You may think that summer in the Middle East is not for the fainthearted. After all, the region’s arid climate means outside temperature can reach a sizzling 122 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity levels a shocking 80 percent in July and August.
But while the desert sun can be intimidating — especially to the uninitiated — it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a carefree Arabian getaway. Gone are the days when the season made ghost towns out of major cities in the region.
Today, summer is bustling with activities, which not only encourages “staycationers,” but also gives solo and family travelers an excuse to experience the extraordinary attractions various destinations have to offer.
Make a Splash
In the Middle East, you’re never far away from where the land meets the sea. Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, the region is home to stunning beaches and vibrant dive spots.
One of the world’s most popular underwater wildernesses can be found in Saudi Arabia. Farasan, in the kingdom’s southwestern region, is an archipelago comprised of more than 170 islands. The area’s year-round temperate climate makes exploring its rich coral reefs and marine life enjoyable.
However, for more accessible water attractions, get your adrenaline pumping at any of the region’s several water parks, including Wahooo! and Lost Paradise of Dilmun in Bahrain; Aqua Park in Kuwait; Land of Legends in Antalya, Turkey; Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi, UAE; and Wadi Adventure in Al Ain, UAE.
Soak Up Art and Local Culture
If you’d rather spend your holiday in air-conditioned comfort, head to one of the Middle East’s museums and cultural centers. In Abu Dhabi, the recently opened Louvre museum displays masterpieces from across the Arab world and beyond.
Other places where you can also immerse yourself in local art and culture are Bait Al Zubair in Muscat, Oman; the Calligraphy Museum in Sharjah, UAE; Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar; and Sursock Museum in Beirut.
Hit the Slopes
Improve your skiing or snowboarding skills in Ski Dubai, a 242,000-square-foot indoor ski slope located in Mall of the Emirates. The snow park has been a favorite summer destination among residents and tourists alike since it opened in 2005.
Go for a Ride
Add some thrill into your summer break by visiting one of the Middle East’s impressive indoor amusement parks. In Dubai, the IMG Worlds of Adventure has the Velociraptor, a pulse-pounding roller coaster that zooms along a one-kilometer track at 62 mph in 2.5 seconds.
Another one for adventure seekers is Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World. This beast shoots passengers 150 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Indulge in Retail Therapy
If there’s one thing the Middle East has plenty of, it’s sprawling shopping malls. You can also lighten your wallet at traditional markets, known as souks, which are typically open air, but some have been refurbished to become air-conditioned retail spaces.
Souq Waqif in the Qatari capital Doha has been the site of centuries-old trading. Here you can buy anything from gold jewelry and exotic fragrances to spices and textiles.
Muttrah Souk, in Muscat’s Old Town, is not air-conditioned. But a summer visit to the Omani capital would not be complete without a detour to this souk’s labyrinthine alleys peppered with stalls selling frankincense, dates, silver khanjars (daggers), crafts and handmade carpets.
To enjoy your shopping stroll and avoid the heat, head there early in the day (shops are open from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.) or late in the afternoon (from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.).