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Riyadh City Guide
One of the wealthiest cities in the world thanks to the oil industry, Riyadh is orderly, stately, and conservative. When driving in to the city, you can see gleaming modern high rises soaring up out of the dusty desert surroundings, almost like a mirage. Riyadh is Saudi Arabia's financial and political capital, where you can see the country's traditional practices come face to face with modern technology and business practices. ¶ The city has grown to become home to over 5 million people, up from just less than 20,000 only a century ago. Its rapid growth has led to great diversity, and a Riyadh city guide will include modern business districts like Suleimaniyah along with the traditional buildings of al-Murabba. When you first visit Riyadh, you can admire massive buildings and upscale shopping malls such as Riyadh Gallery, before pondering the traditional culture still visible in the gleaming souks.
Things to do in Riyadh
Much of Riyadh is extremely modern, but you can find some remnants of the city's past as well. Masmak Fortress is one of the top things to do in Riyadh, dating back to 1865. You can even still see the head of a spear stuck in the doorway from a daring 1902 raid. Contrast this with the uber-modern Al-Faisaliah Tower, built in 2000 using a design by British architect Norman Foster. It boasts a giant glass globe at the summit, constructed from 655 glass panels. Kingdom Tower is another landmark piece of modern architecture, rising 302 metres above the city with its multi-coloured light display illuminating the city at night. You can also examine ancient rock carvings and reconstructed tombs at the impressive National Museum.
Things to see in Riyadh
There are many modern shopping malls in Riyadh, but you might enjoy a more traditional experience at the Souk al-Thumairi. This is also known as "Antique Souk" and features vendors selling jewellery, pottery, daggers, and elaborate woven carpets. The Dirab Golf and Country Club is located 30 minutes to the west of Riyadh, with a lush 18-hole course and a swimming pool. Football is very popular in Riyadh, so if you are a man and want to indulge in a little local entertainment you can see a match at the King Fahad Stadium. Both genders can soak in the sights of the city lights with a trip to the Sky Bridge Observation Deck, one of the most memorable things to see in Riyadh.
Many airlines serve Riyadh's King Khaled Airport, which is located 35km to the north of the city. There's also a central train station, which offers trains to cities like Dammam. The Central Bus Terminal is located in the Aziziyah district in the south of Riyadh, with daily buses to Dammam, Jeddah, and Mecca. You can also drive into Riyadh on clean and modern Highway 40, which travels right through the city. Due to its sprawling size, it's helpful to have a car to get around the city. Another Riyadh transport option is to take one of the local white taxis.
If there's one thing that Riyadh residents love, it's driving luxury cars. You can celebrate all things related to the auto industry at the Riyadh Motor Show in November. There are also a number of religious Riyadh events, such as Al Mawlid an Nabawi. This celebrates the birth of Muhammad, with a combination of feasts and ceremonies. Ramadan and Eid al Fitr are two other important religious festivals. Ramadan takes place throughout the month of September, marked by fasting and abstinence. At the end of Ramadan, Eid al Fitr is celebrated with a period of prayer, gift giving, and feasting.
Restaurants in Riyadh
Cuisine in Riyadh is varied and flavourful, serving up a feast for the senses with its tantalizing aromas and luscious desserts. Don't leave without trying the city's most famous dish, the "Kabssa," a blend of spiced rice and fragrant stewed lamb. Alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia, but you can enjoy a cooling glass of yogurt Laban or fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. ¶ The Olaya business district is home to many gourmet restaurants in Riyadh, including fine dining establishments as well as international chains. There are also a number of inexpensive Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants in the colourful al-Bathaa district.