If you spend any time watching or reading the news, or scanning your Twitter feed for that matter, you might be apprehensive about traveling to the Middle East. Contrary to the often-sensationalized headlines, however, the region is not entirely dangerous, and war, terrorism, and controversy don’t define the place as a whole. While there are certainly conflict-ridden areas to avoid, there are also plenty of safe destinations that are worthy of a spot on your bucket list. The region is home to some gorgeous natural wonders, culturally rich countries, and warm and welcoming locals.
Travel is vital for staying accurately informed and understanding other cultures, so with that in mind, we came up with a list of six safe places to discover in the Middle East. Of course, part of it depends on what kind of traveler you are, as a few destinations on this list are suitable for folks who can handle a bit of uncertainty. Keep in mind that this list was updated in November 2017, and political events can shift and alter the condition rapidly. We recommend checking travel advisories and enrolling with the U.S. State Department for the most up-to-date information about the destination you’re visiting.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is city of superlatives. The largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, the Middle Eastern destination is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and the largest shopping mall, complete with an aquarium and movie theater. High-end hotels, designer stores, fine-dining restaurants, spice-packed souks, and public beaches also work their way into the mix, but those aren’t the only appealing features. Crime is low, streets are nearly spotless, and locals are particularly honest here (drop your wallet and they’ll pick it up for you). However, keep in mind that its surrounding countries tend to be politically unstable. Though Dubai is generally safe and family-friendly, exercise caution and check travel advisories before booking your trip. It’s also worth reading up on the destination’s customs and traditions. Dubai is a Muslim city, so in addition to hearing the five prayer calls each day, travelers are advised not to show PDA or dress explicitly. Women who wear shorts, dresses, or sleeveless shirts are likely to stand out in a crowd. Additionally, while smoking tobacco is prevalent and allowed in restaurants, even mentioning drugs such as marijuana could get guests reprimanded.
Dubai Hotel Pick:
Oman’s proximity to politically tense Yemen does not conjure an image of peace, but the Middle Eastern country is undoubtedly a safe oasis for Westerners, with a global terrorism index score of 0. However, note that Oman is a Muslim country and a Sultanate, so be aware of its strict religious and legal code. When it comes to dress code, a bit of modesty will ensure you have a trouble-free trip (head coverings are required inside religious sites). And everyone, especially solo travelers, should take the usual safety precautions while traveling in the country, including avoiding public demonstrations and monitoring local media broadcasts. Much like the UAE, Oman offers sunshine in spades, plus plenty of other highlights like sand dunes, markets, and opportunities to go diving. Muscat, the capital city, is home to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, which houses the world’s second-largest hand-woven carpet and a chandelier with more than 600,000 chandeliers.
Oman Hotel Pick:
Earlier this year, several countries -- Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the Maldives, and Egypt, among others -- abruptly cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups. As a result, several large airlines based in these countries, including Emirates and Eithad Airlines, suspended flight service to and from Qatar. According to the 2017 Global Terrorism Index, however, Qatar has one of the lowest impacts of terrorism, making it a safe destination for travelers. In addition, the 2017 Global Peace Index, which considers homicide rate, political terror, and deaths from internal conflict, also ranked Qatar as a country with a high state of peace. The crime rate is also low, and incidents of violence and petty theft are rare, according to the U.S. State Department. Though there are no travel warnings for Qatar at the moment, the State Department notes that it remains “highly concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses and perceived U.S. and Western interests in the region.” With that in mind, it’s important to maintain a high level of vigilance, especially in areas known to be frequented by tourists, and monitor local media broadcasts.
As for what you can expect during your visit, camel rides and an arid desert landscape give this place an “Arabian Nights” ambience, but the capital city, Doha, is known for its ultra-modern architecture and cosmopolitan features like upscale shops and restaurants. During your stay, check out the Museum of Islamic Art, wander through the Souq Waqif, and visit the man-made island Pearl-Qatar. Sports fans may want to plan their trip around the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which is slated to be held here.
Qatar Hotel Pick:
A small Middle Eastern nation along the Mediterranean Sea, Israel offers travelers a vibrant mix of old (ancient holy sites, like the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of the Olives) and new (gourmet restaurants, trendy bars, and stylish boutique hotels). In Jerusalem, visitors might encounter Orthodox neighborhoods where modest dress codes are enforced, while Tel Aviv is the heart of modern Israel, with a thriving nightlife scene. And although there is a long history of religious and territorial conflict within its borders, Israel is generally safe. In general, it would be wise to avoid crowds, especially demonstrations and protests, be aware of your surroundings, and check travel advisories prior to your trip. Attacks do take place, but they are not everyday occurrences, and particular areas are safer than others. The U.S. State Department advises travelers avoid the Gaza-Israel border, as well as the West Bank. Tel Aviv, however, feels safe all around. Rothschild Boulevard is one of the main arteries of the city, with many hotels, restaurants, and white Bauhaus buildings dating back to the 1930s. Old Jaffa, a historic port neighborhood with a promenade along the sea, as well as galleries, cafes, and restaurants, is also of interest to tourists. You might encounter people haggling and shopping in the markets (the bustling Shuk Ha’Carmel is a must-visit), relaxing in coffee shops, and enjoying the vibrant party scene. And of course, the city’s beaches are a major draw as well.
Israel Hotel Pick:
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Though it might not have as much clout as Dubai, Abu Dhabi is also worth a visit among well-heeled travelers. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, this city has evolved from a simple fishing village to a glitzy metropolis, with high-end hotels and shopping malls, upscale restaurants, modern architecture. Be aware that the United Arab Emirates is officially under Sharia law, meaning punishments for crimes here are severe. Though petty theft isn’t a concern here, it would be wise to keep an eye on your personal belongings. Harassment of women on the street is also illegal, which makes traveling alone here safe and enjoyable. Much like in Dubai, it is important to respect local customs -- travelers should avoid showing PDA and dressing explicitly (women may feel more comfortable by covering bare shoulders, legs, and necks).
Abu Dhabi Hotel Pick:
Situated in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus saw an increase in tourist spending by 17% in 2016. According to CNN, travelers consider the island-nation to be relatively safe compared to other European destinations that have encountered a slew of terrorist attacks. And while it hasn’t always been considered a safe haven for tourists, today it welcomes more than two million visitors per year. Historically, Turkey and Greece have both attempted to gain control of the island, and now, Cyprus remains a divided country, with parts that are dedicated to both the Turks and Greeks. (Turkish Cypriots primarily reside reside in the north, and in the south, you’ll find mainly Greek Cypriots.) According to World Nomads, if you enter the northern part, you may have trouble getting to the south (and vice versa). However, despite this conflict, Cyprus is considered a safe area with little violent crime. In fact, according to the 2017 Global Terrorism Index, Cyprus falls under the countries with the lowest impact of terrorism. In additional to its safety levels, the island-nation offers 340 day of sun per year, beautiful coastlines, and breathtaking mountain scenery. Visit the UNESCO-protected town of Paphos or head to the north coast, where you’ll find some stellar beaches and ruins of medieval castles.
Cyprus Hotel Pick:
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