Middle East Vacation Guide
Traveling to the Middle East is a journey like no other. From ancient cities to modern metropolises, this region offers a myriad of experiences that are filled with culture, history, adventure, and beauty. Whether you want to explore bustling souks in Marrakech or take in the breathtaking views of Petra, there is something for everyone in the Middle East.
Before embarking on your journey, here are a few important things to consider. Start by researching the specific laws and customs of each country to avoid any unexpected surprises. Travelers should also be aware that certain parts of the Middle East can be more conservative than others in terms of dress code and behavior—so it’s best to dress modestly and respect local customs. Additionally, it’s important to prepare for both hot and cold climates if you plan on traveling to multiple countries in the region.
And while safety is always a top priority when traveling abroad, rest assured that the Middle East is generally safe for tourists. Just remember to stay alert and follow basic safety precautions such as avoiding back alleys, not displaying expensive items in public places, and staying out of political conversations with strangers.
In the end, traveling to the Middle East is about so much more than simply sightseeing. It’s an opportunity to gain first-hand insight into a diverse range of cultures, traditions, and lifestyles—making it a truly special experience that will stay with you for years to come.
Bahrain is located in the Arabian Gulf just off the east coast of Saudi Arabia. It is promoted as the ‘Island of Golden Smiles’, and is one of the more liberal of the Gulf States and has become increasingly popular in recent years with travelers. It consists of 33 islands and the main island is also named Bahrain.
There are many places worth visiting in Bahrain and the first stop for most tourists to Bahrain is Manama, the capital. Here you can visit the fascinating National Museum. Also of interest is Beit Al-Qur’an, which boasts a valuable collection of Holy Qur’ans and manuscripts.
You should also make a trip to the Manama Souk (market). Here you will find all sorts of interesting goods on sale, from brightly colored cloth, jewelry, and gold, to spices and local products.
The beaches in Bahrain are beautiful, especially those on the Hawar Islands, but the waters are very shallow so if you want to swim, it is best to use the hotel pools. Golf and horseback riding are also popular pastimes here.
There is a wide range of hotels to suit all tastes and budgets in Bahrain and all international hotel chains are represented here. Prices for a double room in a mid-range hotel are similar to what you would pay in Europe but cheaper options are available for those on a shoestring.
Most people coming to Bahrain will arrive at Bahrain International Airport, which is on Muharraq Island, about 12 km from Manama. There are direct flights to Bahrain from most major international airports. The only land border with Bahrain is across the King Fahd Causeway into Saudi Arabia.
Iran is located in the Middle East between the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. It is a large country about the size of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany combined. The most noticeable highlight of Iran is its people as Iranians are famous for their warmth, hospitality and friendliness.
There is much to see and do in Iran for visitors. Visit Tehran, the nation’s capital, with its trendy restaurants, fine museums, decent choice of accommodation, and art galleries. Explore Esfahan with its magnificent mosques and the stunning Imam Square. Or get wonderfully lost in the bazaars in Shiraz, Kerman, and Kashan, sip tea in the courtyards or gardens of a traditional chaykhune (teahouse) or simply join the crowds for an evening stroll in Tabriz.
Explore the Alborz Mountains with its magnificent ski retreats, hidden valleys and hiking trails around the famous Castles of the Assassins. Visit Iran’s holiest site, the impressive Holy Shrine of Imam Reza or one of the world’s greatest ancient cities at Persepolis.
Accommodation is available in Iran to suit all tastes and budgets. Prices are reasonable for mid-range hotels, with single and double rooms costing practically the same. Guesthouses are welcoming to tourists and less costly.
Most international flights arrive at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport; however, many travelers prefer to arrive in Shiraz to avoid backtracking. It is easy to get to either Tehran or Shiraz from all international airports in the Middle East. It is also possible to take a train or bus here from Istanbul via Ankara and Tabriz.
Iraq shares its borders with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, the Gulf of Oman, Kuwait and Syria. Although currently off the radar for tourists due to ongoing conflict, there are many places to visit in Iraq such as Baghdad, the country’s capital, Mosul, Basra and Babylon.
Baghdad is the ‘City of the Caliphs’ and is located on the River Tigris. The places to see in Baghdad are the old churches and monasteries such as the Church of Meskenta, Kadhimain Shrine and the walls and gates of the city: Mu’adham (North) Gate, Dhafariya (Wastani) Gate, Halaba (Talisman) Gate, and Basaliya Gate and Abbasid Palace.
In Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, there are many interesting sites such as the Great Mosque (Nuriddin Mosque), Mujahidin Mosque, Umayyad Mosque and Qara Serai (Black Palace). Basra is the third-largest city in Iraq and it is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ because of the many canals that run through it.
At present accommodation in Iraq is geared mainly for military and aid workers. Hotel accommodation is limited and bookings should be made in advance. There are some small hotels available for those on low budgets but these have a low standard of facilities and don’t come with air conditioning. Hotels usually require payment in foreign currency and in cash. A 10 percent service charge is normally added to the bill.
Royal Jordanian Airlines and Iraqi Airways have recently resumed their flights into Baghdad International Airport from Amman in Jordan. It is also possible to enter by land from Syria or Jordan as part of a group tour. A tourist visa is required.
Jordan is one of the most welcoming of all the Arabic countries. It is safe and easy to travel around and it is not yet spoiled by tourists and visitors. It has a rich history, stunning desert scenery, and some amazing sites.
Amman is Jordan’s capital. Here you will find several ancient Roman sites dotted about the city, including an Odeon amphitheater, the restored Roman Theatre, and the Roman Citadel. Jerash, a beautifully preserved Roman city just 50 km north of Amman, is another must-see.
Just a few hours south of Amman is the amazing city of Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was built by wealthy Nabateans and the entire city is cut out of the rocky valleys and canyons of this incredible landscape. To enter Petra, you walk along a rock passage known as the siq until you arrive at the breathtaking fascia of the Treasury.
Aqaba is a small resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba. Here you can relax on the beaches or try scuba diving. About 40 km north of Aqaba is the remarkable desert landscape of Wadi Rum where you can take a camel ride and stay in Bedouin camps.
The most basic accommodation in Jordan comes in the form of shared rooms. A good mid-range hotel will cost you more while the top-of-the-range singles and doubles are priced on par with European hotels and come with all facilities. Big-name brands such as Four Seasons are found in the capital.
There are direct flights to Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport from most cities in Europe and the Middle East or you can take a ferry across from Egypt or travel over the border from Israel or Syria.
Kuwait, located in the Middle East, may be rich in oil but it is also rich with souks, mosques and other remnants of ancient history. Although it may be known around the world as a country previously ravaged by neighboring Iraq, Kuwait is today a popular tourist destination enjoyed by thousands of curious tourists.
Kuwait City is the capital of Kuwait and also the country’s largest city. Once home to the world-famous National Museum, which was cruelly ransacked during the war, most tourists try and uncover the Tareq Rajab Museum, which is privately based in the basement of an enormous villa and hosts some of the world’s oldest ancient Islamic art.
The Kuwait Towers are Kuwait’s most recognizable landmarks and were constructed back in 1979. The largest of the towers span nearly 190m and the lower floors have coffee shops, restaurants, and meeting rooms while the upper floors have an observation deck which allows you to look all around the city.
If you are a keen historian hoping for some Gulf War nostalgia, Al-Jahra is where you should be heading as it was a major site during the infamous ‘turkey shoot’. Al-Jahra was also famous before that as the place where Kuwaitis defeated an invading Saudi army back in 1920.
The best place to stay in Kuwait is in the capital, Kuwait City. Here you have a range of accommodation options and you can get a room in a top luxury hotel for less than similar hotels in the West. There is, of course, more modest accommodation in the area also if you look around and have an eye for a bargain.
Kuwait International Airport is less than 20 km from Kuwait City and you can easily get there on the bus coming from Cairo, Agaba or Dammam in Saudia Arabia. For direct flights from Europe, use Kuwait Airlines which has flights between London, Kuwait, and Bangkok on a regular basis.
Although it may not be the first country that springs to mind when you think of possible holiday destinations, Lebanon is known as a hidden gem in the tourist industry and boasts an ancient history through its Roman ruins and old cities, while also providing world-renowned ski resorts for sports lovers.
After a long civil war that threatened to tear the country apart, Lebanon is bouncing back in style and attracts travelers around the world who come to visit Beirut, the capital city reputed as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. In this vibrant cosmopolitan hub, you can enjoy the sunset at Pigeon Rocks. The city of Bcharré is where many head to enjoy Lebanon’s breathtaking scenery before arriving at the area’s popular Gibran Museum.
Tripoli is less than 100 km north of Beirut and is the country’s second-largest city and also its main port. Tripoli is more modern than Beirut but there are still examples of just how old it is with exhibits of famous Mamluk architecture found throughout the city. The famous attraction here is the Citadel of Tripoli but while in the area, a lot of tourists head off to Rabbit’s Island, which boasts an impressive nature reserve that is home to turtles and rare birds.
There are plenty of places to stay in Lebanon no matter where you are, although the best accommodation is found in either Beirut or Tripoli, where you can find luxury five-star hotel chains offering rooms with every conceivable facility.
Due to the amount of Lebanese that have immigrated to Australia, Australian airlines such as Qantas have flights directly to Lebanon but you can also get to Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport from London with BMI. Be warned that traveling around this region has to be well planned given the current political climate.
At the mouth of the Persian Gulf lies Oman, a country known around the world for its friendly people, breathtaking landscapes, and pristine examples of ancient architecture. Often overlooked by the average tourist, Oman can give you quite a surprise and is a good travel alternative to the more popular United Arab Emirates.
Muscat is Oman’s capital and it is a traditional yet charming place, which plays host to popular tourist attractions such as the Sultan’s main palace, the old city walls and the Jalali and Mirani forts that guard the city’s harbor entrance. Other popular spots that have tourists flocking to them in their thousands include the aquarium, the National Museum, the Oman Museum, and the recently restored Mutra watchtower which, if climbed, offers breathtaking panoramic views of the capital.
It is safe to say that most of Oman’s tourist destinations are scattered up and down its coastline. Salalah in the south is where the ancient ruins of Zafar are found alongside popular beaches and Job’s Tomb. If you are in the center of Oman at any point, visit the popular town of Sur, which delights all who visit it with its impressive Marine Museum, large forts, and golden beaches.
The best accommodation in Oman is found in its largest cities meaning that if you want to stay in five-star luxury, it is best to head off to Muscat or Salalah. For dining out, this is where most of the best restaurants and charming little cafés can be found in the country.
Muscat International Airport has hundreds of flights coming to it every day and they come directly from the capitals of European countries and other famous cities. Once you land at the airport, it’s easy to get into town as the shuttle bus outside the main terminal is frequent and reliable.
Although it may not be the first name that springs to mind when planning a trip to the Middle East, Palestine is still an interesting place full of ancient history and some of the oldest buildings in the world. Although it is wise to remain cautious while in Palestine, those who can look beyond its current political turmoil will enjoy its historical wonders.
All the ancient biblical cities are located in Palestine and who has the right to these cities is a fact of major dispute between Palestinians and neighboring Israelis. Bordering the West Bank, Jerusalem is full of history and its Old City area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a holy place for Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. As well as this, it has plenty of options for tourists and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy once you’ve had a day seeing the sights.
Bethlehem is another popular city that lies within Palestine and is also an important and famous religious site for followers of numerous faiths. Once you have visited the famous Rachel’s Tomb, walk along Manger Street and into Manger Square, which is the city’s main center home to the Church of the Nativity.
Although some would have you believe that Palestine has become run down to its political problems, there are numerous examples of luxury accommodation found throughout the country. Most of it is found in Jerusalem and the iconic King David Hotel is reputed as being the most lavish hotel in Israel. If you prefer staying at a Novotel, you can find international chains in Jerusalem.
It is impossible to fly directly into Palestine due to the current political climate in the region. Your best bet is to fly into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport from mainland Europe or the US and then sort out your visa and papers to enter Palestine. Be aware that this process can take some time and you will be thoroughly checked and questioned by authorities as to your exact plans.
Qatar is still a relatively undiscovered part of the world and only started issuing tourist visas for foreign visitors 20 years ago. Qatar has an excellent location on a peninsula, that borders both Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf and is the perfect country to visit if you wish to get away from massive groups of tourists while still being able to enjoy the sights.
Doha is the famous capital of Qatar and it has a number of attractions worth noting. These are namely the Doha Fort, the Qatar National Museum, and Ethnographic Museum however thrill-seeking tourists come to visit Aladdin’s Palace, which is one of the only theme parks in this part of the world.
If you travel just 40 km north of Doha, you can find a field that is packed full of ancient graves that date as far back as the third millennium before the birth of Christ. Also in this part of the country is Al-Khor, which has a few ancient watchtowers and a mosque that offers a beautiful view of the ocean for all to enjoy.
In terms of places to stay, Doha boasts luxury hotels that live up to this area’s famous representation of luxury accommodation. For a reasonable amount, you can enjoy some of the Middle East’s best five-star hotels, which can be found in the heart of the capital city near the attractions or further away from everything if you prefer to have privacy.
Doha International Airport is a famous stop-off for Qatar Airways flights coming from London and Manchester on their way to countries in Asia such as Thailand and Malaysia. Bearing this in mind, you could plan to stop here for a few days if you were flying from either direction and preferred something completely different.
Visiting Saudi Arabia
In terms of serving the world as a tourist destination, Saudi Arabia remains unfamiliar to most of us due to its strict regulations regards the issuing of visas for foreigners. Saudi Arabia is a fascinating modern country rich with oil but also with fascinating desert landscapes, holy cities, and mountainous terrain. Saudi Arabia is the place where millions of Muslims flock to in order to visit Mecca and Medina.
Riyadh is Saudi Arabia’s capital city and has risen to prominence as the country’s largest and most vibrant city now home to several luxury hotels, one of the planet’s largest airports, and numerous skyscrapers. Popular attractions in Riyadh include Al-Bathaa in the center and Masmak Fortress, which was built around 1865 and has been recently restored by local authorities.
If you want to see what the old capital looked like, you must head 30 km north to Dir’aiyah which has now become the country’s leading and most visited archaeological site. Known as the ‘Paris of Arabia’, Jeddah is home to the Municipality Museum and the Jeddah Museum which is the area’s primary archaeology and ethnography museum.
Mecca is the sacred site for Muslims and millions of Muslims from around the world flock here every year to make the religious pilgrimage with each follower of Islam destined to make the hajj at least once in their lifetime. Things can get hectic here due to the area’s undeniable religious importance but it is worth a visit.
Riyadh and Jeddah provide tourists with the best luxury hotels you could ever aspire to stay in and many of the five-star suites offered in both cities firmly represent the lavish hospitality this part of the world is famous for. If you want a hotel, expect to pay the same as you would in a top European capital per night for luxury comfort.
Although visa matters sometimes become an issue when visiting Saudi Arabia, getting a flight there is not. Saudi Arabia has three major airports in Riyadh (King Khaled Airport), Jeddah, and Damman and all are flown by Saudi Arabian Airlines from major European cities with Gulf Airlines also offering services.
Syria is one of the more modern countries in the Middle East and boasts a scenic location on the eastern tip of the tranquil Mediterranean Sea. Although it has been bickering with its neighbor Israel for numerous years, Syria is a good place to visit, and the fact that it is home to the region’s oldest city, Damascus, makes it worth the visit alone.
Damascus is Syria’s capital which lies on the banks of the Barada River and the Ghouta Oasis that provide water resources for the Syrian people. Damascus’ history is believed to stretch back as far as 5000 BC and most come to visit the city center Martyrs’ Square which is home to some of Islam’s greatest monuments and a whole host of restaurants and hotels.
If you travel 140 km south to Bosra, you will find a city that is fascinatingly made from black basalt and is also home to one of the oldest Roman theatres in the world. The second-largest city in Syria is Aleppo, which also goes by the name of Halab. It is here that you will find fascinating markets alongside a citadel surrounded by water and a captivating museum. The region is also home to the ‘Dead Cities’ of Ruweiha, Serjilla, Jerada, and Al-Bara.
It should go without saying that the best accommodation for foreign visitors can be found in Syria’s capital Damascus. Here, you can expect to find a double room in a three-star hotel for a reasonable price and a four-star hotel for the same as a mid-range hotel in a European city. There are also luxury five-star options.
Getting into Syria can be achieved by flying into Damascus International Airport with Syrian Arab Airlines or by jumping aboard a BMI flight on its way to Europe. If you have a lot of free time to travel around, why not take the train from Istanbul and soak up all the sights and scenery as you journey across the Mediterranean region into the heart of the Middle East?
Visiting United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is arguably the most relaxed and forward-thinking country in this region in that it welcomes foreign tourists with open arms. Using its success as a lucrative supplier of oil, the UAE has reinvented itself as a business, shopping and tourist center.
Dubai is famous for numerous things. It plays host to the world’s most profitable horse race, it has the only six-star hotel in the world, it has international golf and tennis competitions, and a shopping festival that lasts more than a month. For the best bargains, head the duty-free Bedouin markets and the Deira Covered Souq for the best local silks and handicrafts.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and from its original birth as a pearling village, it has grown into one of the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan cities and it is also a major stop-off point for flights between Europe and Asia. If you wish to get away from it all, trek to Hatta which lies at the foot of the Hajar Mountains.
The accommodation in the UAE speaks for itself and needs no introduction. Here you will find some of the finest hotels known to man and the so-called ‘seven-star’ Burj al-Arab is one of the most famous landmarks in Dubai but its prices reflect this. If you wish for something that offers similar luxury but at a snip of the cost, try the Emirates Palace in the capital Abu Dhabi.
Most visitors to the UAE fly directly into Dubai International Airport which has connections to London, Sydney, Karachi, Johannesburg, and Tehran. Most of these flights are offered by world-renowned airline Emirates and you can be guaranteed the best service with them. If you are already in the Middle East, you can travel on the roads from either Saudi Arabia or Oman providing you have organized your visa for these places.
Although many embassies advise against travel to Yemen, despite its troubles it has plenty to offer tourists and there are many remnants of old history to be witnessed and enjoyed across the country as well as wonderful islands based in and around the Red Sea if you prefer to relax.
Yemen is famous for its narrow coastal plains which are backed by flat-topped hills, rough mountains, and golden desert terrain. Sana’a is the capital of Yemen and is found in the heart of the iconic Yemeni Mountains. Often the first place visitors head to is Sana’a’s old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site laden with old buildings hosting ancient artifacts that have been around since the times of Moses.
Other popular places in Yemen are the Red Sea Islands (over 100small islands scattered all over the Red Sea) and the former capital of South Yemen, Aden, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to the Military Museum, National Museum, a statue of Queen Victoria and the Central Market.
You can find five-star luxury hotel rooms at either the Sheraton or Mövenpick, which both offer lavish suites at European prices. In Aden, you can stay at the Sheraton Gold Mohur, Mövenpick Adel Hotel or Holiday Inn, which all have five-star facilities. For something more modest, head to Elephant Bay instead.
Emirates offers flight directly into Sana’a International Airport from Dubai and the flight takes just over two hours. If you are coming from Europe, Lufthansa fly to Yemen with a stop-over along the way in Cairo. Due to tensions with neighboring countries, it is advised that you fly here instead of drive.