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

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Highlights of Istanbul - Syria

Bosra
Bosra
Bosra

Bosra became the capital of the Roman province of Arabia in the 2nd century AD and prospered for centuries as a key stop on the trade routes linking Damascus with Amman and Aqaba. Rule and occupation by various empires has left its mark on the city. Its most famous feature is its Roman theatre, perhaps the best preserved and largest of its kind anywhere, holding some 15,000 people. It is enclosed within a citadel, fortified by the Arabs in the 13th century to counter the threat of the Crusaders. Other notable attractions include the 6th century Cathedral of Bosra and the Mosque of Omar.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient City of Bosra

Damascus
Damascus
Damascus

Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and its oldest capital city, dating back to the third millennium BC. It has hosted many historical civilisations including Greeks, Romans and Byzantines before becoming part of the Arab world in the 7th century and one of Islam's most important cities. Today it is a vibrant mix of the historical old town, with some 125 monuments from its vast history, and a bustling and sophisticated modern capital city. The Umayyad Mosque (or Great Mosque), dating to the 8th century, is one of the largest and most impressive in the world and a masterpiece of early Islamic architecture. The National Museum has an excellent overview of Syria's long and fascinating history with some very important artefacts including written tablets from Ugarit (believed to be the earliest alphabet in the world), frescoes from the Greco-Roman fortress city of Dura Europas and marble statues from Palmyra. Elsewhere the Ottoman Azem Palace contains the tomb of Saladin while the old town is an intriguing maze of narrow alleyways, souks, hidden courtyards and mosques.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient City of Damascus

Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra

Located as an oasis in the Syrian desert northeast of Damascus, Palmyra was one of the great cities of the ancient world and is one of Syria's main attractions. Although settled for millennia, Palmyra reached its cultural and architectural peak from the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD as a key trading centre along the Silk Road when taxes and levies paid for its wonderful buildings. Palmyra developed as a powerful city state of the Roman Empire under Queen Zenobia until she declared independence from Rome which led to Roman legions razing the city in AD 217. Zenobia was carried off to Rome in golden chains. The Grand Colonnade is the city's main axis, running for 1,100 metres from the Temple of Bel to the Camp of Diocletian. The white limestone Bel Temple is the city's best preserved monument, dating to the 1st century. Other features include the Theatre, Agora (or marketplace) and the Valley of the Tombs.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Site of Palmyra

Krak des Chevaliers
Krak des Chevaliers
Krak des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers (Fortress of the Knights or Qalat al-Hosn) is the most outstanding example of a Crusader castle in the Middle East. Located in a dramatic setting atop the Jebel Khalil ridge 700 metres above sea level, the castle dominates the surrounding landscape and guards the Homs valley. Constructed in the 12th century, the almost impregnable fortress was held by the Crusaders until it fell to a Mameluke siege in 1271. The castle is in an excellent state of repair and is worthy of extensive exploration around the Great Hall, chapel, through the long dark passages and along the ramparts.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din

Hama
Hama
Hama

The city of Hama is located on the Orontes River and is a quiet and traditional Syrian town. It is most famous for its huge, wooden water wheels (known as norias) which date back to the 13th century. They are still in use today, slowly turning on the edge of the Orontes River and irrigating the nearby farmland.

Apamea
Apamea
Apamea

The ancient city of Apamea was founded by the Seleucids in the 2nd century BC. It prospered for several centuries and was known for its vast stud houses and its elephants trained for warfare. The city was eventually destroyed by an earthquake in 1157AD. Today its colonnaded street is still in evidence, almost 2km long and 37 metres wide, flanked by buildings and porticoes.

Aleppo
Aleppo
Aleppo

Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Strategically located at the crossroads of trade routes, it has prospered since the 3rd millennium BC and occupation by a myriad of peoples throughout the centuries have influenced the city and its architecture. The Citadel, a huge medieval castle built on a 50 metre high mound, dominates the city with a range of architectural styles from various occupiers. Inside are the remains of the 13th century royal palace, the mosque built by Saladin's son and dungeons carved into rock. Aleppo's other famous attraction is its labyrinthine souk that is enclosed by stone vaulted roofs and covers some seven kilometres through a maze of narrow streets. Some beautiful Silk Road era caravanserai lie adjacent to the souk. The Great Mosque is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to AD 715, though it was largely rebuilt in the 13th century.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient City of Aleppo

Urfa
Urfa
Urfa

The town of Urfa (or Sanliurfa) is known as the 'City of the Prophets' and was supposedly the birthplace of Abraham before he moved to Canaan. Urfa was an important staging post on the ancient trade routes and silk products are still sold in its 16th century bazaar. The ruined Crusader castle at Urfa sits high above the city, affording amazing views. The nearby village of Harran is supposedly one of the oldest settlements in the world and was once a wealthy merchant city which traded with the Phoenician city of Tyre. Today it is famous for its traditional mud-brick beehive houses.

Nemrut Dag
Nemrut Dag
Nemrut Dag

Nemrut Dag (or Mount Nemrut at 2,150 metres) contains the remains of the great temple mausoleum of Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34BC). Commagene existed as a semi-independent state from 162 BC to AD 72 following the breakup of Alexander the Great's empire and ruled in the region north of Syria and the Euphrates. The site consists of a manmade burial mound containing the King's tomb and five huge 10 metre stone heads of the gods Apollo, Zeus, Hercules, Tyke and Fortuna. The site is best viewed at sunset when the heads are bathed in golden light.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Nemrut Dag

Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Cappadocia

One of Turkey's most iconic sights is the lunar like landscape of Cappadocia. Formed by wind and water erosion of tuft (soft compacted volcanic ash), the landscape comprises bizarre rock formations shaped like pillars, cones, towers, domes and pyramids, some up to 40 metres high. For centuries man has carved dwellings, churches, troglodyte villages and even entire subterranean cities into these rocks, particularly Byzantine monks and hermits from the 4th century onwards. Many of the rock churches in the Göreme Valley contain richly decorated religious frescoes from the post-iconoclastic period (10th-12th centuries). The underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, built by Christians seeking refuge from Arab oppression, are fascinating places to explore with several levels of tunnels extending for many kilometres.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia

Ancient sites near Antalya
Ancient sites near Antalya
Ancient sites near Antalya

There are several interesting historical sites around the southern city of Antalya. East of Antalya, the Roman theatre at Aspendos has been superbly restored and is one of the finest examples of an ancient theatre in the world. The mountain citadel of Termessos is located west of Antalya. It was thought to be home to some fearsome warriors who held out against Alexander the Great. The scattered ruins include a theatre with excellent views over the plains below. The Lycian port city of Phaselis was founded in the 7th century BC and flourished as a commercial city until the 12th century. The ruins are located in a beautiful setting around three small bays and surrounded by fragrant pine forests.

Turquoise Coast Activities

The Turquoise Coast in Lycia in southern Turkey is a great area for adrenaline activities. Based around the charming port town of Kas, there are numerous options over land, sea and air to keep every adrenaline junkie satisfied. To the northwest of Kas, the Dalaman River offers white-water rafting with rapids classed as Grade 3-4. To the east of Kas lies Kekova Island with an ancient sunken city off its northern shore. Kayaking along these waters allows you to see the ruined walls, stairs of houses and the outline of its jetty submerged in a few metres of translucent, turquoise water. Kas is also an excellent spot for diving or snorkelling with numerous dive sites, clear waters and a good variety of sea life. Downhill mountain biking in the hills above Kas, along asphalt roads and rough tracks, is an exhilarating experience as well as offering some stunning views of the coast and mountains. Paragliding from a jump point of 1,000 metres takes you over Kas, the coast and nearby islands. Finally the mountains behind Kas have some spectacular gorges that are excellent spots for canyoning.

Aphrodisias

The Greco-Roman ruins at Aphrodisias are some of the most impressive in the region. The city contained the most important temple to Aphroditis, the goddess of love and was an artistic centre with one of the ancient world's most famous Schools of Sculpture. Many of these sculptures can be seen in the small museum on the site. Aphrodisias also contains one of the largest and best preserved athletics stadiums in the ancient world.

Pamukkale and Ruins at Hierapolis
Pamukkale and Ruins at Hierapolis
Pamukkale and Ruins at Hierapolis

Pamukkale, meaning 'cotton castle' in Turkish, is a bizarre and spectacular natural phenomenon where mineral-laden hot spring waters have created a landscape of petrified waterfalls, mineral forests and a cascade of terraced pools. The waters have supposed therapeutic qualities that have been used since Roman times. The ruins of the thermal spa of Hierapolis are close to Pamukkale. Founded in the 2nd century BC by the King of Pergamon, it soon came under Roman control and prospered as a cosmopolitan city. Among the ruins are a theatre, temple, monumental fountain, bath, basilica and necropolis.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hierapolis-Pamukkale

Ephesus
Ephesus
Ephesus

Ephesus was one of the great cities of the ancient world and the ruins here are some of the best preserved of any Roman site in the Mediterranean. Ephesus was founded by Ionian Greeks in the 11th century BC and flourished as a major city and sea port. The Temple of Artemis built by the Greeks was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The city came under Roman control in the 2nd century BC, reached its zenith in the 2nd century AD with a population of 300,000 and later became an important centre for Christianity. The Library of Celsus is the most impressive single ruin at Ephesus, a two-storey front facade of the original building with pillars, statues and windows. The Street of Curetes climbs upwards from the library, lined by columns and facades of shops, temples, houses, public baths and a brothel. The vast amphitheatre seats 25,000 people and still holds concerts today. The Ephesus Museum in nearby Selcuk has an excellent collection of artefacts and statues from the ancient city.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ephesus

Archaeological Site of Troy
Archaeological Site of Troy
Archaeological Site of Troy

The mythical ancient city of Troy was once thought to be merely a legend until archaeological work by Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century identified its site near Çanakkale, uncovering extensive remains of nine cities built on top of one another. The history of Troy covers some 4,000 years, extending back to 3000 BC. Troy VI is assumed to be the walled city of King Priam (1800-1275 BC), immortalised by Homer in The Iliad when Odysseus used the wooden horse to help the Spartans and Achaeans break the siege of Troy and rescue Helen. The remains of the ancient city walls can still be seen which enclosed a citadel with palaces and administrative buildings. Further ruins exist from the Greek and Roman periods.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Archaeological Site of Troy

Gallipoli
Gallipoli
Gallipoli

Gallipoli is the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War between the Turks and the Allied forces, largely comprising Australian and New Zealand troops. Among the sites you can visit are the beach, the cemeteries of Anzac Cove, the Australian Memorial at Lone Pine and the New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair, the highest ground secured by the Allies. The Ataturk Memorial commemorates the fact that Mustafa Kemal, 'Father of the Turks', fought on the Turkish side during the campaign.

Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul

Turkey's most important city spans Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus and has been capital of three empires - Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman throughout its history (including its previous incarnations as Byzantium and Constantinople). This has left it with an incredibly rich historical heritage that makes it one of the great cities of the world. The Blue Mosque is perhaps the city's most famous sight, built by the Sultan Ahmet I in the 17th century, with a stunningly impressive scale and elegant design. Aya Sophia was built as a Byzantine Christian church in the 6th century, converted to a mosque after the Islamic takeover in the 15th century and now a museum. Its huge dome and walls include some superb mosaics. The 4th century Hippodrome of Constantine was the site of political demonstrations, chariot races and polo matches. Topaki Palace, built in Islamic style, was the home of the Ottoman sultans for four centuries. Other buildings of note include Suleymaniye Mosque, the Kariye Camii church and the ancient ramparts and aqueduct. One of Istanbul's most famous attractions is the vast Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of some 4000 covered shops, cafés and restaurants, where you can haggle for jewellery, clothes, sweets and spices.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Areas of Istanbul