Middle East


Overview

Middle East travel advice, including top 10 Middle East travel experiences, map of the Middle East, guide to Middle Eastern city breaks and where to stay in the

For first-time visitors to the Middle East, the first surprise is the region’s diversity.

Yes, you’ll find some of the world’s greatest desert scenery here, but the area also boasts snow-capped peaks (the highest is Iran’s volcanic Mount Damavand), lush valleys (particularly in Israel, Lebanon and north Jordan), hip cities (try Beirut, Dubai or Tel Aviv on a Friday night) and world-class diving along the Red Sea and Arabian Sea coasts.

The ‘fertile crescent’ arcing from Egypt to Iran is the cradle of civilisation, and brims with historic sites. Most famous are the pyramids and temples of Egypt’s Nile Valley, but equally mesmerising are the Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan, the Persian cities of Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran, and the Roman ruins of Baalbec in Lebanon and Palmyra in Syria.

Biblical landmarks are scattered across restive Israel and Palestine – countries where travel is perfectly possible and hugely rewarding, but inevitably takes on a political dimension.

Further south into Arabia, Dubai and the arid Gulf states may be best-known for oil money and ultra-luxurious hotels, but there is another side too. Oman is fast becoming the Middle East’s adventure capital, offering mountain hikes, dune bashing and Bedouin encounters in the desert.

For well-prepared travellers, turbulent Yemen harbours untouched medieval cities like Shibam and the unique wildlife of Socotra island. Between the two, and spilling into little-visited Saudi Arabia, lie the vast dunes of the Empty Quarter, explored by Wilfred Thesiger in the 1940s.

Safety is a common concern for Middle East travellers. With the exception of Israel, the countries of the Middle East are predominantly Muslim, and as with any other part of the world, you should dress appropriately and familiarise yourself with local customs and etiquette.

In the main, though, you are far more likely to be overwhelmed by welcome than worry. Arab hospitality is no myth, and sitting down and talking with Middle Eastern locals is one of the greatest reasons to visit the region. A sweet tea, a nargileh (water pipe) and a game of backgammon are never far away.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Middle Eastern adventure today…

Further Reading

Top 10 Middle East travel experiences

This varied region gets a bad rap, but offers some of the world's greatest travel experiences, from age-old cities to one of the most modern metropolises in the world

 

  1. Marvel at Petra, Jordan – the rose red city, hewn from rock by the Nabateans around 2,000 years ago, is vast. Allow several days to explore the entire site; don't miss the Treasury and Monastery, the High Place of Sacrifice walk and the 'Petra by night' tour, when the site is illuminated by thousands of candles.
  2. Cruise the Nile, Egypt – the Nile has been the lifeblood of Egypt for millennia, and remains so today. Float – by basic felucca sail boat, posher modern cruiser or gorgeous traditional dahabiyya – to watch the riverbank temples and traditional way of life roll by.
  3. Meet the unique wildlife of Socotra, Yemen – the Galapagos of the Middle East is a truly strange and little-visited island of dragon's blood trees, pristine beaches, bird colonies and adventure.
  4. Soak up the cities, wine and history in Lebanon – small but perfectly formed, Lebanon is easy to explore. Mix the vibrant and hip capital Beirut with wine tasting in the Bekaa Valley and shopping in the souks of Tripoli.
  5. Explore the souks of Damascus, Syria – arguably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus still feels like a step back in time. Get lost in the old city, wending between the Christian and Jewish quarters to the grand mosques via steaming bathhouses and aromatic coffee shops.
  6. Sleep under the stars with the Bedouin, Jordan – head out into the otherworldly landscapes of Wadi Rum (by 4WD, by camel, on foot...) with a local Bedouin guide to spend a night or two camped out in a traditional tent, chatting round the campfire and listening to the sounds of the desert.
  7. Step into the Empty Quarter, Oman – the ideal desert? The rolling, seemingly never-ending dunes of the Empty Quarter are the desert of your dreams. Pack a copy of Thesiger's Arabian Sands and head out...
  8. Climb Mt Damavand, Iran – the highest peak in the Middle East is a snow-capped anomaly in this traditionally hot and dusty land. But it's a cracking climb, comparable to Tanzania's Kilimanjaro in height (5,610m) and challenge, but far less visited.
  9. Explore the UAE – Dubai gets most of the tourism headlines, but there's far more to the United Arab Emirates than this glitzy city. Head out into the desert in a 4WD, camp out at Liwa oasis, visit the forts at Al-Ain or shop in the remaining traditional souks.
  10. Take a cultural tour of Iran – combine the best of Persia on a tour of Iran's great cities and sites: Isfahan, Persepolis, Yzad, Shiraz... Plus, be overwhelmed by Arabian hospitality en route.