The worlds’ biggest buildings, lost cities and grand mosques characterise cruises in the Middle East and its mysterious charms, cultural and historical heritage and appetite for development attract history buffs and adventure seekers alike. The iconic Al-Khazneh temple in Petra contrasts with the Burj Khalifa, but both are must-see landmarks, while sprawling souks and massive modern malls fulfil every shoppers’ wishes.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a city of extremes. The beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the biggest in the Middle East and features the world’s largest marbles mosaic (180,000 sq ft.) and a record breaking 35 ton hand-loomed carpet. The Capital Gate skyscraper is the
world’s furthest leaning manmade tower and 149mph Formula Rossa rollercoaster is the fastest on the planet.
For something a little more serene there’s the Qasr al-Hosn, known as the White Fort, which was built in 1761 to protect Abu Dhabi’s sole freshwater well.
The waterfront Corniche stretches over the entire length of the city’s northwest shore and offers a more leisurely way to while away the hours. Landscaped gardens punctuate a brilliant white sand beach and are the perfect spot to lay back and enjoy the spectacular views of the city’s tower blocks.
Perhaps the most prominent name when it comes to travel in the Middle East, Dubai is known for luxury, world records and excess.
Dubai Mall, the second largest shopping centre in the world, is a day out in itself and features over a thousand retailers, an aquarium, theme park and an ice rink.
Burj Khalifa, the tallest artificial structure in the world, stands at 830 metres and is the city’s unavoidable must-see attraction. Visitors can see Iran on a clear from the observation deck and the surrounding park and Dubai Fountain are also a delight to wander through.
Dubai’s old town is also well worth a visit, aromatic souks selling perfumes, spices and jewellery are the very essence of Arabia and the Al Fahidi Fort doubles up as the Dubai Museum to give an excellent account of the region’s history.
Jordan’s only coastal city is has retained a small-town feel perfect for relaxing stopovers. It is a superb location for scuba diving and snorkelling, with gorgeous coral reefs and plenty of wrecks nearby.
Perhaps its biggest draw is its proximity to the ancient city of Petra, which lies within driving distance. The lost Nabataean city, dating back some 2,000 years, is carved into pink-hued cliffs and the Al-Khazneh temple is one of the world’s most recognisable and iconic temples.
The understated Muscat has a character quite unique to its neighbours – the city’s strict building policies mean every structure has to reflect tradition in some way, as a result it has retained elegant uniformity void of high-rise blocks.
The relatively new Grand Mosque of Sultan Qaboos is a study in modern Islamic architecture and houses a few gems – the second largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet on the plant and a stunning 14 metre wide chandelier.
Old Muscat is where you’ll find the Sultan’s Palace and a brilliant family owned museum, the Bait Al Zubair, which displays a fascinating collection of Omani artefacts collected by the institution’s owners.
The Mutrah Corniche and Souq are also worth exploring, especially at sunset when the vistas are spectacular and the market is at its most vibrant.
Oman’s second city, Salalah, is home to the country’s biggest port, stunning beaches and brilliant sea life, but it is the Khareef rainy season which transforms the Arabian city into a lush subtropical oasis where bananas, coconuts and papayas thrive.
The Khareef’s influence can be seen most prominently in Wadi Darbat, a verdant natural park which comes to life during the rainy season. Mountains, cave systems, wildlife and a spectacular 100-metre waterfall make the park a photographer’s dream.
For a bit of history there’s the Museum of the Frankincense Land, which is situated within the atmospheric, 12th century ruins of Al Baleed. The museum charts the area’s seafaring history and from 2,000 BC up to the present day and explores the spice trade and the shipping of Frankincense.
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