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!
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
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!
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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