Dubai and Turkey are the most popular countries in the Middle East for Families
The most popular destinations in the Middle East for families are Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt is often considered a part of the Middle East (note that there are currently some travel warnings in place for Egypt, check your government’s website for up to date travel advice). There are plenty of family friendly hotels in Egypt, particularly in Sharm el Sheikh. Turkey is also very popular although recent unrest has led to a decline in the numbers of tourists travelling there. Most of the tourist resorts dotted along the Western coast of Turkey are very family friendly with hotels and apartments suitable for babies and toddlers.
Dubai is a hugely popular family friendly destination located on the Southern tip of the Saudi Peninsula. Jordan is another popular spot with its historical monuments and sights, the country is sure to amaze. Qatar and Oman are becoming increasingly popular destinations for tourists and there are many beachside hotels in the country which offer a great base for families. The best beaches in the Middle East include Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Egypt, Jordan and Israel all have excellent beaches, many of which have a range of activities on offer, from boat rides to diving and snorkelling.
When to Go
The Middle East is a huge region and the weather varies hugely from country to country. The weather is still hot in some areas during Spring, especially desert areas. Jordan is much more pleasant to visit in the off-season to enjoy temperatures more bearable. April, October and November are great months to go. During the summer, the entire Middle East shows scorching temperatures are not conducive to travel with babies or toddlers. Avoid Oman which is in full monsoon between June and September, and the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Israel which are scorching during the summer months. May, the beginning of June, the end of September and October are ideal times to visit Turkey where the climate is perfect (despite some rain in October). In winter, Dubai, Abu Dabi, Qatar and Oman have pleasant temperatures between 25 and 30 ° C from north to south. The Jordan Valley in Israel also enjoys mild winters and pleasant, while in the rest of the country a reign punctuated by cold dry snow.
Getting There & Getting Around
The largest hub for flights in the region is Dubai, from where you can reach virtually any point in the Middle East. After Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi also have good intercontinental connections. Tel Aviv is served by flights from most Western countries, though due to the political situation, it is not possible to fly from there to anywhere in the Middle East besides Egypt and Jordan. However, there are direct flights from large European hubs to most major cities in the region.
If you are travelling long distances (and the distances in this region can be long), air travel is the best option. Rail travel in the Middle East is generally limited and whilst most countries have limited passenger services between cities, there is very little between countries.
Istanbul is the best starting point for rail journeys to a lot of areas in the Middle East. There is a train that connects Damascus with Amman in Jordan. A service from Istanbul also operates to Tehran which includes a 4 hour ferry journey across Lake Van. In general, these trains tend to operate weekly or at most bi weekly. Buses are a more practical option than trains in the Middle East as they are less prone to delays and breakdowns and have far more extensive coverage of the region. However, travelling by bus with babies and toddlers can be difficult and not advisable for long distances.
Baby & Toddler Essentials
The Middle East can be a very child friendly region and people are likely to dote on your children. Travelling with young children also increases your chances of meeting locals who will be interested in you and your little ones.
Your chances of finding what you need (such as cots) increase the more you’re willing to pay. Hygiene standards at many budget establishments can also be poor so when travelling with younger children it’s best to pay a little extra for peace of mind. Children under two usually stay for free in most hotels. Family rooms or adjoining rooms with connecting doors are occasionally available.
Disposable nappies, powdered milk, formula and bottled water are widely available throughout the region in most large supermarkets although you probably won’t be able to find your usual brand so if you are travelling with an infant, it is safer to bring your child’s formula with you unless you are breastfeeding. When preparing bottles, use bottled water and ensure the seal is intact. Breastfeeding is generally permissible publically in Turkey and Dubai but ensure that you have a scarf or muslin and be as discreet as possible. Make sure to keep hydrated if you are breastfeeding in the heat.
In most Middle Eastern Countries, changing facilities, if there are any, will be located in the female toilets so when out and about, Mums should be willing to do all the changing unless you can find somewhere to lay a travel changing mat. Even the airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have changing areas in the women’s toilets only.
If you’ll be travelling by taxi or minibus, you may consider bringing a car seat or booster seat as they may not be available, although in Turkey and Dubai you should be able to find a taxi company which provides car seats. Other useful items to bring include child-friendly insect repellent, a mosquito net, a travel changing mat, sun protection and sterilising spray or wipes. Many of the sights in Turkey, Jordan and other countries with a lot of historical monuments will not be stroller accessible so bring a sling or baby carrier if possible.
Top Attractions for Families
Dubai is an ideal spot for families with young children and there is loads to do for families and plenty to keep toddlers entertained. The beaches are stunning and there are zoos, aquariums, play areas and plenty of family friendly restaurants and hotels to choose from. Don’t miss out on the world’s tallest structure; Burj Khalifa which stands 828 metres and 160 floors tall. The dancing Dubai Fountain offers a nightly show, which can accessed through the Dubai Mall; just in case you have some shopping to do first and toddlers will be mesmerized by this huge, colourful display. For the history buff; Dubai Museum is a great place to start where modern technology meets history in an underground fort that shows the fascinating transition from village to modern empire that the Emirate is today. The Markets or Souks as they are called are worth a visit and can be found on both sides of the Dubai Creek.
Turkey is a very family friendly destination and offers a fantastic mix of stunning beaches and historical sights. Some of the best known beach spots such as Kusadasi, Bodrum and Marmaris will offer baby and toddler friendly accommodation and Istanbul’s hotels will also have hotels with cots. If you are visiting Istanbul, be sure to check out the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Turkey is one of the safest countries in the Middle East for travellers, with a stable and democratic political system and well-developed transport infrastructure. Check the security situation, however, before you travel in areas close to the borders with Syria and Iraq.
With almost year-round sunshine, fabulous beaches, fascinating forts, desert adventures, world-class theme parks, spectacular wildlife, and activities to suit all interests, the emirate of Abu Dhabi is a brilliant family holiday destination. Abu Dhabi’s three main regions – the UAE capital and its environs, the ‘Oasis City’ of Al Ain (the Eastern Region) and Al Gharbia (the Western Region) – combine to offer visitors 400 km of pristine coastline, 200+ natural islands, vast swathes of serene desert, mangroves and lively, cosmopolitan cities. And while it feels exotic, Abu Dhabi is easy to navigate with babies and toddlers, with good road systems, car hire and inexpensive taxis (many of which will provide car seats on request). English is widely spoken, and most road and shop signs and restaurant menus are in English as well as Arabic.
Jordan is a fascinating destination with beaches, history and monuments that will leave you in awe. Despite its close proximity to more volatile countries in the Middle East; Jordan’s security is first class. Avoiding the area closest to Syria and Iraq (3km within both borders) is recommended but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the country. Make sure to visit Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World where the breathtaking ruins will have you in awe. Float in the Dead Sea, dive in the warm waters at Aqaba or relax in the natural hot springs underneath a waterfall. Most people in Jordan speak English and the country is modern and accessible. Jordan has largely escaped the unrest arising from the Arab Spring and it remains one of the safest countries in the region to visit.
Egypt’s history, culture and beaches make it a fantastic family holiday destination. The country is generally safe and clean however tummy upsets are common so use bottled water with young children and make sure jars of baby food are sealed. Sharm el Sheik is a hugely popular family holiday spot and offers stunning beaches and superb hotels at affordable prices. Cairo, although a fascinating place close to the Pyramids and the Sphinx is unfortunately not an easy place to take a baby or toddler as it is not stroller accessible and does not have the facilities that parents might require with young children.
Oman has recently invested heavily in tourism and it shows. An absolute must is watching the hundreds of green sea turtles come up to nest on one of Oman’s beaches (the best time for this is September to November). The Historic village of Nizwa is home to one of Oman’s mightiest forts and here you will find plenty of Souks selling crafts, clothing and jewellery. A visit to Oman would not be complete without a cruise through Khor Ash Sham; a 16km inlet where you are treated to remote hamlets along the shoreline along with pods of dolphins.