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Family Vacation Fun

When you think of Saudi Arabia, a few things might come to mind — a vast desert, camel rides, interesting architecture and Middle Eastern cuisine, to name a few. And while all of those are in fact part of Riyadh’s narrative, ancient sites, outdoor adventure and interesting cuisine are among the many reasons the Saudi capital is a wonderful place to explore as a family.

Day

1

MORNING
  • Breakfast Alfresco.

    Enjoy delicious coffee, tea and freshly prepared juices on the terrace in The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh’s Chorisia Lounge. Light pastries round out the morning offerings, which include the “honey blossom” drink, a blend of pistachio milk, date and orange blossom, served over ice cubes made from cold-brewed coffee.

MIDDAY
  • Park It.

    Boat rides, pony rides, restaurants and wide-open green spaces make Ya Salam Park a great place to let kids be kids in the heart of the city. Find a spot next to the man-made lagoon to enjoy a lunch packed by one of the nearby vendors, then enjoy a stroll along the park’s many paths. You’ll see fishermen and boaters taking advantage of the lagoon.

AFTERNOON
  • A-Z Shopping.

    From American Eagle to Zara, Riyadh Gallery has a shop to suit every taste. This three-tiered mall is popular among locals and tourists alike and can be quite busy during weekends. Still, its variety of shops, expansive food court and pretty architecture make it a cool place to cool off after a morning outside.

  • I Scream, You Scream.

    Treat yourselves to a treat from Shakeaway in Riyadh Gallery. This stand offers energy smoothies and milkshakes in a variety of flavors, both exotic and traditional. One shake, The Millionaire, is even rumored to be garnished with actual gold shavings.

EVENING
  • A Bedouin Dinner.

    At Al-Najdiyah Village, you’ll enjoy traditional Nadji (or Lebanese or American) cuisine in an atmosphere inspired by Bedouin traditions. Diners relax on large cushions on
    the floor and share meals — jareesh and upside-down lamb are among the favorites — served family-style. That said, plan ahead. Women and families are only allowed through the main entrance on Fridays.

  • Spares and Strikes.

    The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh’s Strike Bowling Alley is the ultimate family-friendly destination. Billiards, bowling, bar snacks and a 100-inch television (for watching sports, of course) mean that your family can spend hours laughing and playing.

Day

2

MORNING
  • To the Desert.

    Wake your children early for a journey to the desert and the Red Sand Dunes. About an hour northeast of the city, the dunes pepper the expansive desert and are wonderful to hike or simply photograph. Many locals also offer up their four-wheelers for rent in half-hour parcels, meaning that you and the family can bound over the dunes to appreciate even more of their beauty.

MIDDAY
  • City of Gold.

    After your morning’s adventure, return to the city to visit the al-Qusman Market, a gold souq. While these bazaars are common throughout the Middle East, you’ll be
    amazed by the number and variety of gold and jewelry shops within the souq. Situated in the al-Marqab district of Riyadh, this particular souq is well known for its selection of expensive watches.

AFTERNOON
  • Journey into History.

    The King Abdulaziz Historical Center houses the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, as well as a remodeled mosque, the original Murabba’ Palace and a massive exhibition hall filled with the classic-car collection of King Abdul Aziz, for whom the compound is named. You can spend hours learning about the history of  Saudi Arabia, reveling in the beautiful architecture of the compound and wandering through its gardens and libraries.

EVENING
  • Viva Brazil.

    It’s no secret that the Saudi people love steak. So it stands to reason that a Brazilian steakhouse resonates in Riyadh. The upscale Texas de Brazil restaurant combines the cuisines of Brazil with traditional Texan generosity, meaning that you’ll be treated to all-you-can-eat salad, seasoned lamb, pork, beef and chicken. Plus, an award-winning wine list means you can linger a bit over a fine glass or a Brazilian caipirinha.

Day

3

MORNING
  • Golf and Galloping.

    At Dirab Golf & Country Club, the family can enjoy a round on a beautifully and surprisingly lush course, the first in Riyadh. The par-72, 18-hole course is flanked by trees and, because of its desert location, features challenging sand traps. Alternately, enjoy a morning of horseback riding. The golf club also features a riding facility where visitors can be in the saddle for an hour at a time. In the words of club officials, “The environment makes sure the pressures of the city are left far behind, and the greenery ensures the air quality is fresh and fragrant.”

MIDDAY
  • A Walk in the Park.

    The gardens of Al-Maalem park are its major draw, but children might also enjoy playing on the edge of its man-made lake, which seems to be a prerequisite for parks in Riyadh. An on-site cafeteria means you won’t have to wander too far to find lunch, either.

AFTERNOON
  • Friendly Skies.

    A Saudi Lockheed L-1011 Tristar marks the entrance to the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum. This modern museum includes a static park and indoor space and gives the history of the Saudi Air Force from its inception in 1920 to the present. Among the planes you’ll find? A Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, T-6 Texan and a BAC Lightning T-55.

EVENING
  • Rev Your Engines.

    The Fun XTreme Karting Circuit is a favorite destination for many Saudis, and many believe it’s a jump-start for people interested in Formula 1 racing. At this track, you and the family can strap in and race around the dynamic course in one of several types of karts and vehicles.

  • Catch a Craving.

    Lusin restaurant’s Armenian food leaves many visitors with a vow to return, and many locals come back at least monthly, craving the delicious kebabs and eggplant rolls. Other specialties include harissa, jigo lamb and gapama. In the Armenian language, lusin means “moon,” and the restaurant’s décor reflects a sense of beauty and tranquility. Before you go, try the special rose ice cream, wrapped in cotton candy. It’s a treat the whole family will love.

Day

4

MORNING
  • To the Camels.

    Head to Riyadh’s Thumama district to ride a camel. While chances are good you won’t end up in a race with hundreds of others, you’ll get to experience the desert from atop one of its most iconic symbols. Just 60 kilometers from Riyadh, the Thumama Desert is the place to have your photograph taken atop or next to a docile dromedary.

  • History Lessons.

    From Thumama, travel a bit farther to Ushaiger Heritage Village, a historic landmark in the Najd, the central plateau of the Arabian Peninsula. Here, you’ll learn about the village, whose name means “little blonde” and was so deemed because of the red mountain that stands next to it. Its first inhabitants settled the region more than 1,500 years ago, and the village was a hub for pilgrims heading to Hajj.

AFTERNOON
  • Late Lunch.

    Upon your return to Riyadh, enjoy an afternoon meal at Acoustic Tea Lounge. This local favorite serves fresh, healthful salads, hearty pasta and risotto, handcrafted sandwiches and pizza, and plenty of meat-based dishes. As you lunch, enjoy the work of local and international artists, whose paintings and drawings are beautifully displayed on Acoustic’s walls.

  • Cool Comfort.

    After lunch, retire to the cool comfort of Salaam Mall. One of the largest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it features many local retailers, as well as the international brands that have gained great popularity across the kingdom. The mall is also home to Babel Land, the largest indoor theme park in Saudi Arabia. It offers families 23 rides and games to choose from.

EVENING
  • Little Italy.

    Enjoy a family feast at Azzurro, one of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in Riyadh. Kids will love the simple dishes, like gnocchi and pizza, while the adults can nosh on elevated Italian fare, like ossobucco and rack of lamb.

Day

5

MORNING
  • Zootopia.

    More than 1,500 animals have a home at Al Malaz Zoo, also known as Riyadh Zoo. Wander the well-maintained facility to discover elephants, crocodiles, zebras, kangaroos, camels and more. With inexpensive entry fees and plenty of food and souvenir vendors, it’s possible to spend a lovely morning at the zoo before the temperatures soar.

MIDDAY
  • To the Races.

    Although it might surprise you, camel racing has come to be recognized as a serious international sport. And, in Riyadh, it celebrates one of the most noted Bedouin traditions. In the past, thousands of camels would race across the desert. Now, races take place on a track or in the desert — but with far fewer dromedaries. Camel races are held each Thursday after 4 p.m. on a track in the Thumama district.

AFTERNOON
  • Traditional Tea.

    Enjoy a moment of respite by taking traditional afternoon tea. Return to Chorisia Lounge for high tea between 2 and 6 p.m. to relax with a cup and freshly made cakes and snacks.

EVENING
  • A Fond Farewell.

    Wrap up your journey with dinner at Hong, The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh’s Asian-inspired restaurant. Chef de Cuisine Peter Li shares his dynamic take on traditional and contemporary Chinese dishes, from sweet and sour prawns to roast Peking duck and fried egg noodles. While the food is the major draw, the ambience is spectacular, too. Hand-painted calligraphy panels and rich upholstery create a setting of elegance and beauty.