The Saudi summer is long and HOT! If you find yourself “stuck” in the Magic Kingdom for the summer, you will most likely be looking for activities to pass the time. Especially since schools are out and children are at home, families are desperate in finding things to do in Riyadh. One of my personal favorite areas in Riyadh is the Diplomatic Quarter, often referred to as “the DQ”.
The DQ was originally built to accommodate the all the foreign embassy staff and diplomats, but nowadays anyone can live there in one of the many residential areas. The DQ is so large it’s almost like a small town right next to Riyadh. The diplomatic quarters can easily be reached from the city center within 10 minutes by following the Ouroba rd to its end. Once you’re inside, it feels like any normal neighborhood anywhere in the world, lush and green and peaceful. You will forget you’re in Riyadh and it’s such a refreshing change to the concrete jungle. Check out this post for more info on the diplomatic quarter parks and gardens.
In general, everyone is allowed to enter the dq and the parks are public areas. When asked, many Saudis will remember weekends from their childhood spent playing and picnicking in the diplomatic quarter parks. In the 90’s these parks and gardens were hugely popular among Riyadhis, the DQ was the place to be on weekends. However the rules tightened a lot after the terrorist bombings about ten years ago. The National Guards who guard the entrance gate are known to be whimsical and sometimes illogical (in other words racist) of who they let in or not. There are no residential passes and sometimes residents of certain nationalities are given a hard time at the gate too.
If you come on weekday mornings you could say you’re visiting the embassy, and they should let you in. There are lots of companies and businesses that have their offices in the dq, why not combine running some errands in the Quarter with a stroll in the park afterwards. Unfortunately like most compounds in Saudi Arabia, the Saudis and Arab nationals will have the most trouble entering, especially on weekend evenings. In general the more ‘western’ you look, and if you speak English, the easier entry will be.
Best thing in my opinion for women is that abayas are not compulsory inside the DQ area. This enables us women to enjoy outdoor physical activities even during the summer without dying from heat exhaustion! When entering the Diplomatic Quarter from Circle 1, there is an Info-point shortly after on the right hand side with two large maps of the area.
Here are Blue Abaya’s Top 13 recommended things to do in the DQ during the summer:
1. Enjoy a fun day at the wave pool. The Sports Club outdoor pool area is definitely one of Riyadh’s hidden gems. A large wave pool, children’s pools, water slides, sun chairs in a garden setting and a restaurant offering healthy meals and fresh juices. What more can you ask for? Ladies and men’s days separately, membership required to enter, visit the Sports club for the details. *Update: Some expat ladies have entered the wave pool without membership for a fee of 50sr this year 2014.
2. Take a long unwinding walk on the nature trail that encircles the diplomatic quarters. The track can be accessed from many places along the parameters of the DQ just look for the signs ‘walking trail’. One easy starting point is next to the Tuwaiq Palace. Along the 20km of the track, you can find flora and fauna which are all endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. There’s breathtaking scenery of Wadi Hanifa on one side of the quarter and spectacular views to Ritz Carlton from the other side. During the summer, walking in the very early mornings or late afternoons and evenings is best. Luckily there’s a nice cooling breeze from the valley and you can take a rest at one of the numerous shady parks along the way.
3. Enjoy an outdoor breakfast at the beautiful Kindy plaza. Sit in the shade next to the cooling fountains and choose from a variety of different breakfast places such as Kudu’s, Diet Center, Dr Cafe, Quiznos and House of Donuts. Seating is open area, for singles and families alike. Children and teenagers can enjoy playing, bicycling or roller skating around the spacious plaza.
6. Visit the luxurious women’s only center Manahil for a day of pampering. In addition to the spa and salon services, Manahil also offers a design shop, restaurant, gym, indoor pool, dancing and swimming classes for children and adults.
11. Enjoy the cooling breeze and fantastic views down to Wadi Hanifa with its hundreds of palm trees and historical Diriyah in the distance from the Annafel park. This park, located on the walking track close to Tuwaiq Kindergarten off circle 8 has three waterfalls and is the perfect place for a picnic and the sunsets from here are amazing!
12. Take horseback riding lessons at the Al Aghar Equestrian club. The club also has a closed-off poolside area available for renting by the hour, open to non members and families. Separate ladies and men’s days. Family day is Friday.