The cradle of civilisation, the crossroads of ancient empires…whatever true cliché you want to use to describe the region, the Middle East has ruins in abundance.
Petra, Jordan Extraordinary tombs hewn from the rock by the Nabataeans.
Luxor, Egypt Ancient Egypt in all its glory, from the Temple of Karnak to the west bank temples.
Ephesus, Turkey An astonishing theatre and some wonderfully preserved temples.
Persepolis, Iran The showpiece landmark from pre-Islamic Persia, famous for its bas-reliefs.
Caesarea, Israel An aqueduct, an amphitheatre and other Roman ruins spread out along the Mediterranean Coast.
Jerash, Jordan Temples, arches, a distinctive oval plaza and an outstanding colonnaded way in Jordan’s north.
Temple of Echmoun, Lebanon Unusually intact outpost of Phoenician culture in southern Lebanon.
Byblos, Lebanon Layered seaside ruins from the Chalcolithic to the Crusaders.
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt Not exactly a city but worthy of one.
Deserts & Oases
It was from the desert that the great monotheistic faiths emerged, and the Middle East is still home to some of the most beautiful and soulful desert landscapes on earth.
Wadi Rum, Jordan Exceptional rock formations, extraordinary colours, Bedouin companions and echoes of TE Lawrence.
Western Desert, Egypt Remote oasis towns and gateways to the Sahara’s White and Black Deserts.
Ein Gedi, Israel Two spring-fed canyon oases are home to a profusion of plant and animal life.
Eastern Desert, Jordan The eastern wastes are home to a surprising collection of castles and wildlife sanctuaries.
Sinai Coast, Egypt The southern peninsula remains one of the Middle East's finest coastal playgrounds with a fascinating hinterland.
Mosques stand at the very heart of Middle Eastern life. In many cases, the architecture speaks to the aesthetic aspirations of a people, with symmetrical forms and exquisite decorative features.
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem Not technically a mosque, but rather a shrine, and one of Islam's holiest sites, with a graceful octagonal plan, gorgeous mosaic tiles and a gleaming gold dome.
Blue Mosque, İstanbul The personification of Islamic architectural grace and perfect proportions.
Masjed-e Jameh, Esfahan One of the high points of Persian Islamic architecture, both in scale and exquisite detail.
Masjed-e Shah, Esfahan Utterly magnificent blue-tiled mosque in the heart of the city.
Süleymaniye Mosque, İstanbul The pinnacle of 16th-century Ottoman mosque design and İstanbul’s grandest.
Al Azhar Mosque, Cairo One of the oldest mosques in Egypt and the world’s oldest surviving university.
Masjed-e Nasir Al Molk, Shiraz Stunning example of Iranian mosque architecture, with dazzling detail and magnificent tile work at every turn.
Souqs & Bazaars
The souqs and bazaars that snake through so many Middle Eastern towns provide many visitors with their most memorable experiences of the region.
Khan Al Khalili, Cairo The city's Byzantine-era bazaar is a tourist cliché, but with very good reason.
Jerusalem All the world’s a bazaar in the Old City.
Bethlehem Busy and colourful souq in the town of Jesus’s birth.
Tabriz Bazaar, Iran Wonderful example of the historic Persian bazaar.
Grand Bazaar, İstanbul The quintessential Turkish marketplace with carpets and controlled chaos.
Bazar-e Bozorg, Esfahan Fabulous covered market that fans out across the city from its splendid monumental core.
Saida Small but hugely atmospheric seaside souq in Lebanon.
Castles & Fortresses
During the Crusades in particular, seemingly every conceivable hilltop was colonised by a defensive fortress. Many remain, in some cases beautifully preserved.
Karak, Jordan The most intact of Jordan’s Crusader castles.
Shobak, Jordan Less well-preserved than Karak, but its equal in drama and beauty.
İshak Paşa Palace, Turkey Like the evocation of an Arabian fairy tale in Doğubayazıt in eastern Turkey.
Nimrod Fortress, Israel The best-preserved Crusader-era bastion in the Israel-controlled territory of Golan Heights.
Fortress of Shali, Egypt Melting mudbrick fortress rising from the Siwa Saharan oasis.
Desert Castles, Jordan Seventh- and 8th-century desert retreats in evocative desert locations.
Byblos, Lebanon Crusader-era fortress by the Mediterranean in one of Lebanon's oldest settlements.
The Bible – and the Torah and the Quran – live and breathe in the cities and soil of the Middle East, particularly the Levantine arc.
Jerusalem, Israel From Al Haram Ash Sharif/Temple Mount to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem is the Bible writ large.
Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories The Church of the Nativity stands on the site where Jesus is believed to have been born.
Mt Sinai, Egypt Said to be where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God atop the summit.
Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, Jordan Site where Jesus was baptised.
Machaerus, Jordan Herod the Great’s castle, where John the Baptist was martyred.
Mt Nebo, Jordan Where Moses looked out over the Promised Land, now within sight of Jerusalem.
Coptic Cairo, Egypt Sacred urban heartland of one of the oldest Christian communities on earth.
The hammam (hamam in Turkey and Iran) is a wonderful sensual indulgence. You’ll never forget the robust massage on tiled slabs, sweltering steam-room sessions and scalding tea.
Çemberlitaş Hamamı, İstanbul Sixteenth-century Ottoman hamam with an atmosphere to match.
Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, İstanbul İstanbul’s most beautiful hamam after a stunning recent restoration.
Al Pasha Turkish Bath, Jordan A rare outpost of tradition in the modern Jordanian capital, Amman, with the full treatment.
Hammam Al Shifa, Palestinian Territories This local place has a hot room, a sauna and a steam room.
The Middle East is – perhaps surprisingly for some – a top hiking destination, with Jordan and Israel in particular offering rewarding trails from short day-hikes to longer, multiday expeditions.
Sinai Trail, Egypt Fabulous 12-day hike across the Sinai organised and run by three Bedouin tribes.
Jordan Trail Hike the length of Jordan, or walk the brilliant five-day chunk from Dana Biosphere Reserve to Petra.
Lycian Way, Turkey One of the world's most beautiful walks, along the Mediterranean rim from Fethiye to Antalya.
Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan Trek through one of the Middle East’s most intact (and most beautiful) ecosystems.
Makhtesh Ramon, Israel Hike through this vast desert crater, famous for its multicoloured sandstone.
En Avdat National Park, Israel Trek through canyons and pools in the wonderful Negev Desert.
Timna Park, Israel Stunning desert landscapes, enlivened with multicoloured rock formations.
Petra, Jordan Hike through the main site, with intriguing trails leading further to little-known tombs.
Qadisha Valley, Lebanon Walk through an enchanting valley dotted with ancient monasteries.
Diving & Snorkelling
The Red Sea could be the finest place to dive and snorkel on earth, with varied underwater topography in one of the richest and most varied marine ecosystems you'll find.
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt Base for the Thistlegorm, a sunken WWII cargo ship that ranks among the world’s best wreck dives.
Dahab, Egypt A place of Middle Eastern snorkelling legend and home to the famous Blue Hole.
Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt A national marine park teeming with more fish life than you can poke a regulator at.
Aqaba, Jordan Jordan’s wedge of the Red Sea has hundreds of coral species and around 1000 fish species.
Marsa Alam, Egypt A remote and virgin reef offshore and the perfect place for shark spotting.
Eilat, Israel Israel’s best snorkelling, plus a chance to commune with fish without getting wet.
The Middle East is not just about religion, old stones and history lessons at every turn. The region’s cities are vibrant, exciting places racing headlong towards the future.
Beirut, Lebanon One of the most resilient cities on earth, Beirut can be sassy and sophisticated in equal measure.
Tel Aviv, Israel Jerusalem’s alter ego is dynamic, secular, international and more than a little hedonistic.
Amman, Jordan Jordan’s capital has some of the most enduring oases of urban cool in the region.
Alexandria, Egypt A culturally rich city as much Mediterranean as Egyptian.
İstanbul, Turkey One of the greatest cities on earth, European, Middle Eastern and Turkish all at once.
Tehran, Iran A fascinating city where old and new, secular and Islamic clash with often dynamic results.
The Middle East has some superb places to lay out your towel. You’re most likely to feel comfortable doing so in Turkey, Israel and some parts of Egypt.
Çıralı, Turkey Right alongside that old traveller favourite hangout of Olympos.
Patara, Turkey Twenty kilometres of unbroken and largely unspoiled sand.
Nuweiba, Egypt One of the quieter Egyptian Red Sea shores with plenty to do or lovely beaches on which to do nothing.
Dahab, Egypt Yes, it’s a scene, but the location is dramatic.
Tel Aviv, Israel Long stretches of soft sand, with all the amenities of Israel’s liveliest city right nearby.
Palmachim Beach, Israel Gorgeous natural bay, west of Rishon LeZion and south of Tel Aviv.
Coral Beach Nature Reserve, Israel Eilat’s best beach is ideal for snorkellers.
Dead Sea, Jordan Float (because swimming is near impossible) in the buoyant salt sea.
Berenice Beach, Jordan Learn to dive on Jordan’s laid-back southern coast.
Tyre, Lebanon Crystal-clear waters on Lebanon's best beaches within sight of Roman ruins.
Vestiges of the region’s wildlife somehow survive, and ecotourism projects and wildlife reserves now protect some of the Middle East’s most charismatic fauna.
Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve, Israel Observe African asses, addax, ostriches and oryx in the wild.
Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt One of the Red Sea’s few protected areas teems with marine life.
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve, Jordan Take a safari to see wild Arabian oryx in this ground-breaking reserve.
Mujib Biosphere Reserve, Jordan An enclosure for the Nubian ibex and the chance to see caracal.
Shouf Biosphere Reserve, Lebanon If you’re (extremely) lucky, you might see wolves, wild cats, ibex and gazelle.
Agamon HaHula, Israel Restored wetlands that let you see migrating cranes up close.