The Middle East is a region of the world that is rooted in history and tradition, but at the same time, has a firmly planted foot in the future. A melting pot of myriad cultures, civilizations and a breathtakingly beautiful land make the Middle East a must-visit on any traveller’s bucket list.
The Middle East’s roster of cities includes a variety of historical titans – Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut and so many more. Aside from being some of the world’s oldest cities to have been inhabited, these cities are part of a unique group of locations that have held onto their rich heritage and embraced the future with open arms. With stunning architecture, some of the most hospitable people on the planet and countless bazaars, the Middle East embodies the spirit of mystery and magic that we’ve all read about in stories and tales as children.
As a country, Singapore has always enjoyed warm ties with the Middle East, with a number of Singaporeans travelling to the continent for work, leisure or religious pilgrimages. Even more of us make stopovers here (usually in Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Qatar, given the popularity of the various Gulf Airlines amongst Singaporean travellers) en route to final vacation destinations in Europe and beyond.
Here’s a quick round-up of seven countries that you must visit the next time you’re in the Middle East. After reading this, you just might consider extending that stopover, and turning your journey here into an awesome holiday!
To some people, the UAE is simply Dubai, with some exceptional tourist attractions, including the world’s tallest building, spotless beaches and countless souqs. However, beyond the glitz and glamour of Dubai, there are six more emirates, each with its own charm. There is modern Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, along with the vast Al Gharbia region, and tiny Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras al Khaimah.
Dubai, on the other hand, is a sprawling metropolis, with sun and sand all year long, making it a vacation paradise. Dubai really is the perfect destination for a fun-filled getaway. There are no shortage of things to do while you’re here, with classy restaurants, hip bars and nightclubs and over-the-top hotels scattered all over the city.
A little over a year ago, Qatar was one of those places that travellers did not really focus on. However, it’s been keen on breaking that stereotype, and is emerging as one of the Arab world’s biggest attractions. With history, adventure and a spectacularly modern skyline, Qatar is rushing to embrace the future, while keeping its past close.
A lot of flights pass through Doha in Qatar, and if you’re a frequent flier, you’ve probably been here on a layover too. Few people know that there’s so much to see in Doha. With exceptional golfing venues, a wide range of shopping malls and adventure activities in the deserts, Doha has something for everyone.
One of the most hospitable nations of the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan has been welcoming visitors since Roman times. There is beauty everywhere you look – in the cobbled streets of markets, in sipping tea with local merchants and the magnificent ancient city of Petra.
There is something quite inexplicable about how Petra makes you feel like you’re just a small part of the world. It is a stunning reminder of what the world once was, and how far we’ve come. Perfect for those who love historical adventures, Petra has ancient carvings, prehistoric rock formations and cobbled streets that ooze old-world charm.
While many people are concerned about safety, Iran is actually a great place to visit if you plan wisely. For those of us who’ve grown accustomed to imagining Iran as a stark, oppressed war-torn land, actually discovering Iran is a wonderfully surprising experience.
With endlessly welcoming people, an ancient culture and monuments that have survived the test of time, Iran is a country desperate to be seen for what it is, rather than a dark, dangerous place.
Sitting poles apart from other Middle Eastern countries, Oman doesn’t have many superlatives. What it prides itself on is something else altogether – a strong sense of identity and pride in its culture, and the belief in a brighter future. Oman boasts of spectacular natural beauty, traditional Bedouin heritage and offers a unique, yet refreshingly honest glimpse into the Arabian world, without the filter of grandeur.
Previously torn by war, Lebanon is a truly resilient city, in every sense of the word. Constantly reinventing itself, while staying true to its past, Lebanon is one of the leading cultural centres of the Middle East. An excellent destination for a vacation, Lebanon has it all – historical monuments, contemporary hotels and entertainment options, and exquisite scenery.