Backpacking in the Middle East

Countries  »  Middle East

Why Go?

Discover the Middle East

Ah, the Middle East. So frequently on our screens for the wrong reasons. Africa may have been where our species originated, but the Middle East is where we figured out civilisation. These desert lands have played host to some of the most important moments in human history, and are bursting at the seams with utterly fascinating historical treasures.

In contrast, this region is also where you can catch a glimpse into the future. Nations which are positively brimming with oil are using their extreme wealth to create mega cities, like Dubai in the UAE and Doha in Qatar.

Doha, captial of Qatar

Unfortunately, some of the region is war torn or simply too dangerous to travel through. No go areas include Iraq and Syria, where Islamic extremists are busy plumbing the murkiest recesses of humanity’s capacity for evil. And most of Afghanistan, which to the surprise of few has failed to turn into a globalised utopia following an American-led invasion and occupation at the turn of the millennium.

On a lighter note, much of the region is reasonably safe to explore, which is good, because there is a lot to see. The best and safest countries for backpackers are Turkey, Jordan, Israel, United Arab Emirates (this is where Dubai is), Cyprus and parts of Iran and Lebanon (always check the latest government advice before booking anything).

Top Countries

Turkey

Turkey

Jordan

Jordan

Israel

Israel

United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates

Cyprus

Cyprus

Iran

Iran

Best Experiences

Top Experiences in the Middle East

The Middle East offers a starkly contrasting array of ancient wonders and futuristic marvels. The archaeological sites of Jordan will have you fumbling for your camera just as fervently as the architectural wonders of the United Arab Emirates will.

See the ancient city of Petra, Jordan

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra, which dates back more than 2,000 years, is one of the most fascinating historical places in the world and the jewel in Jordan's crown. Also known as the Rose City, after the pinky-coloured stone from which it's built, much of Petra is carved directly into the rock faces.


Shop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey

Ridiculously exotic and centred on the crossroads between civilisations, Istanbul's most famous bazaar is eveything you hope it will be, and a perfect introduction to the East. Among the colourful arches you'll find everything from beautiful antiques to lovely souvenirs to rugs and lamps. 


Dive down to the Zenobia wreck, Cyprus

Frequently listed as one of the top dive sites in the world, the Zenobia wreck, located in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean, attracts divers ranging from beginners to experts. If the former, you can float around the decking of the ship at about 20 metres, and if the latter, you can disappear into the engine rooms and get a proper look around.


See the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - the largest in the UAE - needs to be seen to be believed: it is absurdly big. Finished in 2007, the pristine white domes and marble columns gleam in the baking desert heat like a mirage. During the Muslim festival of Eid, the mosque receives upwards of 40,000 worshippers.


Bet on a camel race, Kuwait

Yep, you read that right. Camel racing. The picture shows riderless camels, but don't be surprised to see jockeys when you go: this is quite the sport in Kuwait and other places in the Middle East. The racing season occurs from November to April every year.


See the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

One of the most religious sites in Christendom, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is believed by devotees to be located directly above the cave where Jesus Christ himself was born. There has been a church on the site since 300AD, and the current construction was finished in 565AD.


Party in Beirut, Lebanon

The capital of Lebanon surprises all who visit: the beautiful colonial architecture is at charming odds with much of the Middle East, and the nightlife is up there with the best in the world. The bars and clubs are absolutely rammed every weekend: this is a youthful city and despite its turbulent past is embracing life to the full.


Hike in the Troodos Mountains, Cyprus

This stunning mountain range in the centre of Cyprus is characterised by beautiful forests, pretty villages, old monasteries and, come winter, some of the best ski slopes in the Mediterranean. In summer the wooded hills make for perfect hiking territory.


Go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai

If you are brave enough to go to the top of the tallest building in the world - a whopping 830 metres - you'll be rewarded with simply phenomenal views across the futuristic cityscape of Dubai, and into the rolling desert dunes beyond. The Burj Khalifa epitomises the extravagent excess of the UAE's most famous emirate.


Visit Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is full of historical and religious wonders, but the Temple Mount literally tops them all. All three of the world's major religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have used the site for holy purposes over the last few thousand years. The enormous, golden-roofed building in the centre is called the Dome of the Rock.


Swim in the Dead Sea

Bordered by Israel, Jordan and Palestine, the aptly named Dead Sea - actually a lake - has such a lethal abundance of salt that no life can exist there. Languishing over 400 metres below sea level, the extreme salt density means that swimming is a most peculiar experience - more like floating.


Explore Jebel Shams, Oman

Oman has some truly magnificent scenery, and Jebel Shams tops the lot. It is the highest mountain in Oman and offers eye-watering views of the adjacent Wadi Ghul - more commonly known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. You'll feel like you're on another planet.

Itineraries

Let Us Do the Work

We have put together a selection of Middle East itineraries which have been created with backpackers in mind. These packages are designed to help you get the most out of this fascinating region without having to go through the stress of planning everything yourself. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Pyramids to Petra

Pyramids to Petra

Turkey and Tutankhamen

Turkey and Tutankhamen

Heritage and Holy Land

Heritage and Holy Land

Passage to Petra

Passage to Petra

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Advice

Our Best Articles on the Middle East

Need advice on backpacking in the Middle East? We have excellent articles covering all the key destinations, from Israel to Jordan to Iran!

How to Survive Israel as an Atheist

How to Survive Israel as an Atheist

Exploring Jordan on a Gap Year

Exploring Jordan on a Gap Year

Lebanon: Filthy, Fun, Fantastic

Lebanon: Filthy, Fun, Fantastic

The Mesmerising Mosques of Iran

The Mesmerising Mosques of Iran

Living in Wartime Damascus

Living in Wartime Damascus

The Top Five Experiences in Jordan

The Top Five Experiences in Jordan