The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, is the next city you should definitely add to your list of must-visit places in the Middle East.
Located in the centre of the An-Nafud desert, Riyadh is the largest and most populous city of roughly 8 million people in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Since the opening of tourism in KSA, it has become the natural starting point for many visitors to the Kingdom and should certainly not be overlooked.
Know Before You Go – Tips for Visting Riyadh
As tourism is still so new to the country, there is limited information online still how to prepare for your trip to Riyadh, particularly when travelling with children.
Our contributing writer, Zeyna helps us with these handy tips for preparing your and your family and navigating your way around Riyadh.
When to Visit Riyadh
With a typically hot desert climate, it is best to visit Riyadh in the winter months (October to April) with lows of 15°C as opposed to the long summer months (May to September) with highs of 50°C and the danger of dust storms, which can render visibility to under 10 metres.
It is also best to time your visit in line with the many festivals that take place in Riyadh during the cooler months, such as Jenadriyah and Riyadh Season, where a showcase of cultural and traditional events along with a wide range of sports, musical, theatrical, fashion shows, circus and other such entertainment activities take place.
How to get around in Riyadh with Kids?
Riyadh is not a walking or stroller-friendly city, and with a major modern highway system, you can expect traffic delays during peak times.
We would recommend international visitors travel by taxi and, more so, use the regional Uber and Careem, which give you the best value for money when it comes to transportation around the city.
Most drivers are local Arabic speaking with limited English, so it helps that the app pinpoints exact pickup and drop-off points.
Riyadh Metro is currently under construction, and with 85 stations spanning six metro lines across 176 kilometres, it will be a great way for tourists to travel when it opens to the public in 2023.
Another option is to take a full day guided tour, which will include your transport and guide to famous places such as Kingdom Tower, the National Museum, the Dirah Souq and Masmak Fort (more on all of these below!)
What to wear in Riyadh?
It is no secret that Riyadh is conservative, and being the capital of an Islamic country, many rules and regulations that govern this city follow the religion of Islam.
However, Riyadh has come a long way, and although the majority of Saudi women prefer to wear the traditional long black gown called the Abaya, along with a Hijab (head covering) and Niqaab (face covering), foreigners are exempt from wearing these, and it is completely optional.
The only thing to keep in mind is that women must dress modestly, covering their knees and shoulders at all times. Although Abayas and head scarves are optional, women must wear them when entering mosques to show respect towards the Muslim culture.
Abayas are also handy to throw on top of your normal choice of clothes and can be quite the fashion statement in itself, with so many designs and colours to choose from.
Foreign men are exempt from wearing the traditional Arabic Thobe but are required to dress modestly, covering shoulders and legs at all times, with no indecent graphics print. No rules apply to children’s dress code, but best to apply the same rules regarding modesty.
Etiquette during Prayer Timings in Riyadh.
It is recommended to have a general idea of when the prayer timings are when visiting Riyadh, as there are five daily prayers that Muslims pray. You will be able to hear the Adhan (call to prayer) prior to the prayer itself in malls or where mosques are nearby, so it is advisable not to be too loud during these times and be respectful.
It is no longer compulsory for all shops to close during prayer, though many shops and restaurants still close for short intervals to allow shop owners and staff members to pray. Knowing the times will help you plan better, especially when it comes to meal times with kids, to avoid disappointment and tantrums due to hunger.
Best places to stay in Riyadh with Kids
For families visiting, we would recommend staying in the Olaya District, as it is the commercial heart of Riyadh with a huge range of accommodation, shopping, dining and entertainment options.
The Kingdom Centre, Al Faisalyah Tower and Al Tahlya Streets are the most prominent landmarks in this district.
Al Bathaa and Al Deerah are the oldest parts but also the centre of the city and may offer more budget-friendly staying options but are roughly 30 minutes drive away from the Olaya district, where most attractions are located.
Some popular kid-friendly hotels in the prime location include:
- Holiday Inn Riyadh Al Qasr
- Hyatt Regency Riyadh Olaya
- Courtyard by Marriot Riyadh Olaya
- Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh
- Novotel Suites Riyadh Dyar
See the map below for more accommodation options in Riyadh, along with the latest online booking platform deals:
Best Place to visit in Riyadh with Kids
There are a huge number of family-friendly attractions Riyadh has to offer. Below is a handful to be added to your list to visit.
Kingdom Tower – Sky Bridge
Offering city views from the 99th floor of Kingdom Tower, it is best to visit half an hour before sunset to get both day and night views of the city, as both are not to be missed. Tickets to the Sky Bridge for adults cost SR 69, and for children, are SR 23 and can only be purchased at the time of visit, not before.
Although there is one Italian fine dining restaurant located at the top, it is best to bring some snacks and water for the kids if you plan to stay long at the observatory. With views extending as far as the eye can see, it is a great photo opportunity in Riyadh, so be sure to visit on a clear day for the city’s top tourist attraction.
Once you have enjoyed the splendid views, you can enjoy a spot of shopping on the ground level of Kingdom Tower and grab a bite to eat in the Food Court before heading out.
National Museum KSA
With eight huge halls to explore, children and adults alike will love to learn interesting facts and explore relics about the Arabian Kingdoms as well as Islam. From a large meteorite fragment to a handwritten Quran, you will be easily mesmerised for a couple of hours.
As lovely as the museum galleries are, the museum grounds are an attraction in itself, with stepping stones for kids to jump over, fountains and grass for little ones to roll around in.
Al Faisaliah Tower
The first skyscraper to have been built in Saudi Arabia, this 267 metres high commercial tower is a prominent landmark in Riyadh. Famous for the enormous glass globe at the top of the tower, Al Faisaliah Tower includes residences and a viewing platform, with the Sky shopping mall in al Faisaliyah Center.
The paid observatory allows tourists to adore the Riyadh skyline and is open from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.
You can even enjoy fine dining in The Globe Restaurant – though you may want to grab a babysitter for this one to enjoy it properly!
Souk al Zel
As glamourous as it is to see the glitzy side of Riyadh, we recommend you also explore the souks in Bat’ha district, where you can haggle to your heart’s desire and feast your eyes on a multitude of traditional goods from Oud, thobes (traditional Arabic dress), fabrics, perfumes and more.
It is shopping heaven, and you will find many knick knacks for gifting special ones back home. Other traditional souks you can visit too are Deerah Souq and Souq Al Thumairi.
Royal Saudi Airforce Museum (Saqr al Jazeera Aviation Museum)
Aviation fans, this one is for you! Kids will absolutely love exploring all the different aircraft and fighter jets, both life-sized and model sized. There’s also a chance to learn about the history and admire the veterans of the Royal Saudi Airforce. This is one of the best tourist places in Riyadh.
King Fahad National Library
A great place to visit, not only is King Fahad National Library an architectural marvel, but the library also welcomes visitors all days of the week to enjoy a peaceful library environment with more than 2.4 million books. The library’s garden allows children to roam free whilst parents can enjoy a treat at the cafes.
Day Trips From Riyadh
Some of Riyadh’s most fascinating stops are just a day trip away. With the increasing prominence of tourism in KSA, arranging day tours to these locations is becoming easier.
Edge of the World & Wadis
For those wishing to explore the great outdoors, just outside of Riyadh are a few natural locations that are great to visit in the winter months. You will be left amazed at the awe-inspiring views of the mountains at Edge of the World and the desert oasis at one of the many Wadis that surround Riyadh, such as Wadi Hanifa.
Al Masmak Fortress
For a peek into the history of Riyadh, head down to this vast clay and mud-brick fort located in Ad-Diriyah (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Visitors can explore this fort that has now been turned into a museum, showcasing one of the most important landmarks of Saudi heritage.
Be sure to check the opening days and times before you visit to avoid disappointment.
Best Shopping and Malls in Riyadh
Riyadh is not short of malls, especially for the sanctuary they are during the hot summer months, and each has its own unique ambience. Here you will find all the shops under the sun, from high street to luxury, and restaurant or food kiosks suitable for all budgets.
Our favourite picks are the Riyadh Gallery Mall which features an indoor oasis, and Riyadh Park Mall, where kids can also enjoy a game of bowling.
One specific mall that deserves a shout-out of its own is Abaya Mall. If you are on the hunt for the perfect Abaya to drape over yourself, this is the place you will find it. With shops exclusively selling Abayas, head and face coverings, here you are spoilt for choice when it comes to fabrics, colours and designs.
The best part is that if there is something you dislike about your chosen Abaya that can be fixed, you can have it altered in about 10-20 minutes thanks to the in-house tailor at no additional cost.
The Boulevard Riyadh
This is your very own Times Square in Riyadh, with huge lit-up screens and mini streets lined with shops and restaurants. Opening in the afternoon at 4:00 pm, entry is free, and you will find plenty of ways to entertain the kids here.
Aside from shopping and food, there are various zones with themed attractions such as arcades, bowling, games, rides and even the Crystal Maze experience. There is something for all ages at The Boulevard Riyadh that will surely not disappoint.
How long do you need in Riyadh with kids?
We recommend three to four days to fully explore Riyadh, experiencing both the old and new parts of the city and the nearby desert.
We hope this gives you a comprehensive look at what to expect when visiting Riyadh and how best to do so with children. Riyadh is an extraordinary city with so much history and just as much innovation which is breaking ceilings. You must visit this beautiful city to see it for yourself.
More Inspiration For Visiting Saudi Arabia
We hope you’ve found this guide to visiting Riyadh with family helpful in planning your KSA trip. Wherever you visit, you’ll be sure to find that a fascinating cultural experience awaits.
You may also find useful in planning a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:
- Complete guide to visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with kids
- These are the 10 most beautiful places to visit in Saudi Arabia
- Perfect places to visit in Jeddah and the Red Sea Coast
- The new Saudi Tourist Visa and what to expect in Saudi Arabia now and in the future
- What to wear when visiting Saudi Arabia; Dress code advice for women, men & children
- The best time to visit Saudi Arabia
- How to perform Umrah when travelling with children
- Family travel safety advice for visiting the Middle East
Don’t forget to sign up for our Family Travel Middle East Facebook Group. Many of our members live in KSA and can help you with more personal guidance on the country.
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