5 Amazing Reasons to Travel to the Middle East This Winter

From Christmas in Cairo to Fondue Along Lebanon's Mediterranean coast

The Middle East is in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, which means you're probably not aware of all the amazing things there are to do there. In particular, the winter is a great time to visit the Middle East, even if you don't experience one of the heavy snows of years past. Whether you prefer the shores of the Mediterranean or the pearlescent skyscrapers of the Persian Gulf, here are some reasons to consider spending the colder months of the year in the Middle East—away from the negativity of your TV set!

  • 01 of 05

    Coptic Christmas in Cairo, Egypt

    Greek Orthodox Church of St George, Coptic Quarter - Cairo
    ••• Lonely Planet / Getty Images

    Cairo is the "City of 1,000 Minarets," as is evident peering out the window of most any Cairo hotel. One thing you might not realize about Cairo, however, is that it's actually home to a population of Christians, specifically Coptic Christians, who inhabit a portion of the city in the heart of its beautiful old quarter.

    A few key differences exist between Coptic Christians and ordinary Christians, with one of the most prominent being the date of Christmas. Copts celebrate the holiday in early January, so if you happen to be in Cairo at this time, head to the Coptic Quarter for a Christmas celebration you won't forget. 

  • 02 of 05

    Sample Citrus in Jerusalem

    Israel. Jerusalem. Machane Yehuda Market. Fruit, vegetable and food market
    ••• Dan Porges / Getty Images

    The Jerusalem area—specifically, the West Bank city of Bethlehem—is an obvious place to spend Christmas, but one activity that's a bit more surprising involves your tastebuds. Specifically, if you head to the Machane Yehuda produce market in the center of the city near many Jerusalem hotels, you can sample Israeli citrus produce like oranges, lemons and limes, as well as more exotic fruits like pomegranates, all of which are at the peak of their harvests during the winter months. Pro tip: Warm yourself and refresh yourself by sampling local citrus in its liquid form—juice—rather than its solid one.

  • 03 of 05

    Celebrate the National Day of Kuwait

    Elevated view of the modern city skyline and central business district, Kuwait City, Kuwait, Middle East
    ••• Gavin Hellier / robertharding / Getty Images

    Kuwait City's sometimes gets overlooked in favor of flashier Persian Gulf cities like Bahrain and Dubai, but don't let its modesty fool you. To be sure, "modesty" will be the farthest thing from your mind if you happen to book a Kuwait City hotel on February 25, when celebrations dedicated to Kuwaiti independence occur throughout the Kuwaiti capital.

    Another benefit of visiting Kuwait during winter? The chance to see rain, which is a true blessing in this part of the world, although many travelers consider it to be a bother.

  • 04 of 05

    Eat Fancy Fondue in Beirut

    Beirut from Harissa
    ••• Bernardo Ricci Armani / Getty Images

    French influence is strong in Lebanon and fondue comes from the French part of Switzerland, so it's not totally shocking that you can find the delicious, melted cheese a short drive from your Beirut hotel. What might come as a shock instead is how well the culinary classic blends in with Lebanon's rocky Mediterranean coast, fluorescent sunsets, and surprisingly cold winter evenings, where temperatures can hover only a bit above freezing, especially when you factor in the sea breeze.

    Many cozy coastal spots near Beirut serve fondue, but for a truly scenic experience, head to Pierre and Friends in Al-Batrun. It looks directly out onto the sea, which ensures the perfect winter sunset view.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Wander Through Wadi Rum—Without the Heat

    A herd of Bedouin's camels walks through the red sands of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan
    ••• Nikola Milcic / Getty Images

    Even if you haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia, you've probably seen the sands of Jordan's Wadi Rum desert in your dreams. If you visit during the peak summer months, however, you might find yourself in more of a nightmare, as temperatures can scorch to near 120ºF. You'll probably want to trade traditional Bedouin camping for a Wadi Rum hotel, thanks to freezing nighttime temperatures at this time of year, but daytime desert hikes and sunset camel rides are ideal.