Riyadh Entertainment

Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia.  Home to 5 million people give or take a few, with quite a large percentage of those being expatriates from all corners of the globe.  Visitors and relocated expats to Riyadh, after settling in to their hotels or new homes, want to know what there is to see and do in this city.  Hopefully this page will provide some useful information about Riyadh Entertainment.  It is a work in progress page with links to my experiences that will give you a bit of insight on what is available in terms of things to do in this city.  Do note however, that you may have to adapt your definition of ‘entertainment’.

We in the west have turned entertainment into a bit of a technology-fest and an individual based pursuit at that.  Gone are the days of the family gathering around a Snakes and Ladders board, a game of cards or quietly finding and placing pieces on a shared jigsaw puzzle.  All of that we now do on a phone, via an app, alone.

The Saudi version of entertainment is still a group affair.  Ladies  enjoy shopping and coffee, hopefully without the kids in tow.  Blokes boil up qahwa on the fire in the desert after a game of football.  Families lay a picnic mat at the park, waving the kids off to play and expend some pent up energy.  Gossip and laughter, chit chat and food are part and parcel of what can be some excellent down time.  Don’t fall into the habit of decrying Saudi entertainment as some expats tend to do.  Embrace it.  One day you’ll be back in the western rat race wishing you and your family could just stop, chuck the technology and engage with each other.

Sure, hidden in the desert are disallowed activities that you will find no directions to on this blog (perhaps not until I’ve left the country for good).  Admittedly, when all you want to do is enjoy a glass of wine with dinner it is possible to get a bit licky lips and complain, just a bit, about how different things are in these parts.  Having to plan dinner with a group of unrelated mixed gender friends out of the public eye can be a tad annoying when heading down the road to the nearest restaurant would be so much eaiser.  But this is the country we live in and, really, if you’ve been here long enough and meet the right kind of people, there are ways around everything.

However,  all that aside, with your new attitude of discovery in play you can still enjoy yourself in Saudi.  But don’t take my word for it.  Go out and see for yourself.   But first, don’t forget to factor in Prayer Times to any activity you may plan.  And second, take a look at my Riyadh Events and Tours page for any upcoming trips, tours or activities.

So, what is there to see in Riyadh?

I have divided the following activities into four parts:

Historic Riyadh

  • Da’riyyah – an important site in Riyadhs history.  Currently undergoing an upgrade, but there is still interesting things to see if you go for a wander one day.  Go have a squizz, we did .

  • Al Musmak Fortress – is a historical landmark standing smack dab in the middle of modern day Saudi.  We enjoyed our stroll through Al Musmuk through the fort before moving on to see what shopping was available across the road in Diirah.  The fort is open from 8am till midday and from 4pm until 9pm Saturday to Thursdays.  There are no longer gender segregated days, you can go whatever day you please.   There is no entrance fee.  GPS co-ordinates to Al Musmak entrance: 24o 37.9’ N, 46o 42.7’ E

  • Riyadh National Museum –  actually a very interesting visit.  I was impressed with Riyadh National Museum.  Recent hours on Google say the museum opens after midday salah every day except Friday and Saturday when it opens at 4pm.   It closes every day at 8pm except Sunday, when it closes at 2pm (don’t ask me why).  Perhaps before heading down that way it might pay to give them a call 011 402 9500. 
  • King Abdulaziz Historical Center – located in an area known as Murabba Park, the center has a two spaces worth visiting those being the Memorial Hall and Murabba Palace.  Murabba Palace has recently re-opened after a very long revamp.  The Memorial Hall is almost always open and houses a few interesting pieces relevant to Saudi history.  The Center is just across from the Riyadh National Museum.
  • Murabba Palace – as mentioned above, this is another part of the King Abdulaziz Historical Center.  We tried to visit the same day we went to the Memorial Hall but it was a ‘No Go’ because they were doing it up.
    Apparently it’s open now.  I’d best get along there.
  • Nasirayah Gate – I’ve seen this gate from a distance but never managed to get there.  It is still on my list of things to see and do.
    *Kiwi Note: We have been.  I have yet to write about it.  Very slack I know.  It’s worth a bit of a stop and a few photo’s.

Shopping in Riyadh

  • Shopping Centers – abound.  I would consider shopping the Number One activity for Riyadh Entertainment.  The main expat malls are Sahara, Hyatt, Granada, Riyadh Gallery, Kingdom and Faisaliah.  Newer malls include Nakheel and Panorama.
  • Souqs – also abound.  Try Kuwaiti Souq (also known as Alowayis Souq and Taiba Souq), The Second Hand Souq, Bat’ha, The Gold Souq, The Camel Souq, The Pet Souq, The Fruit and Vege Souq, The Fish Market, The Crashed Car Souq, Diirah Souq, the Mobile Phone Souq, the Wedding souq, Princess Souq, the Filopina Markets, the Tent Souq to name just a few.

  • Parks and Recreation
  • There are numerous parks of varying sizes dotted throughout the city.  Most have a playground suitable for young children and ample grass on which to sit and picnic.  Picnics are Number Two on the Riyadh Entertainment list.
    • Salama Park – Actually a nice park within the city, we enjoyed our stroll around Salama Park.  Fun park rides and paddle boats – though I believe these are only for the males (of course they are!)  Very inexpensive entrance fee  – from memory 10SAR each.
    • Murabba Park –  Take a picnic or thermos and sit awhile after visitng the Riyadh National Museum and King Abdulaziz Historical Center.  I believe families only are allowed in the parks.
    • Riyadh River – Yes there is a River in Riyadh.  Great place for picnicking out of the city without going outside your comfort zone into the big, vast desert.  We went and spent a nice afternoon.. There is no sign post so on your travel down Al Ha’ir keep on eye out for a narrow stream flowing under a bridge – that’s it.
    • Wadi Hanifah – best to visit in the cool of a summer evening or the cool day of the winter months.  It’s miles long (or kilometers for those who think in metric).  You could go back a few times to find which part of it you like best.  To date we have hung out mainly in the north though we are planning on broadening our Hanifah horizons shortly.
    • Riyadh Zoo – I’ve met expats who are too scared to go to the Riyadh zoo for fear of what they might find.  It’s OK.  Trust me.  Not fabulous.  Just OK.  We enjoyed our day at the zoo.  Summer time go late afternoon otherwise it’s stinking hot.  Be aware the zoo closes at sunset.  Winter time is beautiful weather for zoo visits.  It cost us 10 SAR.  They say that families can’t go together.  The day we went, this was not the case.  Glenn and I went in together – there were loads of families.  It was a weekend afternoon.   Co-ordinates 24o 40.5’ N 46o 44.4’
    • Thumamah – Thumamah has fun parks galore.  Drive down Thumamah Road and take your pick.  Most of the active activities though, like peddle boats and roller coaster rides, are only for men, boys and very young girls.  If you’re a female who doesn’t look child-like enough, you’ll be directed to the family area picnic grass.  Sucky, I know.
    • The DQ – Otherwise known as the Diplomatic Quarter is more than just a bunch of embassies.  There is a walking track and sports center, horse riding (though I haven’t found that yet) and a square with places to eat.  You can even take your bike and go cycling on the DQ if you want.  Go for a look around.
    • Horseriding – I know a couple of friends who take their kids for horse riding lessons in Riyadh.  Once I garner the info from them I’ll put it here.
    • Quad Biking – There are actually numerous places you can ride quad bikes in Riyadh.  Many are controlled, that is there is a small area set aside and you ride round and round.  We prefer the Red Sands out toward Nasah because there is more space to ride around.
    • Desert Walking – There is a group that goes walking in the desert.  If you want to participate ask around your expat friends and associates about The Hash House Harriers – someone will know about it.  The groups tend to keep their happenings only within it’s members and guests (invited by said members) for safety reasons.
    • Golf – Golf is very popular in Riyadh.  Whatever your level you will find a place to play.
      For the novice, Arizona compound provides lessons and has a 9 hole course plus a driving range.  Phone 0564618960 to make reservations thru the Pro Shop.  Women are welcome. The Intercontinental Hotel on Al Ma’athar Street has a 9 hole course (though according to my husband it’s not the place to go if you want to test your driver) and a place to practice your putting.  I understand this facility is better catered for men.  For the more experienced men and women (abayas off ladies) who want an 18 hole course, you should call either the Riyadh Golf course, which is close to town, or Dirab Golf Club which is a bit more of a drive.   Costs to play range between 300 – 400 SAR
    • Bowling – As in 10 Pin Bowling.  There are a number of locations for bowling with many catering to families/women.  For more information visit bowling venues in Riyadh.  Briefly, the Intercontinental Hotel on Al Ma’atha street has bowling as does the basement somewhere under Al Faisaliah.  Both these venues often have tournament meets so it pays to call for availability.  The center I prefer is also in Al Ma’atha street.  It’s called UBC (Universal Bowling Center) and the first time we went bowling, we had a lot of fun.  There is a singles and family area.  It’s also not expensive – 20 riyals per game depending on day of the week.  Their website is www.ubcriyadh.com.

    Beyond Riyadhs Boundaries

    • The Red Sands – when we asked about the Red Sands, we got directed West toward Nasah.  We were looking specifically for Quad Biking in the Red Sands.  Take the Jeddah road out of town, through the checkpoint, down the escarpment.  Turn right onto Mogbel/Dirabl exit.  Follow the road till the Nasah sign post.  Head down this road to quad bikes and red sand dunes.  I understand that if you drive far enough in any direction out of Riyadh, you will eventually find sand dunes.
    • Wahba Crater – is about 500 km west of Riyadh.  We hired a 4WD, joined a camping tour and had a great time.  The origins of the crater aren’t clear – a meteorite theory has been postured as well as a volcanic related activity.
    • Kharara Lake – we believe this is the place otherwise known as the Dissappearing Lake.  We could be wrong, although the day we went, the lake had done a disappearing act.  To get there take Riyadh-Makkah highway down through the escarpment and keep going to Muzamiyah.  After passing under the 2nd over head bridge (exit-6) you’ll see a petrol station on your left, you have to reach there after making a U-turn.  Make the U-turn from the 3rd overhead bridge.  (There is a rather long distance between bridges).  Now you facing back toward Riyadh.  Look for a link road at your right sign-posted (Arabic and English -Lake Kharara).  Take this link road for about 6-7 kms.  The track to the lake is on your left.  If the lake bed is dry, feel free to drive through.  Or if you prefer, and have the right vehicle, hit the sand dunes.
    • Safari Resort – About 70km out of Riyadh, this resort is touted as a get away from it all resort.  You can camp in the desert in safety, hire a room or visit for the day.  What ever you choose, you can take advantige of the facilities available.  *Kiwi Note:  This resort is now defunct.
    • Madain Saleh – Near the town of Al Ula, Madain Saleh is Saudi’s version of Petra.  Considering the structures were built by the same civilization, it’s no surprise they look similar.  The beauty of Madain Saleh is that it is not as highly commercial as Petra has become.  Permission is required by non-Saudi’s to enter the area.  We went as part of a tour organised by Cora.
    • Ushaiqir Historic Village – A village being restored for tourism on the outskirts of Shaqraa.  It’s 200 km away so if you’re a passenger the drive is a great chance to catch a kip.  We had a quick trip out on a day when the place was closed but still managed a quick look around.
    • Ayun an-Najm, Al Kharj – If you’d like to take a look at two rather large holes in the ground head to Al Kharj and the Eyes of Najm (or Najma – I haven’t quite figured out which is correct).  They’re quite impressive really.  Drive to Al Kharj, at the main intersection past the water tower turn right.  Follow the road till you come to an intersection with STC on one corner and a gas station on the other.  Go straight ahead up the hill.  As you enter the road keep an eye out for a concrete structure just off the road designed for carrying water.  Follow it.  That will get  you to the first hole.  Looking back toward the main road you should see the fence surrounding the second  one.

    Having just figured out how to embed a map into the blog, my Kiwi in Saudi: Tiki Tour map is below.  Have a gander….I hope it helps you find some interesting places.

  • Ka Kite,
    Kiwi