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Israel’s diversity is its biggest, happiest surprise. Constructed around the traditions and historic cultures of three world religions, Israel is a major crossroads of sorts, a melting pot of faith and custom that offers something different to every visitor. Daily life revolves around the Jewish calendar, but the architecture and cuisine bear the imprint of millennia of Arab influence. The music and dance is a blend of Sephardic, Hassidic, Greek, and Middle Eastern flavors spiced with rock and jazz. The sports, literature, and art are appreciated the world over as uniquely Israeli, an essence that is at once a complicated mix and something entirely proprietary. No matter what draws you to Israel, her mark will never leave your heart.
Tucked away on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel offers sweeping mountains, deep lakes, rift valleys, and vast deserts. Despite that, it is a land of sunshine, boasting an average of over three hundred days of clear skies per year. All this geographical variety lends itself to a wealth of entertainment options: waterskiing, hiking, cycling, parasailing, kayaking, and diving are all widely available and beloved of locals and visitors alike! For those who like a little more relaxation in their travels, simple sunbathing is always an option. “Glamping,” camping with a decidedly luxurious and flair, is a growing trend sure to appeal to anyone who likes spas more than sports!
While political unrest has splattered the headlines, Israel is a safe and highly desirable destination. Whether you come to worship in one of the country’s many religious landmarks or party the night away in Tel Aviv, your Israeli visit is sure to be unforgettable and painted with broad strokes of loveliness. A sense of belonging and “home” is reported by visitors of all stripes, a deep connection to this land of living history.
Top Sights in Israel
The City That Never Sleeps is Israel’s cosmopolitan hub, bursting at the seams with high fashion, nightlife, gorgeous beaches, and fascinating history. Vibrant, diverse, and huge (there are at least fifty distinct neighborhoods), you’ll not soon tire of things to see and experience in the Mediterranean Capital of Cool. Tel Aviv’s abundant culture manifests itself in countless museums, galleries, and theaters. Astonish yourself at the Israeli Diamond Exchange and museum, spend some time at the charming Tel Aviv port, or take a day trip through the subterranean maze of the ancient Beit-Govrin Caves. Of course, a glittering night out among the city’s countless clubs and bars is essential. Let the party carry you into the wee hours of morning, then grab a bite at any of the all-night eateries dotting the streets. For a total change of pace, consider a romantic sunset on Tel Aviv beach. Grab a beer at one of the shoreline cafes, let the sea lap at your toes, and let nature take your breath away. A leisurely stroll of the old city, Jaffa, is just perfect when love is in the air. While you are there, swing by the famous Jaffa market for a bit of good-natured haggling over an overwhelming array of food, spices, and clothing—they say no visit is complete without this.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is considered a world-class natural wonder, and with good reason. Almost 400m below sea level, it is the lowest point in the world. It is an easy day trip from Jerusalem, Eilat, or Tel Aviv. The water is the second-saltiest in the world, making it uninhabitable by marine life … hence the name. The high salinity makes the water nearly unsinkable and floating in the sea is a quintessential tourist experience. The mud along the shoreline is packed with minerals and thought to have many therapeutic benefits, so it is not uncommon to see visitors smearing themselves from head to toe before a nice long float! The nearby town of Ein Bokek is the most accessible stop for food, lodging, and shopping. Also a few miles away is Mount Sodom. The salt desert is home to the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and some gorgeous scenery.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the epicenter of the country’s religious tourism. Claimed as a holy city by three major world faiths (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), the City of Gold is the home of marvels, a place where the first century and twenty-first century exist side-by-side. The Western Wall, or Kotel, is a sacred site for Jews. Visiting is a profound experience for pilgrims, and millions come each year to slip written prayers into the wall’s cracks. Yad Va-Shem is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Prepare to be deeply affected by a visit to the 45-acre site. Ein Kerem is a secluded village of artists and churches, many of which claim to stand on the birthplace of John the Baptist. The Garden Tomb is believed to be the site of Calvary and Jesus’ tomb, and is open to visit in the afternoon. The Biblical Zoo is perennially popular with visitors, as is the Damascus Gate and the Israel Museum. Potentially the biggest draw is the Old City, an enclave of bustling religious devotion surrounded by Ottoman-period walls. On the secular level, Jerusalem thrums with activity. There is an annual film festival, a beer festival, and abundant wine tasting, galleries, and nightlife.
Referred to as “the sea of wonders” for the role it played in the story of Jesus’ life, Galilee is still living up to the name over two thousand years later. The enormous body of water from which the region derives its name is actually a lake, and Israel’s primary source of drinking water. Pekiin is a popular stop, with its quaint cobblestone streets, historic homes, and flowering gardens. Even older is Beit Shean, one of the oldest cities in Israel and an important archaeological site. The restored amphitheatre is a stunning relic of Roman occupation, and the home of a brilliant sound and light show. You might fancy a hike up Mount Carmel through the pine forests, or a day trip to the artists’ retreat of Ein Hod at the base. For the devout, the recently-completed Jesus Trail combines a four-day hike of the prophet’s homeland with a chance to meet and interact with the modern-day residents of Galilee. Kayaking the Jordan River is another popular, invigorating opportunity to soak up Galilee’s natural beauty.
The ancient fortress of Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in addition to the most significant archaeological site in Israel. Situated atop a mountain overlooking the desert on one side and the Red Sea on the other, the drama of Masada’s appearance is perfectly in keeping with its eventful history. Visitors can ascend to Masada by cable car or, for the intrepid, by foot up the winding “snake paths” up the mountain. Atop, you’ll marvel at the degree to which the ruins remain intact, thrill to the beauty of preserved coins, pottery, and scrolls, and be sobered by the sad history of the world’s oldest preserved Roman siege camp, originally built by King Herod thirty years before the birth of Christ. Tours of Masada often depart at sunrise. In exchange for such an early wake-up you’ll be treated to a magical panorama of the sun coming up over the desert in the east.
Eilat, called “the window on the Red Sea,” is a stunning beach paradise. The North Beach is the hub for most recreational activity; the South Beach is protected by Israel’s Nature Authority and therefore there are certain restrictions in place for the protection of the land and wildlife. Diving is phenomenal off North Beach, with many easily-accessible coral reefs visible beneath the teal waters. South Beach offers kite-surfing, windsurfing, and snorkeling. The Dolphin Reef off South Beach is a working rehab facility for dolphins where guests are afforded the opportunity to swim or dive with these beauties. There is also a relaxation spa on site for those seeking a bit of seaside pampering during their visit. The white tower of Eilat’s Underwater Observatory is one of its best-known sights, and a visit there is a signature experience. Vast glass underwater windows will allow you to gaze on the observatory’s residents: sharks, sea turtles, and a dazzling display of coral fish.
|Primary Airports: Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV), Eilat Airport (ETH), Sde Dov Airport (SDV), Ovda International Airport (VDA)|
|Government: Parliamentary Democracy|
|Currency: New Israeli Sheqel (ILS)|
|Population: 7,900,000 (2008 est.)|
|Language: Hebrew, Arabic|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Israeli plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC +2 / DST +3|
Israel Travel Reviews
Five Star Israel Experience
My wife and I had the privilege of traveling to Israel with some of my siblings. When we arrived in Tel Aviv the security was tight but that gave us a sense of safety. We were the first tour group to visit Jericho in quite some time and purchased Hebron glass. Our stay at the Caesar Hotel next to the Dead Sea was incredible including a pool filled with therapeutic salt water from the sea. Experiencing Masasda was striking and moving as we heard the tragic end of it’s inhabitance. The air was filled with excitement and incense as we toured the site where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Haifa is the most beautiful city with a breathtaking view of the harbor from the Bahai shrine that mirrors San Francisco bay. Capernaum was meaningful with it’s many artifacts that authenticate scripture. At Tiberias we took a cruise on the Sea of Galilee, enjoyed a devotional message, and ate St Peter’s fish with the head on, much to my Sister’s dismay. The excavation of Beth Shean is unique and huge in scope including the stadium. The highlight of the trip was walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and seeing the empty tomb. My brother and I still talk about a Rabbi allowing us a glimpse of work to excavate the old Temple near the Wailing Wall. This was a trip of a lifetime and we would love to go again since there is much more to experience.
Walking through a Bible and history in Israel
I went to Israel with a program from my seminary. We started in Masada, the daunting fortress where ancient Jewish defenders committed suicide rather than be captured, and which modern Israel has adopted as central to its national image. We also went to many archaeological sites from biblical times--Dan, Jericho, the Decapolis, etc.--which Israel takes great pride in and has made very accessible. My favorite, though very small, was Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
We spent a lot of time at devotional sites: taking a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, walking the stations of the cross on the Via Dolo Rosa, praying at the Wailing Wall, and exploring the numerous chapels of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. My favorite site was the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which is surrounded by mosaics of the Madonna & Child, as interpreted by dozens of countries and cultures around the world.
My most affecting experiences, however, were staying at the Ein Gedi kibbutz and walking along the wall on the Palestinian side of Bethlehem. Ein Gedi is beautiful, with a nature preserve and waterfalls cutting through the desert. The kibbutz is an interesting community that is tight-knit and welcoming in a way I've never before experienced (indeed, the kibbutz is Israel's own social experiment). In Bethlehem, I found wonderful people, as well as a dividing wall full of highly artistic protest graffiti worthy of Banksy or the other street artist greats.
Off the Beaten Track in Israel
Natalie C. Frank
When some friends and I were planning a trip to Israel in the spring, a place we’d all been to several times, we decided to tour less well known places. We began our “off the beaten track” tour in Ein Gedi, a beautiful spot to hike and commune with nature, among majestic cliffs, hot springs, water holes and water falls, all on the shore of the dead sea. We saw several spas in the area and luxuriated in a mineral pool at the Ein Gedi Hotel. Before leaving we scheduled a jeep tour that took us to the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. It felt as if we’d gone back in time thousands of years.
Between Tel Aviv and Haifa we stopped at the Nahal Alexandar Nature Preserve and observed nine or ten large, soft shell sea turtles from the Turtle Bridge. Further along, we saw a lovely event garden then a belvedere where you can see the hatching area for the young turtles. We passed an estuary with an amazing number of indigenous plants and wildlife and wandered through a eucalyptus forest, the fog-like mist making it seem surreal.
During our stay in Jerusalem, we visited the Seam Museum, built on the pre-1967 border between Israel and Lebanon. This is a great alternative to the more popular and crowded museums, providing a sociopolitical realities of Israel and the world at large. We also toured Atlit, a detention camp south of Haifa. The camp was built by the British to detain the large number of immigrants that came to Israel, most from Nazi concentration camps. As we moved through the processing barracks, classification and disinfection centers and residential barracks it was hard not to feel the trauma of those imprisoned here.
A trip to Israel wouldn’t be complete without a shopping trip on Ben Yehuda Street, and the chance to sample and buy local foods and delicacies at the Mahame Yehuda shuk, a huge open air market, both in Jerusalem. Make sure to leave extra space in your suit case to take home some of the unique merchandise that cannot be found elsewhere.
Historical Trip through Israel
My brother and I spent ten days in Israel seeing the amazing history the country has to offer. We started in Jerusalem, an incredible city that is the center of multiple religions, and were able to visit the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock, the Western Well, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Mount Zion with King David's Tomb. We made time for some strolling and shopping on Ben-Yehuda Street too. After seeing the sacred city of Jerusalem we headed to Ein Gedi to immerse ourselves in the Dead Sea, float in the saltwater, and enjoy the traditional dead sea mud masks. We hiked Masada, a big challenge matched by the real archaeological wonders at the summit. The views were spectacular and the incredible history of Israel was in full display. We took a two hour bus ride from there to Jaffa, where we walked along the port area and then toured the Jaffa Museum located in the ruins of an Ottoman Empire fortress. We ended our trip in the modern city of Tel Aviv, bringing us full circle from the antiquities of Jerusalem and the archaeological finds on Masada to a vibrant and contemporary city on the beach. We enjoyed the sun, spent a fun evening out at some bars with friends, and ate some terrific Middle Eastern meals of falafel and shawarma. Our trip through beautiful Jerusalem just made my brother and I eager to return as soon as possible.
Israel: A Land of Rich History and Surprises
My visit to Israel was pleasantly surprising in many ways. My first surprise was the amount of security there was everywhere I went. Safety is a high priority in Israel, as you might imagine. And while the security measures were sophisticated and ever-present, it was always handled in a dignified and classy way. The result was that I couldn’t have felt safer and more welcome while travelling there.
My next surprise was the amazing richness of the geography itself. From the beautiful seaside towns like Haifa to Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Jerusalem, then all the way to the Dead Sea, there was so much diversity in the scenery. It really was nothing like the dry desert that I had expected.
But honestly, the best surprise of all was Jerusalem itself. What a fascinating city. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by history. As a Christian, I felt deeply connected to the land and the history. Even while visiting Jewish holy sites such as King David’s tomb and the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall) I felt very welcome. Of course, it is important for non-Jewish visitors to understand that there are standards for dress that need to be adhered to. Such as no bare shoulders for women and head covers for men. One of my female friends forgot to bring a jacket with her to the Western Wall and the kind people there provided her with a short cape to wear while she was there.
If you only have time for one tour, however, I wholeheartedly recommend walking the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. This was the route that Jesus walked while carrying his cross on the way to be crucified. You will begin at the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter and visit the 14 Stations of the Cross, then end when you reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. This was a deeply emotional journey, but one I would gladly do again.
A Year of Exploration in Israel
It was my final year of high school and instead of making decisions to move into a career field, I decided to discover the world by traveling through the entire country of Israel. I landed in Haifa, Israel, setting up a main base here. The land of Haifa is beautiful, filled with liveliness by the Mediterranean Sea and moving quickly though the main Mount Caramel. The overviews of the city combined the natural with the liveliness of the culture. I enjoyed the Independence Day the most, filled with dancing and vendors in the streets and extra falafel and shawarma to enjoy.
From here, I took trips through the Dead Sea, Galilee, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The natural settings were indescribable. An enjoyable float in the Dead Sea, after being covered with the healing mud left a revitalized sense to my skin that I still have not been able to match. The religious and cultural significance of the Galilee were easily enjoyed by the look of the sea and natural settings as well as the humble church that overlooked the region. Jerusalem was the most intriguing, filled with mosques, synagogues and churches that built the culture of the region. Every turn of the corner became a new discovery to the region. The sounds of the cities and open settings in other areas created a new perspective on the richness of life.
Lesser Known Israel Sights
My girlfriends and I squeezed in a few days in Israel between touring Greece and later Portugal. After soaking up the beaches and night life of Tel Aviv for a couple of days, we decided to inquire about out-of–the-way sights we knew must be in Israel.
The first suggestion took us to Mount Carmel a bit south of Haifa. Not many people know that here are prehistoric caves that were inhabited nearly half a million years ago.From the entrance to the Valley of the Caves Nature Reserve there is a two-hour circular trail that leads to three caves. Climbing up the ladder to the caves is the scariest part. Inside are recreations of skeletons of both homo sapiens and Neanderthals, both of whom occupied these caves at different times.
The next day, back in Tel Aviv, on the advice of our breakfast waitress, we spent an afternoon exploring green HaYarkon park in the middle of the city. We rented bikes and followed a well-marked path down to the beaches. You go through Tel Aviv Port and end up in Jaffa.
On the way back, we stopped off in Favela Bar on King George Street. Their exotic cocktails are well-known. Mine, called a Dr. Pepper, had just the right spicy kick along with mint and pineapple flavors that made the rest of the ride back to HaYarkon park a pleasant, leisurely ride.
Experiencing the Magic of Israel
The land of Israel is a world of its own. The magical country has what to offer to all personalities and interests. I toured the length and breadth of the country with my husband and visited Jerusalem, Tiberius, Safed, The Dead Sea, Arad, and Eilat, to name a few places. My first stop was Jerusalem, the magnet of the world. The old city of Jerusalem is charged with the story of its past and has archeological museums and tours on almost every corner. It is also packed with food vendors, offering both Arabic and Israeli cuisine. If you want to get a real ‘taste’ of the land, try Israeli Falafel with hummus or Arabic bread. We also bathed in The Dead Sea, located in the south of Israel. The Dead Sea Hotel, known for its curative salt baths, is a must for anyone with skin or muscular ailments. We enjoyed hiking on the trail of Ein Gedi, which is right nearby, and got some beautiful shots of the fresh water springs and small mountain goats. We then visited Eilat, a southern port city of unparalleled charm. The unique underwater aquarium offers an insider’s view of aquatic creatures of all shapes and colors. Our ride to northern Israel had a breathtaking view of emerald mountains surrounding us on all sides. My favorite spot is the mystical old city of Safed. Go there if you think would appreciate their quaint architecture and art exhibits. No matter what type of person you are, there is something for everyone to see in Israel.
Touring Israel - Old and New
It was always a dream of mine to visit Israel and travel in the footsteps of Jesus and the 12 disciples. So a friend and I decided to take three weeks and make the dream happen! We landed in Tel Aviv, the capital city, and took a taxi for the 40 minute drive to Old City Jerusalem. We checked into our pretty little hospice (hostels and hospices are where most young travelers choose to stay since they are low cost) and then set out to see the city.
There are four distinct quarters within the Old City itself. This makes it is easy to see many of Israel's most famous sights without ever leaving the Old City! We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (where Jesus is said to have died, been buried, and then been resurrected). We visited the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock (where Mohammed is said to have ascended to Heaven at night). We walked the 12 stations of the Cross and then browsed our way through the narrow streets, snapping up small mementos as we went.
Later we made our way up to the Galilee and stayed overnight at a Kibbutz. We took a day trip to the Dead Sea, floating in the salt-rich waters and coating ourselves with mineral-rich mud (said to have rejuvenating powers!) We also hiked up to Masada Fortress to take in the view. It was the trip of a lifetime, with memories I will cherish forever.
Israel, an Archaeologist’s View
My trip to Israel was unusual because I did not go there as a tourist. I went to Israel as a student and was part of the Leon Levy archaeological expedition at Ashkelon. I spent six weeks digging at Ashkelon with three trips to other parts of Israel. At Ashkelon we stayed in a hotel and worked on the dig five or six days a week. Ashkelon is on the Mediterranean and parts of the site overlook the sea. The site is part of a park and can be visited.
My fieldtrips around Israel were to archaeological sites or museums. On one trip, we went to Masada, Qumran, En Gedi and the Dead Sea. If you make this trip, it is important to remember to drink a lot of water. En Gedi is beside the Dead Sea and includes a beautiful park. Qumran is the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. I saw the settlement where the people who lived at Qumran copied the scrolls. Masada is in the Judea wilderness. It is a fortress/palace on top of a plateau. Masada is a beautiful place to visit and learn about the Jewish Revolt against Rome in 70 A.D.
I also took a trip to Jerusalem. We spent most of the day at the Jerusalem museum. It is an amazing place that includes artifacts from every period of Israel’s history. There is also a separate place where the Dead Sea scrolls can be viewed. In an outside garden, there is a model of Jerusalem during the 1st century A.D.
My final fieldtrip was to one of the smaller archaeological sites, Lachish. This site was different because it is not a major tourist attraction. It is a small city that was destroyed by invaders during the Iron Age.
I would advise visitors to Israel to visit archaeological sites and museums. It is a great way to learn about history and experience being in the places where that history happened.