Extend Your Summer Weekends in the Middle East With Art, Ancient Cities and AdventureBy Natasha Amar
Whether you associate summer’s joys with feeling sand hug your toes as you soak in the sound of waves, the quiet satisfaction of kayaking through lush mangroves, the thrill of abseiling (rappelling) down a canyon, or the awe of looking at centuries-old relics, one thing’s for sure: These Middle East cities have it all — and do long summer weekends like nowhere else.
The best part? With bright, sunny days extending into and beyond the summer months, the possibilities are endless for art and culture lovers, active explorers and laid-back weekenders to feel that joy well after summer’s official end.
Before you pack your bags for the weekend and get ready to explore, be sure to read up on current rules and travel restrictions in the city you’re visiting and check opening hours at attractions and sites.
To make the most of Dubai’s sunny weekends, slather on sunscreen and head to one of the city’s favorite beaches along the Jumeirah coastline at Kite Beach. You really can do all the outdoor things here: Take a dip in the warm sea, doze off on the sand while you tan, exercise your core as you stand-up paddleboard, soar across the water on a Jet Ski, learn how to kitesurf or play a bit of beach volleyball.
Cafés and restaurants offer outdoor seating on the beachfront promenade and serve everything from avocado toast to Lebanese street food.
Feeling adventurous? Make the 90-minute road trip to Hatta, where adrenaline-pumping mountain biking and hiking trails await in the Hatta Mountain Conservation Area, tucked away in the Hajar Mountains.
Around sunset, rent a kayak at Hatta Kayak and enjoy quiet time on the turquoise waters at Hatta Dam surrounded by craggy mountain peaks.
A long weekend in culture-rich Abu Dhabi offers an ideal escape from scorching temperatures with visits to its many museums and art galleries. Begin at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where more than 600 masterpieces from around the world tell the stories of ancient empires, religions and trade routes.
Pro tip: You’ll need to pre-book your visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, face masks and gloves are mandatory, and instead of paper brochures, a free mobile app helps you navigate the museum and learn more about the artwork.
For a look into contemporary art, visit the Cultural Foundation, where exhibitions such as “The Red Palace” by artist Sultan Bin Fahad take a closer look at key regional historical and political events in the 20th century.
A two-hour drive west of Abu Dhabi, the green city of Al Ain, with its date farms, palaces, forts and ancient ruins, is worth a visit. Don’t miss the Al Ain Oasis, a tranquil UNESCO World Heritage Site where you’ll stroll among 147,000 date palms.
Be sure to also visit neighboring Jebel Hafeet, the United Arab Emirates’ second-highest peak, which offers breathtaking sunset views.
Take a walk through Morocco’s intriguing past at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Kasbah of the Oudayas. This fortified citadel settled in the 17th century by Muslim refugees from Spain makes for a lovely, atmospheric escape from the crowds of Morocco’s other cities.
A quiet wander through the narrow streets takes you past the oldest mosque in the city, interesting museums, traditional houses with blue and whitewashed walls, eclectic cafés and art exhibitions.
Make your way to Plateforme du Sémaphore, the highest point of the citadel, for fantastic views over the Bou Regreg estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. The lush Andalusian gardens at Jardin des Oudayas, with their fragrant fruit trees, offer a picturesque retreat from the hot afternoon sun.
Udayas Beach, an easy walk away, is a good spot to try windsurfing or rent a kayak or Jet Ski to hit the water and admire the coastline from the sea.
If you’re feeling more active, challenge yourself at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam golf course. With 45 holes spread over three courses, this verdant landscape of oak forest and lakes is a putter’s dream. Reservations, at least a day in advance, are essential, and following social distancing rules is mandatory.
Parts of Morocco were heavily damaged in a September 2023 earthquake. Please check local travel advisories before planning a trip to the region.
Amman’s charms lie in its ability to effortlessly blend old and new; neighborhoods bursting with character house mosques, museums and galleries, markets, boutiques, cafés and bars, and they are best explored at the leisurely pace of a long weekend.
If you’re an art lover, head to Jabal Amman, one of Amman’s oldest districts, to visit Wadi Finan Gallery, where you’ll find contemporary art by Arab artists such as Hind Nasser and Ahmad Nawash.
A five-minute walk away, Jacaranda Images showcases lithographs, photography, posters and images from around the world — an ideal spot to buy affordable artwork. They also offer immersive art-focused tours around Jordan.
If you’re after outdoor thrills, drive 90 minutes to the Mujib Biosphere Reserve, the lowest nature reserve in the world. Here, Wadi Mujib offers opportunities to connect with the area’s rocky terrain, sandstone canyon walls and wild rivers through guided adventure hikes that involve rappelling and wading through chest-high waters.
For an insightful journey through local history in Doha, visit the Msheireb Museums, where traditional courtyard houses from the early 20th century in Msheireb Downtown Doha have been restored and converted into museums.
The four houses offer an intriguing look at the evolution of family life in Qatari society, the socioeconomic implications of slavery, the oil-based transformation of Qatar, and the country’s architectural heritage and modern development.
To see more than 6,000 contemporary works by regional artists depicting fresh perspectives on the Middle East, visit the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Entry tickets must be purchased in advance, and visitor numbers are limited to no more than 50 people at a time (check the website for other visitor requirements).
If you’d rather spend your long weekend traversing the great outdoors, rent a kayak and explore Al Thakira Mangroves, close to the seaside city of Al Khor. The green landscape attracts migratory birds and offers opportunities to spot flamingoes and herons while you paddle.