Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia and boasts an airport to match its status. King Khalid International is a major regional hub and was once the largest airport in the world by area. As a result, if you’re traveling in the Middle East, chances are good you’ll find yourself on a layover in Riyadh Airport.
This large airport has the usual restaurants and shops you would expect, but sitting around an airport waiting for your connection quickly gets old. Instead, you may be tempted to explore the Saudi Arabian capital during your stopover. Unfortunately, the airport lies a significant distance from the city, and taxis and rideshare services are currently the only way to get to the city, at least until the Metro line connecting the airport and the city opens. You should also be aware that unaccompanied women may have a hard time exploring in Saudi Arabia. Women are not allowed to be alone with men they are not related to or married to, and although taxis are an exception to this rule, it’s worth bearing in mind before you start exploring.
If you do decide to make the trip into Riyadh, you can make things easier on yourself by dropping off your bags at a luggage storage service. The lighter you travel, the easier it will be to see more of the city during your Riyadh layover.
6 hour layover in Riyadh
Even in a taxi, it will take a good 30 minutes to reach the city from the airport. But that’s the only problem. You also need to obtain a tourist visa to leave the airport if you don’t already have one. If you’re from an eligible country, which includes the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, most of Europe, China, and Japan, you can get a tourist visa on arrival. But this process will slow you down. Combined with the logistics of getting to the city, a six-hour layover in Riyadh airport may not be enough to get into the city.
Instead, you may be better off staying in the airport. Along with the usual shopping and dining options, Riyadh Airport has a mosque decorated with exquisite stained glass. The airport also has many lounges that you can use for free, and some even have showers, offering a great way to freshen up before your next flight.
- A six-hour layover may not be long enough to journey to the city.
- You’ll need a tourist visa to leave the airport and a taxi ride to the city takes 30 minutes.
- On a short layover, it may be better to stay in the airport.
8 hour layover in Riyadh
If you have eight hours to spend in Riyadh, you can start thinking about exploring the city. After getting your visa, taking a taxi into town, and dropping off your bags at a Riyadh luggage locker, you may only have a couple of hours to spend in the city. But that’s enough to see something of the Saudi Arabia capital.
Center Point is no longer the tallest building in Saudi Arabia, but its distinctive shape and 99 stories ensure it still stands out. The tower is home to an observation deck that offers incredible views over the city and the surrounding desert, and it’s well worth heading to the observation deck to get some stunning photos. Riyadh is a city that has undergone enormous changes in the last few decades and continues to change to this day, and there is no better place to take it all in than from Center Point. It’s a relatively quick visit that will nevertheless give you a better sense of the city on a short layover.
- Take a taxi into Riyadh and visit Center Point.
- Visit the Observation Deck for impressive views of the city.
10 hour layover in Riyadh
Riyadh is a relentlessly modern city. But in Saudi Arabia, cutting-edge modernity is always butting up against history and tradition. In the heart of this modern metropolis, Masmak Fortress offers a glimpse into the past. This 19th-century mudbrick fort was the site of the Battle of Riyadh, an important conflict in the unification of Saudi Arabia. Now, the fort contains the museum to this conflict, explaining its importance in the history of the country. It’s a good place to visit to learn more about the history of the region and the forces that continue to shape it to this day.
- Visit Masmak Fortress for a crash course in Saudi Arabia’s history.
- Explore the museum and see the site of the Battle of Riyadh.
- Expect to spend a couple of hours at the fortress.
12 hour layover in Riyadh
With a couple more hours to spend in the city, you could take a break from the bustle and the heat in King Abdullah Park. This open green space is the perfect place to wander in the shade of the palm trees and enjoy the dancing fountains. It’s especially impressive at night, when the fountains are lit up by the extravagant light display. But whatever time you visit, the park is a great place to catch your breath and get some exercise before your next flight.
- Take a walk around King Abdullah Park.
- Enjoy the dancing fountains and the light display at night.
24 hour layover in Riyadh
An overnight layover in Riyadh lets you explore the city more fully. Once you’ve found a hotel and a suitcase storage in Riyadh, you’ll be able to be a little more ambitious in what you want to see. The King Abdulaziz Historical Center functions as Saudi Arabia’s National Museum, and is the best place to learn all about the rich and sometimes turbulent history of this country. Alternatively, you could head a little out of town and take a tour of the Wadi Hanifah Valley, a region of beautiful desert scenery and quaint villages. Or you could experience the desert on a camel safari that will let you live out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies.
However you choose to spend your time, make sure to leave enough time to get back to the airport and make your next flight.
- Visit the King Abdulaziz Historical Center to learn more about the history of Saudi Arabia.
- Take a guided tour of the Wadi Hanifah Valley to see the more natural side of the country.
- Take a camel safari through the desert or go sandboarding on the dunes.