The Middle East is a region mainly in Western Asia, between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
While the region is known for its arid climate, not all of the land consists of deserts, and contrary to common misconceptions, glaciers and deserts do indeed exist in close proximity in parts of the region. The mountains in Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Israel and Northern Iraq even support ski resorts. The region is also the cradle of the world's first urban civilizations (especially in Ancient Mesopotamia), and the birthplace of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i Faith.
Countries and territories
The term "Middle East" was created by the British in the 19th century, and there is no precise definition; it is a political term as much as geographical, implying that it separates "the West" (Europe) from the Far East. The term came into widespread usage as a replacement of the term Near East (as opposed to the Far East) beginning in the early 20th century. The term "Middle East" has led to some confusion over its changing definitions, and has been viewed by some to be discriminatory or too Eurocentric. Some countries included in the Middle East by most definitions and included in our list below also overlap into other regions. Turkey is partially in Europe and partially in Asia, while Egypt is part of North Africa and Iran has strong connections to Central Asia. Some definitions are broader than ours and include one or more of Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, or Cyprus.
Turkey and the Caucasus (including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and some disputed territories) are the borderlands between Europe and the Middle East, with strong historical, geographic, economic, and cultural connections to both Europe and Asia.
This island state, the smallest of the Gulf emirates, is known in the region as the playground for visitors from its more conservative neighbors.
Home to some of the world's greatest ancient civilizations, Egypt is famous for its outstanding archaeological sites, among them the pyramids, one of which is the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. Tourists who visit the country may also enjoy the shores of the Red and the Mediterranean Seas, as well as the Nile.
A country full of historic places, a variety of attractions, and ecosystems that range from deserts in the central and southern parts to beautiful humid forests in the north near the Caspian Sea. Iran is also very ethnically and culturally diverse, and used to be the heart of the Persian Empire.
This cradle of civilization is too dangerous for leisure travel, though more intrepid travellers may find Iraqi Kurdistan a congenial place for a visit.
The birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity, with numerous holy sites for Muslims, Druze and Baha'is as well, in addition to places of cultural, historical and prehistoric significance. A small land containing a variety of breathtaking natural views, including deserts, shores and peaks that are covered by snow in the winter, alongside a vibrant nightlife, liberal attitude and a high human and technological development.
This country, with its vast deserts, also includes fertile land along the East Bank of the Jordan River and its tributaries, such as the Yarmouk, and contains rich archaeological remains, especially in Jerash and Petra, which is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and the extremely salty Dead Sea.
Probably best known internationally for its brief occupation by Iraq and role in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Kuwait is an oil-rich emirate that is a destination for laborers and businessmen, generally not for tourists.
This small country is diverse in culture, religion, politics and terrain. Beirut in particular has been known for the most part as a very liberal city. However, Lebanon's sometimes contentious politics often cause instability in the country.
A sultanate that's off the beaten path for most travellers, it is the only country that has a majority of Ibadi Muslims, and it is very rich in beautiful scenery.
|Palestinian Territories |
The West Bank is home to historic cities such as Bethlehem, Hebron and Jericho. The Gaza Strip, though also of some historical importance, has restricted access, and is unstable and off-limits for most travelers.
This Arabian peninsula is one of the world's top natural gas exporters and the world's richest country in terms of per capita GDP (PPP). It is probably best known for being the world headquarters of the Al Jazeera media corporation, which is owned by its government, and secondarily, for the striking modern skyline of its capital, Doha.
|Saudi Arabia |
This oil-rich desert kingdom, subject to some of the harshest interpretations on Islamic Law in the world, is home to the holiest cities for Muslims: Mecca and Medina. Long nearly impossible to visit except for work or pilgrimage, it has become much more accessible to leisure tourists since the late 2010s.
This historic country was part of the Fertile Crescent in ancient times and shows the imprint of all historical periods since, but is in the throes of a bloody civil war that has not only killed a large number of people and displaced even more but has also involved wholesale looting and destruction of archaeological relics by ISIS terrorists.
|Turkey (Türkiye) |
A very varied country that literally bridges Europe and Asia, it includes the cosmopolitan metropolis of Istanbul, many historical sites, and gorgeous mountains, lakes and coastlines. Turkey is the successor country to the Ottoman Empire, a huge empire that dominated most of the Middle East and large parts of Europe and North Africa for centuries. Nowadays, it is a prosperous and modern nation populated by ethnic Turks with sizeable Kurdish, Circassian and Arab minorities.
|United Arab Emirates |
A major hub of oil shipping and foreign labor that includes the famous skylines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and quieter, more traditional emirates like Sharjah.
This beautiful country, famous for its traditional adobe highrises, fertile highlands and delicious food, is in the throes of a brutal civil war and a very destructive international bombing campaign.
The Middle East can also be divided into numerous sub-regions. The Gulf typically refers to the oil-rich states of the eastern Arabian Peninsula, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Levant refers to the part that is widely considered to be the cradle of civilisation, and most commonly comprises Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
- 1 Amman — experiencing a massive change from a quiet sleepy village to a bustling metropolis.
- 2 Beirut — a true cosmopolitan city, the commercial and financial hub of Lebanon.
- 3 Baghdad — once a favoured destination on the 'hippie trail' and packed full of sights, now one of the most dangerous cities on Earth.
- 4 Cairo — capital of Egypt and in some ways, of the entire Middle East. For example, its universities and media have influence across the region.
- 5 Dubai — most modern and progressive emirate in the United Arab Emirates, boasting many skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.
- 6 Istanbul — the only major city to span two continents and a fascinating melting pot of East and West.
- 7 Jerusalem — containing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City, this city is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
- 8 Mecca — forbidden for non-Muslims to enter, this is the holiest city in Islam and well known for the Hajj.
- 9 Tehran — a bustling metropolis of 14 million people, it's a cosmopolitan city, with great museums, parks, restaurants and warm, friendly people.
- 1 Çatalhöyük- a Stone Age (7500 B.C. to 5700 B.C) settlement of great importance to archaeologists studying the transition from nomadic tribes to settlement and "civilization."
- 2 Dead Sea — the water is far too salty for marine life - hence the name - but even the most skeletal humans will easily float.
- 3 Empty Quarter — the name Empty Quarter explains pretty well what it is: a vast, inhospitable, empty desert.
- 4 Madain Saleh — a Nabataean city in what's now Saudi Arabia, hewed out of rock in the same style as Jordan's far more famous Petra.
- 5 Persepolis — the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid dynasty, close to modern Shiraz.
- 6 Petra — one of the 'New Seven Wonders', Petra was the breathtaking capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BCE.
- 7 Samarra — archaeological and Shi'a holy sites, including the tombs of several Shi'a Imams in Iraq.
- 8 Sea of Galilee — known for its Gospel associations with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, thus a pilgrimage destination for Christians.
- 9 Shibam — known as 'Manhattan of the Desert', a unique, sixteenth-century, mud-built, high rise apartment buildings complex in Yemen.
As one of the wellsprings of human civilisation in the ancient and medieval worlds, the birthplace of several world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and the Baha'i faith) and an area of much modern economic and political importance, the Middle East remains a popular destination for travellers.
Ethnically, the region is extremely diverse; Arabs, Persians, and Turks are the largest groups, but there are also other ethnic groups, such as Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Jews, Azeris, Mandaeans and others, each with their own languages, customs and cultures. Today, there are also many economic migrants coming from South and Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa in search of jobs.
Almost every country in the Middle East has a Muslim majority, with Iran, Iraq and Bahrain mainly Shia, Oman mainly Ibadi, and other areas mainly Sunni, with Saudi Arabia adopting a particularly strict version of Sunni Islam known as Salafism. The legal systems in most of these countries are influenced by sharia (Islamic law), but very few are entirely based on it. The notable exceptions are Israel, which has a Jewish majority, and Lebanon, which has a power sharing agreement between the Muslims and Christians.
There are significant communities of native Christians also in Yemen, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Israel, Iraq and Turkey, and also many Druze in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Many areas historically had long-established Jewish communities, but these were largely wiped out amid a wave of rising anti-Semitism following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Today, the only Jewish communities in the region outside Israel that remain large are the ones in Iran and Turkey. Other religious groups present in much smaller numbers include the Baha'is, Mandeans and Zoroastrians.
Middle Eastern politics is controversial, incredibly complex, often violent and rapidly changeable. As a consequence, tourists should generally not engage in political discussion with strangers. The Middle East is one of the most important geopolitical regions in the world. The world's largest oil and natural gas reserves, conflicts that date back to the dawn of civilization, as well as ethnic and religious tensions can make the Middle East seem dangerous. Moreover, much like in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and much of the former Soviet Union, the national borders of the Middle East were drawn arbitrarily by the European great powers during the age of colonialism without regard for existing ethnic and religious rivalries on the ground. While there are strong warnings against travel to some countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, which are enduring civil wars, news reports do not reflect the day-to-day reality of people going about their normal lives.
Due to substantial oil wealth, the Gulf states are known for providing their citizens with some of the world's most comprehensive welfare states despite not levying any income tax on them. On the other hand, some of them rely heavily on a badly-paid immigrant workforce, who generally do not have access to the welfare systems.
In the 21st century, China has increasingly challenged the traditional duopoly between Russia and the United States, and is now a major player in the region. Due to China's need for the vast natural resources of the Middle East to drive its industrial base, many Middle Eastern countries are pursuing closer relations with China, often providing natural resources in exchange for Chinese investment in infrastructure as part of their Belt and Road initiative. China brokered a landmark rapproachement between arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in 2023, the first time a country other than the United States has brokered a similar deal in the region, though whether or not this detente will last for long and bring stability to the region remains to be seen.
North Africa is similar to the Middle East in many ways — language, religion, culture and some ethnic groups. Some writers include Egypt, or even Sudan and Libya, in their use of the term "Middle East", being part of the Greater Middle East. The term MENA refers to the Middle East/North Africa cultural group, which generally extends from Iran or Turkey to as far west as Morocco or Mauritania. It may also include the Red Sea states.
On the other side, Central Asia also has things in common with the Middle East. Ethnic groups and languages are different, but the religion, much of the food, clothing, and architecture are similar. Iran could be counted as part of either region; at one point most Central Asia was part of the Persian Empire. There are also strong cultural ties between South Asia and the Middle East, having been linked by both overland and maritime trade routes for centuries. For instance, the Indian Muslim dish biryani bears a distinct similarity to other rice and meat dishes found in the Middle East such as mansaf in Jordan and Palestine, or kabsa and mandi in the Arabian peninsula. Yemeni shahi haleeb also bears a distinct similarity to Indian masala chai.
The border between southeastern Europe and the Middle East is also unclear. Many writers include Turkey in their usage of "Middle East" and we include it above, but parts of Turkey are very much European. Large parts of Turkey and all of Lebanon and Israel are also clearly Mediterranean regions. On the other hand, several countries usually considered European — Greece, Cyprus and to some extent the Balkans — also have Middle Eastern aspects to their culture.
Arabic is the primary language of the region, and the main language in all Middle Eastern countries except Iran (where Persian predominates), Turkey (Turkish) and Israel (Hebrew, albeit with a significant Arabic-speaking minority). While Standard Arabic is the official language in all Arabic-speaking countries and the medium of instruction in schools, there are also many dialects of Arabic that are the main spoken language in daily life in their respective regions, some of which can be mutually unintelligible.
English is moderately common in tourist areas but comprehension varies elsewhere. English is widely understood in parts of the Levant and the smaller Gulf states, especially among educated citizens and in big cities. In Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi, foreigners far outnumber the citizen population and as a result, English serves as the lingua franca and is more widely spoken than Arabic. In Turkey, some German is spoken because many Turks have worked in Germany.
Urdu and Hindi are also widely known in the Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia as large Pakistani and Indian communities work in these countries. Tagalog is also known to some extent, particularly in main cities (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Doha, etc.), due to a large influx of Filipino migrant workers across the region.
This is one of the regions where it is easy to get Visa trouble, because of the Israel-Arab conflict. Several countries reject Israeli passports, and some reject any passport with an Israeli stamp. To avoid this, if you are going to Israel, make sure to get a paper visa. Even that may not be enough though as some countries scrutinise passports for stamps from the land borders of Israel's neighbors Jordan and Egypt.
The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (often called GCC) have tight cooperation in some sectors. They are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The largest hubs for flights in the region are Dubai Airport, Hamad International Airport (Doha) and Abu Dhabi International Airport, with their home carriers, Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad Airways respectively serving every inhabited continent, and having the largest and fastest growing medium to long haul route networks in the world. Istanbul also has good connections from virtually any point in the Middle East, and is served by numerous flights from Europe, North America and East Asia, with Turkish Airlines having a slowly but steadily growing network that is increasingly becoming a viable alternative to the Gulf trio. Ben Gurion Airport is served by flights from most Western countries, although due to the political situation flights to other parts of the Middle East are limited to Turkey, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan.
See Ferries in the Mediterranean. Ferries are available between Greece or Cyprus to Israel, Lebanon and Turkey. Cruises also exist for longer excursions.
By car or bus
Turkey can be reached overland via Greece or Bulgaria.
Border crossings exist between most countries. However, these may be subject to temporary closure depending on political situations. For instance, most crossings into Syria are closed or dangerous. There are no border crossings between Israel and either Lebanon or Syria. Driving a car between counties is dependent on whether cars are allowed into different countries; in some cases a Carnet de Passages is required. This is variable across the region.
Public transport across borders is very poor compared to neighboring Europe. The majority of locals would use plane or car travel to get between countries. Places where Sunni and Shia areas overlap sometimes lack interlinking transportation.
Flying is often the best way for getting around. The region is home to many major airports with frequent connections on both budget and legacy carriers. On the other hand, travel overland may not always be safe and even if it is, overland travel may involve crossings of hundreds of kilometers of hot desert.
Driving in the more developed Middle Eastern nations is much like driving in any other developed country – the roads are paved and painted, traffic lights and cameras exist and work at intersections, and driving is calmer than in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. Still, especially outside cities, driving may by reckless. Also, in some countries camels will walk onto the roads, so drivers should remain vigilant even if the road looks safe.
Driving in the less developed nations is more of a challenge, as few roads are paved outside of major cities, and their quality might not be very good.
For the adventurous driver, some countries offer off-road vehicles and trails, such as in wadis (dried-up riverbeds). These trails easily isolate the driver(s), and in the case of emergency (such as a wadi flooding during a storm) it will be hard for authorities to find and help you. Pack everything you need with you for the trip, and never go alone.
Check any border crossings, as some of them may be closed, restricted to only some traffic, or have restricted hours. Your visa may affect how you are allowed to enter a country.
While there are few international passenger lines in the Middle East, there are railways in most countries, and several countries are expanding their rail systems. There are some high speed rail lines, such as between Mecca, Jeddah and Medina.
Istanbul would normally be the best starting point for rail journeys to much of the Middle East, but the wars in Syria and Iraq make rail trips to or through those countries questionable if not impossible. There is a mostly weekly service from Ankara to Tehran with a 4-hour ferry journey across Lake Van; as this service crosses Kurdish territory, check on the latest developments in Turkey.
Buses are a more practical option than trains in the Middle East as they are less prone to delays and breakdowns and have far more extensive coverage of the region.
While Mecca is otherwise closed for non-Muslims, changing buses there is allowed.
This is where to head for some of the world's oldest civilizations, and for many of the places mentioned in the holy books of the Abrahamic religions. However, the Gulf states in particular are also home to some of the world's most impressive examples of modern architecture, such as the Burj Khalifa, together with glitzy malls, artificial islands and some of the world's busiest airports.
On the natural side, the Middle East boasts large desert landscapes, including the Saudi desert (one of the largest in the world) as well as the Lut desert in Iran, where the highest surface temperature in the world was measured. If you would rather see some scenic mountain landscapes, head to Iran or Turkey — the former boasts summits more than 5000 m above the sea level and some of the world's highest ski resorts.
Sadly, this is also one of the most volatile parts of the world and many sites are from time to time unsafe to visit – and a lot has recently been destroyed.
- From Istanbul to Cairo — classic overland route but virtually impossible due to events in Syria.
- Hajj — the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
- Ferries across the Red Sea
- Istanbul to New Delhi overland, the "hippie trail" of the 1960s and 70s, crosses this region
- On the trail of Alexander the Great — He conquered most of the Middle East, as well as other areas.
- Explore ancient ruins throughout the region
- Take a ride on a dhow, a traditional wooden fishing boat in the Gulf states
- Visit numerous holy sites in Israel and Saudi Arabia
- Go shopping in traditional souks throughout the region
- Connect with multiple cultures in one of the most diverse regions of the world
Many universities exist across the Middle East, some of which are highly regarded, including those in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Cairo's Al Azhar University, a famous institute of Islam whose construction predated that of the University of Bologna by over 100 years, is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world.
Opportunities to learn Arabic abound, and are available in both religious and secular settings.
Hebrew instruction is available in Israel through intensive study groups known as Ulpan.
The Middle East is famous for its markets or souqs. Souqs sell a dizzying array of goods, but each has its own speciality, be it spices or carpets. Notable examples exist in Jerusalem, Damascus and Dubai among many others. Quality varies enormously. Many souqs sell good quality products, but many sell a range of fake or tacky souvenirs. Over-pricing for tourists is common but this can often be counteracted by bargaining.
Haggling or bargaining is common across the Middle East. However, its usage is rather complex. In general, haggling is common in markets, but only for certain items. For instance, haggling for souvenirs is acceptable, but not acceptable for food. Also, haggling in shops with fixed prices such as a supermarket is not done. However, in independent stores it may be possible to negotiate a deal if buying multiple or expensive items such as jewellery. When bargaining, it is important to remember that the seller merely wants to maximise their profits. Walking away from an unacceptable deal is considered normal and can prevent pressure selling.
- See also: Middle Eastern cuisine
Cookery provides obvious evidence of the extent of Middle Eastern influence. Turkish kebab, Greek gyros and the shawarma of the Arab countries (everywhere from Oman to Morocco) are all basically the same dish. These are also seen in Central Asia, China and even Mexico. Many Greek dishes are closer to Iranian cooking than to Italian and a traveller going from Istanbul to New Delhi overland will find very similar dishes — notably flat breads and kebabs — all along that route.
There is a strong theme of fresh, wholesome ingredients. Meat (except pork) is very popular, as are vegetables such as eggplant, chick peas and tomatoes. As pork is taboo in Islam and Judaism, it is rare in the Middle East or in some countries even banned. So don’t expect a bacon sandwich or pork sausages for breakfast outside tourist areas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a tasty meal.
Middle Easterners have a well-honed sweet tooth, so be sure to sample some desserts while you are here. Baklava had its origins in the palace kitchens of the Ottoman Empire, but has spread well beyond that and is popular throughout the Middle East, as well as in North Africa, Central Asia, Greece and the Balkans. The Arabian Peninsula is known for its dates, while Turkey is known for a type of sweet known as lokum, often referred to as "Turkish delight" in the West.
Turkish coffee, served in small cups, is popular in Turkey. The Arabs have their own style of drinking coffee called Arabic coffee, in which cardamom is added to the coffee blend. Unlike Western coffees, Turkish and Arabic coffee is typically unfiltered.
Persian tea is ubiquitous in Iran, with Iranians being one the biggest tea consumers per capita in the world. Persian tea is typically drunk without milk, but it is typical to hold cube of sugar in one's mouth while drinking the tea. Yemen has its own style of tea called shai haleeb, which is similar to Indian masala chai.
While countries such as Israel and Lebanon have an ancient tradition of wine making, alcoholic beverages are taboo in most Muslim countries; they are completely banned in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and heavily restricted in many other countries of the region.
On the other hand, alcohol is available in Bahrain, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, which produces a good variety of kosher wines. Numerous beers are available, as is the stronger Arak, an aniseed liquor.
In lieu of alcohol, stores and restaurants in Muslim countries have a broad selection of fruit juices and soft drinks.
Few nations in the Middle East have a vibrant nightlife to go along with excellent hotels. As with any region, quality varies enormously from cheap hostels to the US$15,000 a night grand Atlantis suite in Dubai. Virtually all big cities will have numerous large international chain hotels.
Some of the hotels in more conservative middle Eastern countries will refuse entry to homosexual or unmarried couples, but this tends not to be a problem in popular resorts.
Planning a visit to the Middle East can be complicated in various ways:
- Some countries and territories in the area, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gaza Strip, are in a state of war or civil war and should not be visited. See War zone safety if you must go. Also check on current conditions in the Sinai, which has experienced a lot of terrorism and fighting between insurgents and the Egyptian military including an apparent downing of a Russian passenger plane, and Southeastern Anatolia (Turkish Kurdistan), where fighting has occurred.
- Some countries do not issue tourist visas except for a few expensive tours.
- Many countries in the region do not recognize the state of Israel. These nations may refuse you entry if you have an Israeli visa or an Israeli stamp in your passport, or even a visa for another country that was issued in Israel. Though, under a new system, visitors entering Israel are given special entry cards by the passport control; see the Israel and Visa trouble articles for details. Among the countries in the region, only Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have official diplomatic relations with Israel, while Oman has been acting as a liaison between Israel and the Arab League, with de facto recognition of Israel. Qatar does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel, but maintains unofficial trade relations.
- The more conservative countries in the region have legislation carrying heavy penalties (even up to the death penalty) for homosexuality, adultery, fornication, apostasy, proselytizing, and other acts considered as criminal offenses. Saudi Arabia and Iran implement particularly harsh interpretations of Islamic law.
- When it comes to petty crime (reckless driving, shoplifting, drug use etc) the penalties in the more conservative countries are high by international standards.
- For most of the area, suggestions in Tips for travel in developing countries apply.
- Some countries have arrested tourists in the past under charges of espionage or sabotage; be wary especially if the relation between your destination and home countries are strained. Your embassy may not be able to help you.
Homosexuality and transgenderism is largely illegal in the Middle East except Turkey, Jordan and Israel. Israel and Turkey are the only countries where public LGBT activities are permitted and where you can find LGBT-friendly hotels and bars. However, even in those countries keep your sexuality private in non-touristic places. In the other countries, people have been severely punished for homosexual behaviour. Cross dressing is an unusual act in many countries and may be illegal. The Gulf States and Iran should mostly be avoided by LGBT people.
Also, aggressive driving is the norm in much of the Middle East, so if you choose to drive, drive defensively.
Healthcare varies widely across the region. Healthcare standards in Israel and the Gulf states are generally on par with the West, but elsewhere can be severely lacking. Generally, large cities will have better hospitals and most doctors will speak English. Hospitals in more rural areas are less likely to be of good quality. Pharmacies are common everywhere except war zones.
If you are going on the Hajj to Mecca, definitely get vaccinations from your country before congregating with thousands of other Muslims. Unfortunately, communicable diseases are common among the crowds doing the pilgrimage, and they can be particularly life-threatening for young children, people with asthma or diabetes, the elderly, the pregnant and disabled people.
Drinking water tends to be safe in richer countries, but less so in Yemen or other poorer areas. Always check before drinking.
Most of the Middle East is arid and dehydration is common, so always drink water more than you think you need to. Most countries are extremely hot in the summertime especially in desert regions. Typical temperatures are in the range 30–45 °C (86–113 °F), while 50 °C (122 °F) isn't unheard of. Countries further south are often 40-45 Celsius but sometimes 50 degrees or more. Always drink plenty of water and avoid being out in the sun for too long, especially if you have very fair skin or blonde or red hair.
Driving in the Middle East is notably more dangerous than in Europe or North America. Road rules may or may not be followed. It is advisable to observe driving standards before taking the plunge with a rental car.
Many countries in the Middle East are deeply religious, being the cradle of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Always dress conservatively and modestly even in more liberal areas.
In some countries, taking photographs can land you in severe trouble with the authorities depending on whether you take pictures of women, government institutions, airports or palaces. In some cases you can be suspected of terrorism.
Since the Middle East is a largely Islamic region, bringing alcohol or pork is illegal in several countries, and some have harsh laws regarding them. Also where they are legal and available, you might not want to upset locals. Check the country articles – in some countries they are permitted and widely consumed in touristy areas.
Ramadan is a widespread observance in the Middle East. Do not eat, drink or smoke in front of Muslims during daylight hours. In Saudi Arabia you can get fined and sent to prison. Other countries like UAE make you do community service for long periods of time. Turkey and the tourist areas are more liberal but to avoid offence, it is best to eat in private. Definitely avoid mocking or insulting Ramadan or other Islamic practices. The penalties can be severe.
Some countries like Saudi Arabia ban public celebrations of non-Islamic holidays and traditions like Christmas and Valentine's Day. Saudi Arabia is so strict that airport checks for non-Islamic religious items are common. Tourists could face large fines, a prison sentence or deportation. Other countries like Turkey, the UAE and Qatar have more laid back laws on non-Muslim traditions, but when in doubt, be considerate and discreet. Countries outside the Gulf have long-established Christian minorities, mostly Catholic, Orthodox or Nestorian, and these communities are generally free to practise their religion, but may not proselytise to Muslims. Outside the Gulf, the term "Allah" is not exclusive to Muslims, and is also used by Arab Christians to refer to the Christian God.
- Cyprus — readily accessible by plane, there are boats from Turkey, Greece or Lebanon, and some cruise ships stop here.
- South Asia — the "Hippie Trail", after traversing Turkey and Iran from one end to another (and dipping into Iraq at a time in history) goes onward to Pakistan and India.
- Central Asia — an off the beaten path destination, which is accessible by buses from the Iranian city of Mashhad (which terminate in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan).
- Caucasus — the lush and beautiful Caucasus is a short hop north from Iran and east of Turkey.