sheikh zayed grand mosque

Stunning sights await in Abu Dhabi. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

6 Weekend Vacation Spots in the Middle East and Africa That Promise to Delight

Experience a slice of legendary Arabic hospitality and get a taste of Africa’s wilderness in these six exceptional cities. Even a long weekend is adequate to explore the highlights and get a flavor of these magnificent, dynamic spots.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

weekend getaways map middle east and africa
(Illustration: Yeji Kim)

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Neighboring Dubai garners all of the attention, but the UAE’s capital city, Abu Dhabi, offers a more well-balanced mix of modernity and Emirati culture.

The gleaming white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a masterpiece of modern Islamic architecture and tops the list of things to do in the city. With no expenses spared in its construction, the mosque shimmers in the evenings when the lights come on.

At Qasr Al Hosn, find out more about the ancient history of the Emirates — well before the discovery of oil in the region.

Speed lovers are in for a treat at the Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. For some serious thrills, get on the fastest rollercoaster in the world at Ferrari World.

Cape Town, South Africa

aerial view of cape town and table mountain
Cape Town is irresistible. (Photo: Getty Images)

Few cities can rival Cape Town’s visual appeal. Wedged between the sea and Table Mountain, the city is home to vibrant neighborhoods, spectacular natural beauty, lively nightlife, an exciting culinary scene and incredible wildlife.

Take a cable car up to the summit of Table Mountain for glorious views of the Atlantic Ocean. At Boulders Beach, named after the huge granitic rock clusters that can be found there, come face-to-face with hundreds of African penguins.

On Robben Island, visit the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly two decades. Whether you prefer hiking, long walks or ocean swims, there’s no dearth of options to get you active and moving in Cape Town.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The getaway to Mecca and Saudi Arabia’s largest commercial city, Jeddah is entirely worthy of slow exploration over the course of a long weekend.

Start in the UNESCO Heritage Site of Al Balad. The old neighborhood, home to more than 650 historical buildings bedecked with balconies and carved wooden facades, was once the heart of the medieval city and is the best place to see structures made of coral, a distinctive feature of Red Sea architecture.

Wander through the stalls of Souq Al Alawi, which is brimming with exotic spices, dates and a variety of street foods. If the options seem confusing, start with mutabaqs (stuffed pancakes) that come with a variety of fillings.

Muscat, Oman


Get a feel of authentic Bedouin hospitality in Muscat. Built along the coast and flanked by the Al Hajar Mountains, the city, an important trading hub, has managed to retain its essence as the winds of change have swept through much of the region.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is a stellar example of Islamic architecture, and the main prayer hall is a sight to behold. After paying your respects, stroll through the narrow alleyways of the Mutrah Souq, which are saturated with the scent of frankincense. Later, join the locals and catch your breath with a pit stop at the corniche hugging the coast.

Nairobi, Kenya

sankara nairobi champagne bar
Enjoy skyline views after dark in Nairobi. (Photo: Getty Images)

An ideal base for longer excursions into the Kenyan wilderness, Nairobi offers a heady dose of culture, history and wildlife.

Colorful, cacophonous and upbeat, the weekly Masai market is the best place to pick up Masai handicrafts and souvenirs. At Sarabi Rooftop Restaurant in the Sankara Nairobi, Autograph Collection hotel, treat yourself to a cocktail and enjoy live music after dark while overlooking the shimmering city skyline.

For a more rustic experience, visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where orphaned elephants are rescued and rehabilitated. Watching baby elephants being fed using gigantic bottles is an endearing sight, and if you can’t leave, adopt one.

Doha, Qatar

All eyes are on Doha and for all the right reasons. With head-turning architecture, mind-bending skyscrapers and a thriving art scene, the city has a lot on offer for culture fiends.

At the National Museum of Qatar you’ll find a good starting point to get acquainted with Qatar’s history. Pay a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art and view a wide array of art from across the Islamic world.

Wander through the warren of lanes of Souq Waqif and stock up on spices and souvenirs. Finally, wind down with a meal in Qanat Quartier, a charming precinct showcasing Venetian-style architecture and teeming with restaurants and cafés.