Desert near Riyadh
Riyadh

Five essential Riyadh experiences

Riyadh has a history that spans centuries, combining ancestral trading routes with a strikingly modern metropolis, which offers both culture and history in abundance. With Al Faisaliah Hotel currently undergoing renovations before being relaunched as Mandarin Oriental Al Faisaliah, Riyadh later in the year, here we reveal how to enjoy the essence of the Saudi capital

Formula E car

Discover where it all began

Diriyah is the perfect example of preserving the past and paving a way for the future. With a legacy dating back to the 15th century, Diriyah was once the centre of economic activity, where merchants from across Arabia came to trade. The Al-Turaif quarter is the original home of the Saudi royal family and the country’s first capital. Here, before a backdrop of the Salwa Palace, visitors can watch electric cars zoom through a 2,500km track during the Diriyah E-Prix (Formula E) season. The newly redeveloped Al-Bujairi district offers plenty of options for a late afternoon excursion – cafés, a central plaza and scenic picnic spots nestled between palm trees and rivulets.

Kingdom Tower

Get a bird’s eye view

In less than a minute – thanks to a high-speed elevator that travels at ten metres per second – you can arrive at the 99th floor of the Kingdom Centre. Its Sky Bridge is a 65m-long observation deck that offers panoramic views of Riyadh’s skyline. Arrive just before sunset and watch how quickly the city transforms from languid to cosmopolitan. At the women-only section of The Kingdom Centre, visitors can remove their abayas (cloaks) and spend an evening shopping at one of the many luxury outlets or indulging in a spa session.

Grounds of the National Museum

Learn about country’s past

Located in the heart of Riyadh city, The King Abdulaziz Historical Centre houses the National Museum and the Murabba Palace. The National Museum has eight galleries, each dedicated to a different time period in the history of the kingdom. You will find prehistoric fossils, the timeline of the country’s unification under King Abdulaziz and charter agreements about the discovery of oil.

A short walk away is the Murabba Palace, the former palace of King Abdulaziz. Wide corridors, courtyards and simplistic Najdi architecture are just some defining features of this two-storey palace. The audience hall, where the king received heads of state, has plenty of memorabilia, photographs and archives. Also on display is the king’s car collection, including a Rolls-Royce that was given to him by Winston Churchill. True to the meaning of Riyadh – gardens or meadows – the historical centre has plenty of greenery, pathways and seating areas, making it a good spot for respite in summer months, as you stroll between the two historic landmarks.

The Edge of the World

Stand at the Edge of the World

The Tuwaiq escarpment runs 800km through Saudi Arabia, but the most spectacular stretch is the Jebel Fihrayn – or, as popularised by the local community, The Edge of the World. A two-hour drive from Riyadh, the cliff might seem just like any other but, as you look down the ‘rock-framed window’, the cliffs drop sharply and give way to dried-up wadis (rivers) and bereft acacia valleys. As the vast desert stretches out and blends in with the sky, it gives the illusion that one is, indeed, standing at the edge of the world. It’s best to drive to the spot in an SUV or opt for a local tour package, which includes the drive followed by a desert-style cookout and group entertainment.

Ushaiger

Visit the ‘Blonde Village’ in Ushaigar

If you have a day to spare, head 200km northwest of Riyadh to the heritage village of Ushaiger. The closest description of beige colour in the Arabic language is blonde, giving the place the moniker of ‘the little blonde’. It has a rich heritage of producing the country’s most renowned scholars and a natural irrigation system that keeps the village green, even in the harshest of Saudi summers. Stroll through the alleyways and revel in the old-world charm of mud houses, painted wooden doors, an 800-year-old mosque, small private museums and palm groves. Weekends (Friday-Saturday) are the prime time to visit as, in true Saudi-style, previous inhabitants of the village open their ancestral homes and welcome wandering visitors for a tour or even to share a meal.

Mandarin Oriental Riyadh
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Mandarin Oriental Riyadh

P.O. Box 4148, King Fahad Rd., Olaya, Riyadh 11491, Saudi Arabia , Riyadh Riyadh 11491, Saudi Arabia

+966 11 273 2000

Riyadh skyline

Your essential guide to Riyadh

From its famous Sky Bridge, to the the peaceful parks of Al Olaya and the King Fahd Library Park, find out where to dine, shop and stroll in the Saudi capital with our helpful city guide