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The centre of Riyadh and the birthplace of the state of Saudi Arabia is the area of Al-Bathaa, in which visitors will find fascinating traces of the old city. At its heart lies Al-Musmak Fortress, a stunning example of desert architecture, whilst surrounding it is the King Abdul Aziz Historical centre and the souks that give a taste of the ambiance of yesteryear. If you’re thirsting for more cultural sites then head to the Al-Dira area which is home to many traditional buildings such as the Royal Palace. On the outskirts of the city is the ancient town of Ad’Diriyah. In complete contrast, the neighbourhood of Olaya is home to gleaming skyscrapers. This is where you will find the bulk of Riyadh’s high-end hotels, restaurants and shopping malls, chief among them being the Kingdom centre and the Al Faisaliah tower which stand like sentinels guarding the city. Note that the city is run on a strict Islamic moral and cultural code and dress should be conservative at all times.
In the beautiful old town you can discover hidden treasures of days gone by and admire traditional as well as modern architecture. Head to Al-Musmak Castle to learn more about Riyadh's history or enjoy a day of shopping in the Granada Center. Note that women can have restricted access to certain attractions and sites.
Dining out is one of the favourite pastimes in Riyadh. The typical Saudi diet consists of a range of pulses such as rice, bulgur wheat, lentils or chickpeas (hummus) served with grilled/barbecued meats such as lamb or chicken and the obligatory pita bread. Note that the restaurants in Riyadh are segregated. However there are family facilities where married couples can dine together.
While in Riyadh, be sure to try the most famous Saudi dish, Al-Kabsa, which is rice and meat cooked with an array of spices, whilst saving enough room for a slice of kunafa and a strong cup of Arabica coffee.
The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative. Religious law forbids the sale or consumption of alcohol throughout Saudi Arabia, so there are no bars or nightclubs. Instead evening social activities are centred on shopping or dining out in one of the city’s many restaurants or cafés whilst indulging in a delicious mocktail (a mix of fresh fruit juices) or strong Arabic coffee.
Shopping is the number one pastime in Riyadh. Be it brand names or handmade, markets or malls, whatever you’re looking for the traders of Riyadh will satisfy your desires. So if you’re after the latest in tax-free designer lingerie or if your tastes are more inclined towards the traditional abaya, then grab your wallet, put on a pair of comfortable shoes and hit the streets of Riyadh. With over 60 shopping malls you could quite easily spend your entire holiday drifting from one mall to the next and still not negotiate them all.
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