Paradise in the desert. Places to visit in Riyadh



Many people may have heard the name of the city of Riyadh, but where it is and what country’s capital it is – do not know. It turns out to be the main city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the center of the administrative district of the same name.

Geographic location

Many people may have heard the name of the city of Riyadh, but where it is and what country’s capital it is – do not know. It turns out to be the main city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the center of the administrative district of the same name.

Geographic location

Riyadh is located in South-West Asia and occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula. The area of the city is 1,554 sq km. It is located in the fertile valley of Wadi Hanifa, and it is surrounded by endless sands of desert. Perhaps that’s why the name Riyadh means “Gardens” in Arabic.

If you want to find Riyadh on a map, its geographic coordinates are as follows: 24°39′00″ N. 46°42′36″ E. The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh can be seen in the photo below.

Riyadh on a map

Population of Riyadh

At the end of 2014 there were about 6.5 million people living in Riyadh. Most of the inhabitants are Arabs, but there are also Afro-Asians and other nationalities. The main religion practiced by the inhabitants is Islam.

Population Riyadh

History of the city

In ancient times, the territory of modern Riyadh was inhabited by tribes of Arab nomads. Up to XVIII century it was an unremarkable modest settlement. But with the growth of the Arab market of goods and with the discovery of oil fields in these areas the city gradually began to revive and grow.

In 1902 Riyadh was captured by the troops of Emir Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud. In 1927 the Arab emirs organized the states of Nejd and Hijaz. Later, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Riyadh as its capital was formed as a result of the merger. From that time until today, the country has been ruled by the crown emirs of the Saudis.

History of Riyadh

Climatic conditions in Riyadh

The city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia has a desert tropical climate. It is one of the hottest places on the entire globe. The climate is very dry: the annual precipitation is only about 100 mm, which falls in winter and early spring. The average temperature is +14.4 ° C in winter and +36.6 ° C in summer. The highest temperature here has been recorded at +52° C and the lowest at +1° C.

Riyadh – attractions and entertainment

The main city of Saudi Arabia has a university and a technical institute, a military academy and many other attractions, the visit of which will be of interest to many tourists:

  1. The Kingdom center in Riyadh (Burj Al Mamlaka) is an ultra-modern skyscraper of metal and glass that can be seen from anywhere in the city. The building is a kind of symbol of unquestionable power of the royal dynasty, as the owner of this colossal structure – the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. The top of the skyscraper has the form of an inverted arch, above which passes a bridge. From here you have stunning views of Riyadh and its surroundings. The Royal Center houses offices and apartments, a hotel and a shopping mall, as well as many first-class restaurants.
  2. The Abdul Aziz Historical Center is located near the old city. It includes the Murabba Palace, the former residence of the king, which now houses a museum. The palace is surrounded by a beautiful park with its shady alleys inviting both residents and visitors to relax in the cool of the city. The center also includes the Al-Madi Mosque, made of red brick, and the minaret of the two-tier structure resembles a medieval tower.
  3. The royal stables attract horse lovers. Purebred Arabian horses are world famous for their beauty, grace, and speed. These elite animals are meticulously groomed to their status here. Horses from the royal stables take part in races which are considered a noble activity by the Arab nobility.
  4. Masmaq Fortress is an iconic old building that bears witness to ancient times. The fortress was designed according to all the canons of fortification architecture and is a regular quadrangle of light walls with round towers in the corners. The windows were small in size, which was done to reduce the probability of shells hitting the building. Today it houses a museum with exhibits illustrating the history of the city of Riyadh.
  5. Al-Faisalah Tower is located in the business center of Riyadh. The third tallest building in Saudi Arabia was completed in 2000. Its design is interesting: four curved beams join at the top and there is a huge ball of glass. Inside is a chic restaurant with a panoramic view of the entire city.
  6. King Abdullah Par Park is considered the most beautiful in the city. The amazing landscaping with floral carpets attracts both adults and children here. Above the lake, located in the center of the park, in the evenings there are colorful laser shows.
  7. Active recreation. One of the best activities for tourists in Riyadh is quad biking in the desert.
  8. Nightlife. For travelers who prefer to have fun in the evening, the doors of bars, restaurants and discos are open in Riyadh, most of which are located within the hotels and are only for tourists.
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Hotels and restaurants

Not so long ago, Riyadh began to position itself as a tourist city. Many establishments have appeared here, the best of which are considered to be such:

Radisson Blu Hotel, Riyadh

  1. Radisson Blu Hotel, Riyadh – this 5-star luxury hotel offers cozy rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV, free Wi-Fi. Indoor pool, spa, health club, sauna, gym.
  2. Holiday Inn Riyadh Izdihar – in this luxury 5-star hotel, business travelers can take advantage of the 24-hour business center and conference room.
  3. Movenpick Hotel Riyadh – 5-star hotel has 4 restaurants, wellness spa. There are all conditions for recreation with children.
  4. Al-Najdiyah Village is one of the best restaurants of Saudi Arabia capital city. It has an appearance of an ancient fort. Visitors are treated to traditional Arabian dishes.
  5. Scaramouche lounge – the restaurant is famous for both national and international cuisine.

Shopping in Riyadh

While in this exotic city, be sure to shop at such shopping establishments in Riyadh:

  1. Al Nakheel Mall is a huge store that can be visited with children and has a playground for them. The mall offers many well-known brands.
  2. Riyadh Gallery Mall – This mall can be visited by families or by women only. This is a great place not only for shopping, but also for relaxing.
  3. Panorama Mall – this place offers many designer stores and numerous cafes where you can relax after shopping.

Useful information for tourists

If tourists staying in Saudi Arabia have any problems with the local authorities, then tourists should contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Riyadh: Saudi Arabia, P.O.Box 94308 Riyadh 11693 Russian Embassy, Al-Wasiti str., Rahmania, bld. 13.

Riyadh Transport

The city has a well-developed transport infrastructure. Tourists usually arrive in the country by plane. International Airport King Khaled is located 35 km from Riyadh. It receives flights from German, British, Turkish and some other airlines. From King Khaled Airport it is easy to reach all parts of Saudi Arabia. It takes 30 minutes to get from the airport to the city.

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Riyadh Airport

Getting around the city without a car is simply impossible since there are no sidewalks. Therefore, the best urban transport in Riyadh is a cab. Many tourists book a limousine at the hotel if it provides such a service. Locals move around the city only in private cars.

The subway in Riyadh is still under construction. Its opening is planned for 2019.

There is also rail transport here. Trains go from the station in the city center to Dammam via Al Hasa and Al Khufufuf. Buses come here not only from cities within the country, but also international express trains from neighboring states.

Riyadh Station

How to get to Riyadh?

The capital of Saudi Arabia has air links with many cities around the world: Munich and Frankfurt, Paris and London, Istanbul and Hong Kong. The most popular route is considered to be the air route through Dubai.

Riyadh is also connected to other cities and highways. The bus from Jordan to Riyadh takes 24 hours. And the distance of 876 km between Riyadh and Mecca the bus covers in about 8.5 hours.

Going to Saudi Arabia: the main attractions of the country

One of the most closed countries in the world took and abruptly ceased to be: in the fall of 2019, the kingdom allowed the citizens of several dozen countries, including the Russian Federation, to obtain electronic visas. You can read more on the Vinsky forum, and apply for a visa to Saudi Arabia at There is very little information in Russian about the sights of the country so far, so we translated Atlas Obscura material to get you started.

The Lonely Castle of Qasr Al-Farīd (Qaṣr Al-Farīd)

One of Saudi Arabia’s hidden curiosities is the tomb of Qasr Al-Farīd, carved out of a huge boulder. Among the many ruins at the Madain Salih excavations, one literally stands apart. The tomb of Qasr al-Farid, or “the lonely castle,” carved in a giant stone, is a stunning ancient structure that rivals similar architectural masterpieces the world over in its beauty and craftsmanship.

Its facade began to be built in the first century AD, but was never completed. In fact it is not a castle but a tomb belonging to the ancient Nabatean city of Hegra. The Nabataeans had a unique architectural technique – they carved their tombs in stone from top to bottom – as did Qasr al-Farid. As the monument is unfinished, we can see that the sculptor’s work is less skilful and less accurate.

The incompleteness does not detract from the beauty and significance of the monument; on the contrary, it serves its own good. From the unfinished part of the tomb we can recreate how the ancient stonecutters created a masterpiece step by step.

Mada’in Saleh

Ancient Nabatean center of caravan trade and desert tombs. The Nabateans were ancient inhabitants of the Middle East who became rich from trade between South Arabia and the Jordan Valley. The former capital of the Nabataean kingdom, the city of Petra in present-day Jordan is famous for its splendor and was rightly chosen as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.

Madain Salih was considered the second most important city in the Nabataeans. It is about halfway between Petra and Mecca. Its other names are Al-Hijr and Hegra. In 106 AD, the Roman Empire conquered Nabatea and the city was abandoned because the Romans preferred the caravan routes to the maritime trade on the Red Sea.

Although Madain Salih lacks the grandeur of Petra, it is one of the iconic archeological sites on the Arabian Peninsula. Huge boulders rise in the middle of the desert. Tombs have been carved into them – almost all of the surviving structures here and at Petra were once used for funerary purposes.

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In addition to the 131 tombs, the ritual site of the Diwan (Sik), a narrow path between two boulders, where a pair of small altars testifies to the pre-Islamic nature of the Nabateans, is preserved in Madain Salih. Excavations in the center of the ancient city have uncovered several modest clay houses – these are the remains of the residential quarters of Madain Salih.

Keep in mind that Madain Salih is closed until 2020. However, you can still get there if you go to the festival “Winter on Tantor”. It will take place on weekends from December 19, 2019 to March 7, 2020.

Tantor Winter Festival.

One reason to go to Saudi Arabia might be the Winter on Tantor Festival. It takes place from December 19 through March 7 every weekend. The entertainment includes blimp and balloon rides and concerts by world-class classical music stars in the incredible aesthetics of the ancient sites of Al-Ula. Especially for the festival in the desert built Maraya Concert Hall, the walls of which reflect the light and create a mirage effect. And the main advantage – the possibility to visit the locations closed now for restoration of Madain Salih, the usual tourists and travelers they will be available not earlier than mid-2020.

Dhi Ayn Marble Village

Dhi Ayn, or Akabat al-Baha, is visible from several kilometers away – so much the place stands out for its white glow. The houses themselves are not made of marble but of flagstone and slate. The village became marble because of the marble rock on which it is built. The rock outcropping is a shiny rock of white marble, contrasting with the dark slate of which the houses are built. The white slab that became the foundation of the village is framed by gray cliffs and green fields.

The road leading to the village is also very picturesque. Along it are several ancient stone towers. It is even said that there are 1,001 towers in al-Baha province which used to protect villages, roads and gardens from warring tribes but are now abandoned or dilapidated.

The 400-year-old village was also abandoned 30-40 years ago, which gives the place a special atmosphere. Visitors should be very careful when walking between the buildings, because many of them are dilapidated and could collapse at any moment. And some have already collapsed under the weight of the forces of nature and four centuries of history.

The Shattered Stone of Moses

Believers believe that the huge stone was split open by Moses’ staff. On the west side of Mount Jabal al-Lawz to the southwest of the Dead Sea is a unique geological site – a huge stone the size of a five-story house that split exactly in half. Some find an account of the fissure in the Old Testament and believe it to be Mount Sinai and the stone mentioned in the Bible.

Numbers 20:7-11: (7) And the LORD said to Moses, saying, (8) Take a rod, and gather the company, you and Aaron your brother, and say in their eyes to the rock, and it shall give water out of itself: and so you shall bring them water out of the rock, and give water to the company and their cattle. (9) And Moses took the rod from the face of the Lord, as he commanded him. (10) And Moses and Aaron gathered the people together to the rock, and he said to them, “Listen, you disobedient ones, shall we make water for you out of this rock? (11) And Moses lifted up his hand, and struck the rock with his rod twice, and there flowed out much water, and the pilgrims and their cattle.

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Of course, no good deed goes unpunished: God, angry at Moses for allegedly striking the rock twice (or for some minor transgression that biblical scholars still argue about), did not allow the chosen people to enter the Promised Land.

Numbers 20:12: (12) And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to manifest My holiness before the eyes of the children of Israel, you will not bring this people into the land that I am giving them.

Al Wahbah Crater

The Al Wahbah Crater is a striking natural anomaly, not only because it is alone in the middle of the desert, but also because it hides a whole field of salt in its bowl. For a long time it was thought that the crater was formed by an ancient meteorite impact, but recently it has been revealed that it was the result of volcanic activity. It probably appeared after a large underground steam explosion, which occurred when a stream of magma met an underground source of water. The earth was literally torn apart and the result was a huge crater – about two kilometers in diameter and almost 250 meters deep – a striking mark on the face of the planet.

Giant craters themselves are an interesting thing, and Al-Waba also contains a surprise – a shining white salt field. The divisions on its white and beige surface gather in a psychedelic pattern. Another strange detail is the trees growing around and inside the crater: a waterless and bare desert all around, but palm trees and green bushes in the crater.

Recently, Saudi Arabia has been promoting the crater as a tourist attraction: roads and signposts have been built to it. Al Waba is located 254 kilometers from al-Taif on the western edge of the basalt plateau of Harrat Kishb.

The Edge of Light (Jebel Fihrayn)

Jebel Fihrayn is an unexpected and striking geological curiosity in the stony desert northwest of Riyadh. From the top of the cliff there is an uninterrupted view of the horizon, and it is not clear where the land ends – hence the name Edge of Light.

These cliffs are part of the great Tuwaik escarpment. They are 300 meters down to the ancient bottom of the ocean. One can see from them the dry riverbeds overgrowing the land and the caravans of camels strolling in the distance. The camels and their herders know where to go – they follow a well-trodden route in the shadow of the rocks.

There are several hiking trails on and around the cliffs. Beyond the point called The Window, the descent to the lower plateau opens up. As you walk, look out for ancient fossils and be careful: the rocks are sharp and the gravel can crumble.

To get to the Edge of the World, you’ll need an off-road vehicle (not necessarily four-wheel drive) with a permit. You don’t need to hire a driver or guide, but you should know how to drive on dirt roads with potholes, or you can easily get a flat tire, especially if you drive fast. The drive from Riyadh takes 1-2.5 hours.

Coordinates: 24.9460, 45.9909

In addition to Google maps, we suggest seeing how to get to the cliffs at or at

Za’abal Castle

On a mountain in northwestern Saudi Arabia sits a structure made of clay and stone – this is the castle, fort or palace of Za’abal. In fact, it is more than a castle: beneath it is an ancient well system that has supplied water to the city of Sakaka for centuries.

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It is believed that the modern structure – a wall with four towers and a water tank – was built 200 years ago. However, there is archaeological evidence that some of the structures were there as early as the first century AD.

The inner courtyard of the fort was designed as a reservoir to collect water, which then flowed into a system of wells located beneath the city. The wells would have been easy to go down, but are now closed to the public for safety reasons.

If you go to Sakaka, hire a local driver. Note that few places in town allow men and women to eat together. The castle is closed for prayer time, so keep an eye on the schedule – it can be given to you at your hotel.

Al Masmak Fortress

In the early hours of January 14, 1902, the guards at the fortress of Masmak slept without hearing Abdul Aziz ibn Abdurrahman ibn Faisal Al Saud and his detachment gathered around and prepared to attack. Taking the fortress, he captured Riyadh, the homeland of his ancestors. Then Abdul-Aziz, who had previously lived in Kuwait, where the Sauds had been exiled by their enemies, the Rashidi family, defeated the Rashidis and conquered and unified the kingdoms and provinces that form the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The brick and clay fortress was built in 1865 during the reign of Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Rashid, emir of the then emirate of Jebel Shammar and an opponent of the Saudis. The fortress was used by Abdul-Aziz from 1902 to 1938, until a new building was built. In the 1980s, the Saudi authorities restored the fortress as part of a program to restore historically important sites and artifacts.

Visitors enter the fortress from the side of the open square, through a corridor of palm trees and a huge gate. The entrance itself, or al-Khoha, is so small that only one person can pass through – this was a special precaution. Inside the fortress, a collection of historical artifacts is on display, among them even the rifles used in the assault and a working well. Like any significant place, the fortress has a small mosque.

The exhibition also shows a video about the history of the storming and foundation of the modern kingdom – although it is in Arabic, but with English subtitles. The English version, accompanied by a light show, can be seen at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.

The castle is surrounded by lively streets and a bustling market where you can buy everything: clothes, jewelry, gold, costumes, souvenirs, and snacks such as corn in a cup – these are corn kernels with oil and salt, and yes, they are served in a cup. A stroll through the market is a great addition to a visit to Masmak Fortress.

The tent at Tuwaik Palace

The Tuwaik Palace, formerly known as the Diplomatic Club, has stunning views of Riyadh. But they are not the only reason to visit this place. The heart of the palace is a giant tent, the walls of which resemble stained glass windows. Inside, the tent is like an oasis. Events for foreigners are held here, so the usual taboos are removed: for example, men and women can smoke hookah together. The outside event area is designed in Arabic style.

Tuwaik is in the diplomatic quarter – you have to go through a security checkpoint to get in. Access to the diplomatic quarter is limited to locals, and an Uber driver might feel uncomfortable there. Better to get off near Starbucks and walk.

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