Security remains very tight though, particularly at housing compounds for foreigners, and police and army units, often heavily armed, are a common sight in the city.

Although Riyadh is a city with one of the lowest crime rates in world, standard precautions should be taken. However, the only significant danger to you is the driving. Most of the drivers originated from areas in developing countries and the Middle East which lack traffic laws, driving schools or even roads for that matter. It's a 'driving culture' where seat belts, mirrors, lane stripes, turn signals and speed limits are ignored. A four-lane highway can easily transform into a seven-lane 'racetrack'. Don't be shy with your horn.


Riyadh can be challenging destination to live and work in. Some tips for easier adaptation:

  • Arrange a car and driver, or at least arrange a regular cabbie. This is easier, safer and quite possibly cheaper than relying on taxis for transport.
  • Organize your day around prayer times, with late lunches (after noon prayers) and very late dinners (after evening prayers).
  • Socializing with the family-oriented Saudis is virtually impossible, so get in touch with the local expat community if you want to have any semblance of a social life.
  • Try to get out of Riyadh on the weekends, when virtually everything is closed or inaccessible to single males.
  • Respect Islam and abide by the country's strict Islamic laws. Although rare, there are cases of Westerners arrested, deported and receiving corporal punishment for showing signs of disrespect. Expect no leniency if you are Muslim, South Asian or Southeast Asian. Riyadh is one of the strictest cities in Saudi Arabia.

Get out

If your budget stretches to flights, Saudi Arabia is your oyster, with the entire country within a 1.5-hour radius of Riyadh.

  • Jeddah — the largest port on the Red Sea and the gateway to Mecca and Medina, but with good scuba diving too
  • Bahrain — if you have a car, the 4-hour drive through the desert to the comparatively liberal state of Bahrain is not too bad
  • Dubai — The new luxurious party city of the Middle East. If you have a car, it will be a 7-hour drive east through the desert. For cheap flights, approximately 1.5 hours, take a low-cost airline into Sharjah.
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun


  1. Capital of Saudi Arabia.



Simple English

Riyadh (In Arabic: الرياض‎ ar-Riyāḍ) is the capital city of Saudi Arabia. It is located in Ar Riyad Province in the Najd region. It is located in the center of the Arabian peninsula on a large plateau and is has a population of 4,260,000 people (around 20% of the nation's population). Riyadh is also a very modern city with tall sky scrapers.

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