Spanning the coast of Israel to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is filled with some of the most extraordinary landscapes and cities in the world. From awe-inspiring natural phenomenon to exquisite historic sites reflecting each country’s heritage and culture, we list 14 of the most beautiful places in the Middle East.
Lying midway between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, the Socotra Archipelago is a collection of four small islands belonging to Yemen, and features some of the world’s most stunning landscapes. Due to its isolated nature, a third of the plant life is unique to the island, including the striking dragon blood tree and large exotic coral reefs, while undisturbed beaches and crystal clear waters make the islands a tropical paradise.
The White Desert
Situated in the dramatic Farafra depression in Western Egypt, the White Desert is astoundingly beautiful, featuring miles upon miles of unusual, otherworldly rock formations formed millions of years ago when the surface of the desert was covered in a layer of chalk. Today they teeter above the soft sand, punctuating the otherwise typical landscape with their dramatic forms. The White Desert is particularly spectacular at night time, when the moonlight and stars lend it an ethereal glow.
Jeita Grotto consists of two interconnected limestone caves located in the Nahr al-Kalb valley in Lebanon. The upper grotto, which is accessible by walking, and the lower grotto, which is viewed from a rowboat on a lake winding through the cave. Both grottos feature awe-inspiring natural creations, including stalactites and stalagmites, mushrooms, columns and curtains. The glittering water, multi-colored rocks and dramatic formations create an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere rarely experienced elsewhere.
One of the Middle East’s most unique landscapes, Khor al-Udaid features an extraordinary juxtaposition of desert and sea on the Qatari coast of the Persian Gulf. By day the sea smoothly draws up amongst the soft white sand dunes, creating a beautifully clear and still inland sea, before retreating again at night. During sunsets, the landscape becomes all the more glorious, reflecting a myriad of rich colors on the sparkling sands and waters.
On a mound raised about 30 meters above the rest of the city lies Erbil Citadel, the ancient center of the Iraqi city of Erbil, and the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the world. The houses along the exterior of the citadel form a fort-like structure, while the interior is filled with narrow alleys, archways and intricate brickwork. Erbil Citadel was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2014, recognizing its immense cultural and historic significance.
The monumental Shah Square in Isfahan, Iran is one of the largest and most impressive squares in the world. Constructed in the early 17th century and featuring buildings from the country’s Safavid era, the square brings together some of Isfahan’s most beautiful and culturally important sites, with the stunning Shah Mosque, the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, the regal Ali Qapu Palace and the bustling Isfahan Grand Bazaar forming the square’s four sides.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a marvel of contemporary Islamic architecture. Inspired by Arab, Moorish and Persian design, the mosque sets itself apart from its predecessors thanks to its vast size, built to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers, its pure white exterior dazzlingly reflected in pools of water, and the spectacular richness of its interior, with marble columns inlaid with mother of pearl, Swarowski crystal chandeliers and beautifully woven Persian carpets.
The Dome of the Rock
Located on Haram Al-Sharif in the heart of Jerusalem, The Dome of the Rock is one of the world’s holiest sites and a stunning example of Islamic architecture. Built in the 7th century, the shrine features an octagonal structure, a magnificent golden dome and stunning tile work inspired by the Byzantine style. Inside the Dome is the Foundation Stone, a holy artefact of immense importance to those of both Muslim and Jewish faiths.
Often called the world’s greatest outdoor museum, Egypt’s Luxor overflows with beautiful ruins, mosques and temples, which come together to make the city one of the most extraordinary in the Middle East. The Karnak Temple features iconic rows of sandstone columns and wonderfully preserved friezes, while over 50 tombs lie in the dramatic Valley of the Kings, including the stunning tomb of Tutankhamen, surrounding visitors with glimpses into Egypt’s rich cultural past.