Though sometimes in the news for socio-political developments, the Middle East happens to also be one of the world’s most picturesque regions to visit. With superb mountain ranges, crystal clear waters, and some of the most ancient historical artefacts in the world, there are clear and compelling reasons to visit.
For one, the region’s culture of hospitality is incredibly welcoming. Then there are the treasure troves of culture, arts, and architecture to enterprising explorers to discover. Meanwhile, leisure vacationers will find their fill of rest, relaxation, sun and days on the beach.
We take a closer look at some of the touristic gems of the Middle East:
Perhaps one of the region’s best-known destinations, the UAE is a vibrant cornucopia of experiences. Head to Dubai for hustle, bustle and scintillating nightlife. Alternatively, take a leisurely walk near the old creek to watch the traditional wooden dhows still plying the water.
Or make your way to Abu Dhabi to get your share of the high-octane entertainment delivered by Ferrari World on the Yas Island. For your fill of culture, head to the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque1 and its 82 domes. Alternatively, head to Saadiyat Island to take in museums, art exhibitions, and play a round or two of golf.
Three colossal attractions immediately come to mind: Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea. While Jordan is bursting at the seams with things to do and cultures to absorb, no excursion could possibly be complete without visiting this trio of iconic destinations. Petra – that ancient city hewed out of mountain rock – leaves indelible memories. Wadi Rum – or the Valley of the Moon – is a UNESCO protected area. The spectacularly scenic valley spreads over 74,000 hectares and is a cradle of early civilisation. Meanwhile, the Dead Sea is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. Its high mineral content makes it very popular for those wanting skincare and arthritis treatments2.
This Mediterranean island is ideal for getting your fill of beautiful vistas, superb beaches3 , and a multi-layered quiche of history and culture. The Nea Pafos archaeological site – once the ancient bustling city of Pafos – is well worth a visit thanks to its smorgasbord of colourful mosaics4. And of course, don’t forget the magnificent frescoed Byzantine churches nestled in the Troödos mountains, or the scuba diving in Larnaca.
Stunning scenery meets fascinating history in a country that links Europe and the Middle East. Turkey – once the nexus of the Ottoman Empire – is a place that basks in a delightful confluence of history. Visitors can explore ancient cities and ruins harking back to the time of the Romans. When it comes to rest and relaxation, the local cuisine is delicious and the white pools of Pamukkale astonishing.
Then, the venerable Aya Sofya in Istanbul is a must-visit. First commissioned by Byzantine emperor Justinian, it was converted into a church in AD 537, and then made a mosque in 1453. In 1935, Ataturk declared it a museum. The Aya Sofya is a classic reminder of the multifarious influences shaping Turkey’s past5.
Visiting Qatar is watching history being made at a frenetic pace. The country, nominated as the host of the FIFA World Cup 2022, is in development frenzy. Rich in resources, with coffers swelled by petrochemical riches, Qatar has invested heavily in cultivating the arts, building museums, and diversifying into tourism.
Between the construction boom, and the vibrancy of an economy on the move, there is space to try a sport of kite-surfing or jet-skiing. While Qatar is building a new future every waking hour, there is plenty of the traditional past available. The Museum of Islamic Art is a must-visit for history buffs, while the traditional Souq Waqif is the quintessential destination to buy a spot of gold, pick up souvenirs or watch a demonstration of falcon handling.