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It’s little wonder that the Middle East holds steady as one of the world’s great hotspots for tourism. Birthplace of three major world religions and a cradle of civilization, both pilgrims and holidaymakers are equally drawn to this region. For many centuries this area was a great crossroads of explorers and plunderers, and the result is a melting-pot population and lively patchwork of cultures. Geographically, the Middle East’s proximity to the Mediterranean, Asia, Europe, and Africa alike all play their respective roles in imbuing the air with its multi-tonal nuance.
Egypt is, technically, not part of the Middle East, but it’s so commonly included from a perspective of shared tradition that most folks include it in the discussion. Consequently, the marvels of the Pyramids are as much an icon of the region as are the Western Wall, the skyscrapers of Dubai, or the walls of Damascus.
It’s a mistake to view the Middle East as one homogenous entity, when there’s so much more to see, do, and explore than you’d imagine. The topography varies, from arid deserts to balmy seaside resort towns; the cities range from the elegantly ancient to the shiniest new; and the people run the full gamut of faiths, personalities, and lifestyles. Keep your eyes open, and you’ll never find an end to fascination here.
Egypt & Middle East Top Sights
Eilat is one of the great holiday destinations of the Middle East. This “window on the Red Sea” is located on Israel’s southernmost tip, and offers the best of both seaside and desert diversions. The temperatures are hot, the days are sunny, and the beaches beckon with soft sand and the promise of cool blue waters beyond. Opulent hotels dot the shoreline, and the promenade tempts you to long strolls alongside any number of cafes and boutiques. The southern beach is a protected reserve that houses gorgeous coral reefs, which one can explore by scuba or snorkel. When you’ve had your fill of swimming and sun-worshipping, change up the pace with a 4x4 ride into the adjacent Negev Desert.
The splendor of the ancient world comes to breathing life before your eyes in Cairo. This ancient cradle of culture located on the banks of the mighty Nile is still flourishing today. Times have never been better to visit North Africa’s answer to Paris, as tourism has been on the ebb for a few years—if you time it right, you can even tour one of the pyramids all by yourself and enjoy the silence of the ages. You, of course, must visit Giza, home of the enigmatic Sphinx and the tombs of the pharaohs. For a different view of the pyramids, try a felucca ride down the Nile beneath the stars.
Glamorous, sexy, and larger-than-life, Dubai is ready to shatter every perception you had of a staid, traditional kingdom. One gets the best of both old-world and 21st-century life here: you can wander the souks of the old city at length, admiring the aged mosques and architecture. “New” Dubai, however, is an experience unlike any other. Here you’ll find the world’s tallest building (the Burj Khalifa), the world’s three largest man-made islands (the Palm Islands), and any number of other global superlatives. It’s possible that Dubai isn’t the glitziest, most ostentatious city on Earth—but you’ll doubt it to see it. Bask on the white sand beaches, go on a desert safari, or enjoy any sort of outdoor sports you can imagine.
The poets have lauded the beauty of Petra for centuries, but seeing this world wonder in person is an experience as humbling and awe-inspiring as any you’re like to have in a lifetime. An ancient city built in and around towering cliffs of rose-tinged sandstone, Petra is a living tribute to the architectural genius of the long-lost Nabataeans, as well as an active archaeological dig site. Solo or guided tours of Petra can be done in a whirlwind day, but you won’t see everything—plan on a two-day ticket to truly enjoy everything about this inimicable marvel.
Cosmopolitan and outgoing, Beirut is a modern and lovely city. It’s a hub of culture as well as a testament to the fact that the Lebanese appreciate beauty in all forms. Take in the sunset from a cafe located alongside the Pigeon Rocks, take a cable car to the wondrous Jeita Grotto, and check out the fabulous nightlife. One is never far from the sea in Beirut, and the city’s beach clubs are an outstanding way to fit in some sunbathing while the waves crash in the distance. For the best romantic experience around, take your loved one for a sunset stroll of The Corniche.