Destination Guide: The Middle East

The Middle East is the cradle of civilisations, and reading through a list of the cities you’re looking to explore there can seem like some legendary roll call of historical heavyweights. It could hardly stop there, when you’re talking about cities that the world knows so intimately. No, with such great names come the wonders of ancient architecture, from a time long gone, in parallel with monuments of glass and steel that spiral into the sky as a testament to a civilisation racing towards the future. Jerusalem, Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Muscat, all a world apart from what we know, but all glistening cities we’re keen to visit when cruising through the Middle East.

So you know a little about the place and you’re already looking at cruises there? Here’s just a little bit of information on the hottest Middle Eastern destinations right now:

ABU DHABI

abu dhabi

Abu Dhabi is nothing if not a city for breaking records. In comparison to Dubai, the city holds on to much more traditional values, but is still viewed to be particularly liberal. As with many cities in the Middle East, the local people are very welcoming, eager to help, and, on all accounts, friendly. It’s the largest and wealthiest of all the Arab Emirate States, and proudly shows this through luxury in buildings, beaches, parks, shopping centres, and more!

As will become obvious, the city is teeming with incredible culture and architecture, modern and traditional, so it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by what to see and do. Hot-spots include Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Emirates Palace, which is a 5-star luxury hotel (recently featured in Fast and Furious 7), Yas Marina Circuit, where the Abu Dhabi Gran Prix is held, and the Aldar Headquarters, the world’s first circular skyscraper!

If you’re after unbeatable experiences, your first stop should be the Observation Deck at the Etihad Towers Complex, where you can enjoy tea and refreshments on the 74th floor (300m high, and the city’s highest vantage point). Nothing will rival that, but you could fuel the adrenaline by heading over to Yas Island, where you’ll find award-winning Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi, which features 45 rides, slides and attractions. You can also explore Abu Dhabi’s very own Ferrari World, the world’s only Ferrari-theme park and home to Ferrari Rossa (the world’s fastest roller coaster), or go shopping in Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi’s ultimate shopping destination with over 430 stores and eateries.

Top Tip: Despite being a particularly liberal city, it’s best to be cautious when choosing what to wear. Out of respect, it is best to leave vest tops, many types of shorts, strappy t-shirts, short skirts, etc. on the ship.

DUBAI

Dubai

Described as the “oasis of cosmopolitan luxury travellers”, and compared to Las Vegas (but free of the excessive consumption and gambling), Dubai is the epitome of excess. The city’s police force is proud to have their own fleet of super-cars including a Bugatti Veyron SS and a Lamborghini Aventador. The ultramodern skyline is ever growing taller and more diverse. They’ve even built their own islands, so that they can continue to expand!

Not just playground for the rich and famous, it’s very easy to see why anybody would want to go. Undoubtedly you’ll gravitate towards the Burj Khalifa, drawn to the tallest building in the world (at 828m high), but you’ll quickly discover that the Dubai Fountains are the main attraction as jets of water up to 500m high fly, choreographed to music. On the subject of towers, the Burj Al Arab is (despite being slightly smaller at 321m high) just as interesting, as the world’s 3rd largest hotel.

In more traditional sight-seeing experiences, it is well worth visiting the Gurunanak Darbar Sikh Temple, and the Jumeirah Mosque, for two very different experiences of religion and local culture in the Middle East. Other equally tourist-y things to do whilst you’re on your Dubaian-adventure include heading to Downtown Dubai to visit the Dubai Mall (the largest shopping centre in the world with over 1,300 places to eat and shop), discover the desert sand dunes in an exhilarating 4×4 ride, take the kids to Aquaventure Waterpark on The Palm Jumeira, and visit Dubai’s Aquarium and Underwater Zoo (one of the largest in the world).

MUSCAT

Muscat

If you thought that maybe Abu Dhabi and Dubai sounded a little similar, you probably aren’t wrong. Not to say that both aren’t incredible and unique places, but in comparison Muscat gives you an entirely different perspective on life in the Middle East. The capital of Oman holds very strong moral values, holding to a deeply conservative perspective and, opposed to the Emirate States, developing in a controlled and careful manner.

Muscat is a beautiful city, sprawled comfortably beneath the shadow of terracotta mountains, preserved, traditional, and playing on rugged appeal. The Muttrah Corniche is a hubbub of activity that gives you a quick fix of local culture, the people and their habits. It’s lined with restaurants and cafes, so it’s an ideal place to people watch, enjoy the sun, and try a traditional Oman delicacy.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a prime example of the traditional affluence and hold of strong beliefs in the area, and you can take full advantage to explore this area (though make sure you’re dressed appropriately). The Royal Opera House is also well worth visiting in the mornings, but be sure to catch a glimpse of its magnificence as it’s lit up at night.

The City Centre gives you the immersion that every traveller is after, to fully experience the culture in the bazaars, market places, restaurants, and streets, and be sure to pick up a souvenir (though don’t forget to haggle a little)! Other places well worth taking the time to see include the Mazara Dam, the unique museum that is Bait Al Zubair, and, if you’re in the mood, Qantab Beach. If you go at the right time of year, you can even spot dolphins from the coast!

The Middle East is so much more than just one place, ideal, culture, or lifestyle. Exploring the region in its entirety might take a lifetime of adventures, thrills, and experiences that many people only ever have the chance to dream about. Click here to find out more about the Middle East, and begin your adventure!