The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is one of the wealthiest cities in the world with a vast sprawl that includes modern high-rises, luxury hotels, upscale shopping districts, and more. With humble roots as a small walled town, Riyadh became the capital in 1932 and has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. Now a thriving international city, Riyadh remains deeply rooted in conservative Saudi traditions but offers lots of unique attractions, from camel racing and the National Museum to historical forts and sand dunes.
One of the highlights of downtown Riyadh is Al Masmak Fort, which is where the recapture of Riyadh occurred in 1902. This castle is made of mud-brick and clay, and has been transformed into a museum that contains various exhibits, old photos, costumes, and antique guns. There is no entry fee but there are separate visiting schedules for men and families. The world’s largest integrated farm is also located in Riyadh and offers tours of the cows and milking parlors. With 50,000 cows on the property, the farm is a Guinness World Record Holder. The National Museum is one of the most visited sites in Riyadh and houses a large display of antiques, artifacts and manuscripts related to the Pre-Islamic Era, Islam and the Arabian Peninsula, and more. Another great place to visit is the historical Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was the former Saudi capital and the original home of the Saudi Royal Family. You can rent an ATV at the Red Sand Dunes and enjoy great views of Tuwaiq Escarpment—a series of canyons that cut through the sandstone of Central Arabia and offer endless views of the valley below.
There are many great day trips near Riyadh that make for fun getaways. Wahba Crater is a unique volcanic crater known for its amazing scenery, which includes an oasis, lava fields and saltpans. It is six hours from Riyadh and can be easily explored by foot. The historical city of Ta’if is famous for its rose season, which runs from March to April, and is also the home of Al Gadee Rose Factory, which shows visitors the different methods for producing rose water and oil. Ta’if is six and a half hours away from Riyadh and is just an hour away from the holy city of Mecca, which only allows Muslims to enter. Jeddah is eight hours from Riyadh, and is a more modernized city along the Red Sea that is home to numerous resorts, beaches and shopping, making it the perfect weekend getaway.
There are many different areas to stay in Riyadh, which has plenty of housing compounds and high-rises to choose from. Al Olayya and Sulaymaniyyah are part of the business district and have many good shopping malls, while Al Mohamdiyah is a prestigious neighborhood with larger homes that are close to many high-end restaurants. Al Nakheel is another popular neighborhood with a large expat population, and the homes here tend to be on the larger side with lots of gardens and in close proximity to the international schools.
Visitors can drive with a foreign or international driver’s license for up to three months, but it should be noted that women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. For public transportation, many take buses, although women aren’t allowed to travel on city buses. There is one railway line in Saudi Arabia that runs from Damman to Riyadh, and taxis are widely available and are the best option for women.
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