Destination Spotlight: Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's Urban Heart
Riyadh is at first glance a modern metropolis, its highways hives of activity among glittering high-rises. But delve beneath its shiny new façade, and the city’s fascinating centuries-old history can still be found within its lively souqs, compelling museums and ancient architecture. Throw in a burgeoning art scene with contemporary settings like Noqtah Studio, and this blend of medieval and millennial makes for a beguiling cultural union, one where Arabia’s first roots can be traced, and where its bold future can be envisioned.
Perched atop a desert plateau in the center of the country, Riyadh isn’t just Saudi Arabia’s capital. It’s also the country’s financial and cultural hub, offering a range of historic, cultural and culinary attractions waiting to be explored.
The Saudi National Museum
The Saudi National Museum has over 3,700 antiquities on display, documenting the grand history of Arabia over millennia. Beginning with prehistoric skeletons and a meteorite from the vast Rub Al Khali desert through pre-Islamic Arabian kingdoms, it portrays the birth and rise of Islam and the creation of the modern country, following the 1902 capture of Riyadh. The famous battle behind this birth centers on another must-visit location, Al Masmak Fortress. Built in 1865 and superbly preserved, the fort houses a collection of photographs charting the city’s evolution over the years.
Souq Al Zal
Located only a few minutes’ walk from the Masmak Fort, the Souq Al Zal remains as noisy and vibrant as when it first emerged back in 1901. Filled with the scent of burning oud and the din of cheerful hawkers, the crackle and hubbub here is at its peak on Friday evenings during the Haraj auction, when merchants display their rarest goods of the week. Everything from gold coins to quirky handcrafts and dusty antiques can be found here, with traditional Saudi items such as dallah coffee pots, hooked jambiya daggers and mabkhara incense burners making for excellent souvenirs.
Perhaps the best way to experience Riyadh’s cultural fusion is through its cuisine with gastronomic experiences like that at Najd Village. Here, faithfully recreated Najd architecture creates a traditional environment with authentic recipes for kabsa, jareesh and hashi. Served family style, these plentiful platters provide the best way to sample the full menu. Plus, it’s the perfect way to fuel up before your explorations elsewhere in the city.
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