Riyadh To Do Guide

I often hear people complaining or boredom and lack of activities in KSA, especially here in conservative Riyadh.
Yet I for some reason am always short of time to do things!
Of course it depends a lot on yourself, how active you are in trying to find things to do. It IS more difficult here, but it doesn’t mean that theres “nothing to do”.
I ask these people, well what did you use to do back home on your free time then? Often they’d reply: go to cafes, bars or nightclubs, restaurants, friends homes,the gym, shopping..Well you can do all of that here too!
things to do in riyadh

As an expat in KSA you will have more variety of activities available for you than for locals, because many of the activities take place on compounds which have “no Saudis allowed” rules. Available things to do also depend on if you’re male/female because of the gender segregation. Western compounds have a variety of different sports and hobbies to undertake. Ranging from dance classes, language courses,photography, baking, arts &crafts classes, theme days for families, rugby, football, soccer matches, concerts, etc etc. Embassies also arrange concerts, art exhibitions, national days, and parties. For most compounds  you must know someone who lives inside to get into these places.

As for cafeterias and restaurants, the choices are endless. I will only mention my favorites: Brazilian restaurant Il Terazzo in hotel Faisaliyah, outside terrace with open oven bbq overlooking Faisaliyah tower! Romaizan is the best the compound restaurant which offers tasty food and drinks in relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss having “High Tea” at the Faisaliah tower Globe. Expats often take off their abayas and the atmosphere is relaxed. Upstairs is the more intimate Cigar Lounge for romantic evenings :)

the shooting range at Dirab Golf and Country club

For men there are numerous terraces you can sit outside and enjoy the warm evenings. Unfortunately at the moment I don’t know of any that allow women to sit outside..they’re all single male sections.
EDIT: 3rd floor Centria mall Lenotre cafe, La Vela and Lusin have a lovely terrace!

There’s plenty of male only gyms all around town, but female only is a bit more difficult to find, but they do exist. There is one in Almultaka center, Yibreen spa, Almanahil inside DQ (diplomatic quarters)to name a few. There’s also a walking/ running track that goes around the DQ.
If you want to start golfing there are many good places to get started and have lessons like the Intercontinental right in middle of the city has a golf course. Also Riyadh golf club and Dirab golf club have courses, the Arizona compound has their own course too! Dirab also has polo and horseback riding. It requires membership but you can try it out for free.

Females are allowed to golf and even drive golf carts in Saudi :)

 

There are places just outside Riyadh about 20-30 min drive away where you can rent quad bikes for couple hours and drive on the dunes. Yes women can drive them too :) My favorite is Thumamah area, on weekdays its almost empty, you can have the vast desert to yourself, but don’t get lost!Weekends it packed with young saudi men, who sometimes get a little too carried away when they see western women driving around. On the way to Thumamah you can pass by the camel souq and haggle on one of the 1,000000 Saudi riyal camels.

 

The Red Sands area west of Riyadh along the Mecca highway is a beautiful place to go just for the scenery. Also possible to rent quad bikes there.
There are numerous other desert treks and picnicking spots around Riyadh, but again I will only mention my favourite Rawdhat Khuraim. Once you get there you will not believe you’re in Saudi-Arabia, it’s so green!
Then there’s a lot of historical sites to explore around Riyadh, like the ancient  City of Old Diriyah. It’s a historically interesting site to visit including the famous Salwa palace. During 1745, a strong Islamic reform movement took place over here. Besides this in the past the old city of Diriyah was also considered to be the largest in Arabian Peninsula. However, in the first part of 19th century Turks destroyed this city and afterwards Riyadh captured it. Walk amongst the ruins of mud and brick built houses, palaces bath houses and mosques. Best visited in cooler months. For more info on Historical Diriyah check this post: Ten Things to do at historic Ad’Diriyah
diriya palace ruins POSTCrd

Blue Abaya’s guide to Riyadh Historic city of Ad’ Diriyah

 

Another popular family activity is rent your private “villa” or chalet or private pool for a day, in Arabic called isteraha. They can have inside anything from big grass fields, football fields, basketball, gardens, kids playground, indoor/outdoor swimming pools and large rooms with AC, TV and all luxuries you want. Because Saudi culture is very private, they like to rent out an istiraha for weekends so that the whole family can join. Some people rent them for special occasions like birthdays and Eid holidays. Renting a private villa/isteraha is the best way to enjoy a day of family swimming, as mixed swimming pools in Riyadh do not exist. It’s actually quite affordable and some even have staff if you want to take care of catering and looking after the kids.  There are literally thousands of isteraha to choose from around Riyadh. For more Riyadh swimming pools check out this post: Top Ten Swimming Pools in Riyadh 
The summer heats are a good time to visit The King Abdul Aziz Historical Center. It consists of a remodeled mosque, the old original Murabba’ Palace with main Diwan renovated as “living museum”, the “Memorial Hall” on the outlines of an old courtyard house, a modern exhibition hall for the car collection,  the new Al-Dara main lobby and multipurpose hall, a documentation center with a separated men’s and women’s library each, an art gallery and a large internal garden.
Nearby and definitely worth a visit, The National Museum will take you a good three hours to walk through. The whole area is surrounded by parks, waterfalls, fountains and picnic areas. It’s especially nice to stroll around in the beautiful evening lighting. It’s possible to walk to the now restored old water tower, there is a restaurant on top with nice views of the city. The whole Historical Centre area covers some 360,000 square meters!
Just a stones throw away (no pun intended) is the infamous “chop-chop”- square where public executions and stoning of convicted criminals was performed in public. The area around here is called Dirah (Deerah, Derah), there’s a clock tower next to the huge souq area.You can easily spend hours wandering around the antique, gold and carpet, abaya, souvenir and furniture souqs of Dirah haggling and having endless cups of tea with the shopkeepers. Most of them are Afghani and have interesting stories to tell.

For families with kids, (small or grown-up) you can go to various theme parks and amusement parks on the outskirts of town, just make sure it’s singles/families/women’s only day accordingly. Most of them are situated along the Thumamah highway.

There’s also a man made river/lake area in Salam Park on Sitteen street where you can rent pedal boats and have picnic in the cottages.
And when it comes to shopping, new shopping malls seem to be sprouting like mushrooms after the rain!One of the newest is Riyadh Gallery which has a nice little river and fountains among cafeterias in the middle.
Most of the biggest malls (Hayat, Granada, Faisaliyah, Riyadh galleria) have huge entertainment areas for children, the noise is overwhelming though!A lot of families will leave the children there with nannies or their older children to look after while they go shopping. Some even have iceskating rinks (Royal mall, Hayat mall Othaim mall) and roller coasters!

Riyadh gallery mall

For a very different experience visit the huge sheesha cafes on Damman highway. The biggest one is over 10000 sqm and fits 2000 people at a time! If you’re a football fan go on a match day and the place will be packed and the atmosphere is fun and welcoming. This activity is mainly for males, but they do have family sections also.

 

If you’re into bowling, there’s a couple places around the city centre you can practice your skills. This seems to be very popular among Filipino expats! There’s one in Khozama hotel next to Faisaliyah tower, one in the Intercontinental hotel and King Faisal hospital has one too, but you would need to go as a guest of an employee.
This is a great chance to start or try out scuba-diving!Riyadh has two good dive shops, Blu Reef Divers and Desert Sea Divers. I f you are already a diver, explore the untouched Farasan Islands in southern KSA.
Every month or so there are women only exhibitions held at hotels or exhibitions halls like Nayyara and the Kingdom ballroom. Every first Monday of the Month Kingdom compound has Ladies’ coffee morning 9-12, free entrance and no need to register.

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  • Usman Bin IhsanJuly 6, 2012 - 7:27 am

    Thank you very much for your guidance. When I reached here from Pakistan, this place felt bone dry and there seemed nothing to do. There is also an element of missing your family and friends back home.

    Now, at least I have a list of places that need to be explored by me before making my final impression about the place. Unlike the stories I heard back home about how Saudis react to foreigners, they seem pretty less real, I have been treated very respectfully by locals in my office and the place I live in north Riyadh.

    Thank you very much for your contribution to making us feel Riyadh like home.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 11, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    I wanted to leave a comment for your statement that “Romaizan is the best the compound restaurant which offers tasty food and drinks in relaxed atmosphere”.
    Yes, you were right, it used to have a good restaurant and I heard that it is closed without any reason stated by compound management and also I visited my friends in romaizan compound but I saw that it is in very bad shape looks very old due to no maintanance especially swiming pools has teared carpets and tents.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 11, 2012 - 11:00 pm

    Really Romaizan restaurant is closed? Oh NO :( One of the best places for some “normal” dining in Riyadh..thanks for letting us know! I should write an update post on things to do in Riyadh, seems many places have changed and or closed down!ReplyCancel

  • Mohamed SafwatFebruary 5, 2013 - 2:48 pm

    what about the shooting sport? where can i find it?
    the search engine brought me here to the pic. you are posting. but i found no details about it.
    could u plz. guide me if u have such piece of informationReplyCancel

  • LaylaFebruary 5, 2013 - 11:30 pm

    Hi Mohamed!
    What kind of shooting do you mean?
    The only kind of “shooting” I know of is paintball :)
    they have a paintball at the Panorama mall amusement park.
    also check this paintball company:http://www.1stpaintball.com/about/ReplyCancel

  • Silver FernandezJune 8, 2013 - 9:02 am

    Is there any real gun shooting ranges here in riyadh? eg.. gun rentals and use it in ranges…

    Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Silver FernandezJune 8, 2013 - 9:05 am

    Hello Good Afternoon!

    I just want to ask if there is any gun shooting ranges here at Riyadh?

    Thanks and regards..ReplyCancel

  • Silver FernandezJune 8, 2013 - 9:06 am

    hello Good Afternoon!!

    I just want to ask if there is any gun shooting ranges here at Riyadh?

    Thanks and regards…ReplyCancel

  • Anonymus1November 9, 2013 - 7:50 pm

    HI,
    Is there any place I can go for softball playing in Riyadh?
    Thank you,
    A resider from the states.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaNovember 10, 2013 - 7:12 pm

      hey there, are you male or female ;)ReplyCancel

  • RooshrishaJanuary 30, 2014 - 7:20 pm

    Hi, is there an art classes for kids here in Riyadh.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJanuary 30, 2014 - 10:50 pm

      yes check out the Areej art cafe at centria mall.ReplyCancel

  • AbdulsalalmFebruary 5, 2014 - 2:04 pm

    please we need to know the location and coast per one person
    and the time for MaleReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 5, 2014 - 4:07 pm

      Hi there,
      just to let you know we are not a tour or travel company, we do not organize tours, sorry!ReplyCancel

  • SarahMarch 20, 2014 - 8:13 pm

    Yibreen has a very rude lady employed as manager.
    She shouts at customers.
    I had been there to return a product I purchased and there she was asking me to leave the premises or she would call the security guard.
    She was asking me to GET OUT pointing at the door.
    I had purchased a loreal color vibrancy shampoo and conditioner for SR 620 and since I was not getting my hair colored by them as my doctor advised me not to.
    I had previously had an allergic reaction to dye and was giving medication for the same .
    So I cancelled my hair coloring and went to return the shampoo and conditioner.
    I had payed by my debit card and she said since it’s credit she can only give a voucher which I have to use within the same month.
    The money could be easily reverted to my acc as I did not use a credit card.
    As I said this she started yelling and shouting at me in front of all present.
    SAVE YOURSELF FROM BEING INSULTED.
    DO NOT VISIT YIBREEN !
    I am sharing this to let people know especially if you are calm like me and would not like to be involved in fights , Yibreen is not the place for you.ReplyCancel

  • SarahMarch 20, 2014 - 8:21 pm

    This happened today at Yibreen.
    I had got a haircut done with them 3 days back and was scheduled for hair color today.
    I had informed them that I need to check with my doctor first.
    I purchased the loreal color vibrancy shampoo and conditioner just last night and went to return it today as I was not getting my hair colored.
    This was the rudest person I met in my life
    No to brag about it but I could employ 10 managers like her with the same salary she gets, the attitude she showed was beyond description.
    Yelling , asking clients to get out for just returning a sold product is all one can get at YIbreen Spa Riyadh.ReplyCancel

  • liiaApril 21, 2014 - 12:56 pm

    Hi, how do i look for an istireha? Also, where would one go shopping/getting a mens thobe done? TqReplyCancel

    • LaylaApril 22, 2014 - 5:26 pm

      Hi liia, there are lots of isterahas on the dammam rd for example, and on the thunmamah rd, you know the one that goes to Janadriyah? If you know where the Splash waterpark is (also on thumamah rd), they have small isterahas with private swimming pool you can rent for the day! For the thobes go to Tayba souk!ReplyCancel

  • Shabana WasimJune 13, 2014 - 10:51 am

    Godd informations!
    ReplyCancel

  • AmeenAugust 16, 2014 - 3:52 pm

    Is there any rifle club in riyadh or a place where male can learn shooting / using rifles?

    Thanks,
    AmeenReplyCancel

  • Mai LingDecember 1, 2014 - 1:24 am

    LOL it upset me very much when you told me women are allowed to drive golf carts it made me feel like so sorry for people that cannot drive – especially in a place where you need a car, because it is so hot etc.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaDecember 3, 2014 - 4:23 pm

      Yeah, it’s kind of sad, but also we can try and look at it form the humor point of view :)ReplyCancel

  • Nicole JordanMarch 8, 2015 - 6:24 pm

    I have been a very loyal and regular customer to Yibreen for so many long years now for so many reasons but naming view, their professionalism and highest courtesy. So for Sara to say such negative incident about Yibreen, I can assure all readers that kicking someone out of any salon/Spa due to turning a shampoo would be too difficult to believe. I cannot believe that any manager would do that unless there is another side to her story she is omitting to support her claim.ReplyCancel

  • Bush BushJuly 25, 2015 - 6:27 pm

    Very nice :)ReplyCancel

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