From Halal Food & Travel
“Where to find Halal food in Riyadh?” “Where to perform Salat in Riyadh?” Those are some of the questions Muslim travelers often ask when traveling to Riyadh.
Riyadh (الرياض ar-Riyāḍ) is the capital of Saudi Arabia. It is slightly east of the center of the country in the heart of the Tuwaig escarpment.
Riyadh Halal Travel Guide
Riyadh is the largest city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although many of the common forms of entertainment are limited, there are interesting places that can be visited in Riyadh ranging from historic landmarks to the few towers that highlight the transition of the city with more incorporation of modern technology. For most of the year, the climate is brutally hot, but it is pleasantly moderate during the winter. The only reliable means of transport in Riyadh is a car: you would either depend on cabs or you would have to rent your own car. Generally prices are lower in Riyadh than most other big cities in the world. However, Riyadh is usually a destination that is visited mainly for business.
History of Riyadh
Until the 16th century, Riyadh was known as "Hajr", an important city of central Arabia dating from at least the 3rd century CE (and probably older). In the Middle Ages, Hajr served as the capital of the province of Al-Yamamah, whose viceroys presided over most of central and eastern Arabia.
With the decline in the fortunes and wealth of central Arabia after the 10th century, the name Al-Yamama gradually disappeared, and Hajr became subsumed under the name "Najd", which had referred only to areas lying further west. The name Hajr also gave way to the name "Ar-Riyadh" (meaning "the gardens"), as the old city broke into several towns and farming estates.
In the early 1900s, Riyadh was a dusty walled town of under 20,000 people surrounded by palm groves, fertile wadis, and a number of small villages. Riyadh (or, rather, the neighboring hamlet of Diriyah) is the ancestral home of the al-Sauds. Driven out by the Rashids in 1891, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud famously raided and recaptured the city in 1902. The city was made the capital of Saudi Arabia when the country was born in 1932, and has grown explosively ever since then. In 2008, the city was estimated to have 5 million inhabitants; by 2017, its population had grown to 7.7 million people.
Riyadh is vast and sprawling. The main roads are King Fahd Rd (طريق الملك فهد tariq al-malek al-Fahd), which runs north to south across the city, and Makkah Rd (aka Khurais Rd), which runs west to east, intersecting at Cairo Square — which is actually just a cloverleaf interchange.
The modern business districts of Olaya (العليا, pron. Oleyah) and Suleimaniyah, containing most offices and better hotels, are to the north of Makkah Rd. Here Riyadh's two skyscrapers serve as handy orientation points: Faisaliah Tower (the pointy one) is towards the southern end of Olaya, while Kingdom Centre (the bottle opener) is at the northern end. Both are located between King Fahd Rd and the parallel thoroughfare of Olaya Rd, which is Riyadh's main upscale shopping strip.
The historical core of Riyadh is to the south of Makkah Rd. The district of al-Murabba hosts the sprawling grounds of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Park, home to the National Museum and the Murabba Palace, while a kilometer to the south is the dense warren of al-Bathaa, host to the city's cheapest food, lodging and shopping and the hub of the minibus network. Further south yet is Deira, centered on as-Sa'ah Square, which has souqs (traditional markets), the Masmak Fortress, the Governor's offices and, more morbidly, the execution grounds.
How is the Climate in Riyadh
Located in the middle of the country, Riyadh suffers from the worst of Saudi Arabia's climatic extremes. Summer temperatures regularly exceed 50°C, while winter temperatures can fall below zero. It's bone dry throughout the year, and when the wind blows the city is often covered in a haze of sand. However, while summers are blazing hot, they are not humid, which goes some way to alleviate the pain. Summer evenings are generally tolerable and one even encounters the occasional cool breeze, especially on the outskirts of town.
Beware that in the last few years, the climate has been shifting in this part of the world as well. Temperatures near 50°C are usually only reached end of July and in August. In 2009, the temperature in Riyadh hit 48°C mid-June. Especially if you wear a business suit, it is imperative to stay out of the sun.
Travel as a Muslim to Riyadh
Riyadh is a long way from anywhere, so odds are fairly high you'll be arriving by plane.
Buy a Flight ticket to and from Riyadh
- King Khaled Airport IATA Code: RUH A large, architecturally striking structure in white and desert brown, hypermodern when opened in 1983, it has aged reasonably well but remains a famously boring place to get stuck in: just a small and very cramped shop in Terminal 2 and a few cafes including chains such as Starbucks and Costa as well as local outlets. Sit near (or, preferably, in) the Al-Fursan lounges to mooch off their free Wi-Fi. There are three terminals in use, with Terminal 1 used by international carriers, Terminal 2 for Saudi Arabian Airlines international flights, and Terminal 3 for all domestic flights. The terminals are right next to each other and are connected at the arrivals level, so transfers involve lugging your stuff for a few hundred meters or, more sensibly, hiring a porter to do the job.
Aside from Saudia, direct connections from outside the Gulf and South Asia are surprisingly limited, but options include Lufthansa from Frankfurt, British Airways from London -Heathrow, Air France from Paris, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul -Atatürk and Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. The most internationally popular route, though, is via Dubai, from where there are at least half a dozen flights daily. Domestically, Riyadh is one of the main hubs and there are flights to every corner of the Kingdom, including near-hourly departures to Jeddah.
Unlike Jeddah, immigration and customs clearance at Riyadh is usually fairly straightforward (unless the computer system is down). Standing in the wrong line for immigration may work out fine for you, or you may be catapulted back to the end of a different line when you hit the front position (making all that waiting worthless). The row for "Exit/Entry Visas" is only for resident expats that have left the country temporarily, to visit family for example.
You'll probably be accosted by touts as you soon as you exit customs, but just ignore them and head to the taxi ranks outside or use taxi hailing apps like Uber and Careem (the Middle Eastern option). While the official taxis are supposed to use a zone-based flat fare system, with most of central Riyadh in the SR45 or 55 zones, the list of zones is available only in Arabic. A metered fare to the city should cost SR70-90, but more often than not the driver will just ask for a flat fare, which may even work out a little cheaper. If you've let yourself be scored by one of the private drivers (that are not only inside the terminal building but also outside), make sure the price you agreed on is truly agreed on, or your driver may tell you that he didn't agree to SR80 but rather 180, meaning you'll settle on 120. The better option is taking an official taxi! A good alternative - if offered - is to take a hotel limousine. These are often not much more expensive than the taxi trip, but mostly high-quality, comfortable cars rather than run-down, creaky old clunkers with worn-through seats.
The trip to the city takes about 30 minutes in good traffic. Don't be irritated if the taxi is stopped at a control point by police (at which time the driver will put on his seatbelt and his mobile onto handsfree, two actions that are usually reversed as soon as the control point is passed).
When checking in, one airport quirk bears noting: you have to pass your bags through an X-ray before checking in, and after getting your boarding pass, you have to go right through the same security gate in reverse to find immigration and departures. Don't go up the staircase — it's a dead end leading only to the viewing lounge.
Muslim Friendly Rail Holidays in Riyadh
Rail traffic to Riyadh is increasing, with the city being the center of a new high speed network that's under construction. The classic line runs from the coastal city of Dammam, near the border with Bahrain, via Al-Hofuf and Al-Hasa. There are five trains per day with a journey time of 3½ hours for the full length. Additionally, there is at least one train per day from Ha'il and Buraydah on the new North-South line, taking 2½ hours. In the future trains will run from Al-Qurrayat near the border with Jordan.
There are two stations: trains from Damman arrive at the older GPS 24.6504,46.7407 Riyadh railway station(محطة قطار الرياض) is located south of the city centre, along Omar Ibn Al Khattab Road. The brand-new Riyadh railway station SAR GPS 24.855831,46.762811 is along Ath Thumamah Road in the northern parts of the city. For both stations, it's recommended to show up at least 30 minutes early, as you'll need to pass through security before boarding.
Travel on a Bus in Riyadh
- Central Bus Terminal GPS 24.596569,46.747607 +966 1-2647858 is inconveniently located in the Aziziyah district some 17 km south of the city center; expect to pay at least SR30 for a taxi to get there. The national bus company SAPTCO runs daily buses from all cities within the Kingdom. Buses from Dammam take a tolerable 4½ hours, while it's a punishing 10-12 hour haul from Jeddah or Mecca. There are international routes from Amman (19 h), Dubai (14 h), Manama (10 h) and Kuwait City (14 h) among others as well.
The main East-West road through Riyadh is Highway 40 from Dammam and the causeway from Bahrain to Khobar with other road links mainly leading to the North of the Kingdom.
Most roads are tarmacked, albeit to varying levels of repair. Driving standards are slightly more sensible than those of the city centres, but caution is still needed. Some highways see heavy usage from lorries and petrol tankers, often in convoy.
How to get around in Riyadh
Riyadh is very much a car-oriented city, and public transportation in Riyadh is badly underdeveloped. There are no street addresses as such in Riyadh, as mail is delivered to post office boxes, so getting around requires knowing landmarks near the place where you want to go.
If you are travelling by your own car then it is wise to carry a GPS system or better yet use Google Maps as it seems to be the most updated of the navigation systems with the different points of interest. Plan your route before the start of the journey. Although many streets, roads and landmarks are marked in both Arabic & English yet there are few important major streets, roads and exits that are still marked in Arabic only.
It is important to carry your Valid Identification (i.e. Passport / National ID / Iqama) at all the times. You may experience difficulties obtaining accommodation and may experience bigger problems if you are stopped at any of the city's check points (these can be both permanent or temporary). Not being able to show valid identification when asked by the police may land you in jail. Therefore, it is also advisable to keep details of your sponsor on hand in case you require assistance while out and about.
Best way to travel in Riyadh by a Taxi
Most visitors rely on white taxis, which are abundant in the city centre but can be harder to find on the outskirts or at night. Recently ride hailing apps have been operating in Riyadh, most notably Uber and Careem. For taxis, drivers will usually use the meter without asking if you do not propose a fixed price, and with a starting fare of SR5 and the meter ticking up SR1.60/km after the first kilometer, most metered trips within the city cost under SR30. However, locals usually prefer to negotiate fares in advance, and this can often be cheaper than using the meter: short hops start at SR10, a longer journey might be SR15.
Single women are legally allowed to take registered public taxis, but many female visitors and expats choose not to, opting for transport provided by a hotel, their company or compound instead.
The level of English spoken varies from decent (esp. Indian and Pakistani drivers) to non-existent, so try to find out the name of your destination in Arabic before you head off. Solo male travelers are expected to hop into the front seat, next to the driver, while women must sit in the back.
Drivers are usually familiar with major local landmarks, but you're expected to know your way to your destination from there. Bring a map and the phone number of someone at your destination to call for directions.
Travel on a Bus in Riyadh
Flat-fare minibuses (SR3) rumble the streets of Riyadh, but these are mostly used by laborers. They are quite difficult for the casual visitor to use: there are no posted stops, and routes are usually written only in Arabic. Most routes converge on al-Bathaa, and the adventurous visitor can try his luck on route 9, which runs from al-Bathaa up Olaya Road.
The best option for traveling in Riyadh is your own car, ideally driven by somebody else used to the conditions, but many expats take the plunge and drive themselves. The traffic in Riyadh is, by Saudi standards, fairly sane: ubiquitous raised bumps on lane markers keep cars traveling more or less in a straight line, and radar-equipped cops on the major highways zap the craziest of speeders. Still, the local driving style can charitably be described as "aggressive", with swerving from the leftmost lane to the exit ramp on a four-lane highway being par for course, and central Riyadh jams up almost daily during rush hour.
Halal Friendly Walking Tours in Riyadh
The modern, northern half of Riyadh is very pedestrian-hostile, with 8-laned roads filled with speeding SUVs making crossing the road a dangerous exercise. Pedestrian bridges are very few and even at stoplights you need to keep an eye out for crazy drivers. Add in the fearsome summer heat, and it's little surprise that there aren't too many people walking about. In al-Bathaa, though, the situation is almost reversed: some of the alleys are too narrow or congested for cars, and walking is the only way of getting around.
But if you're the fearless type, walking along even the wider roads is a great way to see the city, as you'll be too distracted by constant near-misses while riding in a taxi. Stay in the shade, be careful along stretches without a pedestrian walkway (or one that is blocked off due to construction going on), and you'll be fine.
What to see in Riyadh
Sightseeing in Riyadh is a frustrating exercise in careful timing: not only are most sites closed on weekends (F-Sa) and during prayer hours, but visiting hours are segregated between men and families, though some flexibility might be provided for western nationals. The one saving grace is that many sites stay open until 9PM.
Museums and historical sights
- Masmak Fortress - قصر المصمك, Qasr al-Masmak | The heart of old Riyadh, this was the fortress stormed by King Abdul Aziz and his men in their daring reconquest of Riyadh in 1902. Renovated in 2008 to an inch of its life, the mud brick structure now looks like it was built yesterday, but the museum inside does a pretty good job of recounting the story of the raid and has some fascinating photos of old Riyadh as well. Alas, the second half is devoted to extolling the greatness of the Sauds in everything from agriculture to education.
- Murabba Palace - قصر المربع,Qasr al-Murabba | Riyadh's second old mud-brick palace, built by King Abdul Aziz after he conquered Masmak Fortress and figured he should built something harder to conquer. This two-story structure does indeed look pretty intimidating, but permits are no longer needed to venture inside, where you can find sights including the first royal Rolls-Royce.
- National Museum - Undoubtedly the top sight in Riyadh, this museum (opened in 1999) is done up with the latest technology and is very accessible to visitors, with almost everything available in English. There are so many video presentations and mini-theatres that you could probably spend an entire day here doing virtual tours of Madain Salih or watching re-enactments of the Prophet Mohammed's battle of Medina. Highlights include a kiswah cloth that once covered the Qaaba in Mecca. Half the time, though, it feels more like a exercise than a museum: the display on plate tectonics starts with a quote from the Quran, the history of the Sauds is rather airbrushed, and the display on the birth of Mohammed, reached from the clash and noise of the Jahiliyah (age of ignorance) by riding an escalator up into a room of soothing, pastel light while a choir of angels sings, has probably inspired a few conversions to Islam. Many cabbies will not recognize the English name, ask for the neighboring Murabba Palace (Qasr al-Murabba) instead.
- As-Sufaat - Deira Square | Next to the Great Mosque and the mutawwa headquarters, this nondescript expanse of cement is known by expats as Chop-Chop Square as convicts are publicly beheaded with a scimitar here. Executions take place on Friday mornings (but not every week), just after the noon prayers. Beware that any Westerners nearby have been known to be taken to the front row and forced to watch the whole thing, in order to further shame the condemned. It is forbidden to take photos of executions or to record videos of them.
- Kingdom Centre - المملكة Al-Mamlaka | Undoubtedly Riyadh's most stunning piece of modern architecture, at 305 m the Kingdom Centre is the second tallest building in Saudi Arabia and quite a sight, especially when lit up at night. The centre hosts an (expensive) three-story shopping mall, with one floor reserved for women, but the main reason to visit is the 99th-floor Skybridge connecting the two peaks at a height of 300 m. Best visited at dusk or after dark, from here you'll get great views over the vast and flat but well-lit expanse of the city.
A dry and sharply defined riverbed (wadi) begins about 40 km north of Riyadh and runs in a north-south direction for over 120 km, cutting through the western edge of the city, known as Wadi Hanifah. Wadi Hanifah was once the lifeblood of the Riyadh area, rich in groundwater, filled with palm groves and farms and dotted with a string of small towns and villages throughout history. In recent decades, the Wadi has been used as a large dumping ground for wastewater, sewage, and industrial waste, but a recent ambitious rehabilitation project has just been completed. An 80 km stretch running through western Riyadh is now essentially an 80-km desert park, though many parts of the Wadi floor are occupied by private estates and farms with high walls. The Wadi has several entry points, but perhaps the easiest route is by taking King Abdullah Road west past the university and into the town of Arqah. Eventually, you will reach a large round-about. Take the exit heading downwards into the Wadi. Follow the road even as it winds and weaves its way through the Wadi (do not be tempted to turn onto any side streets). Eventually, you will reach a police checkpoint, to the left of which is an entry point to the Wadi floor. A narrow paved road runs along the Wadi floor. Heading southwards, you will eventually find designated picnic and barbecue spots facing the Wadi's cliff-like walls.
While dry for most of the year, wadis can flood very quickly with a moderate amount of rain. Never approach a wadi during the rain or even its immediate aftermath. Even looking over the edge of a wadi can be dangerous as the Wadi's edges can break off during the rain. Every year, several deaths are reported from flash floods all across Saudi Arabia.
Located on a hill overlooking Wadi Hanifa, Al-Dir'iyyah, on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh, is the ancestral home of the Saudi royal family and served as the Saudi capital until 1818. The ruins of the old city are being restored and renovated and are thus closed for tourists, but the surrounding area can still be worth the visit in the meantime.
Best things to do in Riyadh
Although few Saudis play golf, there are surprisingly good golf courses around. The best one is the 18-holes course in Dirab Golf & Country Club a good 30 minutes drive west of Riyadh. Nice layout with green and inviting grass, and the last 9 holes are even floodlit. They offer tennis, swimming and horse-back riding as well. There's also a quite nice 9-holes short range course connected to the Hotel Intercontinental almost in the dead centre of the city. Nice but short - also floodlit. If you travel about 20 minutes to the north-east you will find a not so nice desert course with browns instead of greens (the putting area consist of sand/oil mixture instead of grass).
Head west down the Makkah Road for 30 minutes, and you'll reach the edge of the Tuwaig Escarpment. As you make the 200-m sharp drop from the Tuwaig escarpment to Najd-proper, you will get a good feel of the desert with dunes and buttresses.
Heading northeast of the airport to the Thumama sand dunes, one can engage in "dune bashing" in 4x4 SUVs or in rented ATVs.
Saudi Arabia is football-mad country, and big matches at the King Fahad Stadium can attract crowds of 50-70 thousand, creating an electric atmosphere. However, football stadiums are off limits to women.
Muslim Friendly Shopping in Riyadh
Riyadh's main roads are nothing but one shopping mall after another.
- Al Faisaliah | At the foot of the Al Faisaliah skyscraper, this is one of Riyadh's swankiest malls, anchored by a Harvey Nichols department store. The food court on the third floor is among the best in the Kingdom; the one in the basement, on the other hand, is deserted. There is a fun park in the basement near the entrance on Olaya road. Families only Wed-Fri.
- Al Mamlaka | One of the swankiest malls in the Kingdom, with the third floor Ladies Kingdom reserved exclusively for women. Good food court on the lower level and even a Planet Hollywood restaurant.
- Jarir Bookstore - Makatba Jarir | The two-level flagship store of Saudi Arabia's largest bookstore, most of the store is actually taken up by a wide range of computer gear, stationary, music and DVDs. The best English-language magazine and book selection in Saudi — which, alas, isn't saying all that much.
- Sahara Mall | Enormous mall on the northern side of the city. The mall has 180 shops anchored by a Tamimi supermarket and features what may be the largest food court in the city — and if you can't find what you want here, the adjacent Sahara Plaza annex has more.
- Localizer Mall | A great place to visit if you are in Tahlia. They have wide range of clothing store as well as fine dining restaurant such as Outback.
- Granada Mall, near the airport has a Carrefour, H&M and Sun & Sands shops
- Al Nakheel Mall
- Othaim Mall | A large mall with local and international brands, a food court and a couple of fine dining restaurants.
Traditional markets (souqs)
- Souq al-Thumairi - شارع الثميري | Also known as Antique Souq, this is Riyadh's most touristy souq, which isn't saying all that much. It specializes in Arabic goods affordable and expensive, authentic and fake, with carpets, coffee pots, daggers, jewelry and more. Most of it is made elsewhere, nothing is authentically Saudi. English is generally spoken, and haggling is obligatory.
Halal Restaurants in Riyadh
Eating out is one of the few pleasures of Riyadh — there's a pretty good selection of restaurants for various cuisines, ranging from affordable and hearty to fancy and expensive. Your best option for cheap, filling meals are Riyadh's countless small Pakistani/Indian restaurants, which can fill you up with curry and rice for about SR15.
Fast food places abound in Riyadh's shopping malls, with a full meal with drink averaging around SR20. If you want something other than the usual hamburgers and kebabs, Pizza Hut offers a pretty good salad buffet.
- Al Fawar | Cheap and cheerful Lebanese eatery offering tasty shwarma, kebabs, dips and more.
- Al-Malaz Restaurant | No-frills, somewhat fly-blown South Indian eatery that's always packed thanks to tasty food, low prices and generous portions. At lunchtime, you can get four curries (meat or veg), pickles, fresh veggies, rice, chapattis, pappadums, dessert and tea, all with infinite refills, for the scarcely credible price of SR6.
- Mama Noura Juice Center | Immensely popular chain which does excellent thick, fresh juice cocktails as well, but the main draw here is the famous shwarma, arguably Riyadh's best. They're minuscule in size but affordable at SR4 a pop, so most people order at least three! The menu (available in English) also covers freshly baked pastries, Halal kebabs and some Lebanese treats. Place your order and pay first, then queue at the counters. You can eat in at the diner-style high counters among towering piles of fruit, but most opt for take-away.
- Paragon Family Restaurant - Providing traditional Malabar cuisine, North-Indian and Chinese. Paragon specials are biriyani, kudukka biriyani (served in a pot) and traditional style fish items.
- Shayah - A chain of Iranian restaurants available at several locations in the city. They offer a good range of Halal kebabs and a better range of mezze like tabbouleh, hummus, eggplant, vine leaves etc.
- Ya Mal Asham | All the ambience of a giant school cafeteria, but there's a great selection of Arabic food from shwarma to soups, grills, stews and desserts and the "take a tray and point" style of ordering makes it easy to choose (although they do have an English menu as well).
- Cafe Amore | Probably the best, slickest and most professionally-run Italian restaurant in Riyadh.
- Najd Village | Probably the restaurant with the nicest decor in Riyadh, traditional saudi food, you will be sitting on the floor.
- Abdulwahab | Modeled after a restaurant in Beirut of the same name, this restaurant has quickly become one of the most popular and reputable Lebanese restaurants in town.
- Burj Al-Hamaam | One of the older Lebanese restaurants in town, this sparsely-decorated restaurant has had an enduring reputation. It is especially known for its "Sayyadiyya" and its "Kibbe in pomegranate sauce."
- Tokyo | This is an oldest Japanese restaurant in town (dating from the 1980s). It is said to be run by Japanese and to serve excellent Sushi. Closed on Fridays.
- Assaraya | This very popular Turkish Halal restaurant is packed during the evening hours. Meat is the name of the game here, and it comes in numerous tasty variations. The bread is superb!
- Chilis | Quite good rendition of TexMex with a typical American look-and-feel. If you're from the Northeast of the US, the Buffalo Wings / Tenders are recommended - excellent hotsauce.
- Korean Palace | Korean-run eatery offering reasonably authentic Korean, Japanese, and Chinese food at reasonable prices. Popular with the local Asian community.
- Mirage Restaurant | Taiwanese-Saudi run Chinese restaurant offering a variety of foods from throughout Asia, stick to the Taiwanese or Chinese menu items. The pigeon is a great appetizer as an alternative to the deep fried appetizer menu. The restaurant is accepting of business mixed gender groups. Ask for a table on top of the illuminated fish tanks in the center of the restaurant. Getting there can be difficult as it is in a side strip mall, look for the pagoda top and the neon Chinese gate.
- Duo | Chain Italian restaurant that caters to families. The selection is decent, but quality is lacking. If you go, try the Spaghetti Curry dish - fried chicken, peas, pineapple curry pasta - sounds weird, but tastes good. If going as a bachelor group (all males), the room is off to the side with limited service.
- Steak House | Basic chain steak house - think Ponderosa - with a decent selection of steaks and other meat products. One of many locations throughout Riyadh.
- Teatro | Teatro is an amazing find in the small area between Olaya and Kind Fahad Road. The bachelor side (the only side visited this trip) looks like a very odd dance club. The "VIP room" and were not told has an extra SR 30 charge per person. The area is a mix of 1960s mood lighting, lava lamps, odd souvenirs, and a hunter's room with hunted animals every where. Add in Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (a bit of irony for the Kingdom) and a few huge screen TVs - the place is a den for sports fans in Riyadh. Wednesday were told the place sells out on football nights. The food is international in style and average. The food is average, but the decor and oddity of finding a place like this in Riyadh will entice a return visit during a football match. There is a family side that looks just as interesting.
- Avadh | Avadh is a traditional north Indian restaurant on the Tahlia strip (western style shops/restaurants). The family section is quite nice. The food is traditional, authentic, and expensive in comparison to other Indian restaurants. The naan and roti are fresh. The lamb "dum style" was the best dish of those ordered.
- Taste Of India - Indian (north and south) food at reasonable rates. The settings are nice and clean, dishes range from delicious biryanis and tandoors to south Indian rice specialties.
- Mondo | Probably the most expensive and highest quality restaurant in Riyadh, with varied, international cuisine.
- Al-Nakheel | Dubbed no less than the best restaurant in Saudi by a certain well-known travel guide, one can only presume that either standards in Riyadh have skyrocketed or this place has gone into terminal decline. With decor unchanged since the 1970s and an uninspired buffet (no a la carte menu) of the usual Arabic standbys, the only visitors seem to be tour groups and hotel guests -- the locals know you can get better stuff for a fraction of the price elsewhere.
- Sheraton Riyadh offers a very rich buffet for breakfast, covering a wide spectrum of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies, as well as regular European food. The Italian restaurant in the ground floor of Sheraton Riyadh is excellent. The pasta with its freshly prepared sauce is recommended.
- Spazio: located at the top floor of Kingdom Center, this restaurant is nominally Italian but in fact serves a varied international cuisine. Despite the view and cost, the food is not especially impressive.
- Fairuz Garden: Excellent Lebanese restaurant with outdoor seating. Driving north on King Fahd road, just a few blocks from Kingdom Tower, you will see it on your right. The setting is lovely and food is delicious.
Muslim Friendly Hotels in Riyadh
Most of Riyadh's good accommodation is in al-Batha. It is advised that you should check the room condition and proper functioning of all equipment (e.g. TAP/FLUSH/TV/Power Outlets etc.) in budget hotel prior to check in.
- Al Jazeera Hotel, Al Bathaa Street, +966 1 2863863. Good value hotel on main street, offering singles/doubles from SR60/120. Behind this hotel there is multistory building (Nesto Hypermarket) for shopping and car parking SR5/24 hr. (Pay parking fee in advance & get receipt for desired number of days otherwise there may be fine of SR50. Keep the parking fee receipt safe until last day as you need to show it every time you exit from parking. You can enter and exit parking as many times you wish within the validity of receipt).
- Al Batraa, Al-Dai'ri Ring Road, +966 1 248 4310. Furnished, clean apartments in the Al-Quds district.
- Almuthana | Modern, stylish hotel offering four-star quality at reasonable price compared to its branded equivalents, but service is rather inept. Free (but not tremendously fast) wireless internet, small indoor pool and limited gym (open only in the evening). Cafe on mezzanine for buffet breakfast is relaxed, 8th floor restaurant dinner buffet expensive at SR120 but tasty.
- White Palace - Al-Qasr Al-Abiyad | Pleasant hotel in the Al-Dubat district, with character and a total of 135 rooms, all furnished with a TV and ensuite bathrooms. Singles/doubles SR160/200.
- Swiss Spirit Hotel & Suites Metropolitan - 80 spacious rooms & suites with high-end finishing, all-day dining restaurant. Complimentary High Speed Wi-Fi.
At the upper end, hotel prices in Riyadh have increased rapidly in the past few years and are now almost as expensive as Dubai. Expect to pay north of SR600.
- Al Faisaliah Hotel, A Rosewood Hotel - Luxury hotel offering facilities for meetings, conferences, weddings and events. Also provides accommodations, restaurants and vacation packages for tourists as well as business travelers.
- Al Khozama | Once among Riyadh's top hotels, but now getting a bit long in the tooth. Somewhat cramped but clean rooms. The location right next to al-Faisaliah is excellent though. The pool right by the hotel is outdoor only and not as clean as you'd hope for, but hotel guests can use the fitness center in the next building (Khozama Center, 1st floor) which offers a superb gym, a large indoor pool, tennis and bowling. Free internet in the business rooms (5th floor).
- Ascott Rafal Olaya Riyadh - Equipped with studio apartments, one and two bedroom apartments. This property offers complimentary shower amenities and on-site gymnasium.
- Four Seasons Riyadh | It doesn't get any cooler than staying in the 302-meter Kingdom Tower itself, and the Four Seasons features what you expect from a luxury hotel.
- Holiday Inn Al-Qasr | Formerly the Howard Johnson Olaya Palace, but thoroughly renovated and reopened in 2007. Modern design, decent rooms, central location, basic gym. Internet SR100/day, breakfast buffet SR105.
- Intercontinental Hotel | Popular hotel for visiting businessmen. Large meeting facilities, good restaurants, close to Olaya Road business district.
- Luthan Spa and Hotel | The first and only women-only hotel in Saudi. Most visitors are locals coming here for the spa, but there are also 25 rooms for overnight visitors.
- Marriott Riyadh | In desperate need of a facelift and awkwardly located to the east of the city core. About the best that can be said is that it's clean and quiet. Once you're in the room, you can easily imagine you're in any Marriott in the US, even the bathrooms look identical. Superb, large-size indoor swimming pool and excellent fitness room (included in room charge).
- Radisson Blu Riyadh | Very comfortable modern hotel with a Scandinavian touch. Nice gym with two saunas and pools, free Internet and a rather good breakfast. Has four in-house restaurants including a Japanese and an Italian one.
- Sheraton Hotel | Older but well-maintained property about 3 km north of the city center, handy for both the airport and doing business. Good restaurants, but virtually nothing within walking distance.
- Swiss International Royal Hotel - 4-Star hotel, consisting of 60 rooms & suites, a health club, spa, 4 meeting rooms & an all-day dining restaurant.
Telecommunications in Riyadh
Internet cafes can be found in the computer souq in Olaya. Riyadh is also pushing forward with its "Smart City" program, which will attempt to provide wireless access throughout the city in the major coffeeshops and hotels, particularly on Tahlia St in the downtown area.
Stay safe as a Muslim in Riyadh
Although Riyadh is sometimes alleged to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, standard precautions should be taken. The most significant danger to you is driving. Most drivers originate from areas in developing countries and the Middle East which lack traffic laws, driving schools, or even roads for that matter. It's a 'driving culture' where seat belts, mirrors, lane stripes, turn signals and speed limits are ignored. A four-lane highway can easily transform into a seven-lane 'racetrack'. Don't be shy with your horn.
Riyadh can be a challenging destination to live and work in. Some tips for easier adaptation:
- Arrange a car and driver, or at least arrange a regular cabbie. This is easier, safer and quite possibly cheaper than relying on taxis for transport.
Explore more Halal Friendly Destinations from Riyadh
If your budget stretches to flights, Saudi Arabia is your oyster, with the entire country within a 1.5-hour radius of Riyadh.
- Jeddah — the largest port on the Red Sea and the gateway to Mecca and Medina, but with good scuba diving too
- Bahrain — if you have a car, the 4-hour drive through the desert to the comparatively liberal state of Bahrain is not too bad
- Dubai — The new luxurious party city of the Middle East. If you have a car, it will be a 7-hour drive east through the desert. For affordable flights, approximately 1.5 hours, take a low-cost airline into Sharjah.
If you are willing to spend a bit more, there are great cultural and nightlife locations within a 3-hour flight (and usd 300) radius.
- Beirut — Saudi Arabian Airlines & Middle Eastern Airlines provide excellent connections multiple times a day. If you are for drinking on a plane, MEA will be your choice, as Saudia does not serve alcohol on any of its flights.
- Muscat — This Arabian treasure provides an excellent home base for exploring Oman and its natural and cultural heritage with great opportunities for experienced and novice scuba divers alike.
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