We have a simple message for those of you considering travelling with your children to the Middle East: go for it. If you don’t believe us, look around – you won’t see many families of travellers, but the ones you do see will probably be having a pretty good time.
Best Regions for Kids
For the most part, travelling in Turkey is no different from anywhere else in Europe. The beach resorts of the Aegean and Mediterranean probably hold the greatest appeal, but don’t forget the fairy-chimney landscape of Cappadocia. Public transport and road infrastructure is generally excellent, although distances between destinations can be long.
- Jordan & Israel & the Palestinian Territories
Israel & the Palestinian Territories has terrific beaches, while Jordan boasts fabulous castles, camel trekking and the chance to float in the Dead Sea. An additional plus to travelling in these two compact places is the short distances to get anywhere, while standards of food hygiene are relatively high.
Despite large distances, train rides and sailing boats down the Nile go some way towards compensating. Throw in beaches, Red Sea snorkelling and Tintin & the Pharaohs come to life, and kids could easily fall in love with the country.
Middle East for Kids
Health & Safety
All travellers with children should know how to treat minor ailments and when to seek medical treatment. Make sure the children are up to date with routine vaccinations, and discuss possible travel vaccines well before departure as some vaccines are not suitable for children aged under one year.
On the all-important question of security, there are plenty of places in the Middle East that are extremely safe, and any place that’s safe for you to visit will generally be safe for your children.
Public transport is rarely easy with children: car sickness is a problem, they’ll usually end up on your lap, functional seat belts are rare, even in taxis, and accidents are common.
It’s common for locals to eat out as a family. As a result, waiters are welcoming, or at least accepting of children. Best of all, the region’s cuisine is generally child-friendly, being simple and varied, although you should always make sure the meat is well cooked. On the downside, Middle Eastern ice creams may be too much of a risk for tender young stomachs and, although some places have high chairs, they’re very much in the minority. Kids’ menus are rare except in Western-style hotel restaurants in larger cities.
The beaches of the Middle East are ideal for families and factoring in some beach time to go with the region’s more adult attractions can be an extremely wise move. The safest and most easily accessible place to begin is Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Egypt, Jordan and Israel all have excellent beaches, many of which have a range of activities on offer, from boat rides to diving and snorkelling.
Unlike any vaguely news-savvy adult, most children have yet to have their perceptions of the Middle East distorted by stereotypes. Discovering for themselves just how friendly the people of the Middle East can be is a lesson that will last a lifetime. More than that, your own chances of meeting locals (especially local families) is greatly enhanced if you’re travelling as a family.
Temples & Castles
- Temple of Karnak A sound-and-light show that’s a great alternative to history books.
- Petra If they’ve seen Indiana Jones, watch them go wide-eyed with recognition.
- Karak & Shobak Jordanian castles filled with legends of knights and damsels in distress.
- Cappadocia Fairy-tale landscape made for a child’s fertile imagination.
Beaches & Activities
- Snorkelling the Red Sea A whole new world to make Nemo look tame.
- Spending time on Turkey’s beaches Gentle waters and family-friendly facilities.
- Sailing a felucca up the Nile from Aswan to Luxor An unforgettable journey.
- Floating in the Dead Sea Yes, even Dad floats!
- Riding a camel through Wadi Rum Be Lawrence of Arabia for a day.
- Horse riding in Luxor An original way to experience West Bank temples.
What to Bring
Disposable nappies (diapers), powdered milk, formula and bottled water are widely available throughout the region in most large supermarkets, although don't expect to find your favourite brands; stock up in larger towns as some items won’t be available elsewhere.
If you’ll be travelling by taxi or minibus, you may consider bringing a child’s seat-belt adjuster and/or a car seat; very few vehicles have the latter.
Other useful items to bring include child-friendly insect repellent and a blanket to spread out to use as a makeshift nappy-changing area.
When to Go
The best times to visit the Middle East are in autumn (September to November) or spring (March to May). Travel is certainly possible at other times, but winter (December to February) can be bitterly cold in the evenings and rain can be frequent. And unless you’ll be spending all of your time in the water, avoid travel in the summer (especially in July and August) as the extreme heat can be quite uncomfortable and energy sapping.
Your chances of finding what you need (such as cots) increase the more you’re willing to pay. And you’ll almost certainly want something with a private bathroom and hot water, thereby precluding most budget accommodation. Hygiene standards at many budget establishments can also be poor.
Children under two years usually stay for free in most hotels. There’s often a supplementary charge for squeezing in extra beds. Large family rooms or adjoining rooms with connecting doors are occasionally available.