Middle East Destination Guide
The Middle East will delight and confound, surprise and inform
A major centre of global influence, the Middle East is an ancient region jam-packed with exotic destinations. Largely centred on the sprawling Arabian Peninsula, there are plenty of travel surprises in store in countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Explore the enchanting souks of the Gulf, visit the amazing stone city of Petra and marvel in the splendour of cosmopolitan Muscat in this enchanting and hugely rewarding region.
Though the region is home to several official languages, Arabic is by far the most useful in terms of getting around. It's the official language of most of the countries on the Arabian Peninsula, although Persian is the official language of nearby Iran. Turkish, Berber and Kurdic languages are also widely spoken, however a few words of Arabic and a friendly attitude will be enough to get you by in all tourist areas.
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Ancient lands filled with modern surprises
Long regarded as the cradle of civilisation, the Middle East is a hotbed of contrasting cultures, diverse customs and an astonishing array of both ancient and modern sights. With the Persian Gulf at its core and major tourist destinations such as Turkey, Israel and the United Arab Emirates attracting countless visitors year round, there are plenty of reasons to book your flights to the Middle East and visit this complex and fascinating part of the world.
Straddling the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Turkey offers a heady mix of exotic eastern and contemporary western influences. Its largest city, Istanbul, is a transcontinental behemoth, with its commercial and cultural hubs located on the European side of the Bosphorus, while millions of its residents live across the strait in Asia. Its capital, Ankara, lies at the heart of the country but it's the seaside resorts along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines that attract the bulk of Turkey's visitors.
Home to some of the world's most significant religious sites, Israel remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East. As one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is a holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims – the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and al-Aqsa Mosque attract millions of devoted pilgrims each year. The Dead Sea Scrolls are on long-term display in the Shrine of the Book at the popular Israel Museum, while the towering Damascus Gate has survived for centuries and remains the main entrance to the Old City. Jerusalem may be home to countless religious sites, but it's the country's second largest city, Tel Aviv, that has developed a reputation as an international hub of nightlife, while sunny Haifa nearby boasts some of the best beaches in the country.
All that glitters is gold in the United Arab Emirates
Browse the definition of an up-and-coming nation in any Middle East Travel Guide and the United Arab Emirates is sure to earn a reference. A federation of seven different emirates, the UAE has made a name for itself as a glittering oasis of shimmering cities and superb natural beaches amidst an unforgiving landscape of sandy desert. You may not have heard of emirates such as Sharjah and Ajman – they attract far fewer tourists than their glittering neighbours but are well worth a visit if you want to venture off the beaten track.
The best known of the Emirates is undoubtedly Dubai, which has solidified its growing global significance on the back of booming oil, construction and tourism industries. Dubai is now home to the tallest man-made structure in the world, the 829-metre Burj Khalifa, while neighbouring Abu Dhabi also possesses its fair share of soaring skyscrapers.
There are many more destinations that continue to lure intrepid travellers with exotic eastern delights, including the picturesque Gulf state of Oman, the ancient nation of Jordan and rapidly developing Lebanon. Whether it's the holiest of religious sites, wondrous ancient architecture or the eclectic nightlife of an ever-changing part of the world that draws you in, a Middle East holiday has the potential to surprise and delight even the most world-weary of travellers.
Shop the souks
If you're looking for a holiday where you can flash some cash, the United Arab Emirates has you covered. The Carmel Market in Israel's Tel Aviv is touted as a must-see experience, even if you're just there to browse. For an authentic Middle Eastern shopping experience, make your way to a souk (Arabic for marketplace) and absorb the sights, scents and sounds in the bustling shopping zone – traditional items like spices, silks and carpets are still found in surplus. Take your time and source a bargain at Abu Dhabi's carpet souk, practice haggling at the Old Al Ain Souk or go for gold during the Dubai Shopping Festival, which takes place from January to February to the joy of bargain hunters everywhere.
Stay in luxury
The Middle East has worked tirelessly over the years to cement its reputation as one of the ultimate luxury travel destinations. In the United Arab Emirates, exclusive hotels, lavish suites and five star resorts are the norm. The Burg Al Arab hotel, Dubai, and the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, are the Emirati crown jewels, catering to the world's rich and famous as well as anyone seeking a stay in seven-star bliss, while the Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa promises unforgettable Arabian nights with an eco-conscious twist. Qatar, Jordan, Oman and Turkey have their fair share of luxury lodgings, where fine dining and pampering come standard, but the UAE remains a top choice for the well-heeled.
Sites of significance
Where Asia's west meets Africa's north lies the Middle East, a region bathed in Saharan landscapes with more than a few World Heritage Listed sites to its name. The Old City of Jerusalem is among the most visited sites, renowned for special spiritual significance while, in Jordan, the mysterious rose-coloured city of Petra is a site to behold, carved from the side of a rocky mountain. Abu Dhabi recently earned its first spot on the list thanks to Al Ain City, a former caravan stopover en route to Oman. The Middle East is home to countless ancient cities, temples and monuments, taking you back through time to catch a glimpse of mankind's early legacies.
Getting there and around
Experience culture and glamour on the grandest of scales by booking your flights to the Middle East. Carriers such as Emirates Airlines or Etihad Airways have an extensive selection of flights around the clock, so keep an eye out for Flight Centre's hot deals and score a cheap airfare to Tel Aviv, Jordan, Beirut and more. If you'd rather swap the skies for the sea, come on board a cruise to the Middle East and say "as-salamu alaykum" to two of the region's most impressive port cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Discover ancient secrets and modern marvels with a Middle Eastern tour where you can take part in a traditional Bedouin coffee ceremony, cruise the Wadi Rum desert on a sand safari or float on the surface of the Dead Sea. Many of Flight Centre's Middle East holiday packages include tours as well as airfares and accommodation for one effortless holiday experience. Looking to get around the exotic east on your own schedule? Add a hire car to your travel plans and you're good to go.