The first time visitor to the Saudi capital might be forgiven for thinking that the city stretches in all directions as a vast sprawl of buildings, old and new. Yet, scratch a little below the surface and you will soon find that as well as the DQ’s parks, Riyadh boasts dozens of open green spaces – far too many to list here.
The most famous – and probably the most popular – is the Murabba Park which houses the King Abdul Aziz Historical Centre and sports the splendid striped water tower (which is actually a copy of the Svampen Tower in the Swedish town of Orebro.)
Of course, you will want to visit the National Museum and Murabba Palace whilst you are here, but look out for the 100 Palms – a 10 x 10 grid of palm trees planted in 2002 to commemorate the centenary of the capture of Riyadh ...
... as well as the four mini-parks situated at the main entrances to Murabba – Al Waadi, Al Haras, Al Sor and Al Yamama – lovely areas which, unfortunately, are only open to families.
In front of the National Museum itself is a water garden including an area where children can run through water falls, punt over a canal and generally enjoy themselves getting thoroughly wet!
South west from here, where King Fahd Highway meets Tariq bin Ziad, an old date farm covering some 300,000 square metres has been converted into a public park, known as Salam. A tenth of this area is given over to a lake which has been carefully planned to ensure continuous water movement to prevent the proliferation of mosquitoes. Half the lake has been devoted to boating, whilst part has also been designed to promote wild life and attract local and migrating birds.
Close to the Malaz stadium you can find Prince Fahd al-Faisal Park where Salah Ad Din Road meets Jamiah Street. This is one of the oldest parks in the city and tends to get quite crowded in the evenings. It is mainly laid to flat green areas with many seats under shady trees.
Not far away, just two blocks due west of the Zoo can be found Jabal Abu Makhrouq Park, known to Westerners as The Camel’s Eye – an area of historical importance as the hillock it contains was used by King Abdul Aziz for surveillance over Riyadh in 1902. The natural rock formations have been complimented by the use of local stone in the formation of the park, and there are waterfalls and fountains to delight the visitor.
One of the newer parks, on the other hand, was established by the Chamber of Commerce to mark its 50th anniversary. It can be found just to the north west of the King Faisal Air College on the extension of Al Ihsa Road. Featured in the centre is a fountain that represents the Chamber’s logo, and from its centre is a 12 metre high tower which spouts water. This tower is surrounded by six quadrants of gears, each of which is surrounded by another group of circular fountains which change colour.
Another park which features water prominently is the Al Maktaba Park, which can be found on the western side of Olaya Street and which backs on to the King Fahd Library. Opposite the main gate is a waterfall which flows into an artificial pool that meanders the length of the garden. Four fountains add to the overall effect and you will also see a six-metre-high clock tower that can be seen from virtually anywhere within the park.
Many of Riyadh’s parks have been reserved for the use of families only and some charge a small entrance fee – typically SR2. Some close all day on one day of the week – usually Saturday, Sunday or Monday and the majority are open in the afternoons and evenings only, often right up until midnight.
Don’t be put off by some of the gaudy entrances, which, one suspects, are there to encourage the kids. Once inside there is plenty to explore, though try to avoid going at busy times such as weekends, since they are over-run – literally – by local children.
There also appears to be a subtle difference between ‘parks’ and ‘gardens’ – the latter appearing more adult-friendly, though possibly because they are slightly smaller than the parks, and so don’t have so much laid on for the children.
Murabba Park entrance: 24 38.75’ N; 46 42.76’ E
As Salam Park: 24 37’.37’ N; 46 42.63’ E
Prince Fahd al-Faisal Park: 24 39.95’ N; 46 43.91’ E
Jabal Abu Makhrouq Park: 24 40.43’ N; 46 43.6’ E
Chamber of Commerce Park: 24 41.85’ N; 46 43.71’ E
Al Maktaba Park: 24 41.19’ N; 46 41.31’ E