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CityTips Guide to Riyadh

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A city that rose from the fiery sands of the Arabian Peninsula, Riyadh is one of the richest oil-producing metropoles in the world today. Date palms, ancient ruins, and patriarchal tradition are still as much a part of its culture as are its oil wells.

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Local Overview

Once a small walled city, Riyadh has developed into a dynamic metropolis over the years. The first major changes began during the oil boom of the 1950s, when older structures were demolished to make way for commercial development. Today, it is one of the fastest growing and most prosperous cities in the world.

The capital and largest city of the Kingdom, Riyadh is divided into 17 municipalities. Each contributes in its own way to the vibrant character of the city, which has experienced a fairly unique history and colorful past. In 1991, it was slightly damaged by Iraqi missile attacks during the Persian Gulf War but returned to normalcy soon after. The city has grown both culturally and commercially over the years. Along with the urban areas of Dhahran, Dammam, and Al-Khobar, Riyadh has become a focal point for both travel and trade. On the outskirts of the city lies the ancient town of AI-Dih'yah.

The most striking aspect of Riyadh is its architecture, which is a vibrant juxtaposition of the old and the new - contemporary high-rise towers shadow over buildings exuding old world charm. In addition to being the epicenter of power, the city is also a commercial hub. Numerous educational, financial, agricultural, cultural, technical and social organizations have set up base here.


The bustling Olaya District is the heart and soul of this city. This commercial and residential district offers accommodation, entertainment, dining and shopping options that will cater to the budget of a prince as well as a pauper. The Kingdom Centre and the Al Faisaliyah Center are the area's landmarks while the Sheraton, Howard Johnson Plaza, Al-Tamimi Shopping Centre and Haif Shopping Centre are also popular nearby destinations.

Numerous shops, lively markets, world-cuisine restaurants and huge malls keep both Salahuddin District and Street King Fahad packed with tourists. The many hotels in the area, which include the four-star Al Mutlaq Hotel offer convenient accommodation to those wishing to explore the city. Other attractions include the Fal Commercial, Recreational Center Mall and the Al-Shula Entertainment Centre.


The center of the city, Al-Bathaa, is also its oldest part. At its heart lies the beautiful 19th-century Masmak Castle, which is one of the city's major attractions. To the west lies the Riyadh Museum of History and Archeology.

The Qasr Al-Hukm or the Justice Palace is located in the district of the same name. It is here that the Governor meets citizens, listens to their grievances and learns about problems and issues affecting the region. Its architecture, like other buildings in the area, is a fine mixture of traditional and contemporary styles.

Diplomatic Quarter

The Diplomatic Quarter or DQ as it is popularly known, is home to foreign embassies, international organizations as well as residences and malls. With lush gardens and numerous sports facilities, it is also one of the city's greenest areas. It is especially known for its fine architecture, and is considered a model for other Islamic cities around the world.

While the Al Khobar District is a preferred residential area for expatriates, the Al-Dira area is rich with commercial markets and traditional buildings, which include the famous Royal Palace and Al-Mue'qila building.

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