Acclaimed as the Arab Cultural Capital, Riyadh is also awash with swanky hotels and malls, says Aftab H. Kola.
Home to 6.5 million people and at the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, Riyadh boasts super highways and swanky hotels and malls, and has a will to preserve its heritage.
From being a city that served as the launching pad in 1902 for King Abd al-’Aziz Al Sa’ud’s efforts to unify the country, Riyadh has transformed dramatically into a city with global appeal. Its skyline is dominated by the Burj Al-Faisaliyah, a hotel with 44 floors; the Kingdom Tower, with 99 levels; and the 70-floor Burj Rafal Hotel Kempinski. They all look breathtakingly beautiful as dusk descends on the city.
Riyadh bonds with its history and heritage through its renovated forts, museums and historical memorabilia. Justifiably so, the UNESCO endorsed Riyadh as the Arab Cultural Capital for the millennium year. The Al-Masmak district, popular among tourists and residents, is home to Al-Masmak Fort, which is now a museum. It is also known as Qasr Al-Masmak or Al-Masmak Palace.
On the arts scene, the Riyadh Art is a new initiative focused on spreading more than 1,000 pieces of art in public spaces throughout the city by the end of 2023.
At the core of the city’s historical spots is the King Abdul-Aziz Historical Center, which was established as a hub of cultural heritage. At its centre is the Kingdom’s flagship museum, the National Museum, Riyadh; where one can ogle a captivating display of Saudi Arabia’s culture in past and present forms. The museum showcases different types of antiques, manuscripts, documents and display boards of a bygone era. Murabba palace is another notable landmark.
The work on King Salman Park, a part of a US$23 billion (RO8.8bn) project to create vast open, green spaces in Riyadh, is progressing well. It aims to become a one-of-a-kind destination, with more than 160 features and attractions covering art, culture, sport and entertainment. Mall-hopping is another way to pass the time. But it’s the Batha area in downtown Riyadh that radiates old Riyadh. The Batha Suq (sometimes called “the Kuwaiti Suq”) is where the traditional spirit has been preserved. Stroll down the narrow alleys and back streets for some bargain shopping.
My favourite place- The sand-blown desert city of Diriyah, 20km north west of Riyadh, encompasses spectacular mud-brick architecture and sultry palm-lined avenues. The Turaif Neighborhood is home to important archeological buildings, palaces and historical monuments. It includes many of the administrative buildings of the Saudi First State, such as the Salwa Palace, which was built in the late 16th century. Besides, there are many other landmarks, like the Imam Mohammad bin Saud Mosque, the Saad bin Saud Palace, the Nasir bin Saud Palace and the Traditional Guesthouse, which consists of Turaif Hamam (bathrooms).
Highlights- Wadi Namar is ideal for family picnics. The 2km-long dam site is punctuated by green spaces, canopies, walkways, rocky hills and an artificial waterfall. You can ride bikes here, take long walks or simply relax by the lake and have barbecues.
Lowlights- Keep your passport copy handy. You may be checked at any time.
Souvenirs- Khanjar (a curved dagger like one you might see in Oman), Oud Perfume and Oil, Abaya, and dates.
Getting there- Oman Air has regular flights to Riyadh from Muscat.
Where to stay- The Al Faisaliah Hotel, with 224 rooms and suites offers a relaxing, peaceful oasis for guests.
1) Visit the 99th-floor Sky Bridge, inside the Kingdom Centre, for the views.
2) Enjoy a relaxing stroll in the Qasr Al-Hokm Park in old Riyadh.
3) Take your family to the Riyadh Zoological Gardens, in Malaz.
4) Marvel at Globe Experience, a viewing platform at Al Faisaliah Tower.
5) Enjoy the bustling camel market, which is long-known for its camel trade.