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Dubai is a destination that mixes modern culture with history, adventure with world-class shopping and entertainment. Catch a show at the Dubai Opera, see downtown from atop the Burj Khalifa and spend an afternoon along Dubai Creek exploring the gold, textile and spice souks. If you’re looking for thrills, you can float above the desert dunes in a hot air balloon, climb aboard a high-speed ride at IMG Worlds of Adventure or skydive over the Palm Jumeirah.
Stunning coral reefs and turquoise waters perfect for windsurfing have made Hurghada, on Egypt's Red Sea Coast, a busy resort town. Within easy reach of the stunning Giftun Islands and the Eastern Arabian Desert, Hurghada has seen enormous amounts of development in the past decade—and yes, it does seem overrun with tourists at times. But it’s a relatively easy beach escape for Europeans, and some of the world's best diving and snorkeling sites are just offshore. Walk or catch a cab to explore the old quarter, El Dahar.
A youthful, modern metropolis with a diverse population, Tel Aviv dates back only to 1909. Clubs, bars, a thriving arts community, gay life and beaches attract artists, musicians and young professionals to Tel Aviv's more secular scene. Its UNESCO-designated Bauhaus architecture has won the city the moniker "The White City." Walk, drive or catch cabs between the cultural exhibition pavilions of Haaretz Museum, historic Independence Hall Museum, bustling Carmel Market and Old Jaffa's boardwalk.
Diverse marine life and hundreds of Red Sea coral reef sites make Sharm El Sheikh a magnet for divers and eco-tourists. The tourist economy of this Sinai Peninsula city has grown quite rapidly over the last few decades, resulting in an upcrop of first-class resorts and posh nightlife. The waters of Ras Mohamed National Park are abundant with schools of fish and, oddly, toilets – thanks to the bathroom fixtures being transported by a cargo ship that sank during a 1981 storm.
Religious pilgrims have been traveling to Jerusalem for centuries, yet you don’t have to share their zeal in order to appreciate this city’s profound cultural and historical significance. Plan on seeing the major sights, but also leave plenty of time to walk through the streets and simply immerse yourself in the daily life of such an ancient and revered place.
Cairo’s an ancient city that also happens to be a modern metropolis—it’s one of the biggest cities in the Middle East and has the traffic and noise issues to prove it. But as long as you’re not looking for solitude, Cairo—the City of the Thousand Minarets—is a splendid place to explore Egyptian history and culture. (Editor's note: Our list was compiled before political unrest prompted many countries to issue travel warnings for Egypt. If you're currently planning a trip to Egypt, please consider the risks and monitor your government's travel alerts.)
Atmospheric backstreets paint a very different picture to first impressions of Abu Dhabi. The often slick and modern capital of the U.A.E. presents a fascinating mixture of tradition and progression. Tracing its rich history back to around 3000 B.C., Abu Dhabi maintains a more distinctly Arabian ambiance than glitzy Dubai. Taxis are a safe, reliable way to get around sites such as The Corniche Park, the White Fort, the Heritage Village, which offers glimpses into Bedouin life, and the Women's Craft Centre.
The shining jewel of Qatar, Doha is a multicultural city, home to most of the country's population as well as expatriate communities from a range of origins. Shopping abounds in the city's plentiful malls, while the Corniche impresses visitors with picturesque architecture and dazzling views of the harbor. Doha boasts myriad cultural facilities, including the futuristic Education City and the National Museum. Having hosted the 2006 Asian Games, the city is home to many sports complexes as well.
Charming Eilat is one of Israel’s most popular resort cities. Nestled at the Northern tip of the Red Sea, Eilat’s warm, clear waters are a huge draw for divers, while the reefs of Coral Beach Nature Reserve are perfect for snorkelers. Above sea level, the ancient copper mines of Timna National Park are begging to be explored, as are the shops, bars and restaurants of the seaside promenade.
Amman's layered history is reflected in its diverse people and its varied architecture. Home to numerous churches and mosques, the city is home to a multidenominational and multicultural population. Even within the midst of the ultra-modern commercial center of the city there is evidence of its ancient roots, with colorful ancient souks, Roman ruins, cultural museums and monuments painting a picture of the history of the region.