Its 3:17 am in the morning on my first weekend back to Riyadh from New York, waking up jetlagged and feeling guilty I missed an open mic (also spelled open mike apparently) performance my friend from Brooklyn, now living in Dubai, visiting Riyadh invited me to attend in JAX art district.
I’m already feeling very guilty about the delay in submitting this article to our super cool & creative editor Jessica Bounni who asked for it a while ago; her question was simple, but not easy, where do cool young people in Riyadh go to? I haven’t been young for a long time, not sure if I have ever been cool, however, her question intrigued me, is she seeing something I’m not, I couldn’t help but wonder, has Riyadh become a cool city?
I’m sure the intention was not to give a tourist guide to Riyadh, there are plenty of these on government websites, like visitsaudi.com, and where-to-go articles, I had to find another perspective to answer this question. This point of view became clear when I sat next to Brenda, visiting Riyadh for the first time for a gala dinner her company was hosting in Riyadh because it’s the place to be now apparently. She asked me, I have only 4 hours of free time in Riyadh, where should I go? At this moment I realized Jessica was asking the right question, and I knew which perspective to look at this article.
I was focused on the cool and young but forgot the city itself, Riyadh! So here we go.
Riyadh is buzzing and booming, there are always multiple things happening at the same time, so start from there, and check what’s officially on. concerts, conventions, gala dinners, art exhibitions, fashion events, and sports activities; now that Riyadh season is officially over, you can focus on the real city. the really cool events and activities are usually on Instagram, so follow everything and keep an eye, the last-minute events are usually the coolest, so be flexible and go with the flow. but for now, let’s start with the basics.
Terraces, valleys, squares, districts, and boulevards:
Riyadh is turning into an outdoorsy walkable green city, these developments are where you will find restaurants, boutiques, and cafes. my favorite is Bujairi Terrace. In order to understand the sole of the city, it's great to start from the beginning, and this is definitely the starting point, a UNESCO heritage site is the AT-Turaif district, restored to its formal beauty, integrating cafes, restaurants, and boutiques, the Hakkasan’s and Angelina’s are there and many more, but most importantly the Saudis themselves, it's beautiful to see the locals enjoying their city, dare I say for the first time! be one of them. Have a tour at Turaif district and when you reach the top of the fortress, you will see the whole view of Riyadh, as our tour guide says, standing on the past, overlooking the present, and looking towards the future being KAFD in the distance. Visit Rawaq al Samhaniah shop and café across the road an artistic place for kids in the know, check the website www.diriyah.sa to book and see what’s going on.
Laysen Valley is where Sumosan and Bagatelle are, but check Patterns boutique, where trendy international and Saudi brands are sold, have coffee there, look at fashion books, and enjoy the open space of this new development.
Moving to the future of Riyadh, KAFD, the financial district is definitely not just for finance, the plazas and walking ways are a real urban retreat. Have dinner at IlBaretto during their live band nights, take a picture at Ashjar Café Mirror, but for the cultural explorer, enjoy the architectural marvel of the mosque; a modern human-scale building nestled between skyscrapers. it’s my favorite part.
The newest one of these developments’ is VIA Riyadh, check Sofia Vergara’s cheesy but funny advertisement campaign on YouTube, she will tell you all about it! you can find 15 of the new Cooling. Restaurants, from Scotts of London, Raul of New York to Elle fashion café, Elie Saab to Dolce Gabbana, and much more.
And finally, the main restaurant area of Riyadh is Dabab st and Tahlia St., you will find Coya, Roka, and the like. However, if you want a secret gem of the restaurant scene in Riyadh, check out the newly opened independent VARI Brasserie, the Mediterranean fresh-sharing food concept is where to be now. it's next to ARCHI café if you want to see and be seen. I don’t.
The Thriving Riyadh Art, film and music scene:
Art is at the heart of the future of Riyadh strategy, and the artist and creatives of Riyadh are not disappointing, whether its street art or galleries, JAX art district is where most things are, visit artist studios and galleries, attend talks and discussions, performances and parties, lectures, and films, artistic and independent only obviously. You will find the eccentric and the weird, fashionable, fashion victims and hip youth. DJ’s and parties, Fashion designers, Artists, curators, filmmakers, and actors all mix and mingle there. it’s not the Saudi you have in mind.
It will also house the Saudi Museum of contemporary art.
Pass by the MISK’s Prince Faisal bin Fahad arts hall exhibition, Visit the artist in residence, and check the gift shop. Furthermore, Fenaa Alawwal; Housed in a landmark historical building (FAA) is a cultural center that offers a space for community building and cultural exchange. Bringing together a diverse community of creative thinkers and offering a wide array of cultural programming ranging from art exhibitions to panels and workshops, FAA seeks to become a unique cultural and creative hub that inspires cross-cultural exchange and dialogue.
As for independent galleries, Lift Gallery is a must, and Ahlam Gallery is a classic not to be missed. Finally, for an independent point of view, Very Public is an artist-run exhibition space, a more underground and edgy, cultural crossroads, and the brief Instagram account is the place to get everything you need on the art scene in Saudi follow them.
Last but not least, if all of that is overwhelming, head to Sima space, you will have workshops, popups, yoga, and tutorials, relax while having the coolest café addition in the Saudi Coffee scene WAcafé. And last but least, what’s Riyadh without its desert Trips, check Haraakah’s Instagram account for their weekend wellness outings, where yoga, food, and music are all ingredients to nourish your soul. Lead by Faisal at the moment, a Saudi yoga instructor whose magical technique will make you feel born again.
So, in conclusion, anywhere you go is cool, because Riyadh is now cool.