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I first visited Riyadh in January 2020 just a few months after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia opened up for tourists. I loved my 2.5 weeks in Saudi Arabia based in Riyadh so much that 2 weeks after leaving, I was back and I spent all of February based in Riyadh with my new friends from the capital city.
When I first got to Riyadh I realised it was a hard city to navigate as a tourist and this is still true due to tourism being so new, but after a few weeks here I got to understand it much better and I want to tell you what I wish I knew about Riyadh City before arriving in Saudi Arabia!
So in this Riyadh Travel Blog, I’m going to give you all the information I know for things to do in Riyadh, how to get around Riyadh, where to stay in Riyad, how to enjoy Riyadh like a local and Information about Riyadh City, because, in my opinion, part of visiting Saudi Arabia and Riyadh especially is to drop what you think a ‘tourist’ should do in a city and instead live like a local!
Riyadh City Guide
My Related Posts To Help You Visit Riyadh!
Best Time to Visit Riyadh.
Locals will say that the best time to visit Riyadh is during Winter because people are out of their homes and there are more events on during the winter because of the cooler temperature. However, in terms of the weather in Riyadh, do not think that Saudi Arabia and Riyadh are hot all year round. I was pretty cold for most of my time in Riyadh in January and it was a little warmer in February. It was pleasant though, just pack a coat and layers.
The Summer in Riyadh heats up and is unbearably hot with temperatures rising well over 40c so it is not advisable to visit Riyadh in the Summer.
Spring and Autumn are good times of year to visit Riyadh because it’s warm but not yet the summer temperatures.
When visiting Riyadh and all of Saudi Arabia, be sure to take into account when Ramadan is as everything is pretty much shut during this time.
Related Post: How To Get a Sim Card in Riyadh Airport! It’s really easy to get a tourist prepaid Saudi Arabia sim card in Riyadh Airport!
How to Get Around Riyadh.
This is the part that makes Riyadh hard to visit as a tourist and traveller because getting around Riyadh is not easy, or cheap, and it’s most definitely not pedestrian-friendly, I’m not going to lie.
There is no public transport in Riyadh. Right now in 2020, they are building the Riyadh Metro but it will not open until 2021 at least.
Uber and Careem taxi apps are available in Riyadh and although they are not really cheap and you often have to wait up to 10 minutes for a car, they are the best way to travel around Riyadh and they are not tooo expensive.
As a tourist to Riyadh, I wouldn’t suggest hiring a car to drive in the city. The roads in Riyadh and the traffic, are both pretty crazy so you would need to be a very confident driver and have experience driving in the Middle East and/or Asia before.
If you are, then go for it and check out Rental Cars to get a quote for your Riyadh car hire!
Where to Stay in Riyadh.
This is the second reason why Riyadh is not so tourist-friendly, yet. Finding good accommodation in Riyadh, in my opinion, is hard if you do not have a huge budget.
In regards to the best location to stay in Riyadh, Olaya is the main city centre with plenty of accommodation and it is central, however, in Riyadh, like many cities, you are always going to be far from something as you need to drive to get to every part of the city so it doesn’t matter too much where you stay.
Locals say that staying in the North of the city is better as there are parts of the South of the city that are poorer.
Hotels in Riyadh
There are plenty of Hotels in Riyadh and I find Booking.com to be a good place to look. Prices of accommodation in Riyadh are high and if you go for the cheaper options, they will be very budget places and not that nice so keep this in mind.
I have stayed in Obaer Hotel which I recommend as one of the best hotels in Riyadh for being clean and in a good location. I would stay there again and I do recommend it to you.
I have also stayed in Bazil Hotel Suites, it wasn’t that bad and the location is good but I wouldn’t stay there again, let’s say that.
The main thing to note when booking hotels in Riyadh is that the scores on Booking.com, for example, are very low. I never book hotels that are a 7 rating or less, but it turns out Saudi’s are very critical when it comes to reviews so most hotels are less than 8. Try not to let that put you off too much and go for the highest you can.
For high-end hotels that will not disappoint you in Riyadh then look into:
Hostels in Riyadh
At the moment there is just 1 hostel in Riyadh, it is a Hi Hostel with 3 bed shared gender dorm rooms only and I have a feeling this might be more popular for Saudis or workers in Riyadh so I would recommend you check the reviews before booking.
There is no hostel culture in Riyadh or Saudi Arabia yet to make backpacking Saudi Arabia easier but I hope that changes. I’ll keep this post updated!
Airbnb in Riyadh
Airbnb is another option for accommodation in Riyadh City and there are rooms on Airbnb that are much cheaper than the hotel rooms in Riyadh so I really suggest this if you are travelling to Riyadh on a budget or want to meet a local.
Like in most countries hotels are on Airbnb too so if you want to stay in a local home be sure that you’re not booking a hotel room on Airbnb by accident.
To get £25.00 / $30.00 off your Riyadh stay, create a NEW AIRBNB ACCOUNT USING THIS LINK! It’s totally fine to create a new account and this helps you save money in Riyadh!
Couch surfing in Riyadh
I had never couch surfed before visiting Saudi Arabia but I know that so many people do and have great experiences from it. Without a doubt, my trips to Riyadh were so much better because between a few nights in a hotel, I also couch surfed with 2 local Saudi hosts. This is how I got to see and hear about Riyadh in a local way meeting their friends and family, being welcomed into homes with Arabic Coffee and driving around the city at past midnight because that’s just what Saudi’s do!
I do recommend looking on Couchsurfing to help you find good accommodation in Riyadh and yes, as a solo female traveller in Riyadh, I did feel very safe with my 2 hosts, one of which was male and the other female.
Things to do in Riyadh.
There are 2 ways to see Riyadh – as a tourist and as a local.
Whilst there are a few good tourist attractions in Riyadh, Riyadh is not like many other cities around the world where there are lots of lots of places to visit and tick off on your Riyadh sightseeing list.
In my opinion, in order to really enjoy your time in Riyadh, you should look to attend the many local events that are on, have a walk around a shopping mall, eat burgers at midnight and talk to people where you can.
I have a really detailed blog post on what to do in Riyadh here. It’s better than the standard top 10 things to do in Riyadh as a tourist post and instead includes things to do in Riyadh at night, entertainment places in Riyadh, day trips from Riyadh that you can do without public transport and more, so be sure to check this out next!
Where to Eat in Riyadh.
There are so many places to eat in Riyadh, however, you may guess this already but it is hard to find places because you need to drive to them all! However, there are a lot of areas that you can visit and they have lots of restaurants, cafes and shops in one area and they will give you a good insight into local Saudi life.
The most popular local dish in Saudi is Kapsa which is Rice and Meat, aside from this, you will find Restaurants selling Middle Eastern Food but aside from that Saudi’s eat a lot of Western Food. Burger restaurants are incredibly popular in Riyadh and because there are no bars in Saudi because it is a dry country, they love coffee and the cafes in Riyadh are super cool!
A few places I would say are worth the drive are:
Najd Village – This is a great place to visit for Lunch or Dinner to experience the heritage of Saudi Arabia but not leave the city! Najd Village offers traditional local food and a traditional interior, and is one of the best Riyadh Restaurants for tourists to visit.
The Zone – This is an area with lots of cafes and restaurants in it so you are bound to find something you’ll like. It get’s busier in the evenings and weekends especially so it’s good to visit then to see what Saudi’s do on the weekend. Greem Cafe is a Korean Cafe with a super cool 2D design.
The Boulevard Riyadh – Not to be confused with The Boulevard that is part of the Riyadh Season, this is an area with some nice restaurants and cafes. For a cool place for coffee visit Minyums!
Backyard – Another strip with lots of cool cafes, Kanakah Cafe is cool and decorated really nicely. A few years ago it was a female-only cafe but has recently changed so men can visit and it has a nice atmosphere.
Note – You may have heard that many restaurants in Saudi Arabia have a Singles section and a Families section, this is true and even as a single female you need to go in the family section, the single section is for men only.
However, this is slowly changing and a lot of the places I have recommended above do not have split sections anymore. Generally, if it’s a ‘cool and young’ place, it will not be split. But it is always worth checking to see if there is one door and two and checking if there is a sign above the door.
Travel Insurance for Riyadh.
Remember that you will need travel insurance for your trip to Saudi Arabia! I am covered with World Nomad’s who I really recommend! They are designed by travellers, for travellers with excellent customer service and a range of cover options, you can even purchase their insurance once you are travelling and have left home!
Get a free quote here while you’re thinking about it:
What to Wear in Riyadh.
As a man, you can wear whatever you want in Riyadh and what you’d wear in other countries. Many Saudi men in Riyadh wear a thobe which you can purchase once you arrive and as a foreigner, I don’t think you’d look out of place wearing this, probably quite respected, but you definitely do not need to wear a thobe in Saudi Arabia and in Riyadh as a foreign male and most young Saudi guys and men don’t unless it’s a formal occasion.
As a foreign woman to Riyadh Saudi Arabia, you do need to be more aware of what you wear, but you probably know that already.
Technically, the law states that women do not need to wear an Abaya anymore in Saudi Arabia however I personally wore an Abaya all the time in Riyadh and I would have felt uncomfortable if I didn’t because all local women wear one.
You will be fine arriving in Riyadh Airport without an Abaya, no one will stay anything and you will not look out of place but I would recommend buying one as your next step when you arrive. You can google Abaya Shops in Riyadh to find one closest to you however all malls will sell Abaya’s and the cost of an Abaya is about 100 SAR / $25.00 / £20.00.
In this blog post, I give details on what type of Abaya to buy and what type not to buy!
Riyadh Travel Tips.
Here are some things that surprised me about Riyadh and to help you:
There are many migrant workers in Saudi Arabia but Riyadh especially. Most of the people that drive the Ubers, serve in cafes and shops and work in the hotels will be from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Indonesia as well as African countries like Somalia. This isn’t a problem and I had some really nice conversations with many of the men I met working from these countries but it’s something to note.
Riyadh is a very safe city. There were a few times that I felt mildly unsafe because people were staring at me. On my first day in Riyadh, I went to Masmak Fort after sunset when it was dark and had kids coming up to be begging. However, after spending more time in Riyadh and speaking to locals I realised that I was in a safe situation. Theft does not seem common in Riyadh and although as a foreign woman especially you may get the odd catcall, generally no one will say too much or approach you to be rude.
Saudi’s love to go out after sunset and stay up and out until the early hours of the morning so the best way to enjoy Riyadh is to embrace this and drink coffee at 10:00 pm or midnight to keep you awake! The North of the city at night is very safe, as are all the malls at night but if you are in the South and in an older neighbourhood like where Masmak Fort and Deera Square is, I don’t recommend you walk the streets late at night, especially as a female, you will be safe but you will be stared at.
Get a Sim Card. You will really need a sim card in Riyadh, even if you visit for a few days because you will need Google Maps and Uber without a doubt! Here’s how to get a sim card in Riyadh Airport.
To SEE my time in Riyadh, have a look at this YouTube video and the others on my channel:
To help you with your trip to Riyadh and Saudi Arabia, be sure to check out my other Saudi blog posts: