At the heart of oil-rich Saudi Arabia sits Riyadh, the capital city and ancient oasis town. These days, little remains of the old walled town; instead the eye is drawn to a striking array of modern edifices, such as the Kingdom Tower and the Al Faisaliyah Centre, which rear up to form an impressive skyline.
In Riyadh, as with the rest of Saudi Arabia, visitors are expected to observe the country’s strict rules and traditions. For example, eating in public during Ramadan is forbidden; alcohol is prohibited, as is celebrating any kind of western festival (Valentine’s day, Christmas); and, when in public, all women must wear the abaya (the traditional loose, black robe worn by Muslim women).
Western women need not despair; Riyadh’s wide range of abaya boutiques stock anything from understated to stylish and even glitzy abayas, making the wearing an enjoyable experience. Women are also allowed to move freely throughout the city without their husbands, provided they wear the abaya.
The movement of visitors to Riyadh is tightly controlled and expats are obliged to live in compounds. While this may sound restrictive, the compounds are generally luxurious, impeccable, self-contained communities, complete with sports facilities, swimming pools and minimarts.
While far less expensive than neighbouring Dubai, Riyadh is no less of a shopper’s paradise. The city is liberally sprinkled with glittering, world-class malls and souks where you can find anything from fresh fruit and produce to bejewelled daggers or handfuls of gold necklaces. If your budget doesn’t stretch as far as haute couture labels, take your pick of the region's sublime selection of fabrics and have your garments tailor-made.
What is special or unique about your city?
Saudi Arabia is a magnificent work of art by mother nature. It offers a breath-taking sunset over the hypnotic expanse of desert space and is the birthplace of Islam. It is home to great history, mystery, and the cheapest gallon of oil in the world.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Many people get mixed feelings on first arriving in Saudi Arabia, but if you arrive in the summer, it'll be difficult to ignore the heat.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Yes and no: It depends on your expectations and outlook.
What is the local language?
The official language is Arabic.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
It wouldn't be difficult to live here without knowing the language. You'll find people are bilingual and they generally speak English.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Always keep in mind that Sharia law prevails, so every newcomer should be well aware of what to do and what not to do. If you're not familiar with the rules that govern, research it before you go. Crown provides cultural orientation and can help you in this area.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Summer is extremely hot, so you need to make sure your air-conditioning works properly. It is impossible to walk in the street in the summer.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Sharia law prevails, particularly in Riyadh.