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From my experience of being a visitor and tourist in Riyadh in 2020, there are 2 ways to see Riyadh when looking into things to do in Riyadh – as a tourist and as a local.
Whilst there are a few tourist attractions in Riyadh that I do recommend you visit, I suggest, in order to really enjoy your time in Riyadh, you shouldn’t focus on these too much as part of your things to do in Riyadh.
Instead attend as many local events that are on, have a walk around a shopping mall and visit the areas which are full of cool cafes and restaurants to really experience local Saudi life.
Because after all, if you’re the kind of traveller who wants to visit Saudi, I’m sure you don’t want to visit on tourist attractions anyway! You want to get to know the locals and see what this previously closed-off country is really like, and you can get a good idea of this by visiting the capital city of Riyadh!
In this Riyadh Travel Blog, I’m going to give you information about Riyadh City, things to do in Riyadh, places to visit in Riyadh and entertainment places in Riyadh so you can plan your Riyadh itinerary no matter whether you are spending 2 days in Riyadh or 1 week in Riyadh! Yallah!
See also: My Full Travel Guide to Riyadh!
Things To Do in Riyadh
Please Note – Due to the current situation, please check all opening times and booking details on the individual attractions website before you go to ensure it is not closed or has restrictions in place.
Things To Do in Riyadh As a Tourist.
1. Skybridge in Kingdom Tower
This is top of the list for best things to do in Riyadh!
For the best viewpoint in Riyadh, you have to head up the Kingdom Tower to the Skybridge! The Kingdom Tower the most famous looking building in Riyadh, (it looks a bit like a bottle opener which is ironic considering Saudi is a dry country!).
It has a big shopping mall in it and the 360 view from the Skybridge is beyond impressive making it the top things to do in Riyadh in my opinion!
The weather in Riyadh is usually clear but often it can be hazy and dusty from sand so try and go when the weather is clear so get the best view of Riyadh!
2. National Museum of Saudi Arabia
This may be the cheapest place to visit in Riyadh at only 10SAR (that’s cheaper than a coffee) and it has to be the best museum in Riyadh because The National Museum of Saudi Arabia gives you so much information on the history of Saudi Arabia.
It’s pretty big over 2 floors so it takes 1-2 hours to walk around and makes for a great place to visit in Riyadh when you’re thinking of where to go in Riyadh.
I would recommend going here on your first day in Riyadh as part of your things to do in Riyadh to help give you an understanding of the history of the Kingdom and the religion of Islam.
3. Masmak Fort
For some more history on Riyadh and Saudi Arabia head to Masmak Fort which is free to enter and one of the really good things to do in Riyadh.
For an easy and budget friendly way to explore Al Masmak and the surrounding area, check out this Self-Guided Walking Tour for Al Masmak on Riyadh’s History via Viator!
4. Deera Square
Across the road from Masmak Fort is Deera Square. To tourists, this is also known as ‘chop chop square’ as it’s where public executions were held in Riyadh so it should be on your Riyadh sightseeing list. However, I wouldn’t talk about this too much with locals…
There are lots of streets around Masmak Fort and Deera Square that you can walk around with lots of local shops. I do recommend going here during the day as I felt a little uncomfortable here at sunset when it was dark on my own.
Note- The National Museum of Saudi Arabia and Masmak Fort are close together so I recommend seeing both of these Riyadh attractions at the same time on your Riyadh itinerary.
You will need to get a taxi between them as you can’t walk between them, Riyadh is not pedestrian-friendly!
5. Old Diriyah
Diriyah is Riyadh’s Historic Neighbourhood in the West of the city and one of the top places to visit in Riyadh and things to do in Riyadh.
When I have visited Riyadh, Diriyah has been closed to the public due to the other events happening in Riyadh, so I would recommend checking on Visit Saudi’s website here whether it’s open before going there.
6. Najd Village
For the best restaurant in Riyadh for tourists, visit Najd Village for Lunch or Dinner to experience the heritage of Saudi Arabia without leaving the city because Najd Village offers traditional local food and a traditional interior.
Prayer Time in Riyadh
Something to note as a tourist to Riyadh, and Saudi Arabia, are the 5 prayer times. The first early morning prayer will not affect you but the other 4 will.
In Riyadh, most shops, cafes and restaurants will close during prayer time meaning you may be waiting outside until they open if you get there once the prayer starts.
The Prayer times do change slightly throughout the year so it’s best to google ‘prayer times in Riyadh’ in advance so you know when they are.
Things To Do in Riyadh Like a Local.
Now for the best places to visit in Riyadh that locals visit. These mainly include shopping malls and the best places to eat in Riyadh too so be sure not to miss them and add them to your things to do in Riyadh!
7. The 303
This is a really cool complex in the financial part of the Riyadh in the North of the city. There are a few food stalls outside and there is a fancy cinema inside.
I watched a film here at 00:15 which is a popular time to watch a film in Riyadh so make sure you adjust your sleeping schedule to fit in with Saudi time!
The 303 makes for one of the good things to do in Riyadh at night and be sure to find the really modern looking mosque in the area too!
8. 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 gets 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 that I recommend you visit and add to your list of things to do in Riyadh!
9. 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 and another place to observe local life all day and all night.
For a cool place for coffee visit Minyums!
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.
I know all of these cafes may not seem like fun things to do in Riyadh but remember that because Saudi is a dry country, instead of bars people spend a lot of time in cafes drinking coffee, so they are good places to visit in Riyadh to chill, see local life and start a conversation with a local!
11. Riyadh Park Mall
Riyadh has a lot of shopping malls, most of the malls in Riyadh have rides and games in them making them some of the good family places to visit in Riyadh and places to visit in Riyadh with children.
Riyadh Park Mall is the most impressive shopping mall in Riyadh so if you only go to one, you should visit here.
12. Diplomatic Quarter
Also known as the DQ, the Diplomatic Quarter is one of the top things to do in Riyadh for expats and places to visit for expats in Riyadh as it used to be an area that only expats lived in.
Here is my full blog post on how to visit the DQ in Riyadh and things to do in the Diplomatic Quarter!
Now, it has all of the embassies in and Saudi’s can live in the DQ too. The best thing about visit the DQ in Riyadh is that you can walk around it without the fear of being ran over by a car!
Riyadh is not a pedestrian-friendly city so it’s great walking around the streets in the DQ and the walking trails in the Diplomatic Quarter and the walking trails in the Diplomatic Quarter are great if you need some exercise or want to go for a run.
You can easily spend a full afternoon here, it’s such a pretty area and there are cafes and restaurants too so you can stay for lunch and dinner. In my opinion, this is the best things to do in Riyadh for tourists!
13. Riyadh Season
During the Winter and into the start of Spring, Riyadh Season is on which includes Winter Wonderland, The Boulevard and many other events around the city.
These are events that have been set up for Saudi locals from Riyadh and other parts of Saudi to attend but also to attract foreign visitors to the Kingdom by offering more entertainment places in Riyadh and fun things to do in Riyadh.
During the Summer, Riyadh will have fewer events happening because the weather gets extremely hot and locals stay inside more.
But Saudi Arabia seems to be focused on providing as much entertainment in Saudi Arabia as possible so it is worth downloading the Riyadh Season app to check what is happening and speak to some locals about what entertainment in Riyadh is on, no matter when you visit.
Did you know that up until about 2017 there were no cinemas in Saudi Arabia!
Now that there are, going to the cinema is a popular activity and one of the popular things to do in Riyadh for locals, especially at night, and late at night.
You may not find this interesting, but like going to the mall and going to coffee shops, this is what Saudi’s do in Riyadh and if you want to experience the best of Riyadh, I suggest you join in on activities like this too!
Day Trips from Riyadh.
What I really loved doing in Riyadh is heading of the city on an organised tour from Riyadh.
I was surprised to see that most of the people on the 2 day tours from Riyadh that I did were Saudi but I really liked this because I was able to meet a lot of local people and it felt like a local experience, but as a foreign tourist in Riyadh, I was still welcomed onto the tour and I did meet some other international tourists who were travelling around Saudi Arabia too!
15. Edge of the World
This is by far the best and easiest day trip from Riyadh. As a foreign tourist to Riyadh, you can drive yourself to the Edge of the World (check out prices for car rental in Riyadh here) as it is located on Google maps, however, once you leave the main road there is no road, only the desert, so you do have to be careful.
Personally I recommend joining a group tour to the like this Edge of the World Tour with Riyadh Hiking which is what I did.
We met in the North of Riyadh and were all taken into the desert by bus. We visited the Edge of the World and had a few hours walking around and taking photos.
After sunset, we went to the Riyadh Hiking camp where we had a BBQ dinner and were able to chat to everyone on the tour with music and shisha.
We also got to ride quad bikes and visit a cave underground so it was a really fun afternoon and evening trip from Riyadh and definitely needs to be on your list of things to do in Riyadh!
16. Red Sand Dunes
Another easy day trip and one that you will need to join a tour for is a trip into the desert and red sand dunes just outside of Riyadh.
I joined Hike Mania Club. We met in South Riyadh, got into the buses to drove to the desert! We spent 2 hours before sunset on a walk up and down the dunes before coming back to the camp where we had a BBQ dinner, listened to music and were able to chat and meet other people on the tour.
This is high on the list of my favourite things to do in Riyadh as it was so fun and so good to be in the desert!
Here’s a Red Sand Dunes Tour by Riyadh Trips bookable on Viator!
Note that generally, these organised group tours from Riyadh only run on the weekend (which is Friday and Saturday!) when locals are off work. If you want to go on a day trip from Riyadh during the week, you will need to book onto a tour like this:
To SEE my time in Riyadh, have a look at this YouTube video and the others on my channel here!