Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s economy and lifestyle are transforming at a dizzying pace. Visitors, residents, and expatriates all will find that they have much to explore in a country that is in many ways very different from how it looked ten years ago. Saudi Arabia is now home to music festivals, art exhibits, museums, and cultural events of both international and local flavors. This month’s Lifestyle Corner is dedicated to the rich history, culture, events, and entertainment that the Saudi capital offers.
Saudi National Day
Saudi National Day, the country’s only non-religious public holiday, commemorates the birth of the modern Saudi Arabian nation in 1932 and takes place every year on September 23. The holiday is marked by fireworks, concerts, parades, and festivals in every city, particularly in Riyadh.
- Visit light shows and art exhibits
- Visit the many shopping malls offering special discounts during National Day
- Attend concerts by regional and international artists
- View spectacular firework shows
- Visit the internationally renowned Saudi Falcon Show
Check back in with the USSBC in our August Monthly Bulletin for more information on the many activities and events for this year’s Saudi National Day!
Janadriyah National Festival
One of the festivals in the Riyadh area, and in all of Saudi Arabia, that you cannot miss is Janadriyah National Festival, also known as Al-Janadriyah. The annual festival draws over 5 million visitors every late winter/early spring in Janadriyah, just outside the capital city, and is a vibrant celebration of the country’s culture and heritage.
Visitors to the two-week-long festival can:
- Visit local craft markets
- Watch and take part in traditional folk dancing
- View camel and horse races
- Enjoy delicious Saudi dishes and drinks
Riyadh Spring Festival
Another festival that takes places in the springtime is the Riyadh Spring Festival, which is held every March. The festival marks the end of Riyadh’s desert winters with bountiful agricultural markets and expansive, intricate flower displays rivalling those of the Netherlands.
Things to discover:
- Spectacular flower mats arranged with hundreds of thousands of colorful flower displays
- Family-friendly leisure spaces
- Wearable fresh flower garlands
- Food courts and pop-up food stalls
MDL Beast: Soundstorm Festival
The EDM (electronic dance music) scene has now spread to Saudi Arabia following the first ever three-day Soundstorm music and art festival in Riyadh in December 2019 – the largest gathering for music and arts the country has ever seen. More than 80 international and local musicians, including some of the biggest names in pop, house, trance, dubstep, and other electronic music genres, performed on five stages to over 400,000 eager fans. Internationally acclaimed DJs Tiësto, Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Afrojack, Black Coffee, J. Balvin, and Steve Aoki, along with Saudi-born Simi Haze, Cosmicat, and other local acts, put on an unprecedented show for the nation and helped propel EDM to a new height of popularity with young Saudis. Although the festival’s 2020 date was unfortunately canceled due to the pandemic, the organizers instead held a 12-hour virtual streaming experience, again with some of the biggest names in the EDM scene. The next dates for the festival have not yet been set, but those interested can follow its organizers MDL Beast (pronounced Middle Beast) for announcements on when pandemic-related restrictions will be lifted for the country’s music and arts scene.
National Museum of Saudi Arabia
The National Museum of Saudi Arabia, located within the King Abdulaziz Historical Centre, displays the country’s entire history. The museum ranges from prehistoric times, with the “Man and the Universe” exhibit holding meteorites from the Rub’ al Khali desert and dinosaur fossils, through the pre-Islamic and early Islamic eras, with examples of early calligraphy and hand-written Qurans, all the way to modern times with a gallery illustrating the unification of the Kingdom.
Saqr Al Jazeera Aviation Museum
Another museum you cannot miss while in Riyadh is the Saqr Al Jazeera Aviation Museum (or Royal Saudi Air Force Museum). Similar to Washington, DC’s Air & Space Museums, Riyadh’s Aviation Museum contains exhibits on the history of aviation in Saudi Arabia and dozens of aircraft dating from the early 1900s to the Space Age.
The historical Diriyah Gate is home to several open-air and indoor museums, to be followed soon by many more new museums, galleries, and cultural/educational experiences after the Saudi government’s $20 billion Diriyah Gate renovation gigaproject. For now, visitors can experience the Diriyah Museum, a renovated former palace with exhibits on the country’s founding, as well as traditional mudbrick homes renovated and restored into heritage sites. Learn more about Diriyah’s attractions from Visit Saudi’s website.
Riyadh Art is a new Saudi cultural initiative whose goal is to “transform the city of Riyadh into a gallery without walls, and a creative powerhouse for the digital age.” Riyadh Art will be comprised of more than 1,000 original public art displays by local and international artists, two annual art and cultural festivals, and ten unique programs. The programs include temporary and permanent installations such as “Light Upon Light: Light Art since the 1960s;” the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium, a sculpture garden with contributions from 20 international sculptors; and “Joyous Gardens,” a series of more than 200 artist-designed playgrounds and outdoor structures in parks of all sizes across Riyadh. More information on upcoming Riyadh Art events and ongoing programs can be found on the initiative’s website.
The Ministry of Culture contains useful information on Saudi music, visual arts, museums, archeological and cultural landscapes, theater and the performing arts, cultural events and festivals, books and publications, natural heritage, film, fashion, culinary arts, libraries, and much more. The Ministry of Culture’s website runs a calendar of upcoming events to promote these cultural initiatives.
The General Entertainment Authority (GEA), an initiative of Vision 2030 responsible for expanding the Saudi entertainment sector, also maintains a website with a calendar of upcoming events across the country exclusive to the entertainment sector.