A Traveler’s Guide to Riyadh

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The name of Saudi Arabia usually doesn’t ring the right bells. Most people have a tendency to believe information passed onto them by third party sources. They often do this without really doubting the truthfulness of the matter in hand. This information which may or may not be true can then lead to the formation of uninformed personal opinions and judgements.Saudi Arabia

I believe in forming my own opinions. I believe in visiting a place on my own before forming my opinion of that place instead of blindly believing other people, especially non-professionals. Over the course of my travels, I have had the pleasure of travelling to places all around the world that were not considered to be conventionally ‘safe’. Judging by what I had heard about those countries, I should consider myself incredibly lucky to still be alive. I may or may not have enjoyed every aspect of a particular place, but there are always two sides of a coin. The same place could have provided me with the very things that I look forward to during my travels. Life, people and new places and circumstances are always surprising. We may never know what to expect! This is something that really fascinates me.

Having lived in Riyadh for a long time, I have had my list of expected and unexpected circumstances. Keeping all that in mind, I have penned a series of articles about the life and places in Saudi Arabia. Here is a list of the most beautiful places and activities in Riyadh that you must experience if you’re in the city!

Kingdom Tower:

Standing tall at a height of 303 meters with 99 floors, the Kingdom Tower is the third largest building in the world (with the hole on the top). Riyadh doesn’t have a lot of skyscrapers that gives the Kingdom Tower an advantage of being visible from all parts of the city. The Tower has a shopping mall located on the lower floors. One can visit the top floors by buying a ticket for 60 Riyal (12 Pounds). You can explore the perfectly illuminated top of the Tower and walk on the bridge located at the top of the building. The bridge connects the two ends of the mall. The combination of a luxurious hotel, fine dining restaurants and dazzling shops combined into a magnificent tower makes the Kingdom Tower a pride of Riyadh.

Quad Biking:

Living in the desert has its own perks. The fact that Saudi Arabia, being an Islamic country, has a limited number of ‘fun’ things to do according to the western standards is well known. Saudi Arabia still has a number of unique activities to present. Desert safaris, bonfires and quad biking with friends are regular pastimes. Quad biking is one of the most interesting experiences I have had thanks to Saudi Arabia. The sport costs only 80 Riyal (15 Pounds) and one can get to spend hours on the hot sand, racing with our quad bikes.

Edge of the World:

One of the most interesting desert treks near Riyadh is known as the “Edge of the world”. The name gives away the idea of what kind of a scenic experience to expect! The spectacular scenery and unforgettable view will just blow you away. Located at about 90kms from Riyadh, four-wheelers are used to get to the viewpoint. The last stretch of the journey tends to get sandy but the scenic beauty of the place is worth it all.  It’s one of the most famous picnic spots for locals as well as expats living in or near Riyadh. Standing at the edge of the valley, looking at the endless desert makes the visit worthwhile. There are multiple viewpoints and even trekking trails to the bottom of the valley. Since the place is not commercially maintained, there is no special security or arrangements for the tourists. The spot earned its fame by the word of mouth and is considered to be an unofficial tourist attraction.

Shisha and Arabic Coffee:

You can climb the tallest tower in the city, race your quad bike across the desert or trek to the Edge of the World, but sitting down at a traditional Riyadh shisha café at the end of the unnamedday to sip on Arabic coffee is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. Shisha was not new to me but the Arabic coffee was something I had never had before coming to Saudi. I love all kinds of coffee but neither the dark coco from Madagascar nor the half full of sugar Turkish coffee can beat the jolt of surprise I had when I drank Arabic coffee for the first time!

The traditional Arabic coffee is served in small bone china cups, similar in size to the Italian espresso cups.The light-greenish coffee is usually consumed best along with shisha, which makes for an interesting combination.The World’s largest coffee shop (as once lauded by the Guinness Book of World Records) is located at the foot of the Kingdom Tower.

Masmak Fort & the Chop-Chop Square:

The Masmak fort is an important part of Saudi History. It is the place where Riyadh was recaptured in 1902. The fort is made up of mud and clay, with four watch towers and stone walls. The entry to the fort is free as it has been converted into a historical museum displaying the struggles of Saudis during the war. The museum showcases ancient artefacts and is a great place to visit if you’d like to dig a little deeper into the heart of the city.

Special Mention: Located next to the fort, is the famous ‘Deera Square’ which is also known as the Chop-Chop IMG_0290square. A lot of people living outside of Saudi may have heard of public executions being held in the country. This is where they take place. Every Friday, the police clear the area post the afternoon prayers and prepare for the scheduled punishments of the day. It’s not a place you’d want to visit and it’s definitely not something that should be on your to-do list. This is something most people condemn but please do bear in mind that it’s the law.  Living in a city means upholding the laws of the city and respecting the opinion of the locals.

You can even choose to be there on a Friday to witness the executions. I leave that decision up to you.

Stay tuned to be stunned by the beauty that can be found in the most unexpected places on Earth.

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