Tick off the bucket list – here are the biggest and best things to do in Riyadh across one, two and three days.
Whether you’re on a layover, holiday or just a local looking to have your own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in Riyadh, we’re here to help you make the most of the city.
Saudi Arabia is one of the final frontiers when it comes to tourism. The Kingdom only started issuing tourist visas in 2019, which makes it appealing for the intrepid traveller who wants to visit rarely-seen sights.
Riyadh derives its name from the word garden and refers to the small oasis towns in the area 500 years ago. The city is a whopping 1,973 kilometres squared and is largely flat on a grid system. Tip: the best way to get around is through Uber.
Today, Riyadh is a fast-paced, ever-expanding capital. Combining the old with new, UNESCO World Heritage Sites sit alongside ultra-modern developments. The city boasts a population of more than seven million people. Plus, since more than 70 per cent of people are under 30 years old, it creates exciting energy.
While Riyadh is still conservative – dressing modestly is a must, and arms and legs should be covered – rapid change is underway. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen by many as a reformer. Once banned activities, from cinemas to concerts, are now flourishing, and there is a buzzing cultural scene.
So, whether you’ve got 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours, this is how to make every second count. Note: the working week runs from Sunday to Thursday, the weekend is on Friday and Saturday, and many places are closed on Friday morning.
Here’s our curated Riyadh itinerary featuring must-visit cafés, galleries, restaurants, bars and beaches. The city awaits.
Day one: 24 hours in Riyadh
Travel back in time and walk in the footsteps of Saudi’s royal family. Across UNESCO World Heritage sights, historical palaces and traditional souqs you can learn about the kingdom’s unique history.
Watch the sunrise at The Edge of the World
Road trip time. The Edge of the World is located about 90 minutes outside of Riyadh, and can be accessed via hiring a car or a group tour. The soaring rocks date back millions of years. Put on your hiking boots for the steep climbs and rugged terrains, but you are rewarded spectacular view. Visit at sunrise or sunset, as it’s cooler. Car rental services include Budget Rent a Car, Hertz Car Rental and Lumi Car Rental. Note: guests can currently only visit on weekends.
Have a traditional Saudi breakfast at Give Me Five
If you’re after a relaxed breakfast, then head to Give Me Five. The affordable menu includes classic Saudi dishes, plus Middle Eastern favourites, which range from shakshouka to foul jarra. The quirky décor includes brightly coloured seats, indoor trees and pots hanging from the ceiling. The photographs of Saudis in traditional dress give it an old-school edge. The karak will help kickstart your day. Plus, it serves breakfast from 4.30am to midday.
Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah
Diriyah is steeped in history and is located in the Al Turaif district, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1727, it was the kingdom’s capital and the seat of power for the Al Saud family. Today, there are plans to redevelop the area into an even bigger tourist destination with luxury shops, restaurants and hotels.
Visit Riyadh’s oldest mall, Taibah Souq
Get ready to haggle. As one of Riyadh’s oldest shopping centres, you can pick up traditional items. We’re talking scarves, spices and street food. Plus, there is jewellery ranging from diamonds to gold.
Lunch like a local at Najd Village
No trip to Saudi Arabia is complete without sampling the national favourite. Kabsa is essentially a rice and meat dish, which is served on a sharing platter. The meal is like a biriyani, mixing together long-grain rice with chicken, lamb, camel or fish. Najd Village is one of the oldest restaurants in Riyadh serving Najd cuisine – so go old school and sit on the floor. There are multiple locations in the capital, and the nearest on this trail is in Olaya.
Get a glimpse of royalty at Al Murabba Palace
If it’s good enough for King Abdul Aziz, it’s good enough for us. Visit the King’s ancient palace, which was built in the traditional Najdean style. The King’s personal belongings are on display, from his glasses to a Rolls-Royce gifted to him by Winston Churchill. Plus, in 1948, the first-ever lift in the city was installed in this very building, as it helped the King who was suffering from arthritis. Note: double check the seasonal opening hours.
Learn history at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia
Here are your keys to the kingdom. The museum tells the nation’s story, and is a great way to learn about its heritage. The exhibitions range from Neolithic rock art to replicas of old Jeddah, plus there are guided tours for all ages.
Travel back in time at Al Masmak Fortress
The 150-year-old clay and mud fortress is a great example of history in the heart of the capital. In 1902, King Abdulaziz captured the fortress and took control of the city. It was from here that King Abdulaziz united the provinces, and modern-day Saudi as we know it today was created.
Watch an auction at Souq Al Zal
It’s time to go old-fashioned and watch an auction in action – Saudi style. While these largely take place in Arabic, they are thrilling to watch. The auctions are part of Saudi tradition, and here’s your chance to watch it in action – and grab an antique.
Dinner at Suhail
Suhail translates to shining star in Arabic, and this restaurant may well be one on the Riyadh dining scene. The restaurant gives traditional Saudi food a high-end upgrade and serves mouth-wateringly good lamb shoulder, lamb kabsa and pumpkin ravioli. The interiors are inspired by AlUla’s landscape, and there are private enclaves where you can sit.
Day two: 48 hours in Riyadh
Riyadh is a bustling metropolis with soaring skyscrapers, celebrity chefs, luxury malls and architectural wonders. This is well and truly a global city, so it’s time to visit the blockbuster sights. It’s time to go large.
Have a hero’s breakfast at The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh
Perhaps the most famous hotel in the capital, The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh puts on a showstopping breakfast and brunch. Indulge in a sumptuous spread of Middle Eastern and international dishes. The breakfast is served daily from 6.30am to 11am, and the brunch is served on Fridays from 12.30pm to 5pm.
Go exploring in Rock Park
Go international and visit the Diplomatic Quarter, also known as Al Safarat. There’s an international feel to this area, as it is home to embassies from around the world. Rock Park is great for all ages, as there are walking trails, picnic spots, climbing frames and football pitches. Plus, look out for the walking trail around Tuwaiq Garden, which has views of the outstanding Wadi Hanifa valley.
Refresh yourself at Press’d Juicery + Kitchen
After all that walking, refuel with a freshly pressed juice. This nearby juice bar has fruit on display, plus indoor and outdoor seats. The juices range from Beeting Heart with beetroot, orange, apple and ginger, to Berried Alive with mixed berries and lime.
Relax in a private suite at Al Faisaliah Spa
If you look at Riyadh’s skyline, you’ll spot the Al Faisaliah Tower. The architectural wonder includes a round orb inside a soaring skyscraper. If you’re after some me time – all that sightseeing wears you out, after all – then spoil yourself and visit the spa. The signature royal hammam treatment includes a steam, scrub, massage and mud wrap. Go grand and book the opulent private Imperial Spa Suite.
Have a leisurely lunch at Al Faisaliah Hotel
Make the most of being in Al Faisaliah Tower. Mamo Michelangelo can be found in Al Faisaliah Hotel, and brings Italian hospitality and Provençal charm from Antibes, France, to Riyadh. A charming setting, colourful crockery and an ingredient-driven menu combine to create an instantly memorable meal full of Italian charm. Unmissable dishes from the menu include the creamy burrata from Napoli, lamb shoulder perfectly cooked in the wood-fired oven, and the signature truffle focaccia.
Hit high-end shops at Via Riyadh
Drop some serious riyals at this luxury mall, which is home to top designers and brands. The swanky stores at Via Riyadh sound like a Fashion Week line-up – Dolce and Gabbana, Elie Sab and Tom Ford, anyone? Plus, you’ll have stars in your eyes, thanks to the sparkling range of jewellery and watch brands. Via Riyadh also boasts celebrity chefs, state-of-the-art cinemas, world-famous fashion brands, and a five-star hotel – The St. Regis Riyadh, no less. Translated: that’s 23 shops, 17 restaurants, 7 cinemas and one hotel.
Stop by the world’s largest coffee shop, Al Masaa Café
Sample coffee culture, which fuels so many workers in Riyadh. Have a cup (or three) at Al Masaa Café. The venue is the world’s biggest coffee shop, as it has 1,050 seats and can serve 1,000 people at a time. The menu includes classics and creative twists on the classic cup of coffee.
Get your selfies in at the Kingdom Center landmark
The Kingdom Center is one Riyadh’s most iconic buildings. The soaring tower is 300 meters high and is a must-visit tourist attraction on the 99th floor. The observation deck and glass walkway are a great way to get your bearings and a snap (or reel) for the gram. Plus, on the 77th floor is the King Abdullah Mosque, which is the highest mosque in the world. Tip: visit at sunset for a spectacular view.
Have dinner at world-class restaurants
In with the new, anyone? Across the Sulaymaniyah district, you can find some of the world’s most famous restaurants. F1 Flavio Briatore’s Billionaire creates a luxurious dinner and a show experience. Myazu is the highest-ranking restaurant in Saudi, LPM Riyadh was ranked on the MENA 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Plus, there are international favourites, from contemporary Japanese at ROKA to modern Chinese at Mr Chow.
Watch live entertainment at Soho Club
Let live musicians, DJs and singers entertain you. Inspired by London’s Soho, you’ll feel like you’re in the West End. Crowds with men and women – and female performers – were once not allowed, but are now the norm. The drinks include classic mocktails – grab the mojito which comes in a mint, berry and passion fruit flavour. With a night (and day) this showstopping, you’ll want an encore.
Day three: 72 hours in Riyadh
Riyadh may well be one of the hippest cities in the Middle East. Ever since it opened up its cultural scene, there has been a wave of new cinemas, concept stores, and concerts. Get your cool on.
Breakfast at Wabi Sabi
Make like a millennial and visit Wabi Sabi. The hipster vibes are real, thanks to the jungle chic interiors and vegan menu. The breakfast dishes include banana, blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes. Plus, overnight protein oats and chia pudding. Don’t miss the hidden concept store – it’s upstairs! – and sells fashionable abayas and artwork.
Grab a juice to go from Signature Juice Bar
A short walk away, you’ll find this cool kid’s juice bar. The juices include fresh grapefruit, pomegranate and watermelon juice. The Signature mocktail comes with mango, strawberry, avocado, banana, kiwi and pomegranate. Plus, there are Oreo, mango, strawberry and banana shakes.
… or a coffee from Half Million
A short taxi ride to Olaya, you’ll find this trendy homegrown brand. Created by two friends, there are outlets scattered across the city. Settle into one of the seats in industrial chic décor. Drinks include americano, cappuccino, espresso and latte, plus iced drinks and mocktails. Sweet treats include Nutella donuts, cookies, lotus cake, and pistachio eclairs.
Check out the concept shop 83 Store
Concept stores just keep coming in Riyadh, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. This concept store fuses tradition with modernity, as the Middle Eastern items all have an edge to them. Great for females, the range includes abayas, kaftans and scarves in bold prints.
Find your next read at Jarir Bookstore
New York has Barnes & Nobles, London has Daunt Books, and Saudi Arabia has Jarir Bookstore. Founded in 1974 by Saudi’s Abdulrahman Nasser Al-Agil, it was originally a small establishment selling books and art. Today, it is the largest retailer of books in the kingdom. The nearest branches on you trail are located in Panorama Mall and Olaya.
Eat, browse, shop, and repeat at Panorama Mall
In true Riyadh fashion, a mall is never just a mall. Panorama Mall is a funky building with an undulating roof and rollercoaster running through the food court. Pick up modern brands including adidas, DKNY, Fred Perry, FILA and Sketchers. Warning: there are no changing rooms in Saudi malls. Try not to get too distracted and grab a bite at one of the many restaurants: Urth Caffé has organic vegan and vegetarian options; BB Social serves modern Asian food; and EL&N is an Instagrammer’s dream.
Start art hopping at L’Art Pur
Founded in 1999, L’Art Pur is one of the largest galleries in Saudi Arabia, as it comes in at 540 meters squared. This a great spot to learn about upcoming Saudi talent, as the gallery is committed to supporting young talent.
Continue your art trail at Naila Art Gallery
This contemporary art gallery aims to provide a platform for local and international artists. Bringing together sculptures, fine art, video, digital and conceptual art, its past exhibitions have covered everything from Arabic calligraphy to Saudi National Day. Plus, there is an online store where you can buy artwork.
End your art tour at Lakum Artspace
This contemporary art space is all about accessibility and has become a cultural hub. The venue includes a gallery, library, shop and café. The previous artists exhibited include Abdullah Alothman, Ahmed Mater and Fahad Almajhadi.
Check out local designers at Number Nine Concept Store
Number Nine Concept Store in Riyadh is fiercely local. The shop is brimming with Saudi brands across fashion and beauty – you can even find Diggin’It, the locally created beard oil here. The clothing collection includes oversized T-shirts from XO, bright hoodies from EJ and statement jumpers from Studio 23. Plus, there are caps, glasses and plenty of gift ideas.
Grab coffee at the steampunk-inspired Pandemic Coffee
Another coffee shop? Stay with us. Coffee shops in Riyadh don’t get quirkier than the homegrown Pandemic Coffee. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped in an episode of The Crystal Maze, as there are staff in boiler suits and glass domes with seats. Dishes are presented in whacky ways, too – there’s a pink mannequin head with a wig of candyfloss, and on a tray with a cake and sweets.
Partake in a once-banned activity – and go to the cinema
Going to the cinema might sound like a strange thing to do when you’re on holiday, but trust us. As cinemas in Saudi Arabia only reopened in 2018, a visit is unlike anywhere else in the world. Black Panther was the first-ever movie in the kingdom after the 35-year ban. In The Esplanade, you’ll find Vox and Muvi.
Strut your stuff down stylish U Walk
This trendy stretch of café, restaurant and shops comes alive at night. The 900-metre-long stretch is lit up and has seats sprawling onto the terrace. Pop into the concept stores, which cover beauty and perfume – lookout for We Cre8, which has Saudi-inspired gifts. If you’re hungry now, choose from Loft, Hoka, Khanin, and the salt sprinkling pro, Nusr-Et.
Feel the vibes at Boulevard Riyadh
The city should now start to feel electric. Boulevard Riyadh in the happening Hittin is packed with energy on the weekends. If you haven’t eaten dinner, choose from Sultan’s Steakhouse, Morini Riyadh and High Joint. If you have eaten, grab dessert at Madeleine Boulevard – sit upstairs, if you want a quiet spot.
Watch (or join) an open mic night at Syrup Lounge
Let out your inner Kelly Clarkson. Syrup Lounge is ground breaking, as it was one of the first entertainment venues to open in Riyadh. The highlights include the weekly karaoke nights and open mic nights. You’ll be impressed by the local talent, which includes singers in English and Arabic. While your trail has been leading north, this venue is located on the northwest outskirts.
Get your midnight munchies at Al Baik
Did you think Saudi’s biggest export was oil? Think again. It may well be Al Baik, the much-loved homegrown fast-food chain, which garnered queues around the block when it was launched in Dubai. End on a popular note – the four-piece chicken meal deal. Thank you, Saudi Arabia and goodnight.