There are many great places to explore in Africa and the Middle East. While I wish to travel all of them, here is a list of my top favorite destinations I've enjoyed experiencing.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, known as the Mother City, boasts breathtaking natural beauty with Table Mountain's iconic shape, vibrant Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, and pristine beaches. Well known worldwide for shark diving, it's a wonderful city with friendly people and an explosion of cultures. Explore world-class museums and indulge in delectable cuisine such as Biltong, which is not the same as beef Jerky, Boerewors, and Bobotie. You can hike to awe-inspiring sceneries like the Devil's Peak for panoramic views, sip wine in Stellenbosch vineyards, or visit historic Robben Island.
In my experience, it's always fun to go to the beaches and experience the wonderful sea air. There are many sights to see, with my favorite being Table Mountain. The food is delicious and will open your world with flavors. I am still too scared to do shark diving, but if that is up your alley, Cape Town is one of the best.
Originally settled by Khoisan, Cape Town developed as a Dutch trading post in the 17th century. British colonization followed, leaving a lasting architectural and cultural imprint. Today, it's a bustling metropolis known for its diverse heritage, stunning landscapes, and progressive spirit.
Unlike many other popular international destinations, Americans can only fly directly to Cape Town on an American carrier. Delta Air Lines serves the city from Atlanta, while United Airlines flies from Newark and Washington-Dulles.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Historic heart beats with modern energy. Masmak Citadel's ancient fortress, delve into the National Museum's treasures and shop in vibrant malls. Relax in lush Al Bustan Park, wander through the At-Turaif World Heritage Site, or experience the Edge of the World's breathtaking desert landscapes.
One can never go wrong with visiting this city. My stay there for 2 years was one of the most unique and life-changing experiences. I made many friends and experienced the most interesting foods, from fine coffees to more dates than you could ever eat. I recommend visiting malls such as Panorama Mall, which has some of the best American restaurants: Starbucks, Apple Bees, and Wetzel's Pretzels.
Established in the 8th century, Riyadh was a key trade and pilgrimage route stop. It rose to prominence as the capital of the first Saudi state and, after modern unification, became the kingdom's thriving center.
Saudia offers nonstop flights from New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles for Americans interested in visiting Riyadh.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dazzling rises from the desert as a futuristic playground. Marvel at the Burj Khalifa, shop in luxurious malls and wander through traditional souks. Kayak beside the Burj Al Arab, experience indoor skiing in the Mall of the Emirates or embark on a desert safari adventure.
Dubai is a unique city with amazing places to experience. The Burj Khalifa is one amazing feat of human engineering. There are delicious foods and great parks to visit. But Dubai is one of those cities that is great for the first 3 days, and then it gets old; in my experience, it's too modern with no true culture behind it, or at least the culture has been stripped away. Still, I recommend it as a great place to visit for vacation.
Dubai's history as a pearl diving and fishing village goes back centuries. Its oil boom in the 20th century propelled it to global prominence, transforming it into a dazzling metropolis of megastructures.
Dubai's popularity as a travel destination means plenty of opportunities for passengers to fly directly there from many major U.S. cities. Emirates, regularly recognized as one of the world's best airlines for its passenger experience and global connectivity, is the primary airline flying from the U.S. to Dubai. United Airlines also offers direct flights from Newark. American travellers flying to other destinations in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East can also visit Dubai through an extended layover before going to their final destination.
The following American cities have direct connectivity through Emirates:
- Dallas/Fort Worth
- Los Angeles
- New York-JFK
- San Francisco
Georgia has the picturesque Caucasus Mountains, which hold historical treasures and stylish charm. Explore Joseph Stalin's State Museum, witness ancient rock-hewn cave dwellings in Uplistsikhe, and hike to the iconic Jvari Church perched on a hilltop.
With this city holding so much history, it's no wonder why so many people love it. You must visit Joseph Stalin's State Museum, which is filled with historical relics and insights; one can stay there for hours. If we go a bit more into the city, we will find Gori Fortress, and what a place it is indeed. Once you stand on top, you will question your entire existence. Ask yourself how far the human race has gone, from forts to planes that fly at 35,000 feet.
Founded in the 4th century, Gori played a pivotal role in Georgia's history. It thrived as a Silk Road city and endured Mongol invasions before becoming the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Today, it's a vibrant city with a fascinating past and beautiful natural surroundings.
Georgia being a more off-the-beaten-path destination means there is not enough demand for direct flights from the U.S. Passengers must connect through a European or Middle Eastern airport to visit Gori or any other city in Georgia. The most straightforward way is to fly to Tbilisi and then drive to Gori, which is approximately one hour away. This distance means Gori can easily be done as a day trip from Tbilisi. Passengers can book a one-stop itinerary from the U.S. to Tbilisi with Air France, Condor, Kuwait Airways, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, or Uzbekistan Airways.
Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Nestled in the southeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lubumbashi pulsates with the rhythm of industry and history. Nicknamed "the Copper Capital," this vibrant city holds a fascinating past entwined with mineral wealth, colonial heritage, and resilient independence.
While many might not think of visiting this city, it has many hidden gems. Kundelungu National Park is the best place to see wild African animals. Hike through lush rainforests, encounter elephants and zebras, and witness the majestic Lofoi Falls, the highest waterfall in Africa. The city has many museums, among the best ways to get the African experience.
Founded in the late 19th century as a mining settlement, Lubumbashi became a major copper production center. Its colonial architecture and diverse cultural influences testify to its rich history.
Lubumbashi is a challenging city for Americans to visit since it can require multiple layovers, even from the U.S. cities with the most international connectivity. Passengers can connect through a major European or African hub before landing in the DRC's capital, Kinshasa. From there, travellers can take a domestic flight on Compagnie Africaine d'Aviation or the DRC's flag carrier, Congo Airways. The airlines that can be used for the first two flights are Air France, Brussels Airlines, Egyptair, Royal Air Maroc, and Turkish Airlines.
Another option is to fly on an African airline with direct flights from the U.S. to its hub airport and then take a second flight to Lubumbashi. Passengers can create a one-stop itinerary on Ethiopian Airlines or Kenya Airways by connecting through Addis Ababa or Nairobi, respectively. The Ethiopia layover can be done from Atlanta, Chicago-O'Hare, Newark, New York-JFK, and Washington-Dulles, while the Kenya option can be done from New York-JFK. Travellers can also fly through Johannesburg, which requires changing airlines since only American carriers fly directly from the U.S. to South Africa.
Have you visited any African or Middle Eastern cities that you found are must-visits? Do you have additional recommendations for any of the cities above? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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