Israel is a popular travel destination for tourists and pilgrims; Israel is a fascinating country with something to offer everyone. Whether it’s for a family vacation or backpacking on a solo trek, few places in the world offer so many different vistas and habitats in such a small place. From the snow-capped mountain of Mount Hermon in the north to the coral reef of Eilat on the coast of the Red Sea in the south, Israel is a country full of history, technology and natural wonders.
Jerusalem, the capital
Most people think of Jerusalem when they think of Israel. King David’s ancient city made Israel’s capital 3000 years ago, full of archaeological treasures that stretch back even further. Sacred to the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the city has many protected shrines and holy places accessible to tourists. Jerusalem is also unique in the way it seamlessly blends the contemporary and the old. Although it’s a modern city with many malls and high-tech companies, it maintains its authentic, historical look because all buildings must have a limestone facade.
In addition to the major holy sites of the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus is buried and the Temple Mount, there are many other interesting sites. For example, visitors can tour the City of David and explore King Hezekiah’s Tunnels, the ancient water supply for Jerusalem and where kings were coronated. A popular tour for pilgrims is following the path Jesus took to his crucifixion on the Via Dolorosa. Bethlehem is also a short bus ride from Jerusalem, where tourists can visit the Church of the Nativity. Other top tourist sites include the Israel Museum, which has many priceless ancient artifacts and consists of the Shrine of the Book and the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible Lands Museum, the Botanical Gardens and the Bloomfield Science Museum.
A short drive from Jerusalem is the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth. Well-known for its luxurious health and beauty spas, the Dead Sea’s water and mud have been known to nourish and heal the skin. The arid climate is also ideal for treating respiratory ailments. In this region, you can also visit Masada’s famous ancient mountain fortress, where Jewish rebels made their last stand against the Romans before committing mass suicide and the Ein Gedi Springs, an oasis in the desert with a refreshing river. Another site in the region is Herodium National Park, a man-made mountain created by King Herod that served as his fortress-palace and tomb. Also of interest in the Judean Desert is the 1500-year-old Greek Orthodox Mar Saba Monastery, which seems to hang precariously from the walls of the Kidron Valley and is one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world.
Tel Aviv, Haifa and more
For the more hip, contemporary side of Israel, travel to Tel Aviv. A foodie’s paradise, Tel Aviv is filled with gastropubs and gourmet restaurants offering all kinds of cuisines from French to Ethiopian, Indian, Thai and more. Israel is also home to more vegans per capita than anywhere on earth. As a result, there are a plethora of vegan and organic restaurants to choose from. In addition, Tel Aviv is well-known for its beautiful beaches and long promenade. For history, visit Old Jaffa, just next to Tel Aviv with the ancient Jaffa Port.
From Tel Aviv, tourists can travel to Haifa, home to Israel’s 3rd largest city and port. Haifa is home to many different religious sects. It is a model of coexistence with many Jews and Muslims living in the same neighbourhoods. The most prominent landmark in the city is the lovely Bahai Temple with its magnificent, terraced gardens. Just north of Haifa is the ancient city of Acco with its ancient Crusader fortresses.
Travel north of Acco to Rosh Hanikra, with its gleaming cliffs and take an exciting cable car ride down the 210-foot cliff. Explore artificial tunnels dug into the mountainside and view caverns carved out by the pounding sea waves; from Rosh Hanikra, travel northeast to the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s largest natural lake and the ancient city of Tiberias. From there, explore the Golan Heights, which has many scenic wonders and includes Nimrod’s Fortress, a medieval castle. The Golan is a great destination to visit in all seasons. In spring, it’s carpeted with flows, and in the summer, many hikers go swimming in the many rivers and streams. Banias National Park is a favourite spot where hikers and walk along the river and enjoy incredible waterfalls. In the winter, skiers flock to Mount Hermon, Israel’s only ski resort. In Gamla, bird-lovers can see eagles nesting in the cliffs of a nature reserve and see the 5000-year-old remains see remains of a Chalcolithic Era settlement. Visitors can also sample award-winning wine from the Golan Heights wineries.
In the south of the country is the sparsely populated, vast Negev Desert. Various ancient peoples have lived here, and the region is home to Beer Sheva, where Abraham made his home. Here you can visit the ruins of the ancient Negev Highland city of Avdat, a popular resting spot on the Spice Road.
Another popular desert tourist spot is Mitzpe Ramon which sits on the world’s most giant natural crater. The town has luxury hotels and hostels, and campsites for backpackers. The crater is full of desert wildlife such as mountain goats or ibexes, snakes and rivers. In addition, the town has a zoological garden and sculpture park. The town is also starting point for bicycle, jeep or camel tours. If you are driving to Eilat, be sure to stop by Timna Park, which has, among other attractions, a reconstructed Tabernacle, a visitor’s centre with an auditorium for multimedia experiences, campgrounds, a cafe. There is also nearby Timna Lake, where you can rent paddleboats. The park is 15,000 acres and is surrounded by steep cliffs. Standing tall in the centre is Mt. Timna, the world’s first copper mine. Here you will also find Solomon’s Pillars, towering sandstone columns. The natural beauty is incredible and worth a visit.
Eilat, the port
Eilat is Israel’s port city on the very southern edge of the country, on the Red Sea (on the opposite coast lies Egypt, an uncommon travel destination). The city is a popular vacation destination for Israelis and international tourists and has many resorts and hotels. The bay is the city’s main attraction with beautiful beaches and, thanks to the beautiful coral reefs, is one of the best diving spots in the world. People come here to enjoy many water sports. There is also an underwater observatory near Dolphin Reef, where visitors can swim with the dolphins.
Israel indeed has something to offer everyone. There are thousands of sites to explore. There are also many options for accommodations, from luxury 5-star hotels to hostels and bed and breakfasts. Airbnb has many listings there for travellers looking to save money or try a new experience. Many people also list short-term apartments for rental on Craigslist and Facebook. Israel also has a good public transportation system. You don’t need a car in big cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or Haifa. It also has an efficient rail system with trains travelling to most coastal towns and Jerusalem and Beer Sheva. For exploring the more remote regions such as the Golan Heights or the south, it’s advisable to rent a car or take a tour bus.
Travel to Israel can be less than one might expect. However, if you are travelling from Europe, several budget airlines fly to Israel. For travellers from the US or other parts of the world, you can find good deals on airfare on Google Flights and Skyscanner.