Sitting right in the centre of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is an ever-changing capital that is sure to intrigue the intrepid traveller. The centre for business, shopping, entertainment and events, it is also a cultural destination that is firmly rooted in the traditions of its historical past. The sprawling metropolis may be modernising rapidly, with soaring skyscrapers rising up from the surrounding desert and shiny mega-malls stocking
the latest luxury brands, but it is also home to the kingdom’s best museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a striking fortress and a beautiful palace. Add to this lush green oases, desert landscapes, ancient monuments and the renowned Arabic hospitality, and Riyadh becomes a fascinating city to visit whether it’s for business or leisure.
Discover Riyadh’s fascinating past by spending your first day exploring the capital’s cultural attractions. First head to the National Museum, one of the finest of its kind in the Middle East, where two floors contain eight well-designed and hugely informative galleries that cover Arabian history, culture and art. Displaying everything from evocative rock carvings to fascinating models, there is even a full-scale reconstruction of a
Nabataean tomb from Madain Saleh. The museum also makes its exhibits easy to understand thanks to films being shown in English, while there are virtual tours of historical sites and no end of interactive displays. In contrast to the shining new museum, Masmak Fortress was built in 1865 and was once an important defensive structure for the entire country. The site of a daring raid by Ibn Saud in 1902, it was during this attack that a spear was hurled at the main entrance door with such force that the tip remains lodged in the doorway to this very day. Within the fortress, which is located in the old quarter of Riyadh, is a huge collection of artefacts signifying the early days in the development of Saudi Arabia. There are maps and photographs of the kingdom dating all the way back to 1912, as well as some fascinating films that explain the reunification of Saudi Arabia. As evening approaches, make your way to Riyadh’s most famous and stunning piece of architecture, the Kingdom Centre. Rising 302 metres and lit up with constantly changing coloured lights, the city’s centrepiece perfectly demonstrates how the capital has modernised and embraced change. Here high-speed lifts take you up to the 99th floor where the iconic Sky Bridge is housed. Extending 65 metres, this impressive steel structure provides the opportunity to overlook the whole of Riyadh. The tower also houses numerous restaurants and a shopping mall where you’ll find luxury stores and exclusive boutiques.
Just a 30-minute drive from the centre of Riyadh, the Dirab Desert is ideal for those seeking some adventure. There is a range of activities on offer, from horse riding and dune bashing to paragliding, while there is even an oasis in the sand with Dirab Golf and Country Club home to a picturesque and challenging 18-hole course. After a morning in the desert, return to the bustling city centre for some retail therapy by visiting Centria Mall. One of the most luxurious shopping centres in Riyadh, not only will you discover high-end boutiques and designers, but also a collection of fine dining restaurants. For the perfect end to your long weekend, make time to visit The Globe Experience, a spectacular viewing platform inside an enormous glass ball that is made of 655 panels. Located just below the top of Al Faisaliah Tower, the panoramic views will live long in the memory of those who visit this iconic attraction.