Sometimes, we think the Middle East gets a bad deal when it comes to its reputation as a dodgy place to travel to. While there are definitely some safety and security issues in the region, there are still plenty of places that are undeservedly left off the travel radar because of their neighbours. But it’s a place of epic landscapes, captivating culture and friendly people – if you know where to look…
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are probably the Middle East’s two glitziest cities, boastful examples of innovative ultra-modern architecture. Brazen ambition is overflowing everywhere you look in Dubai, with supersized shopping malls and hotels rising impossibly high from the surrounding empty desert but its ancient past as a sleepy Bedouin trading port for pearls still exists. It’s a place that you really can’t take your eyes off because there’s simply nowhere quite like it. Sister city Abu Dhabi is the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) capital is as forward-thinking and modern as Dubai, the colossal Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque dripping with opulence and Louvre housing an impressive art collection. The Corniche area on Abu Dhabi’s waterfront is a great place to lap up some sun and also a teaser for the exciting dune adventures you can have beyond the city.
Ras al Khaimah and Ajman are two of the UAE’s unsung emirates and a completely different kettle of fish to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Ras al Khaimah is great for both beach-bathers and adventure-seekers, with pristine beaches framed by the epic panoramas of the rocky Hajar Mountains. Climbing Jebel Jais, the country’s tallest peak, is a thrilling experience in itself but perhaps going down is even better, with the mountain’s zip line the world’s longest. The smallest of the seven emirates, the tropical mangroves and secluded beaches of Ajman make for the ideal quiet escape. It’s a hidden gem that is relatively unknown, meaning you’ll probably be able to relax on its spectacular sands by yourself!
While the majority of the UAE is all about superlatives – the biggest, the tallest, the richest – Oman oozes a subtle charm that’s irresistible. This is down to its rich heritage and hospitable locals, a land that has stuck to traditions and values that haven’t changed for centuries. Its capital Muscat has a law prohibiting the building of skyscrapers, leaving the city to retain a humble allure that is enchanting to explore. Beyond, excellent sands make for prime beach spots, the Musandam Peninsula is a gateway to the rugged Hajar Mountains and spending nights under the stars in the remote desert is a truly magical experience.