Middle East Tours and Travel Guide
Middle East Attractions & Landmarks Guide
While the Middle East has been plagued by turmoil in Syria and Iraq, there are still many countries welcoming to visitors. Turkey -- most of which is located in Asia -- is by far the most visited destination, though Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are increasingly popular.
Egypt, situated mostly on the African continent, is often included in the Middle East as well, and is rebounding in tourism. Israel and Jordan share a peaceful border and offer unforgettable attractions. A good Middle East tour operator can take you safely to this fascinating region, so filled with history and architectural wonders.
Though the news focuses on the conflicts surrounding the Middle East, many of these countries are safe and welcoming to visitors, though always make sure you have the right precautions in place.
These countries are home to hidden treasures from ancient archaeological ruins to culinary gems, to enrapturing landscapes. While countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Israel have been top destinations for travelers for years, others have not gotten the attention they deserve. These less visited destinations, like Iran, for example, are great for getting off the beaten path exploring away from the tourist crowds.
History and Ancient Ruins
The Middle East is known to hold the Cradle of Civilization, the fertile strip of land between the Tigris and Euphrates river in modern day Iraq in which some of the most ancient and powerful civilizations were born.
Though these ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, and Persia have collapsed, the entire region is dotted with their impressive legacies.
Of course, you have the legendary Egyptian pyramids, still standing proudly over the desert where they have existed for thousands of years. In Iran, you can explore the elaborately carved tombs and palaces of the ancient city of Persepolis, whose earliest remains of date back to 515 BCE. Israel is also home to hundreds of ancient sites, many in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Top 7 Archeological Sites in the Middle East
Remnants of the ancient world, from ruins to landscapes to architectural wonders, dot the Middle East and are seen as cultural treasures.
Many of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites lay in this part of the world and that’s because historically, the Middle East was home to some of the greatest ancient civilizations and the hub of trade, the Silk Road and architectural feats.
Here are some of the most amazing archeological sites to visit in the Middle East.
1. Petra, Jordan
The Prehistoric Jordanian city of Petra, built in 213 BC, was the capital of the Nabateans before the Romans came. This architectural wonder was lost to the western world until the 1800s and is probably on any globetrotter’s bucket list today.
To fully explore Petra, we recommend 2 full days by sleeping overnight in Wadi Musa to catch all the sunsets and sunrises that hit the sandstones which are now considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
2. The Dead Sea
If you’re visiting Israel, the Dead Sea is something you can’t miss. It’s an hour away from the capital and fun fact, it’s actually a lake and a pretty salty one at that. At 430 m below sea level, it is the lowest place on earth.
Visit to float in the lake and absorb its concentration of minerals that are thought to have healing powers. Archaeology buffs will probably be familiar with the “Dead Sea Scrolls” which were discovered not far away.
3. Ephesus, Turkey
This Ancient Greek city built in the 10th century BC is filled with lots of historical attractions that make the trip one for the books. Back in the Roman era, this city was the hub of trade and pilgrimages with the Temple of Artemis and the library still in tact.
4. Troy, Turkey
Take a day trip from Istanbul to visit the famous city of Troy, home to Homer’s epic of the Trojan Wars. With many archaeological excavations happening in Troy today, this historical site is worth the drive.
5. Baalbek, Lebanon
For any history buff, seeing the Temple of Jupiter, a 2,000 year old structure from the Roman Empire, the largest of all the Roman temples, should be first on your to do list.
It is one of Lebanon’s prized historical treasures and is recommended to visit with a tour company since it is close to the syrian border and would need an experienced driver of the terrain and a knowledgeable guide.
6. Crac des Chevaliers, Syria
One of the most striking and preserved medieval castles in the world. Legends claim that it can shelter up to 2000 knights at once and overlooks the Valley of Christians atop a hill.
7. The White Desert, Egypt
Just a few hours from Cairo, many travelers come to the white desert to gaze at astounding rock formations, erosions, shift in colors, and starry night skies if you choose to camp. This is a true off the beaten path experience.
Love archaeology? Browse archaeolgical tours around the world »
Arts and Culture
This region is also home to cities and caravansaries through which the Silk Road passed, circulating ideas and cultures from the Far East. Some cities are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
From the 8th to the 13th century, this area was a goldmine for Islamic arts and culture. While Europe was in its dark ages, the Middle East was experiencing a vibrant Golden Age, where academic pursuits, art, and music flourished.
With cultures that created such lush fabrics, intricate embroidery, tempting spices, and strong fragrances, you can easily see how the European Orientalist movement of the 19th century was inspired by the region’s beauty and mystery.
This rich cultural heritage is still thriving in cosmopolitan cities like Tel Aviv, Tehran, and Istanbul, where history and modern culture merge. You can kick off your shoes and sit down on Turkish rug to smoke a nargile (water pipe) and listen to a musician perform long musical improvisations influenced by melodies from Greek, Persian, Arabic and Romany music.
Top 9 Markets and Bazaars in the Middle East
Visiting bazaars in the Middle East is a unique experience like no other. In Arabic, markets are called "souqs" and most of the one’s on this list are at least 200 years old. Souqs are usually very old neighborhoods bedecked with stalls where you can find gold, spices, meat, clothing, art and more gold.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul - This is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world with over 4,000 stalls. It is on almost every Middle East tour itinerary, for a good reason.
Misir Carsisi (Spice Bazaar), Istanbul - If you’re looking for a food and spice mecca, the Spice Bazaar wins. It is filled with color, history, fragrances and more.
Al - Hamidiyah Souq, Syria - This is the largest souq in Syria and sits next to the old walls of Damascus while the Roman Temple of Jupiter stands eloquently in the entrance. The architecture, diversity and goods make it extremely popular for both locals and tourists.
Al - Madina Souq, Syria - This market in the heart of Aleppo is the largest covered market in the world. This souq got hit pretty bad during the war, however, what is left is still worth immersing yourself in. Filled with history, culture, crafts and luxury goods, this is an experience worth seeking.
Khan el - khalili, Egypt - One of Cairo’s main attractions, this souq is extremely beautiful, colorful, and riddled with ornaments, good, spices and the hustle and bustle of trade. As one of the most vibrant bazaars, take a stroll around this outdoors market and find some gems to take back home.
Medina of Fez, Morocco - Ancient, intricate and cultural, this souq is a labyrinth of food, pottery, copper, gold, jewelry and endless alleys and fragrances at every turn. Yes, it might be a little overwhelming but a load of fun, so be prepared!
Tabriz Bazaar, Iran - Located historically on the Silk Road, this souq is a part of the UNESCO inventory. It is one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle East and is notable for their trade of rugs and tea.
Gold Souq, Dubai - A trip to the Gold Souq is just pure fascination. There is glittering bars of gold and jewelry for miles to see on every single alley.
Jaffa Flea Market, Israel - Persian goods, rugs, rings and more jewelry are to be found in the stalls that line the stone pathways. At night, the market transforms into a vibrant hotspot with music, drinks and restaurants.
Wandering the souks of Marrakech or other cities, the fragrances slow roasting meats and spiced dishes will stop you in your tracks. Middle Eastern food often shares the same ingredients as Mediterranean food, one of the world’s most healthy diets, and not to mention, most delicious.
Culinary traditions in the Middle East vary from country to country, but you can savor dishes made with pomegranates, dates, pistachios, olive oil, honey, mint, and a wide array of fresh vegetables and meats.
Try the thick coffee and syrup-sweet baklava in Turkey, the halawa, a sesame paste sweet in Egypt, and an aromatic tagine in Tunisia.
See all Food Tours in the Middle East »
Top 14 Mouth Watering Middle Eastern Dishes
Middle Eastern cuisine is a culmination of history. It is thousands of years old and is mixed with Roman influences, the Ottoman empire, the Levantine period, the different trades of the silk road and more.
Beside the classic shawarma and falafel that everybody knows, here are some authentic dishes not to miss.
If you’re a foodie, these are the top 12 must try foods in the Middle East:
Baba Ghanoush: If you thought hummus was the best dip, try again. Made of grilled eggplant, garlic, lemon and tahini, this is best served with fresh pita.
Manousheh: This Middle Eastern pizza, eaten usually for a heart breakfast, is a favorite amongst locals everywhere and especially popular in Dubai. This baked food can be topped with a diverse of things from cheese, herbs, falafel, sweet jam, minced lamb or labneh.
Shish Tawook: Marinated chicken shish kebab is so good and something you can’t go wrong with. It’s widely eaten in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Israel and more.
Mansaf: This is a traditional Palestinian dish and also the national dish of Jordan. It’s usually lamb shanks cooked in fermented yogurt and served with rice.
Persian Kuku Sabzi: Think vegetarian frittata. This has loads of greens, herbs and flavor and is usually served during New Years where the herbs symbolize rebirth and eggs symbolize fertility.
Chicken Liver: Fried crispy in a skillet, chicken liver sounds daunting but is so tasty and a punch full of flavors. This meze-style dish, or appetizer, is hugely popular and a must try.
Mulukhiyah: This Egyptian dish is a green stew that is usually cooked with chicken and served with lemon and white rice. It’s super popular across the middle east and the perfect comfort food for locals.
Fesenjoon: Easily one of the most tasty persian dishes, this stew is pact full of flavors such as pomegranate sauce, walnuts and poultry served with rice.
Baklava: This dessert is delicious, filling and an easy crowd pleaser anywhere in the world. It’s rich and sweet, made up of dough baked with honey, nuts, lemon zest, syrup, cinnamon and more.
Kibbeh: This Lebanese dish are crispy balls mixed with cracked wheat, ground beef or lamb, onions, olive oil, nutmeg, cinnamon and more.
Masgouf: Originating from Iraq, this is made of butterflied carp and cooked traditionally by grilling it sideways and topped with lemon, pomegranate and sumac spices.
Sayadieh: From the Syrian coast, the rice is filled with spices, herbs, caramelized onions topped with a fried fish fillet served with tahini on the side.
Each country in the Middle East offers unique outdoor experiences. For many, the grandest experience of all is camping in the Sahara desert. In Jordan, take a tour with a Bedouin tribe, riding a camel through the desert that stretches for miles all around you. In the evening, share a meal and mint tea with your hosts under the stars in a traditional tent.
You can also go on a Morocco trekking tour in the High Atlas Mountains, stopping along the way to visit tiny local villages hidden within the slopes.
The Dead Sea is a great place to heal your tired feet. Because of the high level of salt, you float effortlessly, while your body is healed through sea salt and nourishing minerals.
In Turkey, you will find the most bizarre natural landscapes of Cappadochia. Comprised of many valleys you can navigate, this region is dominated by “fairy chimneys”-soft stone tower formations that jut out from the ground.
For hundreds of years, locals have been carving them out and using them for everything from a house to a hotel, a church, and even an entire monastery. Wander the valleys and explore ancient cave churches from the 9th century, with vivid frescoes of biblical scenes.
Top Adventure Travel Activities in the Middle East
Snorkeling and Diving - The Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman are some of the most vibrant diving spots in the world. There is an abundance of sea life, coral reefs, shipwrecks and more to discover.
Sky Diving - The UAE is especially popular for skydiving given the breathtaking view over the deserts or the Palm Jumeirah islands. If you are an adrenaline junkie, this activity is for you.
Hot Air Balloon - Get a bird’s eye view of the gorgeous deserts that span for miles into the horizon at sunset through a hot air balloon flight in Morocco, Dubai and Israel amongst many.
Rock Climbing - Some of the best and most challenging climbs are found in the Middle East. Rock climb in the beautiful wilderness and sites of Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and more.
Desert Activities - There are a bunch of desert adventure activities available in the Middle East, and one of the most fun and certainly an extreme adventure activity are desert survival tours. Learn how to ride horses, camels, build a shelter and find food and water in one of the world’s harshest of climates in either the deserts of Jordan, Egypt and more.
Camping - This is extremely popular and definitely recommended for any traveler looking for a unique adventure. A tent experience amongst calm, clear deserts and valleys will easily be one for the books!
Visiting the Middle East on a Budget
These are some tips and tricks to save money when traveling around the Middle East.
Budget accomodations: although the Middle East is known for some extremely luxurious hotels and lifestyles readily available, there are a lot of hostels, guesthouses, hotels and cheap resorts to choose from. We advise booking ahead of time to create a hassle free experience and sometimes, during the winter, prices tend to drop.
Know what city you are going to. How much you spend is definitely dependent on where you are going. For example, you can expect food and hotels to be much cheaper in Turkey, Iran or Jordan as opposed to Israel or the UAE.
Try out street food. It's an excellent way to save money and an incredible opportunity to try out the most delicious and authentic dishes that locals enjoy.
Don’t be afraid to bargain at Souqs. Save your souvenir purchases from the airport or traveler stalls and venture into the many mesmerizing bazaars that the Middle East has to offer. Usually already at a decent price, you can bargain goods such as spices or art for an even cheaper deal. These are also great places to pick up cheap meals and snacks.
Make sure when using licensed cabs that you agree on a fare beforehand. Uber is also used in the Middle East and very reliable.
All Middle East tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.7 for all Middle East trips.