What I discovered on my globe-trotting adventure at Riyadh's Boulevard World

The mammoth site is part of the city-wide festival Riyadh Season

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Riyadh Season has launched its latest addition to the city-wide festival.

Boulevard World is a sprawling 1.2 kilometre site connected to Boulevard City via a three-minute cable car ride.

Where the latter venue is geared towards entertainment and fine dining, culture is at the heart of Boulevard World.

Open daily until January 22, Boulevard World features zones inspired by 10 countries with visitors encouraged to “travel the world” and sample the cultures and traditions of some of the most storied destinations.

Bear in mind such a journey takes time and good walking shoes.

My tour of Boulevard World, spanning four hours and 8km, was considered by my guide as “an express visit”.

He wasn’t joking. Such is the scope and detail of the mammoth venue it deserves a couple of visits to take it all in.

Here is what you can find at each of the countries exhibited in Boulevard World.

1. France

A replica of the Arc de Triomphe in France. Photo: Riyadh Season

Boulevard World’s ambition to bring the world to Riyadh is immediately apparent upon stepping foot in the France zone, one of the first major sites when entering the venue.

After sampling the tropical vibes of the Lost Mountains exhibit at the main gates, you are ushered on to the streets of Paris, complete with a replica of the Arc de Triomphe.

The streets are lined with cafes, patisseries and shops selling the best of Gallic fashion and design.

A concave-shaped Imax-size screen is also on hand projecting a digital image of the Eiffel Tower covered with flowers in bloom.

2. The US

The sounds of summery French accordions make way for the gritty rock sounds of Las Vegas.

The party city’s Area 15 entertainment venue makes a pop-up appearance at Boulevard World.

From virtual reality games and neon-lit art installations to indoor golf and billiards, the space is cool, loud and kinetic.

Less than 50 metres on and you are transported to Hollywood with fake palm trees, film posters and restaurants selling all-American classics such as burgers and hot dogs.

3. Spain

Stroll down a miniature version of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and you will find yourself in Spain.

Flamenco music is provided by a troupe performing in a courtyard inspired by Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.

The country’s cuisine is highlighted with a cafe cooking up paella for Dh50 a plate, and serving alcohol-free sangria.

4. Mexico

Ancient Mexico is celebrated at Boulevard World. Photo: Riyadh Season

The Mayan civilisation is highlighted in Mexico with a replica of Kukulkan, a pyramid-shaped archaeological site.

In addition to live music by a folk ensemble, there is a stand displaying the refined straw-weaving technique used to create Mexican sombreros.

5. India

Go through the children’s friendly Fun Zone — with its clowns and carousels and the self-explanatory Slime Village — and you are hit with the aroma of earthy spices and the twanging sounds of the sitar.

The alley becomes narrower, lined by vendors selling samosa and masala chai, before you come face to face with a replica of the Taj Mahal.

On the other side is a live stage with a traditional music ensemble playing regular shows.

And tucked away in alleyways are shops selling spices and fabrics.

Off-season, the site will host the Hindu Holi celebration in March, so expect this zone to be a hub of colour and celebration.

6. Italy

With Boulevard World's majestic manmade lakes and rivers, it is only right the Italian zone is inspired by Venice.

Boats ferry you for a romantic cruise in Italy and village courtyards are home to theatrical and folk music performances.

Of course, you can't go to Italy without trying the food.

In addition to well-made espressos, be sure to try the pizza fritta, which is basically a fried margarita pizza slice.

7. Morocco

A footbridge links a serene Italian piazza to a bustling Moroccan medina.

As the only Arab country represented so far in Boulevard World, Morocco does the region proud.

According to my Moroccan travel companion, the medina’s architecture — with its horseshoe arches, arabesque motifs and wooden surfaces — resembles the markets of Fes.

Vendors sell everything from local fabrics and colourful leather sandals to the North African country’s signature green tea and argan oil.

All that commerce — bargaining is allowed — is sound tracked by thumping percussion and religious chants of folk troupes performing near by.

8. Greece

A cable car soars over the beautiful Greek zone at Boulevard World. Photo: Riyadh Season

Instead of conjuring up the majesty of the Acropolis in Athens, Boulevard World takes the unexpected route with Santorini being the inspiration for the Greek zone.

The blue-domed and white-walled buildings synonymous with the picturesque island dot the site among various sculptures.

Folk dances are performed daily in a mini Greek amphitheatre.

Culinary options are mostly dessert dishes with the baklava being a favourite with visitors.

9. Japan

You can experience the adrenalin and sensory overload of Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing at a replica of the famous intersection.

The detail is impressive, with the pedestrian crossing (with buggies rather than larger vehicles on the car-free site) flanked by flashing neon-lit buildings.

Stroll further into the action and you will find various ticketed anime exhibitions, Japanese restaurants and a giant model of the popular 1970s anime character UFO Robo Grendizer peering rather menacingly over the crowds.

10. China

If your visit follows a circular route, you will end your Boulevard World experience in China.

The site has many of the country’s architectural motifs, such as red curved roofs, and features an outdoor market specialising mostly in arts and crafts.

A food court is located within, with a menu of noodles, spring rolls and dumplings.

Boulevard World's biggest ride is also here. Named Dragon's Fury, the ticketed hair-raising spectacle has you strapped to your seat while twisting and turning at an eye-watering height.

Boulevard World is open daily from 3pm to 11pm until January 22. Tickets are 100 Saudi riyals ($26) on weekdays and 150 Saudi riyals on weekends from riyadhseason.sa

Updated: January 13, 2023, 6:02 PM