Things to Do in Middle East & Africa
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, soaring 2,717 feet (828 meters) high with more than 160 stepped floors that narrow as it climbs syringe-like to the sky. Designed to pay homage to the complex geometry of Islamic art, the Burj Khalifa brings a new meaning to the term skyscraper and is a highlight of the massive downtown Dubai complex.
Carved along the Gulf shoreline south of Dubai’s The Palm island, Dubai Marina is a skyscraper-packed waterfront community that’s one of the city’s swishest residential and leisure hotspots. At its heart is a 2-mile (3-kilometer) waterway framed by residential blocks, hotels, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The sail-like silhouette of the Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah has become a symbol of Dubai's opulence and affluence, standing at 1,053 feet (321 meters) as the third-tallest hotel and one of the most luxurious hotels in the United Arab Emirates. Opened in 1999, the landmark boasts plenty of superlatives, including its five-star status.
Valley of the Kings is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, containing dozens of tombs filled with art and hieroglyphics. See King Tutankhamun’s tomb—the most famous sight in the valley—then tour the temples of the sons of Ramses II and of Amenhotep III and others to marvel at the centuries’ old art and artifacts.
Jutting into the Persian Gulf from southern Dubai, the Palm Jumeirah is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree and ringed by a crescent-shaped breakwater. The world’s biggest artificial island, it draws visitors to its palatial hotels, theme parks, and shopping malls.
A centerpiece of Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Museum (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) has been a mecca for Egyptologists since it opened and houses some of the world’s greatest ancient relics. While some collections are moving to the new Grand Egyptian Museum, it remains a must-see for anyone interested in ancient Egypt.
Perched on an island in the Nile River, Philae Temple is ancient history that’s been saved stone by stone. A relocation effort moved Philae Temple to Agilkia Island when the UNESCO World Heritage Site was threatened. Now, hieroglyphic reliefs abut soaring columns, with sanctuaries dedicated to the ancient gods Horus, Isis, and Hathor.
Robben Island—where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years—was a place of isolation for nearly three centuries, housing many political prisoners and serving as both an asylum and leprosy colony. Today, the island remains a tangible symbol of political freedom and a reminder of the difficult road to South African democracy.
Located just south of the city, Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s first game reserve and the only protected area in the world that sits so close to a nation’s capital. Visitors to the vast wildlife park are likely to spot black rhinos, lions, giraffe, and zebra, as well as some 400 bird species.
The massive, white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the central place of worship for citizens of the United Arab Emirates, accommodating roughly 40,000 people. Highlights inside include white marble columns with mother-of-pearl engravings, expansive Iranian carpets, and intricate crystal chandeliers.
More Things to Do in Middle East & Africa
Capped with snow throughout the winter months and cloaked with wildflowers through the summer, the rocky plateaus and lush valleys of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains provide a striking backdrop for hiking and mountain biking treks, as well as cultural visits to Morocco’s remaining Berber tribes. Sprawling along the frontier of the Sahara, the range runs from the Atlantic coast to the northern Rif Mountains.
Measuring a mighty 4,150 miles (6,680 kilometers) from end to end, the Nile is the world’s longest river. It’s also the lifeblood of Egypt, flowing through the heart of the Sahara desert, and passing through cities, including Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor, and Cairo, before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria.
For most, Soweto (short for South West Townships) is synonymous with resistance to apartheid, South Africa’s former policy of racial segregation. The township’s complex past is visible in Soweto’s moving museums, historical monuments, and strong traditions.
Set inside Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai Museum recounts the Emirates’ history up until the oil boom, which forever altered its skyline. Dioramas and artifacts convey what daily life was like for Dubai’s earliest communities, while life-sized re-creations of the city’s early souks and wharfs bring the past to life.
The race car–themed Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi features 20 rides and attractions—everything from the toddler-friendly carousel of Ferrari prototype cars to cutting-edge racing simulators that will please older kids and teens. The largest indoor theme park in the world is also home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, a hydraulic-powered thrill ride that sees visitors strapped into a Ferrari Formula One-like coaster car and launched at speeds of up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour.
Centuries ago the Bedouin came to Souq Waqif to trade their sheep, goats and wool for other essentials. Today, the souq—one of the oldest in Doha—has been rejuvenated to look like it did in the 19th century, complete with several painstakingly restored Qatari buildings.
While Souq Waqif has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in recent years, it remains one of Doha’s most traditional marketplaces, making it a great place to buy traditional Qatari clothing, incense, perfumes and spices. Hamali, porters equipped with wheelbarrows, still transport shoppers’ purchases through the alleys, and officers at the local police station still dress in 1940s era uniforms. Shops are interspersed with restaurants and shisha lounges where hungry shoppers can find refreshment.
The Pearl-Qatar, a luxury housing and entertainment development on an artificial island shaped like a pearl, has quickly become Doha’s premier shopping and dining destination since its announcement in 2004. Once completed, The Pearl-Qatar will feature 13 islands with a host of luxury villas, apartments, three five-star hotels and 21.5 million square feet (2 million square meters) of retail, restaurant and entertainment space.
Visitors to The Pearl-Qatar will already find a host of shopping options— everything from home furnishing to men’s and women’s fashion—as well as nearly four dozen restaurants and cafes. Options include gourmet burger shops, an Argentine steak house, Japanese sushi bar and a French bistro. The Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel is the first of three planned luxury hotel properties on the islands.
With a huge Roman-era theater, an ancient aqueduct framing a golden beach, and more, Caesarea is home to some of Israel’s most striking ruins. Built by Herod the Great around the time of Christ, the remains of this once-thriving port extend beneath the ocean, while waterfront restaurants and bars let you soak up the views in style.
Set about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Cairo, Saqqara (Sakkara) was the burial place for the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, now in ruins. The site features a small sphinx and several pyramids—the most famous of which is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, which represented a major advance in building techniques.
The two Giftun Islands—Giftun Kebir and Giftun Sughayer—are some of the closest to Egypt’s resort town of Hurghada and comprise part of a marine reserve in the Red Sea with spectacular coral reefs and drop-offs teeming with life. Day-trippers come for snorkeling, diving, and sunbathing on the pair of islands’ pristine, protected beaches.
One of the most mysterious Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (and the only one still standing), the Pyramids of Giza—the Great Pyramid of Khufu, Pyramid of Khafre, and Pyramid of Menkaure—still live up to more than 4,000 years of hype. Seeing these 4th-dynasty pyramids and their guardian Great Sphinx rising from the Giza Plateau is a must on any trip to Cairo (and the reason many travelers find themselves in Egypt).
Dubai’s internationally famous Gold Souk has its roots in the 1940s, when Indian and Iranian traders began setting up stalls in the area. Today, it’s one of the world’s busiest jewelry markets, with hundreds of shops and stalls selling just about everything that glitters—namely, gold. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s gold passes through the souk, with a whopping 10 tons for sale in the market at any given moment.
With its huge sea cliffs, bays, and valleys, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve—situated at the very tip of the Cape Peninsula—is one of the most scenic spots in South Africa. A trip to Cape Point and the reserve, part of Table Mountain National Park, is an easy must-do when visiting Cape Town and highlights include animal sightings, scenic drives, and deserted beaches.
Located 7 miles (14 kilometers) west of Tangier, near Cape Spartel, the Caves of Hercules is one of the area’s top attractions. Discovered in 1906, the cave extends for 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) and is both natural and man-made. It features two openings, one to land and one to sea, with the latter known as the “Map of Africa” for its distinctive shape.