I often hear people complaining or boredom and lack of activities in KSA, especially from the expats who have moved to conservative Riyadh and assume there’s just nothing to do, or that they as women are not allowed to go out and do anything! Which is of course completely untrue.
I’m always short of time to do things in Riyadh so there’s plenty of option you just need to know about them!
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 expats, what did you to do back home on your free time then? Often they’d reply: go to cafes, restaurants, friends homes, the gym, shopping, library, museum, art gallery..Well you can do all of that here too!
Expats in KSA usually have more variety of different types of activities available compared to locals, due to the fact many of the activities take place inside compounds which have “no Saudis allowed” rule. 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, martial arts, aerobics 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. To know about some of these events, add me on snapchat by username; blueabaya.
As for cafeterias and restaurants, the choices are endless. For some suggestions check out the Riyadh Restaurant Reviews page. Don’t miss having “High Tea” at the Faisaliah tower Globe and combine it with a visit to the viewing platform ( to go up to platform only is 60 sar charge pp). Expats often take off their abayas and the atmosphere is relaxed. Upstairs is the more intimate Cigar Lounge for romantic evenings. Take note there is a minimum charge which as of October 2017 was 300 sar pp.
the shooting range at Dirab Golf and Country club
For men there are numerous terraces you can sit outside and enjoy the warm evenings.
3rd floor Centria mall Lenotre cafe, Hualan and Lusin have a lovely terrace for families!
There’s plenty of male only gyms all around town, female only is a bit more difficult to find, but they do exist. There is one in Almultaka center, Nuyu, KORE, 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.
Women 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 it’s almost empty, you can have the vast desert to yourself. Weekends it gets packed with young Saudi men, especially in the afternoon and evening this place is super crowded and not worth the time to get there an back. Go in the morning!
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.
Then there’s a lot of historical sites to explore around Riyadh, like Old Diriyah’s Turaif district. It’s a historically interesting site to visit including the famous Salwa palace. During 1745, a strong Islamic reform movement took place over here. Diriyah was the largest city in the Arabian peninsula 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.
EDIT 2017: At Turaif district is still closed for the huge restoration project. Estimated to open in 2018. You can visit the Bujairy Square, opposite of Turaif.
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 isteraha 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. Just search with the term #chalet or #isteraha on instagram and you’ll find them. 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 and the National Museum
. 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, Riyadh 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!
The nearby area called Dirah (Deerah, Derah),where Musmak castle is located there’s a clock tower next to the huge souq area. You can easily spend hours wandering around the antique, gold and carpet, Bisht, abaya, souvenir and furniture souqs of Dirah haggling and having endless cups of tea with the shopkeepers. Check out the directions to the Bisht Souk here
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.
And when it comes to shopping, new shopping malls seem to be sprouting like mushrooms after the rain! One of the nicest ones is Riyadh Gallery which has a nice little river and fountains among cafes in the middle.
Most of the biggest malls (Hayat, Granada, Riyadh gallery, Panorama) have huge entertainment areas for children. Some even have ice skating
rinks (Royal mall, Panorama, 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, Ritz Carlton and King Faisal hospital has one too, but you would need to go as a guest of an employee.
There are numerous Art Galleries in Riyadh, check out Naila, Alaan Artspace, Lam, and AMA for starters.
Living in Saudi Arabia is a great chance to start or try out scuba-diving! The Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia has some of the best diving spots in the world. Riyadh has two good dive shops, Blu Reef Divers and Desert Sea Divers. If you’re already a diver, explore the untouched Farasan Islands
in southern KSA.
Every month there are women-only exhibitions held at hotels or exhibitions halls like Nayyara and the Kingdom tower ballroom which are great to discover new interesting businesses established by Saudi women, and to mingle and get to know Saudis. Every first Monday of the Month Kingdom compound has Ladies’ coffee morning 9-12, free entrance and no need to register. Keep up to date with these by following Blue Abaya facebook page!
That’s a long list of activities and things to do in Riyadh! For more ideas check this page: Things to do in Riyadh
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Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!