Like many others, the travel industry goes through different phases, embracing new trends. One year Mexico is topping lists of the best holiday destinations, the next Sri Lanka is the place to go. The factors that contribute to one country or city’s popularity are many and varied; it might be the nation’s own economic growth attracting better hotels and more tourism; sometimes direct flights from wealthy countries can make all the difference. However, arguably the most important influence is perception.

The Middle East has suffered from a bad reputation for years. But to eliminate an entire region that consists of several different countries, each with distinct histories and individual cultures, based on an often-unearned prejudice doesn’t really make sense. And it could mean missing out on an incredible travel experience for no good reason.

Times are changing

According to Forbes, “as per estimates from WTTC, expenditure on outbound travel from the Middle East is expected to reach $165.3 billion by 2025.” Clearly, the Middle East’s image problem is on the wane as tourists flock there in ever greater numbers. Egypt, Palestine and Israel all ranked in the top 10 destinations that saw the most growth in terms of year-over-year percentage increase of visitors. The countries themselves are making an effort to dispel any past reservations travellers may have had by reaching out to countries in Europe.

This effort is being led in part by people like the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia who met with Jerry Inzerillo, the Vice Chairman at Forbes Travel Guide, on 5th September to start working with him on attracting visitors to the country. The Crown Prince’s vision is to promote tourism and transform his country into a desirable holiday destination by modernising some aspects of society and building tourist-friendly attractions. He has already granted women the legal right to drive and is working with UNESCO to rebuild the mud-brick ruins of Diriyah, complete with hotels, restaurants, theatres, museums and retail spaces.

Crown Prince Mohammed has also travelled to France to talk tourism and seek out “expertise on developing archaeological sites and preserving heritage”. Although this effort is clearly concentrated on attracting people to Saudi, it will likely serve to stimulate tourism in the Middle East as a whole, as perceptions shift and travel there becomes a matter of course.

Where to go and what to do

The top 10 destinations to travel to in the Middle East are as follows:

Saudi Arabia

When to go: November to April but it should be noted that Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive entry policies of any country in the world. Make sure to do your homework before you go. You can find information here.

Don’t miss: Madain Saleh. These ruins are home to 131 tombs and are really a sight to behold.

United Arab Emirates
When to go: November to March. The UAE is either hot or even hotter so travelling there in “winter” is advisable.
Don’t miss: The Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Khatt Springs in Ras Al-Khaimah.  

Egypt

When to go: September, March or April.
Don’t miss: The Pyramids at Giza are obviously a huge draw but we also recommend taking a cruise down the Nile.

Iran

When to go: March to May and September to October are the best months to avoid the intense heat and extreme cold.
Don’t miss:
Arg-e Bam is the largest brick UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world and is truly spectacular. One for the architecture buffs.

Jordan

When to go: March to May. Warm days and cool nights.

Don’t miss: It may appear in every guide but it’s worth it; having a float in the salt-saturated, mineral rich water of the Dead Sea is a must-do as is a visit to the rose-red city of Petra.

Qatar

When to go: November to April.

Don’t miss: Visit the Souq Waqif, a centuries-old outdoor market, brilliant for browsing and shisha smoking.

Oman

When to go: October to April.
Don’t miss:
The Sharqiya Sands offer classic desert scenery and wildlife, with dunes and camels galore.

Lebanon

When to go: March to June and October to December.
Don’t miss:
Kadisha Valley, a river gorge with ancient churches hewn from the rocks and plenty of hiking trails, complete with photogenic waterfalls.

Bahrain

When to go: November to April.

Don’t miss: The stunning architecture of the Al-Fatih Mosque located in Manama and which offers free entry to tourists.

 

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