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Lonely Planet Middle East

Lonely Planet Middle East

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Lonely Planet Middle East

1,573 pagine
12 ore
Sep 1, 2018


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet's Middle East is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Wonder at the mighty Pyramids of Giza, the last surviving ancient wonder; watch the sun set over the honeycombed magic of Petra; and explore tree-lined boulevards and exquisite blue-tiled mosques in Esfahan, Iran. All with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Middle East and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Middle East:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights provide a richer, more rewarding travel experience - covering history, people, music, landscapes, wildlife, cuisine, politics
  • Covers Egypt, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's Middle East is our most comprehensive guide to the region, and is designed to immerse you in the culture and help you discover the best sights and get off the beaten track.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Jordan and Israel & the Palestinian Territories guides for a comprehensive look at all these countries have to offer.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

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Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Sep 1, 2018

Informazioni sull'autore

Anthony Ham es un fotógrafo y escritor independiente especializado en España, el sur y este de África, el Ártico y Oriente Medio que colabora con periódicos y revistas de Australia, Gran Bretaña y EEUU. En el 2001, tras años de recorrer mundo, se enamoró perdidamente de Madrid en su primera visita, y antes de un año estaba de vuelta con un billete solo de ida, sin hablar nada de español y sin conocer a nadie en la ciudad. Cuando 10 años más tarde por fin dejó la capital de España, hablaba español con acento madrileño, se había casado con una lugareña y Madrid se había convertido en su segundo hogar. De nuevo en Australia, Anthony sigue recorriendo el mundo en busca de historias.

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Anteprima del libro

Lonely Planet Middle East - Anthony Ham

Middle East



Welcome to the Middle East

The Middle East’s Top 21

Need to Know

What’s New

If You Like…

Month by Month


Visas & Border Crossings


Travel with Children

Countries at a Glance

On The Road



Saqqara, Memphis & Dahshur

Mediterranean Coast


Nile Valley




Kom Ombo


Philae (Agilika Island)

High Dam

Abu Simbel

Western Oases

Al Kharga Oasis

Dakhla Oasis

Bahariya Oasis

Siwa Oasis

Red Sea Coast

El Gouna


Marsa Alam

South Sinai

Ras Mohammed National Park

Sharm el-Sheikh


St Katherine Protectorate



Understand Egypt

Survival Guide



Western Iran




Alamut Valley

Central Iran






Naqsh-e Rostam & Naqsh-e Rajab


Northeastern Iran


Understand Iran

Survival Guide


Iraq Explained


People & Society

Further Information



Mediterranean Coast

Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Yafo)




Lower Galilee & Sea of Galilee



Sea of Galilee

Beit She’an

Upper Galilee & Golan Heights

Tsfat (Safed)

Golan Heights

Dead Sea

Ein Gedi


Ein Bokek

The Negev

Mitzpe Ramon


West Bank


Jericho & Around




Gaza Strip

Understand Israel & the Palestinian Territories

Survival Guide



Jerash & the North



Ajloun Forest Reserve


Umm Qais (Gadara)

Dead Sea & the West

Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan (Al-Maghtas)

Dead Sea

Mujib Biosphere Reserve

Azraq & the East



Around Azraq

Madaba & the King’s Highway


Mt Nebo

Machaerus (Mukawir)



Dana Biosphere Reserve


Petra & the South

Petra & Wadi Musa

Wadi Rum


Understand Jordan

Survival Guide



Central Lebanon

Jeita Grotto

Byblos (Jbail)

North Lebanon


Tripoli (Trablous)

The Qadisha Valley

South Lebanon

Sidon (Saida)

Tyre (Sour)

Chouf Mountains

Deir Al Qamar

Bekaa Valley


Understand Lebanon

Survival Guide


Syria Explained


People & Society

Further Information



Aegean Coast




Gallipoli Peninsula


Bergama (Pergamum)






Bodrum Town


Mediterranean Coast





Olympos & Çıralı




Central Anatolia









Black Sea Coast & Northeastern Anatolia





Understand Turkey

Survival Guide


Understand the Middle East

The Middle East Today




Middle Eastern Cuisine

The Arts

Landscape & Environment


Traveller Etiquette

Safe Travel

Women Travellers

Directory A–Z


Customs Regulations

Discount Cards

Embassies & Consulates

Emergency & Important Numbers

Gay & Lesbian Travellers


Internet Acccess

Legal Matters


Opening Hours



Public Holidays




Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities





Entering the Middle East










Car & Motorcycle








Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to the Middle East

The Middle East is a grand epic, a cradle of civilisations and a beautiful, complicated land that’s home to some of the planet’s most hospitable people.

History Writ Large

In the Middle East, history is not something you read about in books. Here, it’s a story written on the stones that litter the region, from the flagstones of old Roman roads to the building blocks of Ancient Egypt, and the delicately carved tombs and temples from Petra to Persepolis. This is where humankind first built cities and learned to write, and it was from here that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all arose. Wherever you find yourself, the past is always present because here, perhaps more than anywhere else on earth, history is the heart and soul of the land.

Home of Hospitality

At some point on your visit to the Middle East, you’ll be sitting in a coffeehouse or looking lost in a labyrinth of narrow lanes when someone will strike up a conversation and, within minutes, invite you home to meet their family and share a meal. Or someone will simply approach and say with unmistakable warmth, ‘Welcome’. These spontaneous, disarming and utterly genuine words of welcome can occur anywhere across the region. And when they do, they can suddenly (and forever) change the way you see the Middle East.


The Middle East’s cities read like a roll-call of historical heavyweights: Jerusalem, Beirut, Cairo, İstanbul, Esfahan… Aside from ranking among the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth, these ancient-modern metropolises are places to take the pulse of a region. It is in the Middle East’s cities, too, that you find the stirring, aspirational architecture that so distinguishes the three great monotheistic faiths. There they sit alongside the more secular charms of bazaars and coffee shops that seem to embody all the mystery and storytelling magic of a land that gave us The Thousand and One Nights.


Beyond city limits, the Middle East is a land of mighty rivers (the Nile, Euphrates), even mightier deserts (the Sahara and peerless Wadi Rum) and green landscapes of exceptional beauty. Exploring these wilderness areas – from snow-capped summits in Turkey, Iran and Lebanon to the kaleidoscopic waters of the Red Sea – lies at the heart of the region’s appeal. The message is simple: forget the clichés that masquerade as Middle Eastern truth – a visit here is one of the most varied and soulful travel experiences on earth.


Why I Love the Middle East

By Anthony Ham, Writer

I first fell for the Middle East in Damascus. Here was a city of storytellers, of warm and welcoming people, of history brought alive at every turn. Ten years later (a decade in which I had marvelled at the peerless beauty of Esfahan and struck out into the Sahara at Siwa, among many Middle Eastern journeys), I returned to Damascus and fell in love all over again. War has since engulfed the country, but Damascus, and the Middle East, has seen it all before. And nowhere else on earth have I encountered such warmth from ordinary people.

For more, see our writers

The Middle East’s Top 21

Petra, Jordan

The ancient Nabataean city of Petra is one of the Middle East’s most treasured attractions, and it’s a place utterly unlike anywhere else on earth. Entering through the impossibly narrow canyon feels like discovering a hidden treasure, and when the sun sets over the honeycombed landscape of tombs, carved facades and pillars all hewn from the rose-red sandstone cliffs, it’s a hard-hearted visitor who’s left unaffected by its magic. Allow a couple of days to do the site justice and to visit the main monuments at optimum times of the day.


Top Experiences

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Towering over both the urban sprawl of Cairo and the desert plains beyond, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx are at the top of every traveller’s itinerary. Yes, you’ll have to fend off hordes of people pushing horse rides and Bedouin headdresses to enjoy this ancient funerary complex, but your persistence will be rewarded with one of the region’s signature experiences – no trip to Egypt is complete without a photo of you in front of the last surviving ancient wonder of the world.


Top Experiences

Dome of the Rock, Israel & the Palestinian Territories

Few places on earth excite emotions to quite the same extent as Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, a gold-plated mosque of singular beauty. Sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike – it was said to be here that Abraham showed his readiness to sacrifice his son to God, and from here that Mohammed ascended to heaven – it’s an epicentre of religious convergence and conflict. But after a visit, it’s usually the unmistakable spiritual dimension that lives longest in the memory.


Top Experiences

Esfahan, Iran

There are few more beautiful places on the planet than Esfahan’s bejewelled core. The city’s blue-tiled mosques, intricate and exquisite, share the city centre with refined pleasure palaces and elegant arched bridges, all within sight of expansive gardens, tree-lined boulevards and a central square that brims with life. Tea houses, hidden away beneath the arches and throughout the splendid bazaar, are another wonderful entry point into this most beguiling of cities. It’s easily Iran’s most beautiful urban core, and possibly one of the most beautiful on earth.


Top Experiences

Cruising the Nile, Egypt

The Nile is Egypt’s lifeline, an artery that feeds the entire country, from south to north. Only by setting adrift on it can you appreciate its importance and its beauty, and more practically, only by boat, preferably a wind-propelled felucca, can you see some archaeological sites as they were meant to be seen – from the waters of the Nile. Sailing is the slowest and most relaxing way to go, but even from the deck of a multistorey floating hotel, you’ll still glimpse the magic.


Top Experiences

Wadi Rum, Jordan

It wasn’t just the sublime vista of Wadi Rum – with its burnished sandstone cliffs and fire-coloured dunes – that impressed Lawrence of Arabia as he rode on camel-back through the land of the Bedouin. He was also impressed by the stoicism of the people who endured unimaginable hardships associated with a life in the desert. Today, it’s possible to get a glimpse of that traditional way of life, albeit with a few more creature comforts, by staying in one of the Bedouin camps scattered across this glorious desert wilderness.


Top Experiences

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia was Mother Nature in her surrealism phase. This lunarscape of wacky rock, sculpted by wind and rain, could have been ripped right off the pages of a geological fantasy. Humans have also left their mark, honeycombing the hillsides with cave dwellings and underground cities, and hollowing out Byzantine churches decorated with vibrant frescoes. Today troglodyte living has been shaken up for the 21st century with hot-air ballooning from above, trail-hiking on the ground and seriously cool cave hotels down below.


Top Experiences

Persepolis, Iran

The Middle East may be strewn with landmarks left by the ancients, but few carry the raw, emotional power of Persepolis. It’s the combination of scale (monumental staircases dominate), detail (the bas-reliefs are extraordinary) and setting (the site rises from the sands against a backdrop of pretty hills) that gives this Unesco site its appeal. Begun by Darius the Great at the height of the Achaemenid Empire’s powers in the 6th century BC, it’s one of the region’s most memorable ruined cities.


Top Experiences

Beirut, Lebanon

Few cities have the cachet of Beirut, and few have fought so hard for it. Battle-scarred yet ever-buoyant, the city rises magnificently to the challenge of balancing the cultures of the West and the Middle East. Beirut is both the sophisticated and hedonistic place that once partied under the sobriquet of the ‘Paris of the Middle East’, and a demographically diverse city that’s rife with contrasts. Never is this more true than at sunset along the waterfront Corniche, where mini-skirted rollerbladers dodge conservative Shiite families enjoying a cool sea breeze.


Top Experiences

İstanbul, Turkey

In İstanbul, you can board a commuter ferry to flit between continents and be rewarded at sunset with the city’s most magical sight, when the tapering minarets of the Old City are thrown into relief against a dusky pink sky. Elsewhere, history resonates with profound force amid the Ottoman and Byzantine glories of the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapı Palace. Such is İstanbul, a collision of continents and a glorious accumulation of civilisations. Little wonder, then, that locals call their city the greatest in the world.


Top Experiences

Luxor, Egypt

With the greatest concentration of ancient Egyptian monuments anywhere in Egypt, Luxor repays time. You can spend days or weeks around this town, walking through the columned halls of the great temples on the east bank of the Nile, such as the Ramesseum, or climbing down into the tombs of pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank. Just watching the sun rise over the Nile or set behind the Theban hills are two of Egypt’s most unforgettable moments.


Top Experiences

Mediterranean Coast, Turkey

Long before the beachgoers discovered Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, the Empire builders descended in their droves, leaving the remnants of once-grand cities in their wake. Backed by rugged cliffs that tumble down to a turquoise sea, this famed sun-and-sand destination is a whole lot more than its resorts. Quaint villages snuggle into hillsides, ruins lay scattered across craggy mountain slopes and, down below where the thick forest meets the shore, those white strips of beach beckon all who visit.


Top Experiences

Mt Sinai, Egypt

It may not be the highest of Sinai’s craggy peaks, but Mt Sinai is the peninsula’s most sacred. A place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, the summit affords the magnificent spectacle of light washing over the sea of surrounding mountaintops. Down below, tucked into the mountain’s base, is St Katherine’s Monastery. Its sturdy Byzantine fortifications are built over the spot where Moses is believed to have witnessed the burning bush. Watching the sunrise from the summit is one of life’s great travel moments.


Top Experiences

Red Sea Diving, Egypt

Egypt’s Red Sea coastlines are the doorstep to a wonderland that hides below the surface. Whether you’re a seasoned diving pro or a first-timer, Egypt’s underwater world of coral cliffs, colourful fish and spookily beautiful wrecks is staggering. Bring out your inner Jacques Cousteau by exploring the enigmatic wreck of WWII cargo ship the Thistlegorm, a fascinating museum spread across the seabed and one of the world’s best wreck dives. Even if diving isn’t your thing, it’s easy to snorkel and see this beautiful underwater world.


Top Experiences

Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Israel & the Palestinian Territories

Just over 100 years ago, Tel Aviv was little more than sand dunes. Nowadays it’s a cool and cosmopolitan Mediterranean city bursting with bars, bistros and boutiques, strung out along beaches where sunbathers bronze their bodies, while the more athletic swim, surf and play matkot (beach racquetball). Each beach along the coast of Tel Aviv has its own personality, all set against a deep blue backdrop. And not far away, there’s sure to be an innovative restaurant, lounge bar or boutique hotel.


Top Experiences

Floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan

Floating in the Dead Sea is one of the world’s great natural experiences. Floating is the right word for it: thanks to an eye-stingingly high salt content, it is virtually impossible to swim in the viscous waters of a sea that is 1000ft lower than sea level. The experience is usually accompanied by a mud bath, a bake in the sun and a health-giving spa treatment at one of the modern pleasure palaces lined up along the Dead Sea’s shores.


Top Experiences

Tabriz Bazaar, Iran

The sensory overload that comes from visiting a Middle Eastern souq is nowhere more memorable than in the main market of Tabriz. Restored to its former glory, this thousand-year-old souq, a Unesco World Heritage site, covers 7 sq km and is a true labyrinth of alleyways, vaulted ceilings and glorious domed halls. Each corner of the bazaar has its speciality, but wander to get lost, follow the enticing smells and explore without hurrying through this world where tourists are rarely seen.


Top Experiences

Roman Ruins of Jerash, Jordan

For a country so small, Jordan punches well above its weight in world-class monuments, boasting some of the finest Roman ruins outside Rome. Most countries would be pleased to have attractions like the Citadel or the Roman Theatre in Amman, but these pale into insignificance compared with the superbly preserved ruins at Jerash, one of the best places in the Middle East to see the glories of the Ancients. Visit during the Jerash Festival when live performances help to bring this ancient outpost of Rome alive.


Top Experiences

Yazd, Iran

Few places have adapted to their environment as well as Iran’s desert city of Yazd. It’s a gem of winding lanes, blue-tiled domes, soaring minarets, covered bazaars, and fine old courtyard homes topped by badgirs (wind towers) and watered by ingenious qanats (underground water channels). Several of these homes have been restored and converted into marvellously evocative traditional hotels. Many travellers declare Yazd to be their favourite city in Iran, and it’s not difficult to see why, combining as it does a whiff of magic on the cusp of the desert.


Top Experiences

Tyre, Lebanon

Steeped in history and once famous across the ancient world for its dye, enchanting Tyre is a major Lebanese drawcard and very much a tourist destination on the upswing. Down here in the old Phoenician heartland, major complexes of Roman ruins include a sizeable cemetery, a circus and a beautifully preserved main thoroughfare in a picturesque coastal setting. The old town and fishing harbour ooze character, and you may be lucky enough to swim with turtles in Lebanon’s cleanest, clearest water.

Al Bass Archaeological Site | LOES KIEBOOM/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Ramallah, Israel & the Palestinian Territories

Ramallah, in the West Bank, is a fine place to take the pulse of Palestinian life. It’s a city that struggles daily with the area’s status as a not-quite Palestinian state, but does so with remarkable energy. Proudly Palestinian, it’s home to cafes, bars and even a fine brewery, and is a reminder that Palestinians are getting on with life with a real buzz even as the politicians are unable to forge a lasting peace. Ramallah also makes the perfect base for visiting Bethlehem, the place believed to be Christ’s birth.


Need to Know

For more information, see Survival Guide


Egypt: Egyptian pound (LE)

Iran: Iranian rial (IR)

Iraq: Iraqi dinar (ID)

Israel: new Israeli shekel (NIS)

Jordan: Jordanian dinar (JD)

Lebanon: Lebanese lira (LL)

Syria: Syrian pound (S£)

Turkey: Turkish lira (₺)


Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Turkish; English and French widely spoken.


Most visas available on arrival; an Israeli stamp will mean no entry to Iran or Lebanon.


ATMs and credit-card use are widespread. US dollars are universally accepted, followed by euros and British pounds. Cash is king in Iran.

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards are widely available. Mobile coverage is widespread, but patchy in some areas.

When to Go

High Season (Jun–Aug)

A Mediterranean beaches and Turkish sites extremely crowded in summer.

A Religious holidays represent mini high seasons.

A Prices sky high and transport crowded; book accommodation well in advance.

Shoulder (Mar–May & Sep–Nov)

A Religious festivals aside, spring and autumn represent shoulder seasons in most countries.

A Weather often agreeable and crowds generally smaller.

A In Iran, prices are highest and crowds biggest during No Ruz (21 March to 3 April).

Low Season (Dec–Feb)

A Egypt’s Nile Valley and desert regions can be unbearably hot from June to August.

A Turkey’s Mediter-ranean and Aegean beaches are almost deserted in winter.

A The Christmas–New Year period is high season in many countries.

Useful Websites

Al Bab ( Portal covering the entire Arab world.

Al Jazeera ( CNN of the Arab world.

BBC News ( Comprehensive news on the region.

Bible Places ( Biblical sites from across the region.

Haaretz ( News from an Israeli perspective.

International Crisis Group ( In-depth reports on the region’s pressure points and recent history.

Lonely Planet ( Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forums and more.

Important Numbers

Phone number for the police by country:

Exchange Rates

See for exchange-rate table. For current exchange rates see

Opening Hours

A With a few exceptions, the working week runs from Sunday to Thursday, so the end-of-week holiday is Friday. In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it’s Saturday (Shabbat), while in Lebanon and Turkey, it’s Sunday. In countries where Friday is the holiday, many embassies and offices are also closed on Thursday, although in areas where there are lots of tourists, many private businesses and shops are open on Thursday and many shops will reopen in the evening on Friday.

A It’s worth remembering that shops and businesses may have different opening hours for different times of the year – they tend to work shorter hours in winter and open earlier in summer to allow for a longer lunchtime siesta. During Ramadan (the month-long fast for Muslims), almost everything shuts down in the afternoon.

Arriving in the Middle East

Cairo International Airport, Egypt Prearrange taxi pickup (LE175 to LE200) or bargain on arrival (LE120); one hour to centre. Buses LE5; up to two hours to centre.

Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel A taxi costs 160NIS to 200NIS to Tel Aviv, while a train to Tel Aviv costs 14NIS.

İstanbul Atatürk International Airport, Turkey Havataş (Havaş) airport buses run to Taksim Meydanı every 30 minutes (₺12, one hour); a taxi to Sultanahmet/Taksim Meydanı costs ₺50/60. New airport due to open 2018.

Queen Alia International Airport, Amman, Jordan Airport Express bus (JD3.25, 45 minutes) runs hourly to the North Bus Station. A taxi costs JD18 to JD22 from the airport.

Getting Around

Getting around requires careful planning to circumvent the roadblocks (Syria, Iraq and, possibly, Israel if you want to avoid an Israeli stamp in your passport). The Middle East has a reasonable transport network, although distances are long and standards vary from country to country.

Air Decent air connections between most countries, allowing you to hop over the war zones. Only Turkey, Jordan and Egypt have flights to/from Israel.

Train Turkey, Israel, Iran and Egypt have domestic train networks; there are no cross-border train services.

Bus Extensive domestic and international bus services.

Ferry Connects Jordan with Egypt.

Car Road conditions are generally good but poor driving and speeding can be a problem; consider paying extra for a local driver.

For much more, see getting around

What’s New

Beirut Museums

The marvellous new MIM museum and the recently reopened basement space of the National Museum add a whole new dimension to the city’s already considerable cultural offerings.

Cairo Museums

The Museum of Islamic Art is open again and is a brilliantly curated collection. Elsewhere in the city, Manial Palace has finally opened after 10 years of restoration.


This traditional Sunni town south of Beirut is making an effort to attract more visitors, with the atmospheric souq and bijou sea castle spruced up, and a major reconstruction under way on the land castle.

Sinai Trail

This 12-day hike across the Sinai is run by three Bedouin tribes. It’s wonderful to explore the stunning landscape and spend quality time with the locals.

Jordan Trail

It is now possible to hike the Jordan Trail from the country’s far north to the Red Sea. One particularly memorable stretch is the five-day hike from Dana Biosphere Reserve to Petra.

Tel Aviv

Israel’s brashest city has been that way for a while, but things are ramping up in numerous cool ways – global cuisines, the explosion in wi-fi connectivity and boutique everything from hotels to burger bars.


Plans have been approved to dredge a canal from the ancient harbour of Ephesus (Efes) to the Aegean, allowing visitors to arrive by boat and restoring the city’s original identity as a port.

Baraka, Umm Qais

An amazing Jordanian community tourism project, with a B&B, local guiding, cooking classes, beekeeping, basket-weaving, mountain biking, camping and wild food foraging options.

Wild Oryx Safaris

One of the Middle East’s best wildlife experiences, newly minted safaris take you out in search of wild Arabian oryx that have been rescued from extinction at Shaumari Wildlife Reserve.

Persian Food Tours

Get a hands-on experience of making a delicious Iranian meal at this expertly run Tehran cooking class.

İstanbul Regeneration

The Balat neighbourhood on the Golden Horn is being revitalised; Tophane has become a design precinct; and on İstanbul’s Asian side, once-dishevelled Yeldeğirmeni has gained cultural cred.

Esfahan Music Museum

Esfahan’s fab new music museum combines historical interest (displays of old instruments) with live folk performances.

For more recommendations and reviews, see

If You Like…

Ancient Cities

The cradle of civilisation, the crossroads of ancient empires…whatever true cliché you want to use to describe the region, the Middle East has ruins in abundance.

Petra, Jordan Extraordinary tombs hewn from the rock by the Nabataeans.

Luxor, Egypt Ancient Egypt in all its glory, from the Temple of Karnak to the west bank temples.

Ephesus, Turkey An astonishing theatre and some wonderfully preserved temples.

Persepolis, Iran The showpiece landmark from pre-Islamic Persia, famous for its bas-reliefs.

Caesarea, Israel An aqueduct, an amphitheatre and other Roman ruins spread out along the Mediterranean Coast.

Jerash, Jordan Temples, arches, a distinctive oval plaza and an outstanding colonnaded way in Jordan’s north.

Temple of Echmoun, Lebanon Unusually intact outpost of Phoenician culture in southern Lebanon.

Bazar-e Bozorg, Esfahan, Iran | IMEDUARD/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Deserts & Oases

It was from the desert that the great monotheistic faiths emerged, and the Middle East is still home to some of the most beautiful and soulful desert landscapes on earth.

Wadi Rum, Jordan Exceptional rock formations, extraordinary colours, Bedouin companions and echoes of TE Lawrence.

Western Desert, Egypt Remote oasis towns and gateways to the Sahara’s White and Black Deserts.

Ein Gedi, Israel Two spring-fed canyon oases are home to a profusion of plant and animal life.

Eastern Desert, Jordan The eastern wastes are home to a surprising collection of castles and wildlife sanctuaries.

Sinai Coast, Egypt The southern peninsula remains one of the Middle East’s finest coastal playgrounds with a fascinating hinterland.


Mosques stand at the very heart of Middle Eastern life. In many cases, the architecture speaks to the aesthetic aspirations of a people, with symmetrical forms and exquisite decorative features.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem Not technically a mosque, but rather a shrine, and one of Islam’s holiest sites, with a graceful octagonal plan, gorgeous mosaic tiles and a gleaming gold dome.

Blue Mosque, İstanbul The personification of Islamic architectural grace and perfect proportions.

Masjed-e Jameh, Esfahan One of the high points of Persian Islamic architecture, both in scale and exquisite detail.

Masjed-e Shah, Esfahan Utterly magnificent blue-tiled mosque in the heart of the city.

Süleymaniye Mosque, İstanbul The pinnacle of 16th-century Ottoman mosque design and İstanbul’s grandest.

Al Azhar Mosque, Cairo One of the oldest mosques in Egypt and the world’s oldest surviving university.

Masjed-e Nasir Al Molk, Shiraz Stunning example of Iranian mosque architecture.

Souqs & Bazaars

The souqs and bazaars that snake through so many Middle Eastern towns provide many visitors with their most memorable experiences of the region.

Khan Al Khalili, Cairo The city’s Byzantine-era bazaar is a tourist cliché, but with very good reason.

Jerusalem All the world’s a bazaar in the Old City.

Bethlehem Busy and colourful souq in the town of Jesus’s birth.

Tabriz Bazaar, Iran Wonderful example of the historic Persian bazaar.

Grand Bazaar, İstanbul The quintessential Turkish marketplace with carpets and controlled chaos.

Bazar-e Bozorg, Esfahan Fabulous covered market that fans out across the city from its splendid monumental core.

Saida Small but hugely atmospheric seaside souq in Lebanon.

Castles & Fortresses

During the Crusades in particular, seemingly every conceivable hilltop was colonised by a defensive fortress. Many remain, in some cases beautifully preserved.

Karak, Jordan The most intact of Jordan’s Crusader castles.

Shobak, Jordan Less well-preserved than Karak, but its equal in drama and beauty.

İshak Paşa Palace, Turkey Like the evocation of an Arabian fairy tale in Doğubayazıt in eastern Turkey.

Nimrod Fortress, Israel The best-preserved Crusader-era bastion in the Israel-controlled territory of Golan Heights.

Fortress of Shali, Egypt Melting mudbrick fortress rising from the Siwa Saharan oasis.

Desert Castles, Jordan Seventh- and 8th-century desert retreats in evocative desert locations.

Byblos, Lebanon Crusader-era fortress by the Mediterranean in one of Lebanon’s oldest settlements.

Biblical Landmarks

The Bible – and the Torah and the Quran – live and breathe in the cities and soil of the Middle East, particularly the Levantine arc.

Jerusalem, Israel From Al Haram Ash Sharif/Temple Mount to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem is the Bible writ large.

Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories The Church of the Nativity stands on the site where Jesus is believed to have been born.

Mt Sinai, Egypt Said to be where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God atop the summit.

Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, Jordan Site where Jesus was baptised.

Machaerus, Jordan Herod the Great’s castle, where John the Baptist was martyred.

Mt Nebo, Jordan Where Moses looked out over the Promised Land, now within sight of Jerusalem.


The Middle East has some superb places to lay out your towel. You’re most likely to feel comfortable doing so in Turkey, Israel and some parts of Egypt.

Çıralı, Turkey Right alongside that old traveller favourite hangout of Olympos.

Patara, Turkey Twenty kilometres of unbroken and largely unspoiled sand.

Nuweiba, Egypt One of the quieter Egyptian Red Sea shores with plenty to do or lovely beaches on which to do nothing.

Dahab, Egypt Yes, it’s a scene, but the location is dramatic.

Tel Aviv, Israel Long stretches of soft sand, with all the amenities of Israel’s liveliest city right nearby.

Coral Beach Nature Reserve, Israel Eilat’s best beach is ideal for snorkellers.

Dead Sea, Jordan Float (because swimming is near impossible) in the buoyant salt sea.

Berenice Beach, Jordan Learn to dive on Jordan’s laid-back southern coast.

Tyre, Lebanon Crystal-clear waters on Lebanon’s best beaches within sight of Roman ruins.


Diving & Snorkelling

The Red Sea could be the finest place to dive and snorkel on earth, with varied underwater topography in one of the richest and most varied marine ecosystems you’ll find.

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt Base for the Thistlegorm, a sunken WWII cargo ship that ranks among the world’s best wreck dives.

Dahab, Egypt A place of Middle Eastern snorkelling legend and home to the famous Blue Hole.

Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt A national marine park teeming with more fish life than you can poke a regulator at.

Aqaba, Jordan Jordan’s wedge of the Red Sea has hundreds of coral species and around 1000 fish species.

Marsa Alam, Egypt A remote and virgin reef offshore and the perfect place for shark spotting.

Eilat, Israel Israel’s best snorkelling, plus a chance to commune with fish without getting wet.


The Middle East is a top hiking destination, with Jordan and Israel in particular offering rewarding trails from short day-hikes to longer, multiday expeditions.

Jordan Trail Hike the length of Jordan, or walk the brilliant five-day chunk from Dana Biosphere Reserve to Petra.

Lycian Way, Turkey One of the world’s most beautiful walks, along the Mediterranean rim from Fethiye to Antalya.

Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan Trek through one of the Middle East’s most intact (and most beautiful) ecosystems.

Makhtesh Ramon, Israel Hike through this vast desert crater, famous for its multicoloured sandstone.

En Avdat National Park, Israel Trek through canyons and pools in the wonderful Negev Desert.

Urban Vibes

The Middle East is not just about religion, old stones and history lessons at every turn. The region’s cities are vibrant, exciting places racing headlong towards the future.

Beirut, Lebanon One of the most resilient cities on earth, Beirut can be sassy and sophisticated in equal measure.

Tel Aviv, Israel Jerusalem’s alter ego is dynamic, secular, international and more than a little hedonistic.

Amman, Jordan Jordan’s capital has some of the most enduring oases of urban cool in the region.

Alexandria, Egypt A culturally rich city as much Mediterranean as Egyptian.

İstanbul, Turkey One of the greatest cities on earth, European, Middle Eastern and Turkish all at once.

Tehran, Iran A fascinating city where old and new, secular and Islamic clash with often dynamic results.

Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Israel & the Palestinian Territories | KVITKA FABIAN/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


Vestiges of the region’s wildlife somehow survive, and ecotourism projects and wildlife reserves now protect some of the Middle East’s most charismatic fauna.

Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt One of the Red Sea’s few protected areas teems with marine life.

Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, Jordan Take a safari to see wild Arabian oryx in this ground-breaking reserve.

Mujib Biosphere Reserve, Jordan An enclosure for the Nubian ibex and the chance to see caracal.

Shouf Biosphere Reserve, Lebanon If you’re (extremely) lucky, you might see wolves, wild cats, ibex and gazelle.


The hammam (hamam in Turkey and Iran) is a wonderful sensual indulgence. You’ll never forget the robust massage on tiled slabs, sweltering steam-room sessions and scalding tea.

Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, İstanbul İstanbul’s most beautiful hamam after a stunning recent restoration.

Al Pasha Turkish Bath, Jordan A rare outpost of tradition in the modern Jordanian capital, Amman, with the full treatment.

Hammam Al Shifa, Palestinian Territories This local place has a hot room, a sauna and a steam room.

Month by Month


Nevruz (No Ruz), March

Cappadox Festival, May

İstanbul Music Festival, June

Jerash Festival, July

Beirut International Film Festival, October


Much of the region, including desert regions at night, can be bitterly cold and there can be snow on the high peaks from Lebanon to Iran. Egypt and the Red Sea have relatively balmy temperatures.

z Christmas (Orthodox)

Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus (it’s celebrated by Eastern Orthodox churches on 6 and 7 January and by Armenians in the Holy Land on 18 and 19 January). Important among Christian communities in Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.


The winter chill continues throughout much of the region, though it’s the perfect time of year in the south. Egypt’s beaches and Nile Valley can be busy, while Turkish and Iranian mountain roads may be impassable.


In Egypt sandstorms can darken the horizon, but hillsides and valleys in the Levant, Turkey and Iran are green; it’s a great time for hiking. Low-season room prices in most areas, except Iran during No Ruz.

z D-Caf

Downtown Cairo’s contemporary arts festival is international, multidisciplinary and great fun. It’s also a wonderful way to see the often dilapidated venues in the city centre.

z Nevruz (No Ruz)

Kurds and Alevis in Turkey and Iran (where it’s called No Ruz) celebrate the ancient Middle Eastern spring festival on 21 March with much jumping over bonfires, huge parties and general jollity. Banned in Turkey until 2005, Nevruz is now an official holiday.

z Purim

Purim celebrates the foiling of a plot to wipe out the Jews of ancient Persia. Children and adults put on costumes for an evening of revelry in Israel’s streets.

3 İzmir European Jazz Festival

This jazz festival fills the Aegean city with a high-profile line-up of European and local performers. Gigs, workshops, seminars and a garden party make this a lively time for jazz lovers to visit.


Although a shoulder season, April is a wonderful time to visit: the wildflowers are in bloom in the Levant, tourist numbers in Egypt drop off and there’s good beach weather in southwest Turkey.


On 25 April the WWI battles for the Dardanelles are commemorated and the Allied soldiers remembered. Antipodean pilgrims sleep at Anzac Cove before the dawn services.

z Easter

During Holy Week, Catholic pilgrims throng Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and many Protestants gather at the Garden Tomb. Dates for Orthodox celebrations differ slightly.

z Fajr International Film Festival

Features Iranian and international films and red-carpet events in more than 20 cinemas across Tehran. It has been held in February in previous years, so check the website for details.

1 Holocaust Memorial Day

Yom HaSho’ah is a solemn remembrance of the six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, who died in the Holocaust. Places of entertainment are closed. At 10am sirens sound and Israelis stand silently at attention. It takes place in April or March.

z Passover

Known as Pesach, this week-long festival celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt with ritual family dinners and Shabbat-like closures on the first and seventh days. Lots of Israelis go on holiday, so it’s high season in Israel.

z İstanbul Film Festival

For a filmic fortnight, cinemas around İstanbul host a packed program of Turkish and international films and events. An excellent crash course in Turkish cinema, but book ahead.


Peak tourist season begins in the Levant with warm weather on the way. High-season prices in coastal areas are yet to kick in, but it’s good beach weather from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.

z Cappadox Festival

Cappadocia’s three-day arts festival merges music, nature walks, art exhibitions, yoga and gastronomy into an extravaganza of Turkish contemporary culture, highlighting the area’s natural beauty.

z Ramadan (Ramazan)

During the Ramadan fasting month (called Ramazan in Iran), offices may have shorter hours, and restaurants may close during daylight hours. Foodies will love this time; ambitious sightseers may be frustrated. It begins in May in 2019, and in April in 2020 and 2021.

z Uluslararasi Bursa Festivali

The city’s 2½-week music and dance jamboree, features diverse regional and world music, plus an international headliner or two. Begins in mid-May.


You’ll encounter long days and warm weather all across the region. The tourist high season draws large crowds and higher room prices in many areas. It can be unbearably hot in Egypt by the end of the month.

z Dance with the Sufis

In Luxor, in the third week of the Islamic month of Sha’aban, the Sufi festival of Moulid of Abu Al Haggag offers a taste of rural religious tradition. Several smaller villages have moulids around the same time.

z Gay Pride in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is bedecked with rainbow flags for Israel’s biggest and most colourful gay and lesbian extravaganza.

z Israel Festival

Four weeks of music, theatre and dance performances (some of them free) in and around Jerusalem add a real spring to the step of the city in early summer. Check out for dates and programs.

3 İstanbul Music Festival

Probably Turkey’s most important arts festival, featuring performances of opera, dance, orchestral concerts and chamber recitals. The action takes place at venues such as Aya İrini, the Byzantine church in the Topkapı Palace grounds.


A great time for festivals, but the weather can be unpleasantly hot in most areas. It is, however, high season along Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.

z Beiteddine Festival

Lebanon’s full program of summer events continues with this terrific arts festival with music, dance and theatre held in the beautiful courtyard of the Beiteddine Palace. It usually spills over into August.

3 Byblos International Festival

Lebanon kicks off the Levantine summer with pop, classic, opera and world-music performances, many of which are staged among the ruins of Byblos’ ancient harbour. It can start in late June and continue on into August.

z Jerash Festival

Hosted within world-class ruins, Jordan’s much-loved Jerash Festival of Culture & Arts brings ancient Jerash to life with plays, poetry recitals, opera and concerts. Held annually since 1981, the festival takes place over 17 days from mid-July to mid-August.


The heat takes its toll everywhere; in Iran desert temperatures can hit 50ºC, and unless you’re by the beach in Turkey, it’s a month to avoid. High-season rates (and overbooking) apply in many coastal areas.

z Distant Heat

Build up a sweat at Jordan’s annual dance in the desert. This all-nighter takes place in Wadi Rum and features top international electronic-dance-music artists.

3 Red Sea Jazz

Eilat in August gives you the chance to combine long days by the water with some terrific jazz. Taking place in the last week of August, it draws international acts.

Statue at Red Sea Jazz festival, Eilat, Israel & the Palestinian Territories | CHAMELEONSEYE/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


Two of the most important Jewish holidays make for mini high seasons in Israel. Elsewhere, temperatures are starting to fall (only slightly in Egypt) and high-season crowds and prices start to ebb in Turkey. A good month to hike in Iran.

1 Ashura

Ashura marks the martyrdom of Imam Hossein and is the most intense date on the Shiite Muslim calendar. It’s celebrated with religious theatre and parades in which men self-flagellate. Falls in September in 2019, and August in 2020 and 2021.

z Aspendos Opera & Ballet Festival

The acclaimed Aspendos Opera & Ballet Festival takes place in this atmospheric Roman theatre near Antalya (June or late August and September).

1 Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish New Year causes Shabbat-like closures that last for two days. Some Israelis go on holiday, so accommodation is scarce and room prices rise. Unless you’re here for the ambience or for religious reasons, avoid this one.

1 Yom Kippur

The Jewish Day of Atonement is a solemn day of reflection and fasting – and cycling on the empty roads. In Jewish areas, all businesses shut and transportation (including by private car) completely ceases.

z İstanbul Biennial

İstanbul’s major visual-arts shindig, considered to be one of the world’s most prestigious biennials, takes place from mid-September to mid-November in odd-numbered years. Venues around town host the internationally curated event.


As the summer heat finally breaks, Egypt comes back into play and the crowds have tapered off in Turkey. Elsewhere, it’s a pleasant month with mild temperatures, although rain is possible.

3 Akbank Jazz Festival

From late September to mid-October, İstanbul celebrates its love of jazz with this eclectic line-up of local and international performers.

z Beirut International Film Festival

Beirut’s contribution to the cinematic calendar is an increasingly high-profile film festival with a growing reputation as one of the best in the Middle East.

z International Antalya Film Festival

In early October, Turkey’s foremost film event features screenings, a parade of stars and the obligatory controversy. At the award ceremony in Aspendos, the Golden Orange, nicknamed the Turkish Oscar, is awarded to film-makers.

z Sukkot

The week-long Feast of the Tabernacles holiday recollects the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert. The first and seventh day are Shabbat-like public holidays.


Surprisingly chilly weather and smallish crowds even at the more popular sights. The possibility of rain (or snow in Iran) may deter hikers, but Saharan expeditions in Egypt are again possible after the summer break.

z Cairo International Film Festival

From the last weekend in November into December, this 10-day event shows recent films from all over the world.

z Prophet’s Birthday

Moulid Al Nabi is a region-wide celebration with sweets and new clothes for kids and general merriment in all Muslim areas. Falls in November in 2019, and October in 2020 and 2021.


The Middle East’s winter begins in earnest, and low-season prices apply in most areas, except in Christian areas at Christmas, at ski resorts and in Egypt where Europeans flood in search of winter sun.

z Christmas

Midnight Catholic Mass is celebrated in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Christmas is a public holiday in the West Bank but not in many other areas. Orthodox Christians must wait until early January for their Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas mass, Egypt | SENDERISTAS/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

z Hanukkah

The Jewish Festival of Lights celebrates the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean revolt. Families light candles over eight nights using a nine-branched candelabra.


Amman to Cairo


This journey represents a shorter version of the old İstanbul-to-Cairo traveller favourite (no longer possible because of the war in Syria) and includes some of the Middle East’s premier attractions.

Your journey starts in Amman, a cosmopolitan city with Roman ruins and brilliant restaurants. After visit to the Dead Sea (an easy day trip from the capital), detour to Jerusalem, the Middle East’s spiritual heart. Returning to Jordan, spend some time exploring fabulous Petra, the Middle East’s most beguiling ancient city. Further south, Petra’s rival to the title of Jordan’s most spectacular site is Wadi Rum, a soulful red-hued desert landscape that rewards those who spend a couple of days exploring. From here, leave Jordan behind and cross the Red Sea at Aqaba to Nuweiba in Egypt. Where you go from here depends on the prevailing security situation, with much of the Sinai Peninsula considered risky at the time of research. Assuming all is well, continue on from Nuweiba to Dahab, for Red Sea snorkelling and an excursion to catch sunrise from atop Mt Sinai. From Dahab (or from Nuweiba if security is uncertain) make for clamorous, attraction-rich Cairo.

Bronze sculpture at Memorial Viewpoint, Mt Nebo, Jordan | Brazen Serpent Monument atop Mt Nebo by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni; Jordan Pix/Getty Images ©


The Middle East’s Heartland


Welcome to the Middle Eastern heartland for a trip through the best that Jordan and Israel and the Palestinian Territories have to offer. Although distances can be small, there’s a lot to pack in. Most of this trip is best accomplished using public transport.

Amman may lack the cachet of other Middle Eastern cities, but most travellers end up staying longer than planned. From here, it’s easy to make side trips to many of Jordan’s must-see destinations; the echoes of Moses at Mt Nebo and the mosaics of Madaba deserve your time. When you’re ready to move on, head to Jerash, a quiet yet rewarding ancient site with a wonderful colonnaded way running through its heart. Travelling south, Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, the place where Christ was baptised, resonates strongly with pilgrims, while floating in the buoyant waters of the Dead Sea is a signature Middle Eastern experience.

Across the Jordan River, roiling Jerusalem is the starting point of so much Middle Eastern history. From Jerusalem, make for the biblical towns of Bethlehem and Jericho. In Israel’s north, timeless Akko and the world-class ruins of Caesarea are worth as much time as you can give them. On your way back, don’t miss Tel Aviv, a lively place to let your hair down and discover the hedonistic side of Israeli life. Its antithesis, the Negev desert, is a wilderness area that you simply don’t expect to find in this ever-crowded corner of the earth.

Crossing back into Jordan, the Crusader castle of Karak and the spectacular scenery of Dana Biosphere Reserve shouldn’t be missed, while Petra is an astonishing place, where reality outstrips even the most lofty expectations. If time allows, spend at least a couple of days here, so you can savour the main tombs as well as visit the site’s more outlying areas. The same applies to Wadi Rum – you could get a taste of this soulful place in a day, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding of its gravitas if you sleep out under the stars for at least one night. The laid-back Red Sea port of Aqaba, with world-class diving and snorkelling, provides the perfect place to rest at journey’s end.

Grotto of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel & the Palestinian Territories | JAVIER CRESPO/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


Modern Turkey, Ancient Persia


From marvellous İstanbul to the fascinating cities of central Iran, this itinerary takes you from the Middle East’s most Western-oriented corner to its least. Neither, however, conforms to stereotypes and the journey between the two is like traversing the region’s complicated soul. Allow two weeks for each country.

İstanbul is at once a destination in its own right and the starting point of so many Turkish journeys. After a few days, make for Ankara, the country’s underrated capital and then take a detour to conservative but welcoming Konya, the spiritual home of the Sufis. Perhaps returning via Ankara, make for the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia that seem to have sprung from a wonderfully childlike imagination. Linger as long as you can here – it’s a landscape that really gets under your skin the longer you stay. When you can finally tear yourself away, begin the long journey east to the brooding statues of Nemrut Dağı, surely one of Turkey’s most thought-provoking sights. By the time you reach Erzurum, you’ll have left the last remnants of tourist Turkey, and your reward in this eastern city is a fine open-air gallery of Seljuk and Mongol-era monuments. Consider climbing Mt Ararat (although you need to plan well in advance to do so), before crossing the border into Iran.

Your first stop in Iran should be Tabriz, not least because its bazaar is one of the finest, most evocative of all Middle Eastern markets. Spend a day or two in Tehran, itself home to an overwhelming market as well as fine museums. But after a couple of days, stop resisting the temptation and head on to Esfahan, one of the Middle East’s most beautiful, most bejewelled cities (at least in the centre), with its utterly exquisite gardens, arched bridges and tiled mosques. Shiraz is a cultured, appealing city, not to mention the gateway to Persepolis, that towering monument to all that was good about Ancient Persia. Continue to Yazd and check into an atmospheric traditional hotel in the old town. Spend two days exploring the old city, visit the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence and perhaps take a trek into the desert. Finish up in Kerman, from where you can take a tour to the remarkable ‘sand castles’ of the Kaluts.



Land of the Pharaohs


There’s so much to see in Egypt that it deserves its own itinerary. Count on a week for Cairo and Alexandria, a week for the Western Oases, and another week for the country’s south.

So many Egyptian journeys revolve around Cairo, and you’ll return here again and again. Apart from being the Middle East’s largest and most clamorous metropolis, Cairo is also home to the iconic Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum and a wonderful coffeehouse culture. After Cairo, head north to Alexandria, Egypt’s sophisticated and quintessentially Mediterranean city. It feels like nowhere else in the country, and a combination of terrific museums and great food gives you further reason to visit. A really long journey west is worth it for your first sight of Siwa, one of the Sahara’s great oasis outposts and home to an ancient temple in the sands. It’s the sort of place where you can stand on the outskirts of the village, just as Alexander the Great did, and contemplate eternity. Dusty desert trails lead to the Bahariya Oasis; you’ll need to rent a private 4WD to reach Bahariya, but why not make it part of a deep desert expedition from Bahariya into the White and Black Deserts.

It’s back to Cairo to enjoy the pleasures of civilisation for a day or two before jumping on a train south to Aswan, one of Africa’s loveliest riverside spots. There’s a monastery and museum to anchor your explorations of the city, but its real charm is its proximity to the Nile. Take the detour south into Nubia to Abu Simbel, one of Egypt’s most extraordinary temples, then from Aswan sail slowly up the Nile aboard a felucca, savouring the slow rhythms of life along this, the world’s longest river, all the way to Luxor, home to the richest collection of Pharaonic sites in the country. Here you’ll find so much of what drew you to Egypt in the first place, including the Temples of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.

Armenian church, Van, Turkey | MURATART/SHUTTERSTOCK ©


A Mediterranean Loop


For this Mediterranean sojourn, count on a week to 10 days in Lebanon and two weeks in Turkey.

Begin in Beirut, a glamorous metropolis, the Middle East in complicated microcosm and filled with Mediterranean joie de vivre. If it’s safe, head south to the Phoenician heartland – Saida, the Temple of Echmoun and Tyre. Next, head north to the pretty fishing port of Byblos and then finish up with some hiking through the Qadisha Valley, finally putting on your skis at the Cedars.

From Beirut, fly to İstanbul for a few days in that most glorious of cities. Three days should give you a taste before you move on to visit Gallipoli, with its poignant echoes of WWI, and Troy, where altogether more ancient battles took place. Work your way around the coast, pausing at the mighty ruins of Ephesus, which rank among the Middle East’s most imposing, and lingering in the delightful Mediterranean villages of Kaş or Olympos where you’ll wonder why life can’t always be like this.


Among the Kurds


The Kurdish homeland spans Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, although Syria and Iraq are off limits, and expressions of Kurdish identity are rare in Iran. Fortunately, journeying through Turkey’s east and southeast provides numerous opportunities for experiencing Kurdish culture. Count on three weeks, although you could do it in two.

Begin in Ankara, where you’ll find a splendid museum and a fine citadel. On your way southeast into the Kurdish heartland, stop in Cappadocia and Nemrut Dağı before exploring the rarely visited but always fascinating cities of Gazıantep and Şanlıurfa. Nearby Mardin combines a beautiful setting with equally beautiful architecture and a fascinating cultural mix. By the time you reach Diyarbakır, with its intriguing architecture, you’re deep in Kurdish territory. Head for Doğubayazıt, one of eastern Turkey’s most extraordinary sights, with a legendary castle and stunning views of Mt Ararat; the mountain could not be climbed at time of research, although most travellers content themselves with not-so-distant views from the town anyway. Further south, Van is home to the lovely Armenian church on Akdamar Island.

Plan Your Trip

Visas & Border Crossings

Visas at a Glance

Visas Required in Advance

Egypt If entering overland from Israel

Jordan If you need a multiple-entry visa

Turkey Purchase online before travel

Iran Safest option is to obtain in advance

Visas Available on Arrival

Egypt Except if crossing from Israel

Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Jordan Single-entry visas except if first entry on King Hussein/Allenby Bridge


Iran Possibly available at Iranian international airports but there’s a risk of rejection – it’s best to obtain in advance

Israeli Passport Stamps

OK for entry to: Egypt, Jordan, Turkey

Will be denied entry to: Iran and Lebanon (also Iraq and Syria when they’re considered safe to visit)


If you do one piece of research before setting out on your trip, it should be to familiarise yourself with the requirements for obtaining visas for the countries that you intend to visit. For the unwary, it can be a minefield. For the well informed, it shouldn’t pose too many difficulties.

The major issue arises if you plan to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories. If you do, then you may need to think carefully about the order you visit the countries of the Middle East, or prepare for a little sleight of hand to ensure there is no trace of you having visited Israel and therefore avoid limiting the other countries that you’re able visit.


Most Egyptian tourist visas can be obtained on arrival. It couldn’t be easier if you’re arriving by air, while those travelling from Jordan can obtain a visa at the port in Aqaba before boarding the ferry. Visa fees vary by nationality and can usually be paid in Egyptian pounds, US dollars, UK pounds or euros. Visas granted on arrival allow you to stay in Egypt for one month.

The only exception to these general rules is if you plan to enter Egypt from Israel via the Taba border crossing. In this case, we recommend that you apply for your Egyptian visa in advance in Tel Aviv or Eilat. If you just turn up at this border crossing without a visa in your passport, your visa must be guaranteed by an Egyptian travel agency – more trouble than it’s worth.


Arab countries have widely varying policies on admitting travellers whose

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