Middle East map & highlights

Where to go in the Middle East very much depends on where you interests lie. If you want to spend time in desert wilderness then Oman is a good bet, while Egypt and Iran are top choices for history buffs, and Jordan is perfect if you want to combine the two. Adventure seekers will have plenty to whet their appetite, too, with trips available to little visited Iraqi Kurdistan and Saudi Arabia, while time spent in Israel and Palestine will throw light on a region that’s very much misunderstood.
Dead Sea

1. Dead Sea

This landlocked, hypersaline lake is also known as the Salt Sea, and it’s the lowest place on earth, at 394m below sea level. People come to experience its fabulous, floaty properties, to visit its mineral rich beaches and to cover themselves with healing Dead Sea mud. Its stunning location in the Jordan River Rift Valley is pretty special, too.

2. Iran

In Iran the echoes of ancient civilisations are everywhere – from the ruined city of Persepolis, to the exquisite domes and minarets of Esfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square, to the precious, rose-scented gardens of Shiraz and the palaces of Tehran. But it’s the people, whose warmth and generosity are legendary, who will sustain your memories long after your visit has ended.
Iraqi Kurdistan

3. Iraqi Kurdistan

Long off limits to travelers, and littered with reminders of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdistan is now open for a few intrepid souls to discover its natural and cultural wonders. The ancient city of Erbil is one of humanity's oldest settlements; lively, chaotic Suleimaniyah throngs with colourful bazaars; and the lush, green city of Rawanduz is surrounded by mountains and waterfalls.

4. Israel

Israel’s ancient cities and pathways lie in a landscape of incredible beauty, where forested hills and valleys sit alongside kaleidoscopic canyons and the glassy stillness of the Dead Sea. It's a challenging and thought provoking destination too – religion and politics run through everything here, and you’re unlikely to leave without observing the country’s complex affairs.

5. Lebanon

This small Mediterranean country has a huge amount on offer for a country its size, from top notch archaeological sites, to walking trails though mountains and ancient forests, to the buzzing metropolis of Beirut, full of museums, cafes, Ottoman-era mansions and, of course, that renowned nightlife.

6. Oman

Part of the sweeping Arabian Peninsula, Oman has a rich heritage and low-key charm that’s absent in some of her Arabian neighbours. It’s also a place of wild natural beauty, including a pristine coastline, the spectacular Western Al Hajar Mountains, the desert and the dunes at Wahiba Sands, and, for those who head off on an adventure to the south, the Dhofar region around Salalah.

7. Palestine

From fragrant Jericho, the oldest city in the world, to the ancient city of Bethlehem, to the rural walking trails of the ‘Path of Abraham,’ a vacation in Palestine takes you on a fascinating historical journey through one of the most significant landscapes in the Middle East. You’ll also find a local people passionate about their country’s incredible heritage and eager to share their knowledge with visitors.

8. Petra

A world classic, this ancient capital carved into pink sandstone dates back to 312 BC and is also known as the Rose City. First timers should approach via the multi-coloured main entrance of Al Siq, while other highlights include the 800 steps up to Al-Deir Monastery and the opportunity to learn about Bedouin lifestyles; while many were relocated away from the site, a handful of Bedouin still make their homes in Petra’s caves.
The Pyramids at Giza

9. The Pyramids at Giza

The epitome of Ancient Egypt, the Pyramids at Giza loom large in imaginations the world over. More than 100 pyramids are scattered across the country, but the Giza trio have withstood the ravages of time better than most. The Sphinx, an imposing half-man, half-lion limestone carving, sits a literal stone’s thrown from the pyramids and stands at over 20 metres high.
Saudi Arabia

10. Saudi Arabia

A visit to Saudi Arabia feels like a genuine adventure. The spiritual home of Islam, it receives hardly any foreign tourists, but is home to scorched desert, spectacular World Heritage sites, ancient petroglyphs, and two fascinating cities: Jeddah, with its beguiling, old town brimming with coral architecture, and Riyadh, a gleaming, wealthy sprawl of soaring towers and modern highways.
Valley of the Kings

11. Valley of the Kings

This maze of hidden, underground tombs near Luxor shows the work that went into preparing pharaohs for the afterlife, in which they were expected to join the world of the gods. Tombs were decorated with colourful paintings and filled with all the material goods that a pharaoh could wish for in the next world, from precious jewels to gold sculptures to food and wine.
Wadi Rum

12. Wadi Rum

Also known as the ‘Valley of the Moon’ due to its razor-toothed mountains, wind-sculpted rocks and expansive plains, Wadi Rum is 720km2 of protected desert terrain. Rich in Bedouin culture, access is via Wadi Rum village, the last outpost of modernity before untamed wilderness sets in.
Travel Team
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Sample travel times

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in the Middle East.

Dubai – Muscat: 4hrs 15 mins by road Tel Aviv – Jerusalem: 1hr 20 mins by bus Amman – Wadi Rum: 4hrs by road Cairo – Luxor: 7hrs 20 mins by road Tehran – Persepolis: 2hrs 30 mins by road Muscat – Ras Al Jinz: 3 hrs by road
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marc Veraart] [Dead sea: Samantha Scholl] [Iran: Steven Su] [Akre - Iraqi Kurdistan: David Stanley] [Israel: John T] [Beirut - Lebanon: Ramy Kabalan] [Muscat - Oman: Anfal Shamsudeen] [Palestine: David Rodrigo] [Petra: davida3] [The Pyramids at Giza: Adam Bichler] [Riyadh - Saudi Arabia: Stijn te Strake] [Valley of the Kings: Francisco Anzola] [Wadi Rum: Dan]