Saudi Arabia City Guide

Riyadh

The 2030 Plan: Saudi in transformation
“The third pillar [of our 2030 strategy] is transforming our unique strategic location into a global hub connecting three continents, Asia, Europe and Africa. Our geographic position between key global waterways, makes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia an epicenter of trade and the gateway to the world.”
Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz
Crown Prince, Prime Minister, Saudi Arabia
Riyadh
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Riyadh

Much of the information you'll find online surrounding life in Riyadh reflects a time, pre-2016 when the country's religious police, known as the Muttawa, exercised their power with vigour to keep the city's morals intact. Largely as a result of the deep sobriety that was the corollary the city was said to be the "Dead Center of the Kingdom", word play based on its location literally in the geographic heart of the Kingdom, but also to a stifling lack of vitality in the city.

In many ways it is Riyadh then that has benefited most from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon al Saud's initiatives to liberate the economy, and the people of Saudi from the stricter interpretations of Islam. As the capital and the financial centre, most companies, and expats, that have been drawn to Saudi by its economic promise have, thus far, moved to Riyadh (not Jeddah). As the city that lived with the strictest interpretation of moral decency, it has felt the biggest weight lifted from the stripping of the powers of the religious police.

That does not mean that Riyadh has become anything approaching a Dubai let alone a truly Western city. It is still inherently, culturally, deeply conservative. Many women would still choose to wear an Abaya in public, not because they have to, but because they want to. Others still because they want to feel comfortable and respectful, and recognise this is a city that is not ready for the sights and sounds of its more liberal neighbours. 

Where things have really changed is in the business environment, which is not only buzzing with opportunity, but is now a place where men and women mix easily, with and without an Abaya . You could easily forget you were in the heart of Saudi: In many, many Riyadh offices it really is business "as usual".

Where to live

Riyadh is vast and sprawling, and not the kind of city where you want to travel from one side to another each day to get to work and back - or to drop your kids off. Life in Saudi is also compound based, and unless you and your family are highly adventurous, or from the region, we would not recommend living outside the walls at least for your first year. That does not mean there isn't great accommodation in the city - there is (like the Kingdom Tower or in Al Olaya), but compound life will allow you to acclimatise more gently.

If you have been brought into the Kingdom, there is a good chance that your employer will have looked after your accommodation for you. If you are one of these lucky souls so long as they have their heads on, they will have placed you in a compound close to your place of work. If you're going alone, then our advice would be to look for compounds close to where you work, that have a good reputation for services, facilities, and management that fit your budget. Each will be quite distinct with its own blend of facilities, services, and social calendar - as you will see in the list we provide at the end of this article. 

Of course, compounds will not always be the solution - for a variety of reasons. You may not like to live in such a close community, or you may not want to spend the money on one. Rent outside a compound in a good-sized apartment can be had for SAR30,000 a year. It is likely to cost you 2 to 4 times that in one. 

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Olaya, the modern business and growing financial district in Riyadh.

Areas in Riyadh, as in all large cities, can be quite distinct. There's the modern business and growing financial districts of Olaya and Suleimaniyah which are home to most offices and better residential buildings and hotels (the Four Seasons can be found in Kingdom Tower). The area lies to the north of Makkah Rd, with Faisaliah Tower on the southern end of Olaya, and the Kingdom Centre to the north. Olaya Rd is also home to a number of upscale malls. This is one the main areas that expats would choose to live in, outside of compounds.

Other areas for expats to consider include Al Mohammadiyyah, just to the north of Olaya, and if you keep going, Al Nakhil. Both are parts of newer Riyadh, with more modern, cleaner accommodation options.  

Almost all international schools are found in the north of the city.

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The accommodation may not be as modern in the southern part of the city, but its cultural sites are unparalleled. Pictured abive, the Murabba Palace.

Go the other way, and it's all about the culture. The historical core of Riyadh is to the south of Makkah Rd. Al-Murabba hosts King Abdul Aziz Historical Park, home to the National Museum and the Murabba Palace. There's also a park popular for picnics and evening strolls, while the distinctive blue-and-gold striped Riyadh Water Tower is nearby. A kilometre further to the south is al-Bathaa, home to Riyadh's cheapest food, lodging and shopping, as well as the a flea market. The area is home to the largest concentration of Bangladeshis, but is also home to Indians, Filipinos, and Pakistanis.

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Image taken in 2015 a poorer area near "chop-chop square" (Deera square) in the center of Riyadh. 

Further south still is Deera, centred on as-Sa'ah Square, which has souqs, the Masmak Fortress, the Governor's offices and... the (now defunct) execution grounds. Deera is very much part of the old city, and was contained within the old city walls... All these areas are very interesting to visit, not necessarily to live - although, of course, there are exceptions everywhere...

The weather

Riyadh is located in the middle of the country, which means it is dryer, but no less hot. In fact it's both hotter - and colder - than Jeddah or the Eastern region. Summer temperatures regularly exceed 50°C, while winter temperatures can fall below zero.

Because the humidity is less that its coastal cousins, it does not suffer from the close, sticky summer evenings however that are often worse than high temperatures. In fact it is possible to have (relatively) pleasant Riyadh evenings, even in summer. That said not when the wind blows: Situated in the middle of a desert, the city is often lost in a haze of sand. That means more frequent sandstorms, allergies and high pollution levels.

Schools

One of the biggest jobs of any family moving to Riyadh is which school..? The best news is we are now here to help guide your decisions, and to give you some clarity as to what you can expect before you move. However, our overriding piece of advice is to find out if and how your company plans to help you. International schools in Riyadh do not come cheap, and the better ones can be very hard to get into. Can your company open any doors for you?

The good news is that the number of schools is increasing, and there is a variety of international schools available. Most of them also include a kindergarten for children between three and five years old, and a school bus service for all their students.

Top Riyadh schools to consider:

American International School Riyadh Review
American International School – Riyadh is a US curriculum school catering students from age 3+ to 18 (pre-KG to Grade 12). Established in 1963, the school offers the IB Diploma Programmes to students in Grades 11 and 12, who also qualify with a High School Diploma. 

Click here for the full American International School Riyadh

British International School Riyadh
British International School Riyadh

British International School Riyadh Review
British International School Riyadh is an international co-educational school located in Riyadh. It caters to English-speaking boys and girls aged 3–18 and follows the National Curriculum for England with plans to introduce the IMYC and IB Diploma Programme at its DQ campus. BISR is a five campus, not-for-profit school.

Click here for the full British International School Riyadh Review

Saud International School Review
Saud International School is an established English speaking school in the Sulaimaniyah district of Riyadh, offering an American curriculum in Primary/Elementary and then the English curriculum in Secondary/Middle and High school sections.

Click here for the full Saud International School Review

Reigate Grammar Riyadh

Reigate Grammar School Riyadh Review
Reigate Grammar School Riyadh is a new name for parents and students in the city, but is associated with a very established school - the Multinational School Riyadh.

Click here for the full Reigate Grammar School Riyadh Review

Dome International Schools Review
Dome International Schools is in fact a single school (though split into girls’ and boys’ campuses) offering two international curricula – the US Common Core curriculum and the English Cambridge International Curriculum. It has recently opened a second branch in Al Malka.

Click here for the full Dome International Schools Review

French International School Riyadh Review
The French International School Riyadh - l'École Française Internationale de Riyad - is a French curriculum school located in the north of the city.

Click here for the full French International School Riyadh Review

German International School Riyadh Review
The German International School Riyadh (die Deutsche Internationale Schule Riad) was founded in the mid-1970s and remains a not-for-profit school with the support of the German government.

Click here for the full German International School Riyadh Review

Kings College Riyadh Review
King's College Riyadh, a partnership with the Kings College schools in the UK, was the first international school to open as part of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City's International Schools Attraction Program. The school will initially offer primary year groups before opening fully to Year 13.

Click here for the full Kings College Riyadh Review

Click here for all Riyadh school reviews. Note this list will continue to grow. 

Compounds to get you started

Palms Estate Compound
Price Range: 65,000 SAR - 200,000 SAR

Palms Estate is a modern compound located in the Al Khozama suburb of Riyadh.

The 113-villa compound is located near Diplomatic Quarter (3 minutes away) and downtown Riyadh (15 minutes away). The compound itself is landscaped, and the villas are furnished. 

Facilities on the compound include a club house, swimming pool, kids' day care centre, mini restaurant, and a hall for events. There are also tennis courts,  grilling areas, and playgrounds.

The compound has 24/7 security systems and CCTV cameras installed throughout the property. There is a maintenance team available 24/7. Residents have access to satellite cable television service and internet access.

Al Reem Residences Compound
Price Range: Not disclosed
Website: https://alreem.sa/
Address: Near Al Thoumamah Rd. Al Munsiyah, Riyadh , 13422, Riyadh  
Email: [email protected]  

The compound offers 490 modern units of different types and sizes. It features wide roadways, spacious gardens, and landscaping and is located in the North East of the city on Al Munsiyah, Thumama Road - with easy access to a variety of hospitals, shopping malls. 

The recreational centre includes a gym, bus transportation, mini market, kindergarten, fitness zone (both men and women), 8 swimming pools (including 1 Olympic pool), tennis court, basketball court, squash court and kids playing area. There are also salons & spas and an indoor playing room. All facilities are available 24/7.

Maintenance services are included in the rent. 

Rihab Pearl Compound
Price Range: 75,000 SAR to 155,000 SAR
Address: Rehab district , King Khaled street , 11564, Riyadh  
Email: [email protected]  

The Compound offers 143 units of three different types: One bedroom apartments, two bedroom apartments, and three bedroom apartments. They can be offered fully furnished or unfurnished. 

Located in Rehab, after the Dariyah district on King Khaled street the compound is close to the Diplomatic Quarter, as well as a variety of hospitals, shopping malls, International schools, banks , groceries , restaurants, and cafes.

Amenities include a coffee shop, recreational centre, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, a multipurpose hall, swimming pools for adults and kids (both indoor and outdoor), basketball court/tennis court (multipurpose court), a health club and spa, sauna, laundry room, cinema room with billiards tables nearby (just in case you need to take some time out of your day). 

There is also an onsite maintenance team as well as pest control services.

Andorra Village
Price Range: Not disclosed
Website: https://andorravillage.net/
Address: Al Rimal District , Northeast Riyadh , 12363, Riyadh  
Email: [email protected]  
Phone: +966 553037734  

Andorra Village is located in Al Rimal District, in northeast Riyadh, a short drive away from Thumama Road, King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh Passenger station, Thumama national park and King Salman Park.

There are 16 zones in the Village - each zone represents a village in Andorra. 

The 511,000 sqm land is divided between the 1,200 residential units  (1,2 and 3 -bed apartments, 3,4 and 5-bedroom villas and townhouses).

Amenities include a pharmacy, Kindergarten, Maintenance, Security 24/7, Cab Service (24 hrs), Photo Studio (24 hrs), First Aid Room (24 hrs), Pre-school Center (24 hrs), Reserved Parking (24 hrs), Health Club (24 hrs), and Recreational Center (24 course).

Miral Compound
Price Range: Not disclosed

This compound is located near to Qiddiya, one of the biggest entertainment projects in KSA and near to King Abdullah International Gardens project, in the Nimar neighbourhood / Al Goroub. It is approximately 14 km from Diplomatic sector.
 
The Miral Compound is a new residential compound with 220 apartments of various types, ranging between one and two bedroom apartments, three bedroom villas of three different styles , and four bedroom villas.
 
Facilities include a multi-use swimming pool including over pool bridges, fountains, water heating and cooling system and separate section for kids pool, six other swimming pools and waterfalls, a tennis court and multi-use court (Basket Ball, Volley Ball, Hand Ball,...etc), a large elevated external piazza can be used for ceremonies, parties. Walkways can be used for jogging and cycling.
 
There is also a restaurant with indoor and outdoor sitting, with a view toward the main pool. There's a built-in water beverage bar located inside the main swimming pool. 

Al Yamama Village
Price Range: Not disclosed
Website: http://www.alyamamavillage.com/
Address: Al Ghuyum Street, As Saadah District, 14255, Riyadh

Al Yamama Village is a residential and commercial property managed by the Al-Rashid Group. Located by exit 15 it offers access to international schools, hospitals, shopping malls and to major routes of the city.

The Village offers "freestyle natural landscaping", wide streets, and green areas. It offers 209 units of seven different types ranging from 1-bedroom apartments, 2-bedroom villas, 3-bedroom villas and 4-bedroom villas. All units are "widely spaced and fully furnished". Villas have a front garden and private shaded parking.

Facilities include a Preschool, Restaurant, Beauty Salon, Coffee Shop, Barbecue Area, Indoor Children Playroom, and Book & Video Library, and 24/7 Security.

Dur Al Wadi
Price Range:  85,000 SAR - 98,000 SAR
Website: https://www.dur.sa/en/our-portfolio/residential-compounds/dur-alwadi-residential-compound
Address: Hanifa Valley , Riyadh , 11414, Riyadh  

Dur Al Wadi Residential Compound has 66 fully furnished apartment units that are either two-bedroom or three-bedroom, plus maid room. The new residential compound is located in Hanifa Valley, near the Diplomatic Quarter and offers access to major roads, business centers, shopping malls, hospitals, and international schools.

Amenities at Dur Al Wadi include an indoor swimming pool, indoor gym, playground area for kids, and reserved parking. In addition, we offer 24/7 security, CCTV cameras, and exemplary services to ensure that our residents enjoy a safe and comfortable stay.

La Palma Villas
Price Range:  Not disclosed
Website: http://lapalma.sa/riyadh-en/
Address: Al Aarid district , 14211, Riyadh  

La Palma Villas is a full-serviced community with 480 "fully furnished" units (complete with flat-screen televisions) and offers a range of recreational amenities, services and restaurants. 

The compound has a gated entrance, CCTV monitors and 24-hour security.

Al Hamza Oasis Village Compound
Price Range: Not disclosed
Website: https://www.alhamra.com.sa/

One of Riyadh's most well known residential compounds, Al Hamra Oasis Village Compound offers a range of property styles.

Located by the ring road east of King Khalid International Airport and the Dammam freeway, it is a 15-minute drive from both the airport and main shopping centres. 

The 404 units range from 1-bedroom apartments to 5-bedroom executive villas. There's a fitness centre, restaurant, swimming pools, recreation centre, and 24/7 security.
 
Granada Village
Price Range: Not disclosed
Website: https://granada-village.com/home.html

Inspired by Mediterranean-style villas and apartments, the compound is located close to the airport, King Abdullah Financial District, Business Gate, Princess Noura University, SABIC HQ, and the Granada Shopping Mall, "making it the perfect place for those who want to be close to the action".

Granada Village offers a wide range of amenities and services including a swimming pool, fitness centre, and children’s play area.

Please note: If you have anything you would like to add to this city guide that you think would help someone relocating to the city, please just add your thoughts in the comments below...  A future version of you will thank you very much!

Riyadh Communities
Riyadh’s Top Schools
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