There are numerous direct flights into the region from Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America. Otherwise, the burgeoning Gulf hubs of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha make convenient waystations en route to the region.
Airports & Airlines
The Middle East’s main international airports are as follows. Both Egypt and Turkey have additional airports that receive international flights.
Atatürk International Airport, İstanbul
Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv
Airlines flying to the Middle East include the following:
Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com)
El Al (www.elal.co.il)
Gulf Air (www.gulfair.com)
Iran Air (www.iranair.com)
Iraqi Airways (www.iraqiairways.com.iq)
Jazeera Airways (www.jazeeraairways.com)
Middle East Airlines (www.mea.com.lb)
Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com)
Royal Jordanian (www.rj.com)
Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com)
In all countries of the region, departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
Border crossings in the Middle East can be slow, and it can take hours to pass through immigration and customs formalities, especially if you bring your own car. Showing patience, politeness and good humour may speed up the process.
If travelling overland to or from the Middle East, you can approach the region from Africa, the Caucasus, Iran or Europe.
Middle East Border Crossings at a Glance
Israel & the Palestinian Territories
Connected by ferry; entry points at Nuweiba & Aqaba
Israel & the Palestinian Territories
Crossings at: King Hussein Bridge/Allenby Bridge (close to Jerusalem), Jordan River Bridge/Sheikh Hussein Bridge (close to Beit She’an/Irbid), Wadi Arabia/Yitzhak Rabin (close to Eilat/Aqaba)
Crossings at Gürbulak-Bazargan, near Doğubayazıt (Turkey) and Şahabat (Iran); and the Esendere-Sero border southeast of Van (Turkey)
The two land border crossings between Egypt and Sudan reopened in 2014 and a number of Sudanese bus companies now operate Aswan–Wadi Halfa–Khartoum services.
If travelling to Sudan, you need to purchase your Sudanese visa beforehand in either Cairo or Aswan. Travelling north from Sudan into Egypt, Egyptian visas are issued at the border. Egyptian departure tax is LE50.
Travel to Libya is currently unsafe.
Iran's borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan were unsafe and off limits at the time of writing.
The border between Iran and Armenia is only 35km long, with one crossing point in Iran at Norduz. Armenian visas are issued at the border, though sometimes the bus leaves before you have your visa! Apart from that, it’s pretty smooth.
The Azeri border has at least three recognised crossings. You can cross between Astara (Azerbaijan) and Astara (Iran), and Culfa (Azerbaijan) and Jolfa (Iran), the latter leading to the exclave of Nakhchivan, from where you cannot enter Armenia and must fly to get to Baku. The third option, good if you want to go to Jolfa from Baku, is at Bilesuva, the border used by Baku–Nakhchivan buses and plenty of Azeris on their way to Tabriz. Visas are not issued at any of these land borders.
Direct buses between Tehran and Baku, via Astara, are available but are not such a good idea because you’ll probably get stuck waiting for hours at the airport. Taking one bus to the border, crossing as a pedestrian and finding another bus is much easier.
A train line was meant to open from Baku to Rasht in 2018, but don't hold your breath.
There are three border posts open to foreigners along this 1206km-long frontier. From west to east, there is inconvenient and little-used Incheh Borun/Gyzyl-Etrek, Bajgiran crossing linking Mashhad and the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, and Sarakhs and Saraghs for those heading east; the area around the latter should be visited with caution. You must change transport at all three crossings.
The new train line from near Gorgan crossing at Gyzyl-Etrek has officially opened, but there were no passenger services at the time of writing.
The paperwork and organisation involved in travelling to Turkmenistan is a hassle; Stantours (www.stantours.com) seems to be the best at making it all go (relatively) smoothly.
Turkey’s border with Armenia has been closed for many years and appears unlikely to open any time soon. To reach Armenia, you'll need to travel via Georgia.
It’s fairly easy to get to İstanbul by direct bus from many points in Europe via Bulgaria. Several Turkish bus lines offer reliable and quite comfortable services between İstanbul and Germany, Italy, Austria and Greece. Because of infrastructure upgrades, the only train service in operation at the time of writing was between İstanbul and Bucharest.
There are three border crossings between Bulgaria and Turkey. The main border crossing is the busy Kapitan-Andreevo/Kapıkule, 18km west of Edirne on the E5. The closest town on the Bulgarian side is Svilengrad, some 10km from the border. This crossing is open 24 hours daily.
There’s a second crossing at Lesovo-Hamzabeyli, some 25km north of Edirne; it’s a quieter option during the busy summer months than Kapitan-Andreevo/Kapıkule, but takes a little longer to get to, and there’s no public transport.
The third crossing is at Malko Târnovo-Kırıkkale, some 70km northeast of Edirne and 92km south of Burgas.
The main border crossing is at Sarp on the Black Sea coast, between Hopa (Turkey) and Batum (Georgia). You can also cross inland at the Türkgözü border crossing near Posof, north of Kars (Turkey) and southwest of Akhaltsikhe (Georgia). The Sarp border crossing is open 24 hours a day; Türkgözü is open from 8am to 8pm, although in winter you might want to double check that it’s open at all.
At least six weekly buses travel from Athens’ Peloponnese train station to İstanbul. You can also pick up the bus in Thessaloniki and at Alexandroupolis. Alternatively, you can make your own way to Alexandroupolis and take a service from the intercity bus station to the border town of Kipi, but remember that you can’t walk across the border, so it's better to take a bus to İpsala (5km east beyond the border) or Keşan (30km east beyond the border), from where there are many buses to the capital.
There were no train services operating between Greece and Turkey at the time of writing because of infrastructure work. For updates, see the websites of Turkish State Railways (www.tcdd.gov.tr) or the Hellenic Railways Organisation (www.ose.gr).
There are two border crossings between Iran and Turkey: the busier Gürbulak-Bazargan, near Doğubayazıt (Turkey) and Şahabat (Iran); and the Esendere-Sero border crossing, southeast of Van (Turkey). Gürbulak-Bazargan is open 24 hours and the crossing might take up to an hour. Esendere-Sero is open from 8am until midnight, but might be closed in winter. This second crossing has the added bonus of taking you through the breathtaking scenery of far southeastern Anatolia.
Ferries shuttle reasonably regularly between southern Europe and Turkey. There are other less-frequented routes connecting Egypt with Sudan and Saudi Arabia, though a Saudi visa is near impossible to come by.
Although vehicles can be shipped on most routes, bookings may have to be made some time in advance. The charge usually depends on the length or volume of the vehicle and should be checked with the carrier. As a rule, motorcycles cost almost nothing to ship, while bicycles are free.
You’re unlikely to regret taking an adequate supply of food and drink with you on any of these ships; even if it’s available on board, you’re pretty stuck if it doesn’t agree with you or your budget.
Ferry Lines (www.ferrylines.com) is a good place to get started when looking at possible routes into the region.
If you have a multiple-entry visa for Turkey, you should be able to cross over to Northern Cyprus and back again without buying a new one. However, if your visa has expired, you should anticipate long queues at immigration.
Akgünler (www.akgunler.com.tr) heads from Girne (Northern Cyprus) to Taşucu (1½ hours, three weekly) in Turkey.
Private ferries link Turkey’s Aegean coast and the Greek islands. Services are usually daily in summer, several times a week in spring and autumn, and perhaps just once a week in winter.
Car-ferry services operate between Greek ports and several Turkish ports, but not to İstanbul. Among the most important routes are Chios–Çeşme, Kastellorizo–Kaş, Kos–Bodrum, Lesvos–Ayvalık, Rhodes (Rhodos)–Bodrum, Rhodes (Rhodos)–Datça, Rhodes (Rhodos)–Marmaris and Samos–Kuşadası.
Russia & Ukraine
The main routes out of Turkey are Trabzon–Sochi (for Russia) and Istanbul–Illichivsk (for Ukraine). Other seasonal routes may include Samsun–Batumi (Georgia), Samsun–Novorossiysk (Russia) and İstanbul–Sevastopol.
Sari Denizcilik Weekly ferry between Sochi, in Russia, and Trabzon (12 hours).
Stena Sea Line (www.stenasealine.com) Weekly service between İstanbul and Chornomorsk in Ukraine (23 to 25 hours).
UKR Ferry (www.ukrferry.com) Twice-weekly Istanbul–Chornomorsk (23 to 25 hours).
For a clearing house of sustainable tour options, visit www.responsibletravel.com.
Intrepid (www.intrepidtravel.com) Tours to most Middle Eastern countries.
Passport Travel (www.travelcentre.com.au) Tours to Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Jordan and Israel.
Antichi Splendori Viaggi (www.antichisplendori.it) Experienced Italian operator.
Dabuka Expeditions (www.dabuka.de) German expeditions into the Egyptian Sahara.
Terres d’Aventure (www.terdav.com) French operator that visits most countries in the region.
Zig-Zag (www.zigzag-randonnees.com) Experienced French company that gets off the beaten track.
Ancient World Tours (www.ancient.co.uk) Ancient Egypt specialists.
Andante Travels (www.andantetravels.co.uk) Archaeology tours, including to southeastern Turkey.
Crusader Travel (www.crusadertravel.com) Sinai treks and Red Sea diving.
Bestway Tours & Safaris (www.bestway.com) A huge range of tours to most countries.
Yalla Tours (www.yallatours.com) Middle East specialists.