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Introduction to the Middle East

The Middle East is illuminated in history and culture. It is also best known as the home of exotic spices and grand architecture. But for those who had the rare privilege of travelling to the Middle East, it never fails to surprise. You come to the Middle East with a preconceived notion of what the region is like but it surprises you with so much more than that.

This region is the cradle of civilization. It is a picture of wild transformation from a complicated land to a thriving community of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. Drop your assumptions and let yourself be lost in a world of futuristic cities, marvellous architecture, fast cars, deserted landscapes, and historical ruins.

If the wind blows, ride it - Arab Proverb

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Just like its culture and the attractions that you can find, the Middle East is home to a varied landscape. As you would expect, the desert landscape is the primary source of curiosity among its visitors. The Arabian Desert, which is where Dubai is located in, is one of the main deserts in the area.

As vast as the desert landscapes are in the Middle East, there are also several mountainous ranges. The Al Hajar Mountains in Oman is one of the main mountain ranges in the region. Meanwhile, the Zagros Mountain is a long mountain range that spans three countries: Iran, Turkey, and Kurdistan.

Other must-see landscapes in the Middle East are rivers, plains, valleys, and plateaus.

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Middle Eastern cuisine is one of the most sought-after cuisines on a global scale. Known for its rich, aromatic and healthy dishes, it has a flavour that appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds.

When you travel to the Middle East, below are some of the most popular dishes to try.

  • Hummus – There is probably no other Middle Eastern dish that is popular worldwide than this. It is a chickpea spread that is traditionally served with pita bread.
  • Halloumi – This type of cheese is derived from goat and sheep milk. It is best served grilled.
  • Falafel – Another classic from the Middle Eastern cuisine, falafel is available in a wide range of meat. You can also have a vegan version using chickpea or vegetables.
  • Ghanoush – If you love hummus, you will love ghanoush too. It has the same consistency as hummus does but this one is made with eggplant.
  • Shawarma – This is another must-try dish from the Middle East. It is also best served wrapped in pita bread.
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Cultural Destinations in the Middle East

The history and culture of the Middle East are as vibrant as the lights in the modern cities of Dubai or Doha. If you want to sightsee and learn about the history and culture of the land, there are plenty of options available. In the United Arab Emirates, the most famous cultural attraction is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

It is a great place to learn about Islam and marvel at its awe-inspiring architecture. Sharjah is another section of the UAE with plenty of cultural tourism opportunities, particularly Corniche Street. This part of Sharjah is home to many traditional galleries and souqs. In the Wadi Rum in Qatar, there are plenty of Bedouin camps that are open for tourists to experience. And you can explore the historic city of Diriyah in Saudi Arabia.

It is the perfect spot to learn about the Saudi royal family and have the chance to tour the former royal home. There are plenty of cultural UNESCO world heritage sites, mosques, and museums to visit when you go to the Middle East.

Are you looking to explore the Middle East? Below is a list of top tourist attractions that you cannot afford to miss:

  • United Arab Emirates – The UAE is home to a rich selection of tourist attractions for travellers of all types. Some of the must-see attractions are the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and The Dubai Mall.
  • Israel – Israel is considered to be the home of the holy land. You can expect a wide array of cultural and historical sites such as the Masada National Park, Dead Sea, and Mount Zion.
  • Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia is a desert country that is teeming with sightseeing and cultural experiences. Make sure to visit Masjid al-Haram and Madain Saleh.
  • Jordan – Jordan is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Middle East. Among the top destinations are the ancient city of Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Roman Theatre. The ancient city of Petra is the most popular tourist destination in the country. It is an ancient rock-cut city that was built 2,000 years ago.
  • Qatar – Qatar is a peninsular country with a diverse landscape and plenty of tourist attractions to offer. When in Qatar, it is a must to visit the Souq Waqif, Doha Corniche, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
  • Lebanon – Lebanon is a country noted for its vibrant nightlife, mountainous regions, and cultural traditions. For the best of Lebanon, make sure to explore the Qadisha Valley, National Museum of Beirut, and Temple of Bacchus

The key to everything is determination - Arabian Proverb

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The Middle East imposes a few regulations and customs that are not observed elsewhere in the world. This is mostly due to the strong ties with Islamic beliefs. Here are a few things you need to know:

  • The high season in the Middle East is from December to February. The holiday season, in particular, is when most cities get crowded and prices are sky high.
  • The shoulder season is from March to May and September to November.
  • Bargaining is allowed in some countries but not all. Learn about each culture before you attempt to haggle.
  • There is a widespread of ATMs in the Middle East, especially in the major cities. This is important to know as many countries are still cash reliant.
  • Tipping is expected in many countries in the Middle East.
  • Flying is the best way to travel in the Middle East. There is no rail network and the buses are not the most comfortable.
  • Make sure to pack the right items for the weather in the Middle East. You need sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and warm clothes.

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Best Time to Visit

The Middle East is best summed up in two words: hot and dry. Even as the seasons might change, it only means a shift from hot to even hotter. Timing your visit to the Middle East is therefore important if you want to enjoy your time there.

Spring is the best time to visit the Middle East (March to May). You can expect fair weather for the most part and the wildflowers in the mountainous areas are in full bloom. This makes the heat bearable enough to go for a trek or camp in the desert.

Summer should be avoided as the temperature can get extremely hot. The average temperature from the months of June to August is 45 degrees Celsius. It would be uncomfortable to go sightsee or explore outside. During autumn and winter, the temperature in the Middle East can still be warm. But it is pleasant enough that festivals are held around this time of the year.

With this information about the Middle East, you are all set to go. It is important to note, though, that there are several conservative countries in the region. These include the countries in the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Egypt. On the other hand, Israel and Turkey are the most relaxed when it comes to clothing. But this can vary largely from one country to another so it is best to pack modest clothes.

There is also a general rule that women should never wear clothes that show off too much skin, legs, cleavage, and arms. You will be expected to cover up when you enter sacred places like mosques and temples.

For your own safety, travelling on the road at night is not encouraged. It is also important to stay vigilant whenever you travel. The Middle East is largely a safe place to travel, but there are a few publicised problem areas.

And finally, always check the travel warnings (if any) on your intended destination before booking your flight. This could void your travel insurance.