Riyadh’s blend of medieval and millennial makes for a beguiling cultural union — one where Arabia’s first roots can be traced, and where its bold future can be envisioned. The city’s fascinating, centuries-old history can be found within its atmospheric souqs, compelling museums, and ancient architecture, but it’s also a modern metropolis, with glittering high-rises and a burgeoning contemporary art scene. The winter months are an ideal time to visit Riyadh. Although average high temperatures in the summer can reach 44 degrees C, the top temps in December and January are in the low 20s.
Al Masmak Fortress:
Built in 1865 and superbly preserved, Al Masmak Fortress is a vast clay and mud-brick citadel that’s a favorite among tourists wanting to step back in time and explore Saudi’s roots. In 1902, King Abdulaziz captured the fortress and took control of Riyadh (his ancestral home) after having lived in Kuwait. From this fortress, Abdulaziz Al Saud conquered and united the different kingdoms and provinces that make up the Saudi nation as we know it today.
Shopping in Riyadh
From ancient labyrinthine souqs to luxury malls and quirky boutiques, Riyadh sets the standard for a destination shopping city. The city’s most famous market is the Souq Al Zal, which remains as noisy and vibrant as when it first emerged in 1901. Everything from gold coins to quirky handicrafts and dusty antiques can be found here, including traditional Saudi items such as dallah coffee pots and mabkhara incense burners. For more modern shopping venues, choose from Riyadh Park Mall, with an IMAX cinema and arcade under its palm trees and wave-like glass roof; the open-air precinct The Zone, where stores and restaurants are clustered around a main plaza; or the shops at the Kingdom Centre, which are almost as impressive as the shiny skyscraper itself.
Where to have fun:
Explore the contemporary capital with a trip to the Riyadh Front, where deluxe shopping and dining await, or step back in time with a trip to the 1,500-year-old Ushaiger Heritage Village. Thrill-seekers will enjoy testing their skills at Doos Karting or taking in the views from the Edge of the World.
Sample Saudi cuisine in Riyadh’s Restaurants:
One of the best ways to experience Riyadh’s cultural fusion is through its cuisine. Najd Village combines the dining and heritage experiences, with faithfully re-created Najd architecture and authentic recipes such as kabsa, jareesh and hashi. More contemporary takes can be found at the sophisticated Takya, serving Saudi fusion food inspired by the country’s regions, and Suhail, with its modern spin on traditional Saudi favorites.