The Middle-East can be a difficult area for people planning a holiday due to the confusion surrounding where is safe to visit and where should be avoided, where is tourist-friendly and where is more traditional. Everyone knows Dubai is a reliable and safe destination to get a feel for Arabic culture.
Year round sunshine, impressive architecture and its rapid expansion have helped draw in the crowds from all over the world. However there are many cities that are worth visiting if you are considering a trip to the Middle-East. Here are five alternatives to contemplate.
1. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi has been viewed as being second-rate to Dubai, it’s more developed and cosmopolitan neighbour. However, Abu Dhabi is an exciting place to visit, as over the past decade a variety of attractions and classy hotels have lifted the city’s reputation. Its skyline now boasts 72 skyscrapers and 165 high-rise buildings with others under construction or being planned. Attractions include the white-domed Sheikh Zayed Mosque that can hold 40,000 worshippers and Masdar City, the world’s first carbon free, zero waste, green city (currently open to the public but won’t be completed until 2025).
2. Doha, Qatar
All eyes will be on Qatar, the richest country in the world, over the coming years due to their successful (and controversial) bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Doha, Qatar’s capital city, has undergone a huge makeover in the past decade with the aim of overtaking Dubai as the capital of the Gulf. Despite its westernisation, Doha prides itself on retaining its Arab-Islamic roots which can be seen in its many souks (markets) and in the city’s museums, a prime example being The Museum of Islamic Art (the building was designed by IM Pei, creator of the Louvre pyramid) that is already being referred to as a world class tourist attraction.
3. Amman, Jordan
Jordan’s capital is a surprisingly modern city with a burgeoning arts scene but that isn’t to say that you can’t find evidence of the cities ancient past. The Citadel that sits above the city has been excavated to reveal numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains including the Temple of Hercules and Umayyad Palace. The city also has an impressive Roman theatre that is cut into the side of a hill. For more modern pursuits, head to the colourfully named Rainbow Street, where the creative community meet, that’s brimming with shops, boutiques and bars.
4. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Geographically speaking, Sharjah is relatively close to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, however it couldn’t be further away from the glamour and modernity of its two famous neighbours. That being said, it more than makes up for its lack of skyscrapers and luxury hotels in its cultural activities and attractions. It was declared a Culture Capital by UNESCO due to its galleries, museums and festivals, the best of which are located in and around Al Qasba district. Here you can also go on the Eye of the Emirates Ferris-wheel for spectacular views of the city.
5. Muscat, Oman
Muscat is an endearing mix of old and new. Its many palaces, mosques and museums offer an insight into the culture of Oman, while the cities port (Muttrah) is a great place for people to visit due to its historical importance as a trading centre and its popular market. It is also the perfect city to be based in if you wish to take part in more active pursuits such as night safaris, scuba diving, rock climbing or even camel racing. It’s certainly a place with lots to offer.