Israel — Attractions
Israel is an iconic blend of ancient and modern in a manner unmatched by any other visitor destination on earth, mainly due to its unique importance in the world’s three monotheistic religions. Sites holy to Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the main attractions in this small country, and its dramatic topography highlights the mysteries and legends of its ancient past. From evocative ancient Judaic places going back far beyond the Christian era through the most important New Testament locations to the religious locations of modern Ba’hai faith and the memorials and museums of the Holocaust, Israel’s attractions span many centuries of human experience.
Jerusalem’s Walled Old City
The premier sites in Jerusalem will take several days to truly appreciate, with most set in the tiny walled Old City area below and around the Temple Mount with its Dome of the Rock, fountains, gardens and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Old City is divided into four quarters, with the Jewish Quarter still containing ancient buildings and the world-famous Western Wall, the 2,000-year-old retaining wall of Herod the Great’s Jewish Temple. The Armenian Quarter and the Christian Quarter are quieter, but the Muslim Quarter is the largest and includes the Dome of the Rock and other premier landmarks.
Address: Central Jerusalem, Israel
The Dead Sea
The lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea is a mecca with its miraculous healing properties. Dotted with beaches and bathing areas, indulge in a head to toe mud bath before stepping into the salty waters to float the day away. One of the world’s first health spas, it was a place of refuge for King David and Herod the Great and has been known to supply the likes of beauty products from Egyptian mummification to mineral treatments of today. Just remember not to shave a few days before or you’ll be in for a less than pleasant surprise, and if you have any cuts, be prepared, it’s like pouring salt on an open wound — literally.
Address: Jordan Rift Valley, border of Israel and Jordan
Mea Shearim and King David’s City
The fascinating Mea Shearim quarter outside the Old City walls is the home of ultra-orthodox Jews, living a traditional life in clothing as they did in the Diaspora shtetls (towns) across northern Europe before WWII. David’s City, bordering the Kedron Valley outside the walls and close to the Mount of Olives, is a major archeological site and the oldest settlement in Jerusalem, believed to be King David’s ancient capital.
Address: Jerusalem, Israel
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial
The largest Holocaust memorial in the world, the site’s museums, libraries and monuments give a detailed and personalized look into the horror and occasional heroism of one of the world’s darkest moments, reminding people to ‘Never Forget.’
Address: off Hertzl Boulevard, Jerusalem, Israel
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
After taking in all Jerusalem has to offer, head outside the Holy City to the captivating historic churches in Bethlehem. Built over biblical sites identified by Queen Helena, mother of the 4th century Emperor Constantine, the most visited is the Church of the Nativity. Geographically in Palestine on the West Bank, it’s a favorite with visitors to Israel, its cave being the birthplace of baby Jesus.
Address: 48, East Street, Bethlehem
The Sea of Galilee
Known for its beauty and place in the New Testament, this freshwater lake is a scenic drive from Jerusalem. Set in the greenest region in the country, the lakeshore holds the town of Nazareth where Jesus lived, worked and began his ministry by performing the miracle at Cana, feeding the 5,000 residents and walking on water. The lake is the source of the River Jordan and picturesque Nazareth and nearby Capernaum can easily be explored in a day.
Address: The Galilee, Israel
The Negev and the Nabatean Cities
Another great day out covers the atmospheric 2,000 year-old Nabatean cities of Shivta, Avdat and Mumshit, with an interesting diversion to the Sde Boker Kibbutz, the home of father of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion until his death. The Nabatean desert traders built these rich cites in dramatic desert locations along major trade routes and all three have yielded archeological treasures. If you’ve got extra time, an extended trip to the most famous Nabatean city of all, rose-red Petra in Jordan is also possible, but check visa requirements before departing.
Address: Negev Desert, Israel
Masada, Qumran and Ein Gedi
A stunning day trip to Masada, Ein Gedi and Qumran is easily arranged as distances in Israel don’t take much time. A climb to the ruins of Masada reveals the spot where the entire Jewish population of men, women and children threw themselves off the mountaintop rather than surrender to the Romans. Next, head to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and the finish the day with a visit to the Qumran Caves, once inhabited by the Essene Sect responsible for penning the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Address: Northern Israel
The Northern Israel city of Akko, known in the West as Acre, is set on the bay and has a history strung across five eras from the ancient Israelites through the Arab, Greek, Roman, Crusader and Ottoman periods. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique significance in world culture, it is archeologically fascinating and an important holy place for the Ba’hai faith. Must-sees include the Ethnological Museum, the Citadel with its Hall of the Crusader Knights Hospitaller, the Tunnel of the Templars and the Ba’hai Shrine of Baha’u’llah.
Address: Bay of Akko, Northern Israel
Although largely a modern city, Haifa deserves inclusion in every sightseeing itinerary for its stunning Ba’hai Gardens, Shrine of the Bab and the Stella Maris Convent, birthplace of the Carmelite Order on the summit of Mount Carmel. The cave is home of the Prophet Elijah, the only mystic featured in the holy books of three religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Wadi Nisnas is Haifa’s Arab quarter and is great for people-watching and Arabian art, and the city’s Mediterranean beaches are perfect for a cool swim in the hot desert sun.
Address: Northern Israel
For a break from history, a visit to the modern, buzzing nightlife and shopping of Tel Aviv is the answer. This edgy international metropolis holds 50 neighborhoods including downtown with its many attractions, clubs, pubs and bars. The port of Jaffa holds legends of Jonah and the whale, the Greek hero Perseus’s rescue of Andromeda from a sea monster and St Peter’s vision from heaven. All of which proves that, in Israel, you can’t get away from the past!
Address: Tel Aviv District, Israel
For a journey into the roots of Jewish spirituality and learning, picturesque Safed is home to the esoteric Kabbalah movement, as well as a host of historic synagogues. The Torah has been studied here by Sephardic and Ashkenazi Rabbis famous for their interpretation of the Law since the Ottoman invasion, and it’s one of the four holy cities of Judaism as a result. The Old City highlights include the Museum of Safed History, the Crusader fortress, the Ancient Cemetery and the Red Khan Palace of the Mameluks, as well as the city’s thriving artistic community.
Address: Galilean Hills, Israel
Caesarea National Park
The upscale Mediterranean tourist town of Caesarea is famous for its luxury lifestyle, but the major reason it’s on our radar is the huge, neighboring Caesarea Maritime complex of Roman buildings containing superb archeological attractions. The giant city and its harbor were built on the order of King Herod to honor Augustus Caesar, and much is still in amazingly good condition. Mosaics, Roman villas, an aqueduct, temples, palaces and the pristine amphitheater all remain, and a medieval Crusader fortress was constructed on the same site.
Address: North of Tel Aviv, Israel
Inextricably connected to the life of Jesus, Nazareth has been a pilgrimage destination for almost 2,000 years. Now mainly an Arab city, its carefully preserved and maintained Old City holds most of the attractions. As a result, it’s one of the most beautiful combinations of architecture, culture and history on earth. Must-sees include the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary’s Well and the Greek Orthodox St Gabriel’s Church. Energetic visitors can hike the Nativity Trail leading from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Address: Northern Israel
Although it’s arid, hostile and mountainous, the Judean Desert is home to one of the world’s oldest continuously occupied settlements, the city of Jericho. For 12,000 years Jericho’s oasis played host to rebels and refugees, and its desolate surroundings hold ruined forts, hidden caves and remote monasteries, some still active in the present day. Dramatic canyons, bare mountains and verdant oases fed by groundwater characterize this timeless, atmospheric expanse.
Address: Southern/Central West Bank region, Israel