Below are some of the major travel highlights for Grand Tour of the Middle East. For more in-depth attractions of each country on this route, click on the country names below or select a route to see the highlights on this section of the journey. Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
|In-depth highlights: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon|
Highlights of Cairo - Jordan
|The Egyptian Pyramids|
The Pyramids at Giza are without doubt one of the most extraordinary sights in the world, the only surviving of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Built as tombs for the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, they served as a necropolis for Memphis, the capital in the 3rd millennium BC, and are a testament to the brilliance of its civilisation. The first stone pyramids were built at Saqqara for the pharaoh Djoser who ruled from around 2668 BC and at Maidum by Huni, the last pharaoh of the Third Dynasty. These are the oldest step pyramids in the world. The necropolis at Dahshur to the south was used by the pharaoh Snefru who founded the Fourth Dynasty and ruled from 2613 BC. He introduced the square-based pyramid seen at Giza and built the Red Pyramid and the Rhomboid (or Bent) Pyramid. At Giza, just south of Cairo, the pyramids reached their pinnacle - the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Snefru's son, is the largest at 145 metres high with a base of 232 metres while his successors built the Pyramids of Chephren and Mycerinus. Together with the Sphinx, a lion with a human head carved from rock, they form an astonishing and must-see site.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur
Cairo is Egypt's capital and Africa's largest city, with a population of over 15 million. Cairo is one of the world's oldest Islamic cities, founded initially in the 7th century after Arab armies entered Egypt. Cairo thrived in the following centuries under various dynasties and rulers including the Fatimids, Saladin, the Mamelukes and the Ottomans. Amidst the vast urban landscape of modern Cairo, much of this historical heritage remains with over 600 classified monuments. These include the 9th century Great Mosque of Ibn-Tulun, the 10th century Mosque of al-Azhar, Saldin's Citadel, the City of the Dead cemetery and the Ottoman Mosque of Mohammed Ali. The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities is a must-see - an incredible collection of relics and artefacts from Egypt's rich history dating back to 4000 BC, including the amazing Tutankhamen treasures.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Cairo
|St Catherine Monastery|
The Orthodox Monastery of St Catherine was built in 342 AD at the foot of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. It is one of the oldest continually functioning monasteries in the world and is a sacred place for Christians, Jews and Muslims. The 6th century Church of the Transfiguration within the complex houses an outstanding collection of early Christian manuscripts and icons.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Saint Catherine Area
A trek to the summit of Mount Sinai is a relatively short and easy climb, taking no more than three hours to ascend. The views from the top over the Sinai mountains are spectacular though, especially at sunset or sunrise when the light casts brilliant colours over the desert. The ascent is a steep climb along the camel path followed by 750 stone steps to the summit. The descent can be along the same route or via the 3,000 'Steps of Repentance'.
The Red Sea is one of the premier locations in the world for diving and snorkelling. In addition to the fascinating coral reefs and colourful marine life to discover underwater, the resorts along the Red Sea offer pristine golden beaches to relax on and warm, tropical waters to swim in. The main locations are Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and Ras Mohammed on the Sinai Peninsula and Hurghada and El Gouna on the mainland.
A trip to Wadi Rum is one of the quintessential travel experiences in Jordan. This is an area of stunning desert scenery with sand dunes mixing with dramatic sandstone mountains, narrow gorges, natural arches, towering cliffs, ramps, massive landslides and caverns. Travelling with Bedouin guides who still forge a nomadic existence in the area, camping overnight in Wadi Rum is essential - to see the effect of sunset on the colours of the sandstone rocks and sleep out under the clear, star-filled sky. It was here that Lawrence of Arabia assembled the Arab tribes for the attack on Aqaba in the First World War and it also provided the location for the film. A camel trek through the wadi will transport you back to the time of Lawrence and complete the desert experience. The site also includes some 25,000 rock carvings and 20,000 inscriptions which testify to 12,000 years of human occupation.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Wadi Rum Protected Area
Petra, the Rose-Red City, is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and one of the world's most famous and spectacular historical sites. Petra was founded by the Nabataean Arab tribe in the 6th century BC and taxes imposed on trading caravans allowed them to build their rock-carved city surrounded by mountains. Construction continued after the Romans annexed the Nabataean Kingdom in AD 106 and, after it was conquered and occupied by Muslim Arabs and Crusaders, it was abandoned and became a mystical 'lost city'. Its exact location was unknown in the west until the Swiss explorer J.L. Burckhardt stumbled upon it in 1812. Today visitors followed the same path used by Burckhardt, through a kilometre long chasm known as the siq, the only entrance to the city. At the end of the siq lies the stunning sight of the Treasury, or Khazneh, a 40 metre tall facade carved into the mountain rock face. Inside the Hellenistic columns is a large plain square room, carved out of rock. The High Places are the mountain-top altars which offer spectacular views over Wadi Araba and the Negev Desert. Beyond the centre of Petra lies El Deir, the Monastery, with another superb facade built into the mountain rock. Other highlights include the three Royal Tombs, carved into the King's Wall, the Palace of the Pharaoh's Daughter and the Roman era theatre, with 8,000 seats carved from rock.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Petra
|Dead Sea - Jordan|
Floating in the Dead Sea is one of travel's memorable experiences. The sea, 400 metres below sea level and with 33% salt (normal sea water has 3-4%), is impossible to sink in. The water and the soft, sulphurous black mud you can pick up underneath is said to have remarkable healing powers.
Like Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, Amman is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with occupation dating back some 9,000 years. It rose to prominence with the arrival of the Ammonites in 1200 BC, later falling under the influence of the Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Ptolemies and Seleucids before it became one of the cities of the Decapolis under the Romans. Its historical attractions include the Citadel with its Roman Temple of Hercules and 6,000 seat Roman theatre, the 8th century Ummayad Palace and the grandeur of the King Abdullah Mosque. The Jordan Archaeological Museum contains an excellent collection of artefacts from the city's history, including an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a copy of the Mesha Stele and four rare Iron Age sarcophagi.
Jerash is one of the finest examples of a Roman provincial city anywhere in the world and a highlight of any trip to Jordan. It is the best preserved of the Decapolis, a confederation of ten self-governing cities that developed in the area following the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC. A triple arch gateway leads to the Colonnaded main street, where grooves in the paving stones are reminders of the chariots that once rode along these streets. Other impressive remains include two theatres, the forum, the temple of Zeus, a nymphaeum and a hippodrome.