What Do You Do for Fun in Saudi Arabia?
Picture this. You find yourself in a country where there is no alcohol allowed, it’s too hot to be outside, there’s no place to dance, basic PDA can get you in trouble, and you have to dress very modestly. What are you supposed to do for fun?
As Americans who spent two months in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, we can tell you that it wasn’t as boring as it sounds. Yes, there are a lot of rules that the western world doesn’t have, but that means that you have to get more creative with how you spend your free time.
Eat. Well, in short, we ate a LOT of amazing food. We actually weren’t prepared for the wave of western chains we’d see lining the streets (think Red Lobster, Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden, etc.). We tried hard to avoid the restaurants we knew from home. Here are a few of our favorite spots in Riyadh:
Nozomi - Saudis loooove their sushi, and this spot was one of the first to play music inside
Lusin - upscale Armenian located in—you guessed it!—a high-end mall
Mama Noura’s - falafel and fresh juice — perfect for a quick bite
The Globe - afternoon tea (and no abayas required!)
The Ritz Carleton - brunch heaven
Toki - super lux Japanese with the best mocktails in Riyadh
Section-B - best burgers (and veggie burgers!) in town. Get the fried okra.
SALT outside of Riyadh Park - cool outdoor hangout spot with burgers and shakes
Farzi Cafe - Indian fusion with a rooftop patio
Nadj Village - traditional Saudi dinner where you sit on the floor and eat with your hands if you like. Sometimes you'll even have a special guest dine with you (hint: it’s a hawk!)
Smoke. Everyone smokes a LOT of shisha, although women aren’t allowed in most of the traditional shisha bars. We went to a nice one in the Diplomatic Quarter where women are welcome though (and you don’t have to wear an abaya there!).
Sports. We attended a soccer game — women have only been allowed to join in the past couple of years, and there is a separate seating area for families that fills up fast because seats aren’t assigned and they oversell tickets. If there isn’t a game happening locally, you can catch one on TV at one of the shisha bars.
Shop. There are a variety of malls to choose from — take your pick! Just be aware of prayer time because you will have to wait around for 30-45 minutes for everything to open back up. The malls are the #1 hotspot for all ages on a Friday night, and one of them just opened up the first cinema in town.
Explore. The best thing you can possibly do is get yourself out to the Edge of the World. We rented a car and followed Google Maps through sand dunes and camel herds and reached it just fine in less than 2 hours. You will want to pack a spare tire just in case, though!
Another option, weather permitting, is to go desert ‘camping’ — which basically just means hanging out in a tent drinking tea and smoking shisha. Most locals either have a camp setup or know someone who does.
Learn. There are some wonderful museums in Riyadh that you can spend hours in. We really enjoyed the newly opened Red Palace, Murabba Palace, and the National Museum of Saudi Arabia.
We experienced a lot during our time in Saudi Arabia, and consider ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to explore a culture so foreign to us.