36 Best places to visit in the Middle East in 2023

By Joan Torres 84 Comments Last updated on April 14, 2023

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Wanna travel to the Middle East with Against the Compass?

Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kurdistan and more. We have group expeditions scheduled every month to the most exciting destinations in the Middle East.

The Middle East…

That enormous piece of territory often overlooked as a whole and, usually, only seen as the land of the greatest and most beautiful deserts, endless bazaars of spices and the warm welcome of the Bedouins.

Moreover, most of the time, the international media only likes to share images of disasters and bad things happening in the Middle East.

This distortion of reality changes people’s perception to the extent that the whole region of the Middle East becomes a dangerous place to travel to as if it was one single country.

But, you know what? The Middle East is composed of 14 different countries that differ massively from each other, have boundaries and share borders.

Which countries are part of the Middle East?

In my opinion, these are the countries that comprise the Middle East:

Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen

Officially, the Middle East also includes Turkey and Cyprus, but this is my blog, and I decided not to include them and, instead, I decided to include Libya in this list.


After many years of living and traveling around the region, based on my own experience and opinion, I have compiled a list of the 36 best places to travel in the Middle East.

These choices are based on their level of security, historical importance, and natural beauty. 

My objective is to show you not only that the Middle East is a safe place to travel to, but I also want you to see the huge natural and cultural contrast between countries and the relevant role they have in our history.

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36 Best places to travel in the Middle East

Please note that this list is just a personal opinion and might not match yours.

Further suggestions are more than welcome!

1 – Amadiya – Home to the Three Wise Men

Country – Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan)

Located in the north of Iraqi Kurdistan, only 10km away from the Turkish border, Amadiya is a lovely, very photogenic village located on the flat top of a mountain, which has no less than 5,000 years of history.

From the Assyrians to the Persians, as well as several Jewish and Christian communities, dozens of different civilizations and religions have left their footprint in this historical place.

Furthermore, Amadiya is believed to be the home of the Three Wise Man, who made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to see Jesus Christ after his birth.

Today, Amadiya is a Muslim Kurdish village, surrounded by the most striking mountain scenery, characteristic from northern Iraq and one the most beautiful places to travel in the Middle East.

You may like: How to visit Mosul

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Amadiya, one of my top places to visit in the Middle East

2 – Shibam, the Manhattan of the desert

Country – Yemen

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982, Shibam is a 7000-inhabitant town, located in the middle of nowhere, composed of 9-story mud-brick buildings, which is why it’s often referred to as the ‘Manhattan of the desert’, even though I don’t really like these comparisons.

Unlike other sites of great interest in Yemen, Shibam is located in a region named Hadramut, a relatively safe in Yemen with direct flights from Cairo in Egypt.

Read my Yemen travel guide for more information.

Wanna travel to Yemen with Against the Compass?

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November 23rd to 28th

Yemen, Middle East

3 – Esfahan – Jaw-dropping Islamic architecture

Country – Iran

Esfahan is Iran’s most amazing city and its mosques, composed of giant domes and mind-blowing ceilings with extravagant geometrical forms, are the most impressive buildings in the Middle East, without any doubt.

Being one of the most historical cities in the region, Esfahan has always been home to a large community of scholars and prestigious intellectuals and its importance and influence in this part of the world was often compared to Athens and Rome.

Today, as per Iranian standards, Esfahan is a surprisingly modern, clean and vibrant city where some of the most educated and brilliant people in the country live.

Read more: A 1-to 4-week itinerary in Iran

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Shah Mosque in Esfahan. Iran is definitely, one of the safest places to visit in the Middle East

4 – The Old City of Damascus

Country – Syria

Everything here is very old.

This is the first thing the hotel receptionist told me on the day I arrived in the city.

Damascus is indeed one of the most ancient cities in the world – probably the oldest country capital – established in the second millennium BC, and capital of the Umayyad Caliphate from 661 to 750, one of the most important caliphates ever, extending from Spain to Iran.

My favorite place in Damascus was Umayyad mosque, an outstanding mosque which passed from being a Jupiter Temple during the Roman era to a Christian basilica dedicated to John the Baptist and then one of the largest mosques in the world.

Today, Damascus is a safe city and, fortunately, the Old City has remained like that during most of the war.

I visited it at the beginning of 2019 and had a real blast.

For more information, read my Syria travel guide

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June 17th to 24th

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The beautiful Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of the oldest and largest mosques in the world and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Middle East

5 – Baalbek – Giant Roman ruins, all by yourself

Country – Lebanon

Extending from Western Europe to North Africa and the Middle East, the Roman Empire was the greatest empire that has ever existed.

Today, most of its ruins, some of them in relatively good condition, are major tourist attractions that receive hundreds of visitors every day.

Outside of Rome, the ruins of Baalbek are among the most impressive, not only due to their dimensions and good preservation, but also because you are likely to have the ruins to yourself as, here, we are talking about Lebanon, one of the most off the beaten track destinations in the region, where you can experience the greatest Roman ruins like nowhere else, hence one of the best places to travel in the Middle East.

Read more: How to spend 2 weeks in Lebanon

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The ruins of Baalbek

6 – Ghadames, an ancient caravan city

Country – Libya

600km from the capital of Libya (Tripoli) and nestled right at the triple border between Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, Ghadames is an ancient caravan city, one of the most important caravan cities in all of Africa. The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a massive, entangled maze of streets built in a refreshing oasis in the middle of the desert.

It does take one full day to reach Ghadames by car from the capital Tripoli, but the journey is worth the trip.

Read my Libya travel guide.

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October 19th to 25th

Caravan city of Gadhames

7 – The twisting Minaret of Malwiya

Country – Iraq

Malwiya is an outstanding 52-meter-tall minaret with a peculiar spiral shape, absolutely jaw-dropping, and the most iconic building in all Iraq.

The minaret belongs to Al-Jami, a 9th century mosque, once one of the largest in the world, but destroyed in the 13th century.

The emblematic minaret, however, still stands and today, you can climb it to the very top through a steep spiral ramp with no handrail.

The minaret can be visited in the city of Samarra, once the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, the third caliphate to succeed the Prophet Muhammad.

Today, Samarra is a UNESCO World Heritage city, which can be easily visited on a day trip from Baghdad, a must-visit in the Middle East.

Read: Federal Iraq, 10-day itinerary for independent travelers.

Wanna travel to Iraq with Against the Compass?

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Oct 29th to Nov 5th

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The impressive twsiting minaret

8 – The coastline of Dhofar province

Country – Oman

Stretching from south Oman all the way to the Yemeni border, Dhofar’s coastline may differ significantly from what you expect from an Omani beach.

Vertiginous cliffs, turquoise-blue waters, and empty, epic beaches characterize the beaches of southern Oman, barely discovered by the average traveler, who tends to stick to the northern part of the country.

If you are into wild, random camping and road trips, in the Middle East, it doesn’t really get better than this.

Read my travel guide to Oman

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Dhofar coastline, somewhere near the Yemeni border – By the way, this isn’t a drone photo, but it was taken from the top of a cliff

9 – Al Balad, the colorful Old City of Jeddah

Country – Saudi Arabia

Unfortunately, very little is known about Saudi Arabia but, given that this is the home of Mecca, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Saudi is filled with ancient and historical places, and one of the best examples is Al Balad, the old part of Jeddah, established 1,300 years ago as the gateway for Muslims on their way to Mecca, mostly arriving by sea from Africa.

Today a UNESCO World Heritage site, Al Balad is a lively area filled with colorful facades and, by far, the most beautiful Old City from all the Gulf Monarchies.

Traveling to Saudi Arabia is getting easier than ever and here you read my tips for Saudi.

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Nov 26th to Dec 2nd

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Jeddah Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site

10 – Jerusalem – The holiest place for the three main monotheist religions

Country – Israel, and Palestine

Today, Jerusalem is part of Israel but, if Palestine ever becomes an independent state, East Jerusalem, which is mostly inhabited by Arabs, will be the capital of the country.

Being one of the most important places for Christians, Muslims, and Jews, Jerusalem is a city that has perfectly combined tradition and history with a 21st-century city, meaning that you can stroll around the old city and its historical sites for days and, at the same time, enjoy the endless nightlife, food scene, and modernity of the new part of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is one of those cities that are worth spending several days in.

Read more: A travel guide to Palestine

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The Old City of Jerusalem – Top 10 places to visit in the Middle East

11 – Golestan – Central Asia in the Middle East

Country – Iran

What if I tell you that, in a very remote part of Iran, bordering the Turkmenistan border, there is a region with an unexpectedly mystical landscape, home to a large Turkmen community who have more similarities to people from Kyrgyzstan than other Iranians.

This region is called Golestan province, one of the least visited provinces in Iran, whose main peculiarity is that most of its inhabitants are ethnically Turkmen, a Central Asian ethnicity originally from Turkmenistan.

From Central Asian food, such as plov and kurut, to the way they dress, the Mongolian features in people’s faces and a very Central Asian nomadic life, visible in their love for horses and the yurts they live in, Golestan is a different world from the rest of the Middle East.

Read more: A guide to Golestan province in Iran

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Khalid Nabi in Golestan province – Places to see in the Middle East

12 – Mosul, the open-air museum of Iraq

Country – Iraq

Mosul is exceptional, one of my favorite cities in all of the Middle East, and the reasons are as follow:

First of all, it is a very diverse city.

Prior to the war against the Islamic State, Mosul was inhabited by different types of Christians, Muslims and also Yazidis. It was ethnically mixed too, home to Armenians, Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians.

When ISIS took it over, however, most of them fled the city but today, many are coming back and the streets are becoming more lively than ever.

On the other hand, the Old City of Mosul is an open-air museum, packed with historical mosques and churches, all of them being in the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list.

While it’s true that most of the buildings are today largely destroyed due to the recent war, there’s a big UNESCO team working on rebuilding all its wonders, allowing you to witness an exciting moment of living history.

Read: Mosul travel guide

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Oct 29th to Nov 5th

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The reconstructions of Al Noori Mosque

13 – Erbil – A cosmopolitan Iraqi city

Country – Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan)

Not many cities in the world have as much history as Erbil has.

With almost 30,000 years of history, according to historians, and, today a UNESCO World Heritage site, Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, a city with plenty of tradition, filled with plenty of ancient bazaars, epic cafés, and historical sites.

Nevertheless, the awesomeness of Erbil doesn’t end up here and, in fact, what may surprise you is that, as well as a classic Middle Eastern Muslim city, this is also a real pro-Western metropolis and a regional business hub where a large expat community lives and, as a consequence, has some of the most awesome nightlife in the Middle East.

Read more: Things to do in Erbil

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Erbil main square – Visit the Middle East

14 – Petra – One of the 7 wonders of the world

Country – Jordan

Even though this is likely the most touristic site in the region, it would be a sin not to consider one of the 7 wonders among one of the best places to visit in the Middle East.

Petra was founded in the VI century B.C. by the Edomites but, it didn’t prosper until the Nabateans (a group of nomadic Arabs) took over the place and built the city by carving it from the rock, making it become an important trading hub.

The architecture of Petra leaves you breathless and, besides admiring the Treasury and the Monastery, I recommend getting off the path, going hiking and taking the trails less traveled.

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The Monastery, Petra – Things to do in the Middle East

15 – Wadi Doa’n

Country – Yemen

Wadi Doa’n is a canyon-shaped valley located in the region of Hadramut and dotted with fairy-tale-like villages whose architecture is a real blessing to the eyes.

The canyon offers plenty of trekking opportunities with spectacular, vertiginous views, and there’s even a pretty cool resort on the top of a cliff where you can stay and which remains open despite the conflict.

Many of the people from these villages, especially young kids, have never seen foreigners, so the local life there is pretty raw.
To make it even more exciting, there’s one village named Qarht Bahumaish, which is Usama Bin Laden’s hometown. He was born in Saudi but his family comes from there.

Read my Yemen travel guide for more information.

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November 23rd to 28th

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This is Wadi Doa’n

16 – Beirut – The most culturally diverse and liberal city in the Middle East

Country – Lebanon

Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, a city that suffered one of the longest contemporary Civil Wars (25 years, ending in 1991). Today, among all the destroyed buildings, Beirut brags about being one of the safest cities in the region. With unbelievable economic growth and the rapid rise of the middle class, Beirut is the most liberal and westernized city in the Middle East (outside of Israel). 

I love Beirut because of its deep, rich and contrasting history. It’s composed of dozens of districts that differ massively from each other: The hipster district of Gemmayzeh, Hezbollah areas like Bourj al-Barajneh, the student neighborhood of Hamra, old Palestinian refugee camps, the Armenian district of Bourj Hammoud, several Christian areas and much, much more! Beirut is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

From the deepest underground parties to the most glamorous clubs, from local eateries to the best fine dining restaurants in the region, Beirut is a city adaptable to any kind of traveler and budget. 

Read more about it here: Beirut travel guide

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Beirut – Travel in the Middle East

17 – The green, rolling hills of Jizan

Country – Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a massive country and, as such, it has quite a few geographical areas, the most dramatically different being Jizan, a province bordering the country of Yemen.

Asian-like terraced fields, greenery, and monkeys comprise the mountain villages of Jizan, miles away from Saudi Arabia stereotypes, plus the people there are culturally Yemeni, from the food they eat to the way they traditionally dress.

Jizan can’t be more off the beaten track.

For more information, read my 2-week itinerary for Saudi Arabia.

Wanna travel to Saudi Arabia with Against the Compass?

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Nov 26th to Dec 2nd

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The terrace fields Jizan is famous for

18 – Maaloula, a Christian town in Syria

Country – Syria

Maaloula is a Christian town located north of Damascus (Syria) with an intriguing history, both ancient and contemporary.

On the one hand, this is one of the very few places in the world where they speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, making it such a unique place.

Now that tourists are a rare thing to see, if you visit The Convent of Saint Serge and Bacchus, you are likely to meet the priest, who will certainly be more than happy to recite some words in Aramaic.

The recent history of Maaloula, however, isn’t so fortunate, since it was taken by Al Nusra (similar to ISIS) during the war, the legacy of which is still very visible in the many destroyed buildings. In fact, the nuns running the Monastery of Saint Tekla are the ones who were kidnapped by the Muslim extremists, a sad event in which even the Pope intervened.

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June 17th to 24th

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The photogenic town of Maaloula

19 – The Dead Sea – The lowest point on Earth

Country – Jordan, Israel and Palestine

Occupying territory in both Israel & Palestine and Jordan, the Dead Sea is the lake with the highest salt density in the world and also, the lowest point on Earth, 430 meters below sea level.

Such is the high concentration of salt that animals and plants can’t live in it, hence the name.

Swimming in the Dead Sea is totally fine and, due to the high density of the water, sinking is almost impossible. I’ve only been to the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea and, along the coast, there are several hotels and resorts where you can chill on their beaches and have a mud bath.

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The Dead Sea from Jordan side and Palestine at the other side – Best places to travel in the Middle East

20 – Liwa Oasis – The purest and wildest image of the Gulf

Country – United Arab Emirates

Around 500 years ago, a group of Bedouins tapped underground, freshwater recourses to cultivate dates and, as a result, several villages and settlements appeared in the area, which we currently call Liwa, the birthplace of the Nahyan family, the current ruling family of Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

Since then, and over the years, the cultivation of dates in Liwa has been a key factor in the region’s economic development.

Read: Best desert safaris in Dubai

Liwa is located in the south of UAE, next to Saudi Arabian border and on the edge of the Empty Quarter, a huge desert spread across UAE, Yemen, Oman, and Saudi Arabia and considered the largest (continuous) sea of dunes on Earth, whose end can’t even be seen from the furthest horizon.

In addition, in Liwa you can also find the only real Bedouins in the UAE and the Moreeb dune, one of the highest dunes in the world (300m).

Read more: A guide to Liwa Oasis

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Bedouin in Liwa Oasis – Places to travel in the Middle East

21 – The Citadel of Aleppo

Country – Syria

Along with Damascus, I also visited Aleppo at the beginning of 2019.

Before the war, Aleppo used to be the largest and most touristic city in the country.

Being a few thousands years older than Damascus, the Citadel and Old City of Aleppo have been mostly destroyed by the Civil War but after the liberation of the city in 2017, the reconstruction has already begun, Syrians are moving back and shops are, very slowly, reopening.

I am pretty sure that, in a matter of years, the beautiful city of Aleppo will return to its maximum splendor.

For more information, read my 8-day itinerary for Syria

Wanna travel to Syria with Against the Compass?

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June 17th to 24th

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The Old City & Citadel of Aleppo

22 – Madain Saleh, like Petra but more epic

Country – Saudi Arabia

Similar to Tabouk, have you ever been to Petra, in Jordan?

Imagine the wonders of Petra but in the desert of Saudi Arabia.

That’s Madain Saleh (or Hegra).

Hegra was an ancient city founded by local tribes in 3000 BC, but it was not until the 2nd century BC that the Nabateans made it a great city, in a fear of the Romans conquering Petra, so it could serve as the new capital. 

Still, the Romans conquered both cities, Hegra and Petra, but the more than 100 tombs carved from the giant desert rocks remained, today found in the middle of nowhere.

Unlike Petra, however, the tombs of Madain Saleh are spread out across a vast desert but as part of the visit, you can tour around with a pretty cool Vintage Jeep.

Read: Saudi Arabia itinerary

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Nov 26th to Dec 2nd

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Epic Hegra

23 – Dahab – The most backpacking-friendly place in the Middle East

Country – Egypt

Dahab is a lovely touristic beach town inhabited by Bedouins in the Sinai peninsula, which is considered the most backpacking-friendly place (and probably the only one) in the Middle East.

For decades, Dahab has attracted travelers from all over the world for having some of the best diving in the country. In Dahab, one comes for two things: either scuba diving or doing literally nothing, as it has this laid-back atmosphere that consists of going to the beach, smoking weed and eating at the several seafood restaurants.

Besides, due to the massive drop of the Egyptian Pound, in Dahab, you could easily rent a full apartment (2 beds with Wi-Fi) for less than 9USD a day.

Read more: A guide for traveling Egypt (3-week itinerary + tips)

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Dahab at sunset – Travel to the Middle East

24 – Jerash – Massive and highly accessible Roman ruins

Country – Jordan

If making a trip to Lebanon to visit the ruins of Baalbek sounds too hardcore for you but you still want to travel to the Middle East, perhaps you should consider visiting Jerash, another of the greatest Roman ruins outside of Italy, constructed in some of the most fertile valleys in the region, today comprising green, rolling hills filled with olive and fig trees.

The location, therefore, is not a coincidence because, when it was built around 2,000 years ago, the Romans wanted to make it a great city due to the richness of the land.

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Jerash, one of the finest Roman ruins to travel in the Middle East

25 – Musandam – The Norway of the Middle East

Country – Oman

A rocky desert land composed of stunning fiords, cliffs and one of the largest varieties of wildlife in the Middle East, Musandam (often called the Norway of the Middle East) is a piece of territory within the UAE that belongs to Oman.

It’s located north of UAE, projecting into the Strait of Hormuz.

Musandam is a pretty common destination among expats living in Dubai but still, the area remains pretty untouched. Along the coast, you find several beaches only occupied by the local Omanis, who like to gather with their families for barbecues during the weekends. Expect several families to invite you to join them.

Read: Best excursions and activities to do in Oman

In Musandam, you could also rent an abra (a local traditional boat) to sail around the fiords and observe the wildlife. Meeting dolphins is almost guaranteed and, if you are into snorkeling, you can see that the deep and dark waters of Musandam are also home to coral, turtles and manta rays, among other things.

Read more: A guide to visiting Musandam in Oman

Khor Najd – Places to visit in the Middle East

26 – Hebron – The most troubled city in Palestine

Country – Palestine

Hebron is the city where the Tomb of the Patriarchs stands, the place where Abraham, Jacob and Isaac are buried.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of the holiest places for both Muslims and Jews.

This means that both religions are sharing an important holy place but, on top of that, Hebron also happens to be the only city in Palestine where Jewish settlements are within the city itself.

The situation is quite sensitive, as there have been endless confrontations between the local Palestinians and the settlers.

In the old part of the city, the local Palestinians have built a fence that serves as a roof to prevent the settlers who live in the upper floors throwing garbage to them.

To add more tension to the conflict, during the holy month of Ramadan in 1994, a Jew entered the Tomb of Patriarchs (in the mosque inside), opened fire and killed 29 Muslims during prayer time.

Since then, the area is strictly controlled and, both Jewish and Muslim prayer areas are strictly separated. Abraham is buried in the middle of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, right between the synagogue and the mosque, so the members of both religions can see his tomb from their prayer room.

Read more: A guide to visiting Hebron in Palestine

Hebron checkpoint
The checkpoint for those few Arabs who live in the Jewish settlement – Places to visit in the Middle East

27 – Qadisha Valley – Lovely Christian mountain villages

Country – Lebanon

If you either want just to relax, eat good food, visit beautiful Christian monasteries or to go hiking, the Kadisha Valley in Lebanon will always be the perfect place for you.

Kadisha means ”holy” and owes this name to the fact that this valley is home to some of the most ancient communities of monastic Christians in the Middle East.

In case you don’t know it, monasticism is a way of life for which the person (in this case the Christian monks) renounces to everything to devote himself completely to spiritual work. The valley is full of natural caves, difficult to access, that once served as places of isolation for the monks living lives devoted to Christ.

Kadisha is a really unique place to visit in the Middle East.

Qadisha Valley, located in the north of the country – Travel to the Middle East

28. Leptis Magna, first league Roman ruins by the Mediterranean

Country – Libya

Leptis Magna was a prominent city in Roman Libya, originally a Phoenician town (7th century BCE) that quickly expanded under the Roman Empire.
The ruins are in excellent condition, and the whole complex is huge.

Its particular attraction is that the ruins are built right next to the shore, including the fantastic amphitheater.

Leptis Magna can easily be reached from Tripoli in around two hours, making it the perfect day trip from the capital and a default in all the group expeditions we organize.

Read my Libya travel guide.

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October 19th to 25th

Best Roman ruins in the Middle East
Best Roman ruins in the Middle East

29 – The Mesopotamian Marshes

Country – Iraq

Another great place to visit in the Middle East are the Arab Marshes, a wetland ecosystem located in south Iraq, sort of an aquatic landscape located in the Iraqi desert.

It occupies an area of 10,000km2, inhabited by water buffaloes and all sort of animals and plants.

The Marshes are also home to a distinct cultural group: the Marsh Arabs, who populate the different islands, living in their sarifas, a peculiar house entirely made of reed.

The Marshes can be visited from the southern city of Nasiriyah and the best way to experience it is on a boat tour.

Read: A guide to travel in Federal Iraq

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A Marsh Arab

30 – Manama – Drugs and rock & roll

Country – Bahrain

In case you’ve never heard of it, Bahrain is a tiny country (one of tiniest in the world actually) located in the Persian Gulf, between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and Manama is its capital.

To make it short, Bahrain is the only Arab Gulf Monarchy that has run out of petrol, or at least, can’t rely on the petrol income anymore.

In desperation, looking at alternative ways of gaining income, Bahrain became the party place in the Middle East, where concerning prostitution, alcohol, and parties, in general, are more permissive than in any other Gulf country.

Connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge, every week, thousands of Saudis cross the border to have fun and enjoy a relative level of freedom.

Besides, this is the only place in the Middle East where I’ve seen two homosexuals making out in the middle of the street.

Manama is also home to many Western expats, who hang out in a popular area called Adliya, which has plenty of bars and wall paintings and makes one forget that he or she is in the Middle East.

Bahrain is, unequivocally, one of the most surreal places to travel and visit in the Middle East.

Bahrain party
A particular wall painting in Bahrain – Best places to visit in the middle east

31 – Luxor – The greatest open-air museum

Country – Egypt

Established on the shore of the great Nile river and surrounded by both mango plantations and desert, Luxor is the world’s greatest open-air museum.

This is the place where the most well-known pharaohs come from, like Tutankhamun for example, and most of the temples are either in excellent conditions or perfectly restored.

From large and epic tombs to temples constructed on a giant scale, all of them dating from between 3,200 B.C. and 1,500 B.C, Luxor is an unmissable place to travel in the Middle East.

Read more: How to visit Luxor independently, in 2 days

The statue of Ramses II in Luxor temple – Visit the Middle East

32 – Palmyra, today the most off the beaten track ruins

Country – Syria

Not so long ago, the Roman ruins of Palmyra used to receive hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

Dating back to the second millennium BC, it has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years before becoming part of the Roman Empire during the first century AD.

It used to be an important trade caravan route and its wealth allowed them to build monuments such as the Temple of Bel and the Great Colonnade.

Nowadays, the city of Palmyra is a ghost town, a direct consequence of the battle against ISIS but the archaeological area has re-opened for tourists, always escorted by a member of the Syrian Army.

The Temple of Bell is practically all ruins but Palmyra is a big complex and many of its marvels are still standing.

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June 17th to 24th

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The remains of the Temple of bEL

33 – Salalah – Coconuts, pineapples, and tropical rain

Country – Oman

What if I tell you that there’s a place in the Persian Gulf where it rains, which it’s full of green meadows and the locals sell coconuts and pineapples?

This place is called Salalah, a city found in the most southern part of Oman, very close to the Yemeni border.

Salalah, and the region of Dhofar, is an area that experiences a monsoon season.

This season is called Khareef and occurs from July till September. During this season, Salalah becomes a beautiful and lush green, which attracts visitors from all over the country, as well as Saudi Arabia and UAE, who want to run away from their disgustingly hot and humid weather.

Read more: Salalah travel guide

Salalah Khareef
The greenery of Salalah during the Khareef – Things to do in the Middle East

34 – Bethlehem – Take a look at the Wall of Separation between Israel and Palestine

Country – Palestine

Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus.

However, unless you are an ardent Christian, the most interesting part of Bethlehem is to get a close feeling of the consequences of the Israeli occupation as, after the Second Intifada, in 2001, Israel built an 8-meter wall that would finally isolate the West Bank from Israel.

The wall, however, was built within Palestinian territory, hence the Israelis stole some of their land.

Literally, it passes by the center of the city and it is decorated with plenty of Pro-Palestinian paintings, including a real work from the famous Banksy, the white pigeon.

For more information, read my travel guide to Palestine

The separation wall of Bethlehem – Must visit the Middle East

35 – Qeshm Island – The most authentic Persian Gulf culture

Country – Iran

Located in the Persian Gulf, right in the Strait of Hormuz, between Oman and Iran, Qeshm is an island with amazing geological formations, as well as very rich wildlife.

This is what most travelers come here for but, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the island is to get immersed in the local culture, as this is the only place that has been able to preserve the fast-disappearing Persian Gulf culture, today only visible here and in a few other places in Oman.

Unlike the rest of Iran, people here are Sunnis, from the conservative branch actually, Wahabis, but, since they have a great Iranian influence, they are quite laid back.

Qeshm is a different world from the rest of Iran and it can be seen not only in the religion, the architecture and their food, which is mainly based on seafood but also in the way their women dress, in such colorful abayas and niqabs, like nowhere else you have ever seen.

Read more: A guide to Qeshm Island

36 – Wadi Bajda, authentic Saudi Bedouin life

Country – Saudi Arabia

Have you ever visited the Wadi Rum in Jordan?

The Wadi Rum is a beautiful, red-sand-dune desert that stretches across Jordan and north of Saudi Arabia too, in the region of Tabouk.

However, while in Jordan, Wadi Rum has become an extremely touristic place, on the Saudi side, the Saudi Bedouins living there are still genuine and authentic, allowing you to live witness what traditional life is like in Saudi.

Amazing rock formations and camel farms, all without a single tourist around.

Read: How to travel to Saudi

Wanna travel to Saudi Arabia with Against the Compass?

Join a group of like-minded travelers in our next scheduled tour in Saudi Arabia.

Nov 26th to Dec 2nd

interesting places to visit in the Middle East
Saudi Bedouin milking a camel

That was my list of the best places to travel in the Middle East for next year. Have you been to any? If you have more recommendations or suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments section!

best places to visit in the Middle East


It is amazing to see the diversity and variety of landscapes in the Middle East, which most people think of as just a desert. I have long been fascinated by Oman, for the reasons you pointed out. The coastline looks beautiful, and though I never heard the comparison before, it does look like the Norway of the Middle East. Great photos and thanks for showcasing some truly different destinations to us travelers!

Hi Drew. Yes, the big natural and cultural contrast is huge in the Middle East and yeah, perhaps is one of those comparisons that only the locals say it! But, it truly has some similarities with Norway. Glad you liked the photos, thanks for your comment 😉

I’ve not been to many of these places. I think it’s great you’re writing about them so we can see that there are so many great areas that are safe and good to travel to. It demystifies it a little and makes travelers more comfortable with taking that leap.

Hey Laura, that is my objective, to make people realize of the huge potential that this region can offer, while being safe at all time! I would never recommend a dangerous place to travel to 🙂 !

There is so much interesting information in your article that I do not know what to comment about! I didn’t know many of these places, while others (like Petra and Beirut) are definitely in my bucket list for the future. The most striking fact was the one about Bahrain and the loose morals while my favorite image was the one from Musandam!

Hi Efthimis, yes I understand your frustration. All these sites are so different from each other that is difficult to make an overall judgment 😉 I’m glad you like it and yeah, if you’ve never been to any of these places, Beirut and Petra would be a good start as they are probably the most traveler-friendly spots. Bahrain is a crazy place full hypocrisy!

Such fascinating insights, and I’d love to visit Oman – my parents have been and raved about how friendly everyone was. As for Lebanon, the nightlife sounds great

What an amazing post about the middle east. After reading this I am even more confused as to which place I should visit first. Amadiya and Kadisha are so strikingly beautiful. Would love to visit Beirut someday.

Oh man! I used to live in Dubai for about 4 years, and 1 year in Saudi prior to that, and I thought I’ve travelled quite extensively in the Middle East but looking at the list above, there are still many places that I have yet to visit, 8 to be exact, haha! I certainly would recommend Musandam, Petra, Beirut, Dead Sea (even if it’s just for the sea). Bahrain is not bad either actually, quite enjoyed visiting the historic places there. Of the places that I haven’t been, I’d love to go to Hebron one day!

Hi Raw, I also lived in Dubai for about 3 years. Just left the city at the end of 2016. Middle East is huge and still, there are many places that remained on my bucket list. I haven’t been to KSA for example 🙂 Bahrain is a party place so, unless you really want to do that, there’s not much to see besides a few historical sites, but to be honest, they are not very exciting. And yes, Hebron is the most intriguing one. I’m going to the TBEX Jerusalem this March and I will visit it again for sure! Cheers mate,

Its so interesting reading about your middle east highlights – some places are truly beautiful, others, more intriguing. I had no idea that Bahrain had run out of oil money and had become a hot mess of drugs, alcohol and prostitutes! I’d love to visit Oman and Jordan – and have added a few more places to my Middle Eat wishlist thanks to your post.

Hi Vicky, thanks for your comment. Yeah, I had no idea about Bahrain also, until a friend told me so we decided yo go with a bunch of friends. We partied hard until 6-7am, something unthinkable in places like Dubai for examle. But besides that, Bahrain is a very ugly country! It’s worth if you go there as a weekend trip from Dubai

This list is amazing, Joantow!I’ve been to Jordan and lived in Israel (will be back there again for a much longer stay), but I’ve yet to see the other places. I’m sure it will be just as exciting or more! Can’t wait to go to Lebanon and Oman next!

Hi Trisha, I believe that living in Israel must have been an amazing experience. If you like Israel, you’ll like Lebanon. Both countries have been in a war for years but they have more similarities than even think!

I love this article! It’s been a long time that I want to visit the Middle East, although everybody tells me not to go, I have many friend who went there and friends who live there who always encourage me to go. Sadly the East part of the globe is still too mysterious for those in the West and what we know about the East is that of what we heard on the news. But definetely it does not represent Middle East a whole. Great part of it is beautiful and safe and its people are warm and kind. Unfortunately the media forgets this part, after all, bad news bring more audience than the good ones.

Hello Isadora, glad you liked it 🙂 Where do your friends live? You really should go! Yes, you are absolutely right. When things go right, there’s nothing to talk about so, they just talk about it when bad things are happening and, unfortunately, they always treat the region as a whole. Treating the Middle East as a single country is like someone from the Philippines saying that Europe is a country and, since there was war in Crimea, Portugal or Spain are dangerous 🙂

I am not saying that Iraqi Kurdistan is not a beautiful area (I’ve been there . .) but nowadays it is dangerous. And why people should go to Bahrain if there is only prostitutes, alcohol and drugs? That makes it one of the best places to go this year?

Hi Elisa, it’s good that you’ve been to Kurdistan but you are very wrong. You just need to look at the statistics. In the past years, there have been more killed people due to terrorism in the city of Paris than in the whole region of Kurdistan. Besides, Kurdistan is a region where the crime rate is non-existent, whereas in Paris, like many other European cities, it’s pretty high. You are the first person I’ve ever met who is been to Kurdistan and claims it’s a dangerous place. As per Bahrain, if you read carefully my post, I don’t say that one needs to go there to get high on drugs and hook up with prostitutes. I am saying that Bahrain is a surrealistic and unique place that, for a moment, makes you forget that you are actually in one of most conservatives regions in the world. Moreover, I’m also talking about a cool westernized area, full of bars where the Western expats use to hang out

What a great list! Even though I am from the Middle East (Iran), I haven’t been to many places you mentioned. Of Course I hiked in Gilan and visited Masuleh, but not other places. You called Oman, Norway of the Middle East, but I always say that is a Switzerland of Middle east :)))

Hey Mansoureh, thanks for your comment man! The Gilan province is an amazing place to hike! There are a lot of other places in Iran I would include on the list, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time when I visited Iran! It’s funny that you call Oman the Switzerland of the Middle East! Well, I guess that both Norway and Switzerland have some similarities. Cheers mate,

Mansoureh is a girls name! And there is no such thing as Arabian Gulf. There is a water passage that separates iran from Southern Arab states and it’s called Persian Gulf for millennia

Everywhere on this list sounds amazing! I love seeing people traveling to the Middle East even with everything the media has to say about it. I think people need to do a little more research about these places. I love the pictures, too! Awesome list!

Hi Megan, thanks for your comment! Yes, is what I always say. The problem with the Middle East, as well as with many other countries, is that there’s a huge lack of information and since, unfortunately, people don’t know how to look beyond, all these areas become, unequivocally, dangerous places where to travel to!

A great round-up of places to visit, well done! I’ve been to most. Love Musandam. It’s funny, as I just published a post on Muslim countries!

I was born in Bahrain and I’ve lived here for the past 24 years, and honestly I was a bit taken aback by your description of Bahrain. There is nothing to deny in what you said, yes Bahrain is pretty big on nightlife and comparatively more lenient than other countries in the middle east, however that’s not all there is to this little island! In my 24 years of living here I’ve actually never even been exposed to the part of Bahrain that you are referring to. Bahrain is actually very rich in it’s history (we’re talking 700 B.C) and you can find out all about it in the Bahrain National Museum – which has so much information, you’ll have to cover it over the course of a few days. Besides it’s history and a couple of sights (Grand Mosque, Beit Al Quran, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain Fort, Riffa Fort, Bab Al Bahrain, Military Museum, A’ali Pottery workshop – to name a few), Bahrain doesn’t have much to offer but I’d urge you not to defame this wonderful and tiny island and discredit it for everything else it has to offer- even if you aren’t a history kind of person! Cheers 🙂

True, Hana………and I don’t know from why this guy is making Bahrain down for other viewers… Where did he see two homosexuals making out in Manama, Bahrain? He published such a rubbish and fake news and make Bahrain go downward among the viewers. Bahrain is is rich in culture and it’s financial structure. Bahrain follows Sharia Law and such activities are strictly prohibited here and specially as he mentioned about drugs that too is illegal. As per alcohol no one can drink it in the streets. I dont know why is he faking such news about BAHRAIN. Please have a good research and then only put it

What a list! Thanks a lot 🙂
Two questions: How safe would you rate each of your listed places for a 19yo (very mature) female solo traveller?
And are there countries you would recommend to visit only during a specific time of the year?

Hello Isi,
It’s very hard to say for a 19-year old woman but, perhaps, you could start for the most touristic places, such as Jordan, United Arab Emirates or Egypt, as the local there are extremely used to foreign woman. It’s easier to travel there and you’ll get a great experience of the Muslim culture, which will help jumping to more challenging places such as Oman or Iran. As per timings, Don’t go to the Gulf countries in the summer months or Egypt. The rest is fine.

As a woman who has traveled alone in the GCC, I personally found Oman safer than UAE, when and if it comes to any disputes involving police witg creepy locals. Uae is easier for visas and airport in general, but Oman was very safe and more nature, cultural and historical sites. The only disadvantage of Oman is if you go without a car rental.

Well done–this is a great list! I lived in Oman for 8 years and traveled widely throughout the region, although I missed a couple of places on your list. The Middle East is a great destination both for sightseeing and to educate oneself to the realities of the region, a good counter-balance to the crap cranked out by the international press.

about Number 13:
Javaher Dasht In Gilan Province is heaven of middle east!! ,full of green & different super beautiful dreamy jungles & cold cool places on the top of mountain (recommended go for summers & spring) .. in villas you enjoy the view & breakfast of local materials : milk,butter,cheese,… & lots of fun!
actually Iran is the Most safe country in the Middle east …do not pay attention to media.
don’t forgot take beautiful pictures in “javaher dasht” wich means valley of Diamonds!….mountaineering & drink & eat foods of local people, so delicious.
super clean weather with “”very friendly local people”” , they love foreigners but 99% doesn’t know english ,better to bring some tour guide with your self &

Oman has becomes to be known as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Middle East thanks to the country’s strategic location and its unspoilt natural beauty with its scenic landscape. Oman is attraction for the tourist from UAE and visitors across the world.

Nice list
I’m Lebanese and I can say that there is much more places in Lebanon to visit. Every summer we discover new places in our country and I’m surprised that Lebanon has such beautiful places!
I definitely recommend it and would love to visit the other countries

Peace and love, my friend 😉 !! I also call it Persian Gulf now but when I wrote this post 2 years ago, I was living in the Gulf monarquies, so got used to say Arab Gulf. After spending some months in Iran, I started to call it Persian Gulf again. I may change it when I update the post in a few weeks

Thank you for this post (first result up in my search for how a Canadian can travel to Iran). I have been studying (just a personal interest) ancient Persian and Elamite influence in Oman, and I decided I have to go to Iran. Persians were established in Oman before the Arabs came up from Yemen (so before the Arab migrations to the Gulf) . *I see this influence in pagan archaeological sites *in design on hair combs from Oman and Tel Abraq in the UAE. *in Ad Dhakliyia Omani dress, agricultural heritage, and place names in GCC:)

Its called officially and internationally known as PERSIAN gulf, its been that way for thousandths of years!

Beirut is the most liberal and culturally diverse city in the middle east? Looks like you forgot Tel Aviv (and Israel generally…)

Thank You so much for the insightful article. I recently decided it was time for me to visit the Middle East and This is one of the first articles I read. I’m curious as to how hard it is to travel and appreciate the culture if you only speak English (I speak Spanish too, but I really doubt that will help. lol) I’ve traveled in other regions of the world where English isn’t spoken and while I’ve managed, it was still an obstacle. Just curious on what your thoughts are. Also, Are there issues traveling to certain countries in the region if you already have a stamp from Isreal on your passport. I feel like I read that somewhere. Obviously I’ll research that further before I show up at the border but I’m wondering if you have some insight. I have a US passport, btw.

Hi there! In the Middle East, most well-educated people speak English, so the language is not always a problem, except for when you go to rural areas. It is much easier to move around than in other regions, especially if you travel to mass tourism destinations such as Egypt or Jordan, where a lot of people speak it.

As per the Israeli stamp, I have written a comprehensive post about it: https://againstthecompass.com/en/avoid-israeli-passport-stamp/

Hi Joan !
I totally agree with Qeshm island !
I spent a week there and it was sooooooo good. It was my ultimate stop before going back to Paris after 6 months cycling from France to Iran.
This island was magical for me because a friend hosted us in a small village along the sea.
Anyway, thank you for the list.

Actually Tel Aviv is the most Liberal city in the entire Middle East.
How can you say the Beirut is the most liberal city in the area when being gay isn’t legal in Lebanon.
It is one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to, it has such an amazing vibe to it, when I was there I never felt safer.
And overall I highly recommend staying in Israel as a “base” (even though israel it’s probably the most expensive state in the Middle East) and to cross the border to Jordan and Egypt, is very simple.

Continue reading the whole Beirut section and you’ll see that I clearly state that Beirut is the most liberal city outside of Israel. If you only read the headlines, your conclusions will always be so poor, and wrong.

Joan, great article. You are the brave guy that not afraid to visit this world boiling cauldron.
Funny to see in your article how you promote your political views about names and historical mistakes. Be impartial, try to see wider )))

Although I live in Abu Dhabi as a resident for the past almost 6 years now, but I have not been able to see most of the places which are famous in UAE itself. The only reason is that I work in offshore in the oilfield. You have actually opened up my options of travel into the Middle East as I don’t have any issues with the traveling in these places. Jerusalem of course will be a no go for me since I hold a Pakistan citizenship. I’m really looking forward to visit Palestine for the reason I can go to Bethlehem. Also Salalah and Manama will be my next destinations to visit. Thank you for your detailed review.

Hey You, Where did you see two homosexuals making out in Manama, Bahrain? Don’t publish such rubbish and fake news and make Bahrain go downward among the viewers. Bahrain is is rich in culture and it’s financial structure. Bahrain follows Sharia Law and such activities are strictly prohibited here and specially as you mentioned about drugs that too is illegal. As per alcohol no one can drink it in the streets. I dont know why are you faking such news about BAHRAIN. Please have a good research and then only put it.

Hey, I’m DL (gay not out) and I know PLENTY of Arab guys in Bahrain who drink (yes, openly in restaurants) and are homosexual/DL. Just because YOU don’t see/know it, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to exist. The article doesn’t mention that you can be openly gay in Bahrain, but it only mentions what he witnessed once (the author was very clear on that.)

Whaaat? you really saw two homosexuals in Bahrain making out in the public street and no actions were taken against them?????????

It was obviously not during the day in downtown, but it was at night, in the Western area, they were probably drunk, and weren’t doing it intensively. I don’t know what their nationality was.

so, please make it clear in your above mentioned statements that every time its not possible. and make it clear too that bahrain is strict for such activities

Even though I love your suggestions, I think that your being a bit harsh on the Jews and Israel generally. Fine Ill admit Israel has made mistakes and done bad things in the past years, but a lot of that is due to Hamas sending missiles at cities. Other than that I love your article and encourage you to do more.

Ah! 2020 seems a bit hard for the wonderful travel to these amazing places. Some of them were already added to my list, but I have just noticed a new place called Musandam, where I can visit for sure. Nice blog, and very well written.

My g, this is one of the best articles I’ve ever read. Not too long, yet very informative and interesting. It was also nice to see someone differentiating between the Israeli Settlers and Palestinian locals and shedding some light on the Palestinian struggles. Great choice of destinations as well. 😀

You say “Country: Palestine”. But there’s no such a country (You even admit and says “…if palestine would become a country…”)
If is it a country, please tell me its how do you get straight to it? where are its airports? its anthem? its currency? Oh… there are none of them. You clearly don’t know anything about the situation so please be focused on other stuff. Also, not including Tel Aviv in best places to visit in the middle east is another mistake in this “article”. Good luck!

They did have an airport, in Gaza city precisely, but it was destroyed by the Israelis. They did have their own currency, but Israel took over and now they use the Israeli shilling. According to the UN, Palestine is a state, a non-member permanent observer state, along with Vatican City.

This article is an ”opinon” article, which includes the best places in my personal experience, that’s why I didn’t include Tel Aviv. If you want to include it, create your own list.

Good luck to you too,

“Palestine” never had a currency of their own. Also never had an active airport. Its electricity and water are provided 100% by Israel (And not by Egypt, which is another Gaza’s bordering country).
FYI, Israel has left all of control in Gaza in 2005, the Hamas operates theere fully wide.
The UN has been anti semitic and it is might be the only organization (together with hostile nations such as Iran, North Korea, China, Russia) who support “Palestine”.
Please stay where you are and don’t stick your nose in our business in Israel.
What a naive foreigner. Go live in Gaza if you like it, you will escape for your soul after short time.
Sorry for being harsh on you, but you were being harsh on Israel at first. Know who you support and what are their goals and history.

I am not sure if you have visited the whole Iran or not. But if you’ve only visited those three places, I’d say it’s not a wise action. The beautiful cities of Shiraz, Tabriz, Qazvin, Chabahar, Mashhad, Tehran, Ramsar, Rasht, Hamedan, Kermanshah, Kerman, Yazd, Kish Island and a LOT of other cities to visit and a lot of tasty food to try! You should definitely spend quite more time in Iran! And also, it was very interesting to read this!

Ahhhhh, thank you for this list! I just found your blog while in East Africa and decided to check out other places you wrote about. I’m so excited to see a good ME list…and I currently live in Dahab so I’m loving that it made the list as well – if you are ever there again, go more north and check out Nuweiba (Dahab is getting a bit busy..sigh). Anywho, thanks for sharing your travels!

perhaps you should consider visiting Egypt again. the beaches in the north coast are spectatcular ,huge stretch of white, soft sandy beaches. Dahab is definitely the most backpacker friendly, but marsa alam in my opinion is the best town on the red sea. Giftun island is amazing as well it’s near hurghada
also i’m kind of surprised that cairo that’s filled with sites and museums didn’t make the list but everyone has different opinions i guess and i think most people don’t know how big cairo really is

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