Riyadh’s Beverly Hills

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to boost tourism and move away from traditional industries. Historic Diriyah embodies this bold new vision.

A country not traditionally renowned for international tourism and with an economy based on industries such as oil, Saudi Arabia has plans for a different future. Its Vision 2030 is a strategic framework to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

A key part of the blueprint involves a series of ‘giga projects’ with the goal of raising revenue from tourism from the current 3% of GDP to 10% by 2030. As well as schemes such as Amaala on the Red Sea and the tech city Neom, Vision 2030 includes the redevelopment of Diriyah, a historic city 15 minutes north west of the Saudi capital Riyadh.

The SAR190 billion (€44.8 billion) Diriyah project is a 5 sq km mixed-use culture and lifestyle destination. Diriyah will become the Kingdom’s historic and cultural heart, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s 300+ years of history through a series of heritage, hospitality, education, retail and dining experiences for residents, tourists and visitors. Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, says Diriyah will become  “the Beverly Hills of Riyadh”.

‘Diriyah Square has crafted a collection of the finest culture, hospitality, retail, leisure and entertainment assets. The project is set to become one of the world’s greatest gathering places.’

Jerry Inzerillo, DGDA

Considered one of the Kingdom’s most important historical sites and the capital of the first Saudi state, Diriyah is home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif, a mud-brick city that stands as the birthplace of the first Saudi state. HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, envisioned Diriyah four years ago and the project has since gone from ‘mega’ to ‘giga’ in nature, as well as experiencing a huge increase in budget and project area.

It will be home to more than 20 luxury hospitality venues reflecting the rich history and culture of Diriyah and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, the destination will include museums, galleries, restaurants, retail experiences, public squares, hotels, multiple recreational spaces, residences, educational institutions and offices. It will be home to a population of 100,000 and is expected to attract 25 million visitors a year.

Residents and visitors will be able to stroll the 3km escarpment walk overlooking the Wadi Hanifah valley or explore themed tourist trails connecting Diriyah’s districts. Five areas, including King Salman Square and the Heroes Memorial Plaza, will provide spaces to gather, meet friends and celebrate amidst the traditional Najdi architecture.

Diriyah’s retail offerings will combine global brands with traditional artisan shops and souks, set within an authentic Najdi village atmosphere.

Diriyah’s Historical and Cultural heart

At-Turaif lies at the cultural heart of Diriyah. Built in 1766 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, it was here that Diriyah’s ruling family lived under the leadership of Imam Mohammad bin Saud, the forefather of Saudi Arabia’s current King, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

At Diriyah, residents and visitors will learn about Saudi history through museums, cultural institutes, and academies. They will be able to experience a thematic period village recreating life as it was 300 years ago or stroll through the art district with its array of galleries, restaurants and authentic retail experiences.

With a focus on heritage, culture and the arts, Diriyah will feature several world-class academies, institutes and the King Salman University. There will be cultural institutes specialising in Najdi architecture and mud-brick building, poetry, falconry, the teachings of Islam, local theatre, dance, music and culinary arts.

Diriyah Square, at the centre of the development, is set to become one of the Kingdom’s largest lifestyle shopping destinations with world-class lifestyle retail, leisure and entertainment options.

“We are going the extra mile to ensure we provide the best location for ambitious brands, collaborating to create exceptional customer experiences in an authentic and intimate environment of streets and squares, whilst protecting and celebrating the distinctive character of Diriyah,” says Jonathan Timms, president of Diriyah Development Company.

Scheduled to open by 2024, Diriyah Square is the gathering place within the masterplan, bringing together more than 450 of the world’s finest retail brands and 100 local Saudi artisan souks. The district is designed to deliver a complete lifestyle offering: from leisure and entertainment, ultra-luxury hotels, and places to work and live – within a destination steeped in heritage and culture as Diriyah is the birthplace of the Kingdom, centred around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif, and the site of the first Saudi state.

“Diriyah Square has crafted a collection of the finest culture, hospitality, retail, leisure and entertainment assets. The project is set to become one of the world’s greatest gathering places, all in the vibrant heart of authentic Diriyah,” says Inzerillo. 

The Diriyah masterplan will mix the historic with the new and create new places for tourists and residents alike to meet and take advantage of dining, retail or walks in traditional settings

The vision for Diriyah Square was unveiled in November 2021 and rests on three key values – authenticity, future and place:

Authenticity The Diriyah Square project will apply Najdi-inspired architecture and design principles in a way that is unique in a project of this size, helping provide a distinct proposition for the region while remaining true to the Kingdom’s heritage and vision.

Future The project is designed to create an exciting future while maintaining its links with the past. Underpinned by the latest infrastructure, above and below ground, the thriving Najd village will be an urban, walkable city and aims to be a legacy for future generations.

Place Placemaking is central to the success at Diriyah Square, it is based on a predominantly open-air, authentic streetscape of laneways, open-air courtyards, and souks, to create both a thriving day and night-time economy.

With more than 100 restaurants, Diriyah will offer local and international cuisine and casual and fine dining experiences in a variety of settings from urban squares to wadi vistas.

The Bujairi dining precinct will provide culinary experiences with wellness, connectivity, and togetherness as its core. With an aim of providing world-class dining in an authentic setting to international visitors, as well as enhancing the offer for day visitors and the local Riyadh-based community, the precinct will offer unparalleled views over At-Turaif.

‘Diriyah has such significant meaning in the Kingdom, providing a unique opportunity for the world’s greatest retailers and brands.’

Alfie Gibbs, head of retail leasing, Diriyah Development Company

Due for completion in early 2022, Bujairi Terrace will comprise four Michelin-starred restaurants – Bruno, Tatel, Hakkasan and Long Chim – alongside a carefully curated set of premium cuisines and beverage brands, encompassing every dining need – ranging from pit-stop coffees to leisurely fine-dining experiences, with 18 food and beverage brands brought together to cater for local and international visitors.

 “We are so proud to have our development’s first assets opening in early 2022. We look forward to welcoming local, regional and international visitors alike to experience the cuisine in a truly outstanding setting,” says Inzerillo. Timms adds: “We are excited to welcome 12 world-class global brands including four Michelin-star restaurants to Diriyah.”

The brand-mix has been curated to offer both the international flagship brands but also Middle Eastern and particularly Saudi cuisine to ensure authenticity and cater to both global and local audiences.

Entrepreneur Deem Albassam will bring her brands to Bujari Terrace, including Somewhere, serving authentic Middle Eastern cuisine, Sugar and Grind, as well as other local Saudi brands such as Sum + Things and Takya, the first Saudi fine dining restaurant serving Saudi contemporary cuisine.

Critically acclaimed Long Chim introduces premium Thai to the area, whilst Mastro’s, Bruno and Café de L’Esplanade are all new names to the wider Middle East region. It is the first time that Mastro’s will have opened a restaurant outside the US, and the first time that Bruno and Café de L’Esplanade have restaurants outside of France.