Welcome to Riyadh, the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. Known as ‘The Gardens’, Riyadh is situated in the center of the an-Nafud desert, on the eastern part of the Najd plateau. The city sits at an average of 600 meters (2,000 ft) above sea level, and receives around 5 million tourists each year, making it the forty-ninth most visited city in the world and the 6th in the Middle East. Riyadh had a population of 7.6 million people in 2019, making it the most-populous city in Saudi Arabia, 3rd most populous in the Middle East, and 38th most populous in Asia.
Riyadh has a rich history dating back to the Pre-Islamic era, when the city at the site of modern Riyadh was called Hajr and was reportedly founded by the tribe of Banu Hanifa. Hajr served as the capital of the province of Al-Yamamah, whose governors were responsible for most of central and eastern Arabia during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. Al-Yamamah broke away from the Abbasid Empire in 866 and the area fell under the rule of the Ukhaydhirites, who moved the capital from Hajr to nearby Al-Kharj. The city then went into a long period of decline.
In the 18th century, Deham Ibn Dawwas, who was from the neighboring Manfuha, settled in and took control of the city. Deham built a wall around the city, and the best-known source of the name Riyadh is from this period, thought to be referring to the earlier oasis towns that predated the wall built by Ibn Dawwas. In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed an alliance with the Emir of Diriyah, Muhammad bin Saud, and they took Riyadh from Deham. However, their state, now known as the First Saudi State, came to a collapse in 1818. Turki ibn Abdullah founded the Second Saudi State in the early 19th century and made Riyadh his capital in 1825. However, his reign over the city was disrupted by a joint Ottoman–Rashidi alliance. Finally, in the early 20th century, Abdulaziz ibn Saud, known in the west simply as Ibn Saud, retrieved his ancestral kingdom of Najd in 1902 and consolidated his rule by 1926 with the final Saudi conquest of Hejaz, subsequently naming his kingdom Saudi Arabia in September 1932 with Riyadh as the capital.
Today, Riyadh is the political and administrative center of Saudi Arabia. The Consultative Assembly (also known as the Shura or Shura Council), the Council of Ministers, the King and the Supreme Judicial Council are all situated in the city. Alongside these four bodies that form the core of the legal system of Saudi Arabia, the headquarters of other major and minor governmental bodies are also located in Riyadh. The city hosts 114 foreign embassies, most of which are located in the Diplomatic Quarter in the western reaches of the city. Riyadh also holds great economic significance, as it hosts the headquarters of many banks and major companies, such as the Saudi National Bank (SNB), Al-Rajhi Bank, SABIC, Almarai, STC, and Samba Financial Group. Highway 65, known locally as the King Fahd Road, runs through some of these important centers in the city, including the King Abdullah Financial District, one of the world’s largest financial districts, the Faisaliyah Center and the Kingdom Center.
Riyadh is a city of contrasts, where modern skyscrapers stand alongside ancient fortresses and traditional souks. Visitors can explore the city’s rich history at the Al-Masmak fort, which dates back to the early 19th century and played a key role in the formation of the modern Saudi state. The fort has been converted into a museum, where visitors can learn about the history of the city and the country. Another must-visit attraction is the Kingdom Centre, a 99-story skyscraper that is one of the tallest buildings in the world. The building features a shopping mall, a luxury hotel, and an observation deck that offers stunning views of the city.
For those interested in culture and the arts, Riyadh has a thriving arts scene, with numerous galleries and museums showcasing the work of local and international artists. The National Museum of Saudi Arabia is a must-visit, with exhibits covering the history and culture of the country from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum also features a stunning collection of Islamic art and artifacts.
Riyadh is also a food lover’s paradise, with a wide range of restaurants serving traditional Saudi cuisine as well as international dishes. Visitors can sample local specialties such as kabsa, a rice dish served with meat or chicken,