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Top 5 Places to go in the Middle East

by Travelbag on 04 September 2019, 16:09PM

Dubai skyline

There’s more to the Emirates than Dubai, just as there’s more to the Middle East than the UAE. The surrounding Arabian Peninsula is a region of great natural beauty, with rugged mountains and unspoiled beaches. It also boasts modern cities, world-class hotels and a true sense of history. From the red rock of Jordan to the remote fjords of Oman – and, yes, the glitz and glam of Dubai – there’s something here for everyone. We’ve picked out our five favourites for a Middle Eastern adventure.

 

Best for history and culture: Jordan

A holiday to Jordan is a journey back in time. Remnants of ancient civilizations are scattered all over the country. The crowning jewel has to be Petra – the world-famous ancient city, tucked away inside a narrow desert gorge. Seen on screen in many movies – notably Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – it is a reminder of why filmmakers like this extraordinary landscape so much. More recently, it’s been the backdrop for Star Wars: Rogue One and Disney’s live action take on Aladdin.

Back in the ancient world, Jordan’s treasures included Jerash, one of the best-preserved Roman towns in the world. You can wander along its colonnaded streets, past public baths and theatres, and feel the power and splendour of Rome. In Amman, meanwhile, there’s the Citadel – a complex of temples and palaces with a Roman theatre at its foot. Even Aqaba, on the Red Sea, offers more than sun and sand, as it’s also home to the impressive Mamaluk Fort. Jordan is rich in Crusader castles too – fortified ruins line the King’s Highway, while Islamic desert castles stand testament to life in the 8th century.

Jordan

 

Best for shopping: Dubai

Dubai is a serious shopper’s paradise. If there’s something happening here, it’s happening at the mall – or the souk. Tax-free prices aren’t the only attraction, either. The scale of what’s available here is simply unprecedented, even by Emirati standards. Name a familiar brand – from Adidas to Zara – and you’ll find it here. For designer labels, visit the expansive Dubai Mall, where the celebrated fountains – the largest show of its kind in the world – spout nightly in choreographed perfection. You’ll see locals, expats and tourists alike strolling around the air-conditioned mall, pounding the plastic or simply enjoying an ice cream

But shopping in Dubai isn’t all about big-name labels. Traditional goods are also on offer here, including spices, hand-crafted rugs and high-quality jewellery. The Gold Souk is worth a visit even if you’re not buying. This maze-like place is one of the biggest retail gold markets in the world, selling everything from heavy ingots to delicate, hand-carved masterpieces. Be ready to haggle – it’s all part of the experience. Deira Covered Souk is the best place for textiles, while the spice market next door is bursting with colour and fragrance.

Souk spices

 

Best for family fun: Abu Dhabi

Less frenetic than Dubai, Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven Emirates, and manages to pack in activities for all ages. Families will be thrilled by the new Warner Bros World theme park, which joins Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World in keeping kids entertained. The latter is home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, which hits 150mph in just 4.9 seconds – twice as fast as a Bugatti Veyron or Ferrari’s own LaFerrari. Adrenaline junkies can take the white-knuckle thrills even further with a race around the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit. Instructors are on hand with a number of different vehicles, including Jaguar F-Types Aston Martin GT4s, or a Mercedes AMG GT.

At the other end of the scale, the ancient heritage of the Middle East is interpreted for all at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, which reopened at the end of 2018. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – one of the most spectacular places of worship on earth – is another must-see. Guided tours are available daily. You can also see the ancient and modern mix down by the harbour, where traditional wooden dhows ply the Gulf against a backdrop of skyscrapers.

Saadiyat Island should be on your list, too. Abu Dhabi has a very international feel and nowhere more so than here. The new Louvre gallery opened in 2017 and architect Jean Nouvel’s domed steel masterpiece was worth the wait – it’s a truly extraordinary setting for the art inside.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

 

Best for off-the-beaten-track adventures: Oman

Anyone looking for the land that time forgot should consider a trip to Oman. Its 1,300-mile coastline offers a mix between capital Muscat and the more traditional Salalah to the south and, at times, it seems the modern world has been forgotten. A guided tour is the easiest way to take in the excitement and beauty of the desert. You can stay overnight at a desert camp and go dune bashing in the Wahiba Sands, spend time with the Bedouin and visit an oasis, before returning to Muscat or the ancient city of Nizwa.

Scuba divers, in particular, will really love Oman’s underwater thrills. The country has more than 40 easily-accessible dive sites for all levels of experience, from shore dives to wrecks and night diving. For shallow, sheltered dives, Bandar Jussa is just the ticket, while the Daymaniyat Islands offer pristine coral gardens and extensive sealife, including sharks.

Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable just to enjoy the luxurious and cosmopolitan atmosphere of Muscat, where five-star retreats like Grand Hyatt Muscat, the Chedi and Al Bustan Palace offer private beaches and exceptional accommodation.

Dune bashing in Oman

 

Best of both worlds: Ras al-Khaimah

Sandwiched between Sharjah and Fujairah at the very northern tip of the UAE, Ras al-Khaimah combines the quality and familiarity of Dubai with the history and rugged scenery of Jordan or Oman. Getting out into the desert is easy, where you can visit a Bedouin camp or the hilltop fort of Dhayah. This is the only surviving fort of its type in the UAE and offers spectacular views across the Emirates. Thrill-seekers have to try the Jebel Jais Flight – the world’s longest zip line – stretching for just under a mile, 1,680 metres above sea level. Strap into the harness and you can soar over the scrub of the Hajar Mountains, reaching speeds of up to 100mph. Afterwards, relax at any of RAK’s four and five-star resorts, including the Ritz Carlton, the Waldorf Astoria and Hilton Al Hamara Beach & Golf Resort. You could take a taxi to Dubai for around £40 but if you really wanted to show off, a seaplane is around £300 per person. Well, you are in the Emirates – why not do it in style?

 

Take a look at our holidays to the Middle East and give our experts a call – we’ll make your adventure a doddle.

Find more travel inspiration in our Escape magazine, or read our dos and don’ts for visiting Dubai during Ramadan.


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