The Middle East is one of the most fascinating, diverse and undiscovered destinations in the world. It will come as no surprise that the UNWTO announced it as the fastest growing tourism area globally for 2018 and 2019. After several years of unstable political environments, the Middle East is finally reclaiming its reputation as one of the finest holiday destinations on Earth.
And there’s so much more to explore and discover apart from ever-popular Egypt and Dubai. From some of the world’s most stunning desert scenery to the snow-capped volcanic Mount Damavand in Iran, the lush valleys of Israel and Jordan, the buzzing cities of Beirut and Tel Aviv and of course the first-class diving experience along the Red Sea and the fine Arabian Sea coasts.
Some of the world’s most iconic, mystical and ancient landmarks are situated in the Middle East – explore the Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan, the Persian cities of Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran or simply follow the legendary Silk Road through Uzbekistan and the countries of the Southern Caucasus – Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Keep reading and find out why each of these countries should be on your bucket list.
Immerse yourself into Jordan’s mystical spirits, ancient civilizations, spectacular desert scenery and first-class cuisine. Explore the wild area of the timeless Wadi Rum where you can camp in the middle of the desert – the best place to marvel at the stars, far away from the city lights.
Enjoy a peaceful camel ride to the legendary city of Petra, “a rose-red city half as old as time”. Treat yourself to an authentic Jordan barbecue on the shores of the Dead Sea or simply relax in the famous Jordan Rift Valley. Discover Jordan’s vibrant capital, Amman, perfectly combining the best of both worlds – ancient sights and ultra-modern architecture.
A visit to the Middle East is not complete without exploring the Holy Land of Israel. Undoubtedly the most popular place to go is Jerusalem, the meeting point of three of the world’s greatest religions. Explore the Old City of Jerusalem, visit the Western Wall and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, and don’t forget to check out the street bazaars for a bargain!
Another must-do activity in Israel is to simply float in the Dead Sea – don’t forget to take a newspaper for a picture-perfect moment! If you want to experience the modern, buzzing life of the country, head to Tel Aviv – a mecca for nightlife, concerts and never-ending fun. Head to the beach and enjoy a sunset or haggle in vibrant Carmel Market. To go off the beaten track, explore the iconic city of Nazareth or the lush gardens of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city.
Oman is often considered to be the Middle East’s best-kept secret, and the place to experience the true and authentic Arabia. You will find golden sand beaches, unspoiled desert wilderness, majestic mountain scenery, canyons as spectacular as America’s Grand Canyon, traditional villages and unique places to spot turtles hatching.
Top sights are the capital, Muscat, and its marvellous Sultan Qaboos Mosque, the stunning Wadi Ghul Canyon, the breath-taking Sharqiya Sand Sea and some of the world’s longest-living baobab trees. The best time to go to Oman is in October. Nevertheless, the region is very pleasant to discover all the way through to April.
Discover the fascinating Pearl of the Persian Gulf – Iran, and its vibrant new cities, colourful street bazaars, ancient Persian ruins, adventurous nomads, breath-taking natural wonders, stunning Islamic architecture, shimmering deserts and magnificent mosques.
Once there, don’t miss the stunning Vank Cathedral, marvel at the beautiful design of the world-famous Imam Mosque and Ali Qapu Palace in Isfahan, and the Nasir ol Molk Mosque and Mausoleum of Saadi in Shiraz, both brilliant symbols of Islamic architecture. Tour the tombs of the city of Yazd and scroll the lush gardens of Kashan. Don’t forget about the vibrant capital Tehran and Persepolis, a huge historical complex known for its Achaemenid architecture, one of the most artistic masterpieces of the ancient world.
With just a little over 1,000 UK tourists visiting Uzbekistan annually, you will definitely be going off the beaten track by visiting this fascinating land of the iconic Great Silk Road. Explore the busy capital of Tashkent, one of the most important business centres of Central Asia and one of its most attractive cities.
Discover the historical towns of the Silk Road – Bukhara, home to the most skilled artisans and colourful spice markets; Khiva, once the capital of slave trade, is now home to some of the world’s finest examples of Islamic architecture; and, of course, exotic and romantic Samarkand. Experience the authentic food of Uzbekistan (and try the vodka!), search for signs of the Soviet legacy, and don’t forget the stunning desert landscapes.
The Caucasus Region – Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan
Follow the iconic Great Silk Road through the “Land of Fire” of Azerbaijan, a vibrant, modern country situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea and offering the best of both worlds – Eastern and Western civilizations. Enjoy stunning mountain scenery, ancient vineyards and picturesque small villages in Georgia, home of the first European man.
Explore the mystical lands of the first Christian country, Armenia, and its rich historical and cultural heritage. Immerse yourself into traditional Armenian spiritual music and improve your cooking skills in a masterclass for unusual but tasty Armenian pasta. Go off the beaten track and experience the magic of the cosmopolitan pearls of Eurasia – Tbilisi, Baku and Yerevan.
No matter which country in the Middle East you visit, we advise you to do your research and follow national customs and etiquette, and dress accordingly. The majority of the countries are conservative and predominantly Muslim, so avoid any public affection, inappropriate clothes and, if possible, travel as a part of a group – the recommended option for first-timers to the Middle East.