Abu Dhabi

The Emirati capital is more refined than its busier and flashier cousin Dubai. Come to Abu Dhabi to visit the magnificent Grand Mosque.

Abu Dhabi has its own airport and is a 90 minute drive from Dubai. Most taxi drivers can take you to and from the cities for a metered rate.

Winter is a lovely here as the sun is out but the temperatures are a manageable 20 to 30 degrees Celsius.

Abu Dhabi is more conservative than Dubai and we would recommend that women pack scarves and more modest clothing for a visit.

EAT

Nolu’s Cafe California-Afghan fushion. Great for brunch or lunch.

Jones the Grocer This Australian restaurant is the only non-hotel restaurant in the city that serves alcohol and food. Recommended by a friend.

Zaatar w Zeit This Lebanese chain features delicious and healthy takeaway or casual eat-in options. Definitely try the manakeesh wraps with zaatar.

DRINK

Asia de Cuba Fun drinks and fusion on the Corniche. Recommended by a friend.

Tamba Indian restaurant with great drinks at the World Trade Center. Recommended by a friend.

PLAY

Corniche Beach A long, public beach for sun-worshiping, walking and relaxation.

Mangrove National Park Try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding through the calm waterways of this national park.

Saadiyat Beach Club A luxurious, tranquil oasis just outside the city. Spend the day at this beach club and spa.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque This stunning mosque is the jewel of Abu Dhabi. Free, guided tours on site.

STAY

If you are only in town for a short period, we recommend staying near The Corniche to be close to the beach, shopping and restaurants.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Dubai

The largest city in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is thought to have started out as a fishing village on the edge of the desert. Today it is the business hub of the MIddle East and known for its luxury shopping and decadent skyline.

Cabbing is the most convenient way to get around the city. While there is public transport, it is not extensive or efficient.

Abu Dhabi is a 90 minute drive from Dubai and cabs will take you there and back. It is worth the day trip to check out the grand Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

EAT

Buddha Bar Asian cuisine with a vibrant atmosphere.

Chutney’s Indian restaurant in the Mövenpick hotel. Recommended by a friend

Saffron Restaurant While pricey and ostentatious, the Atlantis’ famous, four-hour, Friday brunches are an experience. Choose from over 20 different food stations and as many drink stalls for an “all-you-can-consume” affair.

DRINK

Barasti Beach Club A beach club and lunch spot by day, Barasti is a club by night. Order a shisha water pipe to share, dance and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.

PLAY

Burj Khalifa Book in advance to visit the observation decks of this 160-story skyscraper. We felt the 124-125 level experience was the best value.

Desert Safari For first-timers to the Middle East, consider a trip outside the city to explore the Emirati desert and culture. The Platinum Heritage company was recommended by a friend.

Dubai Souks While smaller than souks in Istanbul, Jerusalem or Marrakech, Dubai’s markets have something all their own. Check out the spice, perfume and gold souks before taking a ferry from the Deira Old Souq Station across Dubai Creek to the textile souk.

Shopping Malls Dubai takes its shopping very seriously. Malls are everywhere and attract shoppers from all of the world with their range of global, luxury brands.

STAY

If you are in town for business, stay closer to the city in the north. For pleasure? Stay near the marina or Palm for easy access to beaches and nightlife.

Our picks include Grosvenor House, a luxury, Marriott hotel in the marina, and Media One Hotel, a mid-range hotel near the beach, marina and the Palm Jumeriah, but a bit of a drive to the Burj Khalifa and souks.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Western Jordan (Aqaba, Petra, Wadi Rum)

From its ancient lost cities, Bedouin desert-dwellers, desert landscapes and clear Red Sea beaches, western Jordan stuns with beauty and history.

For both Petra and Wadi Rum, fly into the Jordan capital of Amman or the Red Sea city of Aqaba. Or, cross by land at the Wadi Araba Border Crossing between the Red Sea towns of Eilat, Israel and Aqaba, Jordan.

The Jordan Pass provides entry to over 40 major sites, including Petra and Wadi Rum, and for many nationalities covers the cost of a visa if staying in Jordan three or more nights.

If traveling from Israel to Jordan by land, note that rental cars are not permitted to be driven across the border. We entered Jordan via the Wadi Araba Border Crossing and left our rental car on the Israeli side in the Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing parking lot before coming back into Israel.

As Americans with Jordan passes, we were able to receive visas on-arrival at the Wadi Araba Border Crossing.

If you do not want to rent a car in Jordan, we highly recommend the drivers from Bedouin Directions. Owner Mehedi Saleh Al-Hewaitaat is incredibly responsive and professional, and our drivers were knowledgeable and on-time.

Consider spending at least two days in Petra. The park is enormous and there are several difficult but rewarding hikes. Taking the park at a slower pace will allow you to see more and head back to town for a beer or swim in the afternoons when the park gets hot and crowded with day-trippers.

EAT

Alibaba Restaurant in Aqaba Casual place near the city centre with fresh seafood from the Red Sea.

Red Cave Restaurant in Wadi Musa/Petra Near the Petra Visitor Center, this restaurant serves simple but delicious bedouin fare.

DRINK

Cave Bar Next door to the Petra Visitor Center, this ancient cave is great for a drink at the end of a long day.

PLAY

Petra This 2000+ year old ancient city is a World Heritage site. Built by the Nabateans, it was eventually conquered by the Romans and abandoned centuries later after two earthquakes and changes to trade routes. An absolutely incredible and spiritual experience.

Wadi Rum The beauty of Wadi Rum’s mountains and rock formations against the dramatic red desert sands is unparalleled.

STAY

A few thoughts by location:

Aqaba Stay near the city centre or at one of the resorts on the beach, as the Al-Ghandour public beach is not very nice and would be uncomfortable for Western women in bathing suits. We enjoyed our stay at the Hilton DoubleTree in town, which was midrange, but the InterContinental, Kempinski and Movenpick all have private beaches on the Red Sea.

Petra/Wadi Musa Staying within walking distance of the Petra Visitor Center is critical. The Petra Palace Hotel is a basic, 3-star hotel very near the entrance. For those looking for something a bit more luxurious, try the Petra Guest House or Movenpick Resort Petra.

Wadi Rum Stay at a camp to fully experience the desert and stars by night. Most camps provide dinner and breakfast and can organize tours. We loved the Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp, which had excellent facilities, a lovely community tent and delicious food. For glamping, try bubble tents at Memories Aicha Camp and Sun City Camp.

Jerusalem

Israel’s capital lies at the intersection of the world’s three Abrahamic and monotheistic religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. While historically this collision has been just that, today followers of the different faiths live together relatively harmoniously. Ancient evidence of the city’s significance abounds in the form of ancient temples, churches, mosques and the Old City.

From the airport there is limited public transport to Jerusalem, unless you take the hour-long 485 bus from the airport to Jerusalem Central Bus Station. To save time and stress, download the Gett or Uber apps to call a cab and pay by card.

Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, most nationalities will receive a blue, paper card instead of a passport stamp. Do not lose this card for the duration of your visit, as passport control will need it upon departure. Security at Ben Gurion is also very high. Arrive three hours before an outbound flight.

We found we needed two days in Jerusalem to do everything we wanted.

We did not have time to go, but heard from friends that the Yad Vashem Holocaust World Holocaust Remembrance Center is excellent and a powerful visit.

Jerusalem is one hour from the northern shores of the Dead Sea and two hours from Masada National Park, the site of King Herod’s dramatic, cliff-top palace fortress and where the Romans surrounded the final vestiges of the Jewish Rebellion. Do both in a day trip or stay overnight at one of the Dead Sea resorts in Ein Bokek.

EAT

Focaccia Bar Go for wine and apps or stay for dinner. Excellent food in a beautiful, light-filled building.

Jahnun Bar With two locations in the city, including one in Mahane Yehuda market, this casual eatery serves up sandwich wraps made of the fluffiest, flakiest, pan-fried bread called malawach. Brought to Israeli by Yemeni immigrants, you will not soon forget this delicious pastry.

Machneyuda Perhaps the best restaurant in Israel. Book well in advance and do not miss this.

DRINK

BeerBazaar Fun spot in Mahane Yehuda market featuring Israeli craft beers.

Birman Local dive off of Ben Yehuda Street with live music.

Mahane Yehuda Market Most nights, except on Shabbat, the market comes alive with row after row of tiny bars and shisha lounges, DJs and young people spilling into the corridors.

PLAY

Ben Yehuda Street and Nahalat Shiv’a Trendy shopping areas.

Mount of Olives Views of the city are spectacular but it’s quite a walk from the Old City and the sites are not as clustered. Consider taking the bus or a cab, or hiring a driver.

Mount Zion South of the Jewish Quarter, this area contains King David’s Tomb and the site of The Last Supper.

Old City Split into quarters aligned with the different faiths, the Old City contains some of the holiest places for Christians, Jews and Muslims. These sites include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (believed to contain Jesus’ tomb), the Western Wall (all that remains of the holy Jewish Second Temple), and the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock (the third most sacred site for Muslims). Spend hours in the souks, walking the rampart walls and exploring the different gates. If heading to the Old City from the west enter the Christian Quarter through Jaffa Gate. Exiting from the Muslim Quarter’s Damascus Gate places you in East Jerusalem.

STAY

Staying west of the Old City, around Mahane Yehuda market and Ben Yehuda Street, provides access to nightlife, shopping and restaurants and is a 15 minute walk to the Old City.

For the budget-minded, take a look at Agripas Boutique Hotel. It is an older property and basic, but clean and the location is unbeatable.

Tel Aviv

This vibrant, beach city on the eastern Mediterranean is Israel’s economic and cultural hub. Tel Aviv is more secular and laid-back than Jerusalem, and a wonderful place to spend a few days soaking in the sun, art and truly incredible food.

There is limited public transport in Tel Aviv. To save time and stress, download the Gett or Uber apps to call a cab and pay by card.

Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Tel Aviv Airport, most nationalities will receive a blue, paper card instead of a passport stamp. Do not lose this card for the duration of your visit, as passport control will need it upon departure. Security at Ben Gurion is also very high. Arrive three hours before an outbound flight.

EAT

Dr. Shakshuka This humble place is somewhat of an institution in Old Town Jaffa. It will be busy but worth it.

North Abraxass Amazing, simple Israeli fare made from the best ingredients. Do not miss dinner here and book well in advance.

Tolaat (תולעת ספרים - מזא"ה) Cute, cozy cafe in a book shop housed within a lovely old mansion. Good for breakfast or lunch.

DRINK

Beit Hapsanter Chic, PYT lounge-bar with live music. The name means “Piano House”.

Faruk BaSuk Fun bar and restaurant in the Jaffa Flea Market with live music in the late afternoon.

Haminzar The local-est local. Don’t miss.

Israel Wine Tours Israel is one of the oldest wine-making regions of the world, thanks to the Greeks and Romans during pre-biblical times. We spent a day in the Judean Hills with Barak Yitzhaki of Israel Wine Tours. We tried different, interesting wines in a unique corner of the country and received a healthy history lesson.

Salon Berlin Hip and relaxed dive bar. Food is excellent and happy hour two for one drinks until 10:30pm.

PLAY

Bauhaus architecture This 1930s modernist architecture movement left its legacy all over Tel Aviv. Today the “White City” is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Poli House Hotel at the corner of Allenby and Nahalot Binyamin Streets is one example.

Jaffa Flea Market Antiques, boutiques and souvenir shopping.

Old City Jaffa The remnants of the ancient port city that seeded Tel Aviv. Today it’s winding alleyways are filled with art galleries, restaurants and craft shops.

Old Train Station Nice place for a quiet walk before heading to the beaches.

Shabazi Street The lifespring of the trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, Shabazi is lined with boutiques and cafes. Go for jewelry shopping.

Tevl Aviv beaches They’re beautiful and nice any time of year. We enjoyed a few hours at Aviv Beach’s Surf Club bar.

STAY

The Nachalat Binyamin neighborhood has excellent nightlife, food and shopping all nearby, and is an easy walk to the southern beaches, Neve Tzedek and Jaffa. We enjoyed the artsy, boutique hotel Hotel 75.