Travelling the Middle East: Where to Begin

By on Published: June 9, 2018 | Last Updated: October 27, 2021 in Middle East with 4 Comments

Lebanon, Grand Meshmosh Hotel, Balcony

Sometimes we all feel a little fearful about deciding on travel destinations where the culture is quite different to ours.

And never is this more pertinent than when considering a trip to the Middle East, with all the weight of the negative news loud in our ears.

Yet beyond all the hard to swallow and worrying information shown on the media, or the simplistic labelling applied blanketly to all the nations in this region, it’s refreshingly wonderful to realise that the Middle East is actually an ensemble of vastly different communities in much the same way as any other part of our weird and wonderful globe.

This means that from delightful deserts to magnificent mountains, fabulous food to ancient archaeological sites, the Middle East offers such a richness and diversity of treasures that travelling here can be incredibly rewarding.

That’s not to deny, of course, that some countries in the Middle East are definitely dangerous to travel in and some do have strict laws that might provide too much of a challenge for many visitors, so here’s a quick guide when it comes to deciding where to head in the region for your next adventure.


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Lebanon

Lebanon, Cedars, Ital

About as diverse as the Middle East gets, Lebanon is a tiny country full of some huge contrasts.

From the European-like capital of Beirut to the crumbling, cobbled city of Tripoli, Lebanon is a heady mix of coastline and mountains with a population that spans religions as well as languages and terrains.

From skiing in the snow and hiking in the hills to swimming in the Mediterranean, it’s all possible in the space of just one day in lovely Lebanon and that’s not to mention the next level food on offer here too!

Check out these top things to do in Lebanon for more ideas and an insight into why I ended up living in this country for a few months.

Honestly, it’s a mind-blowing place!

 

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Jordan

Jordan, Petra, Flag

Famous primarily as the home of the ancient city of Petra, Jordan nevertheless has a lot more to offer the visitor, including the incredibly well-preserved Roman ruins of Jerash, the wild desert landscape of Wadi Rum and the Red Sea resort of Aqaba.

With one of the most relaxed capitals on earth, and being one of the safest and most stable Middle Eastern countries, Jordan is a great first step into travel in this part of the world and here’s my list of the best things to do there.

Jordan is also a small country, which makes it a perfect destination to hit up if you have just a few weeks for your trip.

If you have a little longer, you can tie in a visit here with some time in Egypt as well, which lies just across the Red Sea / Sinai Peninsula.

Another ancient land, combining these 2 countries into one holiday is a history-lovers dream!

 

 

Israel

Israel, Jerusalem, Church of Holy Sepulchre Outside

Controversial as ever, there’s no denying that there is a certain fascination surrounding travel in Israel, not least to learn how life really functions in this very different and much-talked about country.

From the thick, intertwined and difficult cultural / religious milieu of Jerusalem to the seaside and more secular city of Tel Aviv, there’s perhaps nowhere quite as difficult as Israel when it comes to getting your head around a country.

If you fancy heading here, then reading some tops tips for travel in Israel will certainly help you plan your trip well and know what to expect more.

Although a small country, I suggest allowing at least 7-10 days for a trip here, as there will is a lot to see, do, take in, learn about… and eat!

 

5 PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR THE MIDDLE EAST

#1 Middle East Lonely Planet – An excellent resource when it comes to finding out the history of what you’re seeing in this part of the world without the need for a guide, the Middle East Lonely Planet is a must.

#2 Head Lamp – Great for taking into ruins to get an even better look at the amazing engravings and for any power cuts you may experience. I love my Black Diamond Storm, which served me super well in the Middle East.

#3 Sun Hat – Trips to tombs, castles, churches and temples will mean many hours in the hot sun in the Middle East. Do yourself a favour and bring a wide-brimmed hat to protect you. I love this Hello Sunshine design.

#4 Long Thin Trousers – Even in countires where it’s tolerated, you’re unlikely to feel comfortable walking around in anything too short in the Middle East. As such a pair of long, thin cotton or linen trousers provides the perfect attire for this hot part of the world.

#5 Travel Insurance – A good idea whenever you travel in the Middle East, I love travel insurance from World Nomads and have used them throughout my time in this part of the world and beyond.

 

Turkey

Turkey, Selcuk, Locals

The land of sensational carpets, stunning coastline, crazy mountains and bustling cities, Turkey is a huge nation the borders Iran to the East and Bulgaria to the West.

As such, it really is a bridge between Asia and Europe, and every bit as culturally diverse as one may expect from this sort of geographical location, both in terms of its people and its topography.

Highlights in Turkey include hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, hiking the Lycian Way, snapping the Roman ruins of Ephesus and haggling in the mighty city of Istanbul.

There’s plenty of off the beaten track regions to explore too, especially in the less-visited north of the country and in my favourite beachside haunt of Kabak.

 

Iran

Iran

A new traveller hotspot, Iran is a rich land which offers the visitor many hidden surprises.

From the mind-blowing ruins of Persepolis to the bazaar at Tabriz and the excellent museums of Tehran, this Middle Eastern country is quickly becoming one of the most popular in the region.

Just be aware that if you are a UK, US or Canadian citizen however, that you will have to organise your visit to Iran through a tour agency in order to access a visa.

Other nationalities can apply for visas and usually arrive either via an international airport, or a land border crossing from Armenia, without problems.

 

Kuwait

Kuwait

The Arabian Gulf, with its coastal countries, tends to be rich in tourist attractions and many of the states here are now recognising tourism as a valuable industry.

Beginning with Kuwait, a land of stocked souks and beautiful Mosques, you really can’t head here and miss the skyscrapers that add to the diverse and fascinating architecture of this land.

And with low crime rates and some very hospitable people, getting the chance to chat with locals in Kuwait is basically a given.

Just remember that besides your personal travel documents, you will need a Kuwait visa to travel here if you are not a citizen of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. Check here for more information and learn about the top 10 things to do in Kuwait here.

 

Qatar

Qatar

Thanks to its beautiful beaches, Qatar is becoming increasingly popular as a Middle East tourist destination, especially when it comes to water sports such as kite-surfing.

Rich in history, with the incredible Museum of Islamic Art to boot, a trip to the magnificent Souq Waqif or the traditional camel racing can’t be missed while you are here either.

Qatar’s capital, Doha, also acts as a world travel hub with it’s huge and well-connected airport.

Even if you have a day to kill between flights, heading out of the airport to explore this country is well worth it – and is often made easier by the fact many flights with extended layovers will allow you entry visa-free… just check your particular terms and conditions.

 

Dubai

Known for its opulence and tight security, Dubai is a popular Middle Eastern tourist spot for those normally with slightly larger pockets.

Heading to the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa is very popular, as the view from the 160th floor really is quite astounding!

This one has been on my bucket list for ages!

 

And So…

Travelling to the Middle East really will allow you to experience, first-hand, what life is like in this much-talked-about part of the world and to see for yourself the hospitality of its people.

For this is a land in which history and architecture, religion and laws, food and politics seem to merge and divide simultaneously and where you’ll quickly develop a deep respect for difference and diversity.

On top of that, travel in the Middle East isn’t yet over-commercialised and it isn’t overcrowded, all of which helps to maintain the region’s traditional charm.

This is why it’s one of my favourite regions to explore… and don’t even get me started on the food!

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Graham Askey says:

    How did you manage to miss out Palestine? It’s on the UN list of countries. What about Iraqi Kurdistan as well?

    • Steph says:

      Both great suggestions Graham – I’d love to visit these 2 countries, but as you can see not every country in the Middle East got a mention because it was a snapshot overview and I mostly concentrated on those I’ve been to and know.

    • Jaime Velasco says:

      Could you please confirm if the order that you mentioned the countries is the way you suggest to start? Im planing to travel solo to the middle east but i don’t know where to beging. I was planing to go first to moroco.

      • Steph says:

        Hi Jamie, you can travel them in any order you like, just be aware of Israeli stamps first. Your itinerary will depend on where you’re flying from and how long you have for your triip. Checking flights or transport between countries is a good way to determine your route. Hope that helps, Steph 🙂

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