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The Most Popular Travel Destinations in the Middle East

You're likely familiar with conflict in the Middle East. But how much do you know about the ancient splendor, rich culture, and scenic beauty that abounds in this region?

Skyscrapers in Dubai in a summer dayS-F/Shutterstock

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai welcomed a whopping 15.79 million tourists in 2017. While the "City of Gold" may be synonymous with grandeur, it goes beyond towering skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa, massive malls, and mega-resorts. This under-the-radar wellness mecca offers action-packed excursions in the Arabian Desert and Hatta Mountains, extensive bike paths, free yoga at Dubai Marina, and world-class spas to relax and rejuvenate. Health-conscious travelers will also love these awesome wellness retreats.

Red Sea coastline in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, SinaiElena Pavlovich/Shutterstock

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Ideally situated between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea, Sharm el-Sheikh has a lot to offer warm-weather worshipers. Its wide, sandy beaches and warm, crystal-clear waters appeal to sunbathers and swimmers alike. Plus, coral reefs and diverse marine life make it a diver's dream. At Ras Mohammed National Park, bathroom fixtures from the Thistlegorm shipwreck float alongside colorful schools of fish. Adding to its appeal are upscale accommodations, like Rixos Seagate Sharm and the Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh, and upscale nightlife.

Take a look at these extraordinary photos of tiny sea creatures from around the world.

Al Khazneh - the treasury, ancient city of Petra, JordanAleksandra H. Kossowska/Shutterstock

Petra, Jordan

Set in the arid, sandstone-dominated landscape of southern Jordan, Petra is a triumph of human ingenuity that still fascinates thousands of years later. Once the capital of the Nabataean empire, this ancient caravan was later abandoned—hence its moniker the "Lost City." Thankfully, it's since been "found" and, today, visitors can marvel at the awe-inspiring rock-cut facades that make Petra one of the New Wonders of the World.

Dome of the rock, Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock is located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.sigurcamp/Shutterstock

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is the epicenter of three major monotheistic religions. Its Old City, home to sacred sites for Jews (the Western Wall), Christians (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and Muslims (the Dome of the Rock), has long been a place of pilgrimage and worship. Outside of the walls, modern urban life exists as do a number of first-rate attractions, such the Israel Museum, where you can admire the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as works from Picasso and Rodin, and Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust remembrance center. When you're planning your trip to Jerusalem, make sure to avoid these travel mistakes.

View of the Mosques of Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifai in Cairo - EgyptLeonid Andronov/Shutterstock

Cairo, Egypt

Despite political unrest, Egypt continues to be one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world—and its capital is very much at the center of its popularity. One of the biggest urban areas in the Middle East, Cairo has all the markers of a modern metropolis—noise, traffic, and sky-high towers. Do yourself a favor and tune out the sounds of car horns and chaos at least long enough to explore the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, Tahrir Square, the site of many important political demonstrations, and the Egyptian Museum, a treasure trove of artifacts and antiquities. On the outskirts of the city is the iconic Great Pyramid of Giza (scientists have just discovered a mysterious chamber in this ancient wonder) and the Sphinx.

Old marina of Antalya. no names of boats and unrecognizable faces!Yarygin/Shutterstock

Antalya, Turkey

Situated on the Gulf of Antalya, the eponymous city is a blend of dazzling beaches, upscale hotels, and traditional Turkish culture. Antalya's famous arch, Hadrian's Gate marks the main entrance to Kaleiçi, the well-preserved historic quarter with its narrow streets, restored Ottoman houses, and Roman-era harbor. Those with an interest in the past should visit the Archaeological Museum. To the north of Kaleiçi is İki Kapılar Hanı, a covered bazaar dating back to the 15th century, brimming with jewelry, ceramics, and textiles.

View of Abu Dhabi Skyline at sunset, United Arab EmiratesBoule/Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

If you think Dubai is glitzy, wait until you see its neighbor! In recent years, the UAE capital has established itself as one the Middle East's leading travel locales. Abu Dhabi is among the richest places on the planet and this extraordinary wealth permeates into every facet of the city. There are seven-star hotels, posh spas, designer boutiques, opulent mosques, soaring glass towers, and pristine beaches. It's off-the-charts luxury—and then some. For first-class service and amenities, check out these outrageously extravagant resorts.

Statue in the temple of Karnak in Luxor Egyptjn.koste/Shutterstock

Luxor, Egypt

Luxor is the site of ancient Thebes. Although the everyday dwellings may have met the same fate as the pharaohs, many of the millennia-old monuments have survived—Luxor Temple, the hieroglyph-lined Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, and Deir el-Bahari (the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut) to name a few. Safe to say, people may come to Egypt for Cairo, but they leave their heart in Luxor. Can't wait to jet off? These are the airlines you should (and shouldn't) be using.

Panoramic view of the Tel-Aviv public beach on Mediterranean sea. IsraelAleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

Tel Aviv, Israel

In contrast to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is youthful, hip, cosmopolitan, and certainly more secular. This vacation hot spot is touted for its stretches of golden sand and year-round beach weather. But it doesn't end there. There's plenty of cultural attractions—from UNESCO-listed Bauhaus architecture to the Haaretz Museum—chic boutiques, art galleries, and awesome restaurants to explore. And you can't talk about Tel Aviv without mentioning the nightlife. Between the dance clubs, rooftop bars, and swanky lounges, you don't have to search far to find a fun party. For something more under-the-radar, check out these 10 amazing destinations in Israel that are definitely not in your guidebook.

Natural travertine pools and terraces in Pamukkale. Cotton castle in southwestern Turkey, muratart/Shutterstock

Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale meaning "cotton castle," gets its name from the natural phenomenon that also earned the town its UNESCO designation. Calcite-rich water flows down from the thermal springs creating waterfalls, canals, stalactites, and pools. Curious what gives these formations their glorious white glaze? Calcium carbonate deposits. To the north is Hierapolis, a Roman spa city, with ruins of the ancient baths, temples, theater, and monuments. Craving some R&R? Set your sights on Pamukkale post-summer, sans crowds. And don't miss these amazing destinations to add to your bucket list.