RIYADH – I. (الرياض)

We spent a few days in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia, located in the center of the an-Nafud desert. It is home to Saudi Arabia’s best museum, a World Heritage Site related to the Kingdom’s Genesis story, and some of the finest hotels and restaurants in the country.

Once a walled, mud-brick way station along desert trading routes in the 17th century, Riyadh transformed rapidly into a modern metropolis according to the 1960s Greek master plan of the city consisting of 2 by 2 km square blocks. From afar is a picture of soaring modern towers rising above the desert. Up close, it can appear cautious and sober and feels more conservative than other Saudi cities like Jeddah. But the winds of change sweeping the nation are also affecting the capital. A long overdue metro system is on its way, as is a public bus service, and the atmosphere is far more liberal than it has ever felt before. In addition, Riyadh recently hosted the country’s first music festival, where a female singer performed live for the first time in Saudi history.

We visited the 302m-high Kingdom Centre, with a sky bridge connecting two towers (🎫  69 SAR), and drove around the 267m-high Al Faisaliah Centre, with a glass-globe summit. Then we explored the historical Diriyah’s At-Turaif (free 🎫 10:00-12:00) district – a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s rich history and a sanctuary for national heritage preserved in open-air museums. The last stop was Masmak Fort, which marks the site of the 1902 raid that gave the Al Sauds control of Riyadh.

Finally, we tried local fast food dinner at Zoq Al Mazaq (Tabouli salad – 10 SAR, Mixed meze – 14 SAR, Döner plate with fries – 28 SAR, Water – 0,5 l / 1 SAR) and another night a bit better Casablanca (Avocado shrimp salad – 36 SAR, Chicken parmigiana – 33 SAR, Beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes – 45 SAR, Mongolian beef barbecue with rice – 36 SAR, Cannelloni di pollo – 38 SAR, Perrier – 0,75 l / 15 SAR, Lemon with mint – 16 SAR). Our favorite taxis for travel around Riyadh were Careem (the cheapest), Bolt, and Uber.

Parking location – Riyadh: 24.749763N 46.708737E (🔌,🚻,💦,🏊)