20 top travel ideas

Istanbul, Dubai, Singapore, Oman, Jordan, Beirut and more top trips

20 top travel ideas

With Eid approaching fast, many of you may well have already booked a trip away in the region or further afield to take a holiday and well-earned break. However, there are always those last-minute decisions that you can spontaneously make and this list may well be the trigger for you to make that 11th hour call to travel during Eid or in the month of October. Here is our list of 20 places to visit and things to do.

1 Turkey: Istanbul – ‘Breakfast by the Blue Mosque’

The most dynamic city in the Middle East, it’s always a tough choice whether to have breakfast by the Bosphorous or Blue Mosque. Once you’ve picked up a bargain at the Grand Bazaar, get round to the Pera districts for boutiques and contemporary designs around Tünel. Real culture vultures will love the Topkapi Palace, the Hagaia Sophia and Basilica Cistern offering Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman flavours. The C16th Çemberlita Hammam spa is well worth going for a deep clean. But no trip to Istanbul is complete without sundowners at Galata Bridge. Best of all, the local fishermen will grill you the day’s catch.

2 UAE: Abu Dhabi – Thesiger’s Footsteps
Don’t get us wrong, Abu Dhabi has it all. More restaurants and cuisine than you can choose from. Waterworld, Ferrari World, F1 tracks, the stunning Emirates Palace, glittering in gold. But for our money, it’s traditional features that catch the eye most. A brisk stroll round the four mile Corniche dropping onto golden sands is a great way to watch the sunset. Better still, get out to Al Ain, dubbed the Garden City in the desert, where lush greenery awaits. It’s also home to the Al Jahil Fort where you’ll find a brilliant exhibition of the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger – a man who crossed the Empty Quarter not once, but twice.

3 UAE: Dubai – ‘The View from The Top’
The tallest tower in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is the jewel in the Emirati crown with dazzling views from 2722 feet. On your way back down to earth, Burj al Arab is worth swinging by, with terra firma leaving you a great mix of green public parks, epic water fountains, and the newly built Dubai Marina where you can get a stellar lunch. Mall of the Emirates isn’t far away for those who want to splash some retail cash, or a little more randomly, go skiing at Ski Dubai, the centrepiece of the Mall. For any desert newbies, Dubai offers some of the easiest safaris to check out the dunes, watch falcons fly, and have a fleeting Lawrence moment.

4.Bahrain – ‘First Well to Formula One’
Take a short hop up the Gulf to Bahrain, literally meaning ‘Between two Seas’ for a whirlwind tour of the first oil wells in the Arabian Gulf. Next door you’ll find the Formula One circuit where you can try out your F1 skills, (albeit in karting track form). Slow things down with a visit to the Qal’at al Bahrain fort, followed by the National Museum for a glimpse of Dilmun culture. For a maritime flavour, you can take a day trip out to Jurada Island, always best followed with a slap up meal in Adliya. Meat & Co does a great steak, with a pretty decent grape selection to match.

5 Oman: Muscat – ‘Marvellous Muttrah’

Muscat: Epic coastlines; glistening Indian Ocean waters teaming with dolphins and turtles; lush wadis; a stunning Grand Mosque; closely followed by one of the finest quality Royal Opera houses in the world. Haggle for all you’re worth in Muttrah Souq – it’s part of the local fabric. You can get top class fishing trips from Marina Bander Al Rowdha just outside Muttrah, but roll down to Qantab further along the coastline and ask for local hero ‘Dock Boy’, who’ll take you line fishing on a skiff. Twice the effort, four times the fun. Before jetting back, get a drink at the Chedi Long Pool. Absolute bliss.

6 Oman: Salalah – ‘Salam from Salalah’

The greenest part of Oman is the Southern Dhofar region during the wet season. Relax in coconut clad beaches and papaya plantations that stretch down towards the coast. Once you’re done with your ‘five a day’ at the fruit stands, Al Husn Souq is well worth seeing. See how fabled Omani hats are made, and let your nasal senses go wild with aromatic frankincense filling the market air. For real ‘frankincense fiends’, you can even go on trails in the mountains or drop by Taqah and Mirbat castles. To unwind a busy day, head to the Crowne Plaza, perched on the beach for a refreshing drink, with local cuisines on hand.

7 Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur – ‘The Natural Touch’

Any visit to Kuala Lumpur should start with the Petronas Twin Towers, zooming up to the 86th floor, walking from one tower to the other on a double decked sky bridge. Back at ground level, and get straight over to local bazaars, Kampung, Baru and Subang for tasty local food. For those preferring a Chinese flavour, Ni Hao Ma serves up fresh dishes in Chinatown, with Brickfields (Little India) catering for South Asian cuisine. Getting out of town, Fraser’s Hill offers a beautiful nature reserve, waterfalls and traditional villages. Kuala Lumpur bird and butterfly parks are other top natural beauties.

8 Indonesia: Jakarta – ‘Taj Mahal meets Sagrada Familia’

Where to start in this ASEAN metropolis? – Monas, the National Monument is a good reference point next to the National History Museum. But for a more subtle introduction, check out Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, (TMII), literally translated as ‘Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park’. The Istiqlal Mosque boasts to be the largest in Southeast Asia, with a large Catholic Cathedral sat directly across the road: aesthetically, think Taj Mahal meets Sagrada Familia and you’re in the right ballpark. Surbaya Street is well worth a visit for picking up antiques, while Old Town or Old Batavia is best seen hiring on old fashioned bike to Sunda Kelapa harbour. You’ll never struggle for a good restaurant or a night out in Jakarta, but if it all gets a bit too much, take a launch to Thousand Islands, north of Jakarta. You can literally take your pick of idyllic sanctuaries to hang out.

9 Singapore – ‘Hitting the Quay’
Singapore, it’s got something for everyone. Clean cut skyscrapers in one of the world’s greatest commodity hubs. Before you get stuck in, swing by Raffles Hotel for a local refreshment, or a cup of tea at The Fullerton. It’s then entirely your choice whether you hit Chinatown first, soak up Little India, or get over to the Arab Quarter. For those wanting to take it easier, stroll along Marina Bay up to Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay for a strew of riverside bars and restaurants. A walk round Canning Fort also captures great views of the city. The Botanical Garden remains a must see for those with green fingers.

10 Kuwait City – ‘The Sky’s the Limit’

Kuwait Towers cuts an impressive skyline, with its iconic blue and green sequins one of the main architectural attractions of the city. Sief Palace, the Grand Mosque, House of Mirrors and National Museum all rank highly as architectural gems to explore as well. For us, Sadu House is an interesting place to visit to understand Bedouin traditions in Kuwait – replete with splendid carpets, tents and handicraft items. You’ll find plenty more stash at Souk Mubarakia as one of the best kept secrets in the Gulf, but not quite as good as a day trip to Failaka Island. A treasure trove of ancient Dilmum history, with a contemporary twist, playing host to a graveyard of Iraqi tanks destroyed from the 1990-91 war.

11 Saudi Arabia: Yanbu – ‘Divers Dream’

Dazzling fish; colourful corals; clear waters. The best diving spot across the GCC, perched on the Red Sea, is Yanbu. Check out this stretch of Saudi shoreline, home to world class diving facilities with a real bonus addition: the chance to see a 131 metre Second World War British Battleship, ‘Thistlegorm’, sunk by German bombers in 1941. Epic stuff. Once out of the water, pop along to Yanbu Old Town to capture the charm of a traditional fishing village. Cap it all off with an Arabic coffee and a relaxing spa at the Radisson Blu to make sure you fully decompress.

12 Saudi Arabia: Jeddah – ‘Bridging the Red Sea’
With 60km of coastline and an impressive Corniche, Jeddah lays claim to an underwater wonder-world of coral reefs, marine life, water sports and the world’s largest fountain. The Floating Mosque isn’t actually in the water, but the illusory effect of the Red Sea plays tricks with the eyes. Step back from the coastline and you’ll explore Balad, founded over 2500 years ago in the Old District, built from coral stones and palm wood lattices. It’s a great place to pick up trinkets from the souk, with the Bab Medina Gate one of a kind. Make your way around the City Squares, and be sure to search out Heraa, Palestine and Gabel Streets, all with a peppering of Islamic museums along the way.

13 Oman: Musandam – ‘Diving from Dhows’
Ever wanted to dive in the Strait of Hormuz? Musandam is your chance. The best diving you’ll get in the Arabian Gulf, set against a backdrop of spectacular mountains, stunning scenery, exotic fish, abundant turtles and sprawling corals. Al Boom are the guys to get you on a Dhow towards Livia Island to take the plunge, with a fresh fish supper keeping you fed and watered. Onshore, Le Merdien Al Aqah Beach Resort will take good care of you, but for those who can’t stay away from the water, they also happen to provide epic parasailing activities.

14 Jordan: Amman – ‘Come to Life in the Dead Sea’

Think Jordan, most people think Petra. But Amman has buckets of history and culture to explore. Downtown Jabal Amman is bustling with cafés, restaurants and galleries, with the cobblestone Rainbow Street offering a spectacular view of the Old City. Talking of ‘old’, the Roman Amphitheatre dates back to 138-161AD, where a wide range of local crafts can be found around the Roman Forum. If you’re lucky, you might catch a concert at Darat Al-Funun, a trio of whitewashed mansions built in the 1920s, set in beautiful gardens. Make sure you leave time for the nearby Jordan Gallery of Fine Arts, with a vast array of African and Asian pieces. Top off the trip by going to the Ammam Citadel (Jabal al Qal’a) for a ‘rooftop’ view of Amman. All that, and you’re still only an hour away from relaxing in the Dead Sea.

15 Egypt: Cairo – ‘Packing in the Pyramids’

Not for the faint hearted, Cairo is hectic. But brilliant. First pass, get the Pyramids out the way on the Giza Plateau, followed by the Great Pyramid where you’ll find the King’s Chamber – a truly immense site to see, befitting the Sphinx, touts and historical artefacts you literally won’t be able to move for. One better is the mask of Tutankhamun, housed in the Egyptian Museum that you’ll need at least half a day to view properly. Blend all that with Gayer Anderson Museum, Coptic Cairo and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun that’s home to a mile long inscription, and your cultural tour is complete. You’ll need to charge the batteries with local delicacies of kohsari, falafel and ful mudammas to keep going. Failing that, Cairo is never short of a good Shwarma or two either.

16 Lebanon: Beirut – ‘Historical Digs’

The Paris of the Middle East: it’s hard to find anything better than going for a stroll on the Corniche to get a feel for the town, staring out at the offshore ‘Pigeon Rocks’ where you can take a trek down to lower cliffs. Dig a little deeper into the history and you’ll want to go to the National Museum, where you’ll find amazing artefacts rescued from the scars of long running wars, located on the former Green Line. Other historical gems include St George’s Cathedral, Marty’s Square and the Cilicia Museum, cutting across Lebanon’s diverse cultures and history. Souk el-Tayeb is one of the major pulls to the city, although our hot tip is going to Beirut’s farmer market to a really chilled out slurp of the Bekaa valley grapes.

17 Morocco: Marrakech – ‘Searching the Souk’
One of the coolest places on the MENA map, Marrakech is ‘souktastic’. Endless alleyways and meandering markets are easy to get lost in, with Souk Semarine offering a full blown bazaar experience, while Rue Mouassine will appeal to more selective boutique buyers. Getting hungry, then you’d head to Djemma el Fna for an evening snack, home to one of the largest squares in Africa. Hang out at the Hammam El Bacha, and the savon noir soap does wonders for your skin; probably best done after you’ve hit all the museums, taken a photo or two of Koutoubia Mosque, and walked through the remains of Badii Palace. If you want to escape the buzz, a trip to the Atlas Mountains is only an hour away, with a day trip to Essaouira to soak up the relaxed Portuguese atmosphere similarly on tap.

18 Turkey: Kusadasi – ‘Aegean Odyssey Awaits’
Sitting on the Aegean coast, Kusadasi doesn’t always get the best press, but it deserves serious mention. Top of the list is the region’s biggest national park, Dilek, home to delightful species of flora and fauna, adjoining miles of golden beach. Step inland and you’ll see Ephesus, the second largest city of the Roman Empire where serious excavation work gives a real glimpse of Roman life. Next to that is the green hills of Selcuk, where the Virgin Mary’s house rests, adjacent to the picturesque village of Sirince. You’ll struggle to find a better place to pick up local grapes, homemade olive oil, or specialist crafts. To wrap up, take a charter out to Pigeon Island where you’ll get a great lunch and BBQ served on-board. Kusadasi offers far more than the initial eye can see.

19 Azerbaijan: Baku – ‘Caviar on the Caspian’
Not normally known as a tourist resort, Baku is a cross between ‘Paris and Pall Mall’ on the Caspian. Take a boat around Baku’s main harbour to get the best view of the skyline before tapping into the Old City to drink tea out of small armudi (pear shaped) glasses. The Shirvanshah’s Palace and the Maiden Tower date back to the sixth and 12th century respectively – all rather nouveau-riche compared to the rock art formations at Gobustan, dating back to 14 millennia BC. For less intrepid explorers, the Tee Bazaar is a great place for local produce, with Beluga caviar an absolute must for those who want a true taste of the Caspian.

20 India: Amritsar – ‘Temple Temptation’

No trip to Amritsar is complete without seeing the Golden Temple, majestically sat on the Amrit Sarovar (pool) that’s stood since 1604. A close second is the Hindu Durianga Temple, matched by Maharaja Ranjti Singh’s Summer Palace, sat in the Ram Bagh Park. You’ll find a rich array of oil paintings, miniatures, ancient coins and traditional weapons from the Sikh period in the Palace. But to really understand Amritsar, you’ll need to visit Jallianwala Bagh gardens, witness to the 1919 Amritsar massacre. A sombre but important historical location. You can also go back in time to watch the Wagah Border Changing of the Guard between Pakistan and India, with all the theatricals you’d expect from previous colonial rule. History overload perhaps? Best to reflect on it over a tasty local ‘kulcha’ on Maqbool Road.

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