Hi all. Another look at some of my favourite cities around the world, and today we are traveling to the Middle East to look at my favourite cities there. So before I dive in and start the list, I need to preface this post by saying that for me, the Middle East really isn’t about the cities. It’s about the sites like the pyramids and Petra, the deserts, the journeys and the history. But there are some nice cities in the Middle East too, so I did want write a bit about the ones that I remember more fondly.
- Shiraz, Iran
Actually, when it comes to cities, Iran seems to do a pretty good job, most cities I visited there bar Tehran were really pleasant, with a mixture of business, residential and gardens mixed together. There seems to be some sort of holistic approach to the design of Iranian cities, in particular the ones that have history that reaches back in terms of centuries.
Shiraz is an excellent little city in the south of Iran and has good connections north and westwards to Esfahan and Kerman, Yazd and other places you might want to visit. You can take a trip into the desert from Shiraz, or out to see Persepolis, an ancient city with a strong Roman influence. But I loved Shiraz for the people I met there. I shared a room with an 80 year old called ‘Charlie’, an Aussie who was travelling Iran and Yemen solo.
We visited some of the sites around Shiraz and took the day trip out to Persepolis, and we met a raft of locals and had some great conversations. And I was invited to come and chat with a class one morning at one of the universities there and got to know a lot more people. I was shown around to a couple of mausoleums to famous poets of the region – poets are very popular in Iran. These mausoleums often have cafes attached. Anyways, met some nice people in Shiraz and I have very fond memories of the place!
- Dubai, UAE
So ummm… I am still not really sold on Dubai, to be honest. But there were elements which I really liked. So the weather is brutal in Dubai, and regular readers to the blog know I am not a fan of the combination of hot and humid, which certainly describes what many consider the Middle East’s ‘premiere’ city.
Having said that, and despite my somewhat dubious tone, Dubai has plenty to keep any passerby entertained, with great shopping and interesting museums, architecture and more. Personally, my favourite spot in Dubai was the Wild Wadi Water Park. It was eleven years ago now when I visited, but I am sure that despite being far too old for a water park, I would go there again and enjoy myself. There was a continuous sort of water slide, you would complete a section and then have to walk up to the starting point of the next section, but nevertheless it was cool and awesome fun. The whole place was a lot of fun, and of course it’s out near the Burj al Arab, a sail-shaped buildings and a Dubai landmark. The skyscrapers are all very stylish in Dubai, and the highest of all is of course, the Burj Khalifa.
And then the malls are pretty spectacular. The Mall of the Emirates has Ski Dubai, a slope and a little more covered in man-made snow. It is big enough to have a chair lift and to accommodate downhill skiing, so it’s pretty gosh darned impressive to be sitting inside a mall. Others have aquariums and ice rinks.
I think it’s all a bit much, but for a short stopover it really does over a lot does Dubai!
- Luxor, Egypt
Luxor is a smaller city south of Cairo on the banks of the Nile River. The Nile is the source of life for the country, and Aswan is in the region where power was held thousands of years ago. It’s the place to launch many day trips and to find the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Kings. It has the incredible Karnak Temple too actually in Luxor and so you cnould easily go there and base yourself in Luxor for a few days with a relatively quiet city/town to return to at the end of the day.
It’s by the Nile, but it’s not a behemoth like Cairo and it’s not as hot as Aswan, a couple of days by boat up the river (but actually south). And because of the popularity of the nearby sites, it’s got enough infrastructure for the visitor. AND it can be reached by car, bus, train or boat (as well as air).
- Esfahan, Iran
Also known as Isfahan, this city in central Iran has a reputation for its beauty which is deservedly acquired. It’s leafy streets and gardens must be such a relief in the hotter months – I was there at the start of May in 2004 and it was warm enough then, and like many Middle Eastern cities it centres on water and its distribution.
The Zayandeh River flows through Esfahan, and it is surrounded by gardens and paths for people to walk. The bridges, such as the famous Si O Se Pol bridge, are special in their own right as below there are tea houses for people to meet at and share, you know, tea. The pylons that hold up the bridge are actually tea houses – it’s pretty special! Along here I met number of people and had plenty of conversations – this is kind of how I principally remember Iran. Conversations and people!
The Naqsh-e Jahan Square is THE place in Esfahan. A really beautiful square with the large Iman Mosque at one end, a palace off to one side and a cool Souq/covered market area as well. It dates back to end of the 16th century, is wide and open, beautiful, a great place to meet people and it genuinely feels like you’re in one the most special places on the planet. You honestly could spend days just coming back to it, exploring it (yes, it’s quite large) and the buildings attached, and for sure you’ll be approached and meet new people. People who genuinely want to meet you too, most people you meet in Iran are genuine.
So. Any I could have included which I didn’t?? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!