Friday, May 7, 2010

Riyadh To Do Guide

I often hear people complaining or boredom and lack of activities in KSA, especially here in conservative Riyadh.
Yet I for some reason am always short of time to do things!
Of course it depends alot on yourself, how active you are in trying to find things to do. It IS more difficult here, but it doesnt mean that theres "nothing to do".
I ask these people, well what did you use to do back home on your freetime then? Often they'd reply: go to cafes, bars or nightclubs, restaurants, friends homes,the gym, shopping..Well you can do all of that here too! Although I'm not going to publicly post where all these activities might be, by asking around you will find quite easily if you're an expat and interested in some of those activities ;)

As an expat in KSA you will have more variety of activities than locals, depending on if you're male/female. By more variety I mean expats can get into all western compounds, that have all kind of activities ranging from dance classes, language courses, theme days for families, rugby or soccer matches, concerts, etc etc. Embassies also arrange concerts, art exhibitions, national days, and parties. The problem is you must know someone to get into these places, and security is high of course.

As for cafeterias and restaurants, the choices are endless, and that will be a topic on its own.I will only mention my favorites: Brazilian restaurant Il Terazzo in hotel Faisalia, outside terrace with open oven bbq overlooking Faisalia tower!Or Sitta shams -the ultimate arabic food experience, the restaurant is huge and even has its own parkinghall and elevators. Romaizan is the best the compound restaurant which offers tasty food and drinks in relaxed atmosphere. Dont miss having "High Tea" at the Faisaliah tower Globe. Expats often take off their abayas and the atmosphere is relaxed. Upstairs is the more intimate Cigar Lounge for romantic evenings :)

the shooting range at Dirab Golf club

Tahlia street boasts cafeterias and restaurants one after another. You can walk around the 'boardwalk" and see really nice cars driving by! Ferraris, Hummers, Porsches..The downside is that if you're a lady you will attract alot of attention, so best you walk with your husband or in a group of friends and just ignore the eager beavers.
For men there is numerous terraces you can sit outside and enjoy the warm evenings. Unfortunately at the moment I dont know of any that allow women to sit outside..they are all single male sections :( Although I have on couple of occasions spotted some women sitting with their husbands.
EDIT: 3rd floor Centria mall Lenotre cafe has an outside sitting mixed sitting area!

Theres plenty of male only gyms all around town, but female only is a bit more difficult to find, but they do exist. There is one in Almultaka center, Yibreen spa, Almanahil inside DQ (diplomatic quarters)to name a few. There's also a walking/ running track that goes around the DQ.
If you want to start golfing there are many good places to get started and have lessons like the Intercontinental right in middle of the city has a golf course. Also Riyadh golf club and Dirab golf club have courses, the Arizona compound has their own course too! Dirab also has polo and horsebackriding. It requires membership though..

Females are allowed to golf and even drive golf carts in saudi :)

There are places just outside Riyadh about 20-30 min drive away where you can rent quadbikes for couple hours and drive on the dunes. Yes women can drive them too :) My favorite is Thumamah area, on weekdays its almost empty, you can have the vast desert to yourself, but dont get lost!Weekends it packed with young saudi men, who sometimes get a little too carried away when they see western women driving around. On the way to Thumamah you can pass by the camel souq and haggle on one of the 1,000000 Saudi riyal camels.

The Red Sands area west of Riyadh along the Mecca highway is aa beautiful place to go just for the scenery. Also possible to rent quadbikes there.
There are numerous other desert treks and picnicking spots around Riyadh, but again I will only mention my favorite Rawdhat Khuraim. Once you get there you will not believe you're in Saudi-Arabia, its so green!Its about an hour drive from the city, on the Dammam higway then take the Remah rd. It's a huge green area with trees and a small stream flows through it during the winter motnhs (if its rained).

Then theres alot of historical sites to explore around Riyadh, like the ancient  City of Old Diriyah. Its a historically interesting site to visit including the famous Salwa palace. During 1745, a strong Islamic reform movement took place over here. Besides this in the past the old city of Diriyah was also considered to be the largest in Arabian Peninsula. However, in the first part of 19th century Turks destroyed this city and afterwards Riyadh captured it. Walk amongst the ruins of mud and brick built houses, palaces bath houses and mosques. Best visited in cooler months.

The summer heats are a good time to visit The King Abdul Aziz Historical centre it's located near the Masmak fort in Dirah area. It includes a remodeled mosque, the old original Murabba' Palace with main Diwan renovated as "living museum", the "Memorial Hall" on the outlines of an old courtyard house, a modern exhibition hall for the car collection,  the new Al-Dara main lobby and multipurpose hall, a documentation center with a separated men's and women's library each, an art gallery and a large internal garden.
Nearby and definately worth a visit, The National Museum will take you a good three hours to walk through. I went on a bachelors only evening, but they still let us girls in, so I guess they are not too strict about the visitors genders.
During June 2010 there is an exhibition on King Khaled in a separate building. The whole area is surrounded by parks, waterfalls, fountains and picnic areas. It's especially nice to stroll around in the beautiful evening lighting. It's possible to walk to the now restored old water tower, there is a restaurant on top with nice views of the city. The whole Historical Centre area covers some 360,000 square meters!

Just a stones throw away is the Haia's aka muttawas headquarters next to the the infamous "cho-chop- square. The area is called Dirah, there is a clocktower next to the huge souq area.You can spend hours wandering around the antique, gold and carpet, abaya, souvenir and furniture souqs of Dirah, haggling and having endless cups of tea with the shopkeepers. Most of them are Afghani and have interesting stories to tell.

For families with kids, (small or grown-up) you can go to various theme parks and amusement parks on the outskirts of town, just make sure its singles/families/womens only day accordingly :) Most of them are situated along the Thumamah highway.
Theres many parks for picnicking around central Riyadh, although most are for families only.Theres also a man made river/lake area on Sitteen street where you can rent peddal boats and have picnic in the cottges. Snow world on King Abdullah rd is a smaller version of Dubais inside winter wonderland. They dont have a large skiing slope but you can play in the snow and have fun with your kids!

And when it comes to shopping, new shopping malls seem to be sprouting like mushrooms after the rain :D
One of the newest is Riyadh Galleria which has a nice little river and fountains among cafeterias in the middle.
Most of the biggest malls (Hayat, Granada, Faisalia, Riyadh galleria) have huge entertainment areas for children, the noise is overwhelming though!Alot of families will leave the children there with nannys or their older children to look after while they go shopping. Some even have iceskating rinks and rollercoasters!

For a very different experience visit the huge sheesha cafes on Damman highway. The biggest one is over 10000 sqm and fits 2000 people at a time!if you're a football fan go on a match day and the place will be packed and the atmosphere is fun and welcoming. This activity is mainly for males, but they do have family sections also

If you're into bowling, there's couple places around the city centre you can practise your skills. This seems to be very popular among philipino expats! Theres one in Khozama hotel next to Faisalia tower, one in the Intercontinental hotel and King faisal hospital has one too, but you would need to go as a guest of an employee.

Another popular family activity is rent your own "villa" or whole green area with football field, park, kids rides, swimmingpools and the likes. I dont know what they would be called in english..Like resorts where you can rent your own villa and private pool. Because saudi culture is private, they like to rent out these places for weekends for the whole family to join. Some people rent them for special occasions like birthdays. Its actually quite affordable and there is staff if you want to take care of catering and looking after the kids. In the Almarsa resort on Sharqi rd you can rent family villas, and the Wahat al Noor resort you can rent the whole place for a day and stay the night. Its a nice change for expats too if you are bored of your own compund!

This is a great chance to start or try out scuba-diving!Riyadh has two good diveshops, Blu Reef Divers and Desert Sea Divers. I f you are already a diver, explore the untouched Farasan Islands in southern KSA.
Every month or so there are women only exhibitions held at hotels or exhibitons halls like Nayyara and the Kingdom ballroom. I will post about any upcoming events, they are highly recommended by me :)


Unknown said...

Thank you very much for your guidance. When I reached here from Pakistan, this place felt bone dry and there seemed nothing to do. There is also an element of missing your family and friends back home.

Now, at least I have a list of places that need to be explored by me before making my final impression about the place. Unlike the stories I heard back home about how Saudis react to foreigners, they seem pretty less real, I have been treated very respectfully by locals in my office and the place I live in north Riyadh.

Thank you very much for your contribution to making us feel Riyadh like home.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to leave a comment for your statement that "Romaizan is the best the compound restaurant which offers tasty food and drinks in relaxed atmosphere".
Yes, you were right, it used to have a good restaurant and I heard that it is closed without any reason stated by compound management and also I visited my friends in romaizan compound but I saw that it is in very bad shape looks very old due to no maintanance especially swiming pools has teared carpets and tents.

Layla said...

Really Romaizan restaurant is closed? Oh NO :( One of the best places for some "normal" dining in Riyadh..thanks for letting us know! I should write an update post on things to do in Riyadh, seems many places have changed and or closed down!

Unknown said...

what about the shooting sport? where can i find it?
the search engine brought me here to the pic. you are posting. but i found no details about it.
could u plz. guide me if u have such piece of information

Layla said...

Hi Mohamed!
What kind of shooting do you mean?
The only kind of "shooting" I know of is paintball :)
they have a paintball at the Panorama mall amusement park.
also check this paintball company:

Unknown said...

Is there any real gun shooting ranges here in riyadh? eg.. gun rentals and use it in ranges...


Unknown said...

Hello Good Afternoon!

I just want to ask if there is any gun shooting ranges here at Riyadh?

Thanks and regards..

Unknown said...

hello Good Afternoon!!

I just want to ask if there is any gun shooting ranges here at Riyadh?

Thanks and regards...