Things to do in the Middle East

With natural wonders, antiquities and modern cities to explore, the Middle East is a magic carpet ride full of surprises. Fans of ancient history won’t want to miss the significant cities of Jerusalem – sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, the Nabataean capital of Petra in Jordan – think ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’, the old Persian capital of Persepolis, as well as the epic locales and ruins of Ephesus, Palmyra, Baalbek and Leptis Magna where mighty rulers and civilizations lived and breathed. There are also mosques and monuments galore from Baghdad to Beirut.

For modern feats of engineering, you can’t go past the dizzying heights of the Gulf States. The world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa) and tallest freestanding hotel (JW Marriot Marquis Hotel) both reside in Dubai where you’ll also find the artificial archipelago of Palm Jumeirah. From mega malls to cosmopolitan cities, you can be wandering the massive maze of a spice or gold souk or shopping for designer labels in Tehran, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Amman and Beirut. A hamam is a must in Turkey to experience a traditional Turkish bath, and don’t miss the insane ski resort within the Mall of the Emirates.

Head out from the cities to see the Middle Eastern scenery. Whether you’re dune bashing on a 4WD safari, diving off Jordan’s Aqaba or Oman’s Muscat, sailing on a dhow in the UAE, taking a ferry across the Red Sea or swimming in the Mediterranean Sea off Tel Aviv, there’s plenty to do in the Middle East. For sightseeing, don’t miss the Wadi Rum desert valley in Jordan, the wildlife of Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, seeing the cedar groves in Lebanon, the desert dunes and sun-soaked beaches of Oman or the green mountains of Yemen.

For more on what to see and do in the Middle East, here’s our top picks.

Abu Dhabi

With desert, beaches and over 200 islands within the emirate, there’s plenty to do in Abu Dhabi. One of the most popular pastimes is island hopping from the entertainment playground of Yas Island to the cultural hub of Saadinyat, and the wildlife haven of Sir Bani Yas Island where you can spy cheetahs, ostriches, giraffes, gazelles and oryx.

Ajman

While the most well-known sights in Ajman fall into the historic and cultural categories, there’s plenty of outdoor diversions to hold your interest for a day trip or overnight stay in the emirate. For starters, the laidback ambience of the 16km stretch of sandy white public beach known as Ajman Corniche is a big drawcard where you can enjoy the warm, clear water of one of the UAE’s best beaches.

Dubai

Established in 1833 as a sheikhdom, Dubai has an illustrious history as a Middle East trading hub and port city. While its modest roots are hard to comprehend amid the modern and manmade metropolis, there are still historic areas to explore. Check out the Old Dubai area of the Bastakiya and Shindagha districts and visit the Dubai Museum, housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort, where exhibits show the speed at which Dubai has progressed from pearling village to building behemoth.