The World Travel & Tourism Council will this week convene in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, for the annual Global Summit.
The event is the most influential showcase on the calendar, and this year industry leaders gather with key government representatives to continue aligning efforts to support the recovery and move beyond to a safer, more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future.
As Saudi Arabia itself continues to develop its offering, Breaking Travel News is publishing a series of features on the destination in honour of the event.
Today we explore Saudi capital Riyadh – which blends medieval and millennial to make a beguiling cultural union.
Here, Arabia’s first roots can be traced, and its bold future can be envisioned.
The city’s fascinating, centuries-old history can be found within its atmospheric souqs, compelling museums, and ancient architecture, but it’s also a modern metropolis, with glittering high-rises and a burgeoning contemporary art scene.
The winter months are an ideal time to visit Riyadh.
Although average high temperatures in the summer can reach 44C, the top temps in December and January are in the low 20s.
So, what to see while you are in town?
Built in 1865 and superbly preserved, Al Masmak Fortress is a vast clay and mud-brick citadel that’s a favourite among tourists wanting to step back in time and explore Saudi’s roots.
In 1902, King Abdulaziz captured the fortress and took control of Riyadh (his ancestral home) after having lived in Kuwait.
From this fortress, Abdulaziz Al Saud conquered and united the different kingdoms and provinces that make up the Saudi nation as we know it today.
Another must-visit location is the Saudi National Museum, which has more than 3,700 antiquities on display, documenting the grand history of Arabia over millennia.
From ancient labyrinthine souqs to luxury malls and quirky boutiques, Riyadh sets the standard for a destination shopping city.
The city’s most famous market is the Souq Al Zal, which remains as noisy and vibrant as when it first emerged in 1901.
Everything from gold coins to quirky handicrafts and dusty antiques can be found here, including traditional Saudi items such as dallah coffee pots and mabkhara incense burners.
For more modern shopping venues, choose from Riyadh Park Mall, with an IMAX cinema and arcade under its palm trees and wave-like glass roof; the open-air precinct the Zone, where stores and restaurants are clustered around a main plaza; or the shops at the Kingdom Centre, which are almost as impressive as the shiny skyscraper itself.
One of the best ways to experience Riyadh’s cultural fusion is through its cuisine.
Najd Village combines the dining and heritage experiences, with faithfully re-created Najd architecture and authentic recipes such as kabsa, jareesh and hashi.
More contemporary takes can be found at the sophisticated Takya, serving Saudi fusion food inspired by the country’s regions, and Suhail, with its modern spin on traditional Saudi favorites.
Established in 1988, King Fahd International Stadium (KFIS) has been an iconic landmark, both in design and events it hosts.
Besides holding local and international high-profile sports events, such as WWE’s Crown Jewel 2019, KFIS was part of the rapid strides taken by the Kingdom’s entertainment industry as it hosted K-Pop sensation BTS for a massive concert on its 500.000 sqm stadium in 2019, along with a showing of Cirque du Soleil.
With its glinting skyscrapers and sparkling nightscapes, the metropolis of Riyadh is the ideal choice for a weekend of luxury.
Relax and rejuvenate at the city’s opulent spas, including Maison de Joelle and Al Faisaliah Spa by ESPA, or go from serene to cerebral with a visit to its boutique arthouses, where the likes of Naila and L’Art Pur galleries showcase Arabia’s best emerging artists.
Add in an array of fine dining choices, upmarket malls and curated boutiques, and Riyadh is a city that can be embraced at any pace, before unwinding in one of its many five-star hotels.
For something different, head for an early morning game drive at Riyadh’s exclusive Nofa Safari to experience a piece of Africa in the Arabian Desert.
There are over 700 animals on show at this lodge-style resort that doubles as a conservation project, and its guided safari drives promise glimpses of giraffes, oryx, wildebeest, hippos and impalas, set against a horizon of apricot-hued dunes.
Find out more about visiting the fast-emerging Saudi tourism scene on the official website.
Images: Saudi Tourism Authority