Israel captures a person’s imagination at first sight. This is the place to come across the myriad colors and wonders of nature. If the various sacred sites strewn across the region strike the spiritual chord in you, then the wonderful shiny beaches enliven your stay. This place also displays its cosmopolitan side at its various bars, cafes and beaches at Tel Aviv, and at the boutique wineries of the Galilee region.
Naturally, experiencing the best of what Israel has to offer is a pretty daunting task. However, with the list of things to do in Israel described in this blog, you can be rest assured that every moment in Israel will seem like a celebration.
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Red Sea Star
Ever heard of underwater dining? Red Sea Star, the underwater restaurant, brings that wild imagination to life. Created 10 years ago, it’s constitutes a combination of two areas. The one above, called the Metro Bar, offers splendid views of the Gulf of Aqaba, while the underwater area, called the Red Sea Star (so-called because it resembles the shape of a star), consists of an underground bar, including a floor covered in sand.
Beit Guvrin Caves
Beit Guvrin Caves were excavated from an area that was once called the Israeli cities of Maresha and Beit Guvrin. Archaeologists have come across many caves that spanned across several eras, from the Sidonian and Israelite to the Roman. Some of the caves may have served as hideouts and defenses. The highlight of these caves are the painted burial rooms created by the Sidonians. A Roman amphitheater, standing above the ground ruins of the city of Maresha, is an attraction in its own right.
Rosh HaNikra Grottoes
Rosh HaNikra Grottoes, located on the coast in proximity to Lebanon’s border, were once a diver’s delight. The pure blue waters found in the caves here are as much of an attraction as a mystery.
The caves were formed through millennia of strong waves crashing against the soft chalk cliffs on the Mediterranean Sea. The gondola cars that operate here transport the riders from the top of the white cliffs to the bottom in just around two minutes. Naturally, this site is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Israel.
Shrine of the Book
Israel’s Shrine of the Book, part of Israel Museum, was constructed in 1965. It houses ancient biblical parchments known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This modern womb like shrine has been created in the modernist line of architecture.
The exterior assumes a rounded peak with sculpted striations lapping up its walls, while the spacious interiors display the Dead Sea Scrolls the year round. The glass cases on the outer ring of the shrine contain pages, but, it’s the central display which resembles a giant Torah scroll, that hogs the limelight.
A tour to Israel must involve visiting Tel Hazor, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site located over the ruins of an ancient city. Occupying over 200 acres just north of the Sea of Galilee, this region has yielded some incredible archaeological finds.
Some of the major attractions for the tourists here are the Solomonic city gates, a restored Late Bronze Age Temple and the city acropolis. The Canaanite Orthostat and Stele Temples are other sites that are worth visiting.
Israel is full of bizarre geological formations called makhteshim (craters), and one of them is Makhtesh Ramon. Extending to 40km in length and possessing a width of almost 10km, it is undoubtedly Israel’s largest national park – Ramon Nature Reserve.
Visits and expeditions to this region can be conducted from the valley’s only town, Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon Observation Point), albeit visitors should avoid the mid-day heat. The best way of experiencing the magic of this place is staying overnight in one of the hand-woven tents and enjoying the company of the Bedouin herders.
Dialogue in the Dark
How about going blind for a day? Well, not literally! Dialogue in the Dark, an exhibition founded by former journalist Andreas Heinecke, consists of a series of pitch-black galleries which require visitors to experience their surroundings through visionless stimuli.
The visitors here are guided by blind or partially slighted persons who orient them to the surroundings, thereby providing a heightened sense of security in the darkened environment. The completion of the tour is followed by a conversation between the guide and vision-restored visitors.
Your holidays to Israel are incomplete without a visit to Atlit Yam, which contain the submerged ruins of a Neolithic coastal settlement. Dating back to 6900-6300 BC, these underwater excavations have unearthed wells, graves and houses.
This historic site was discovered by marine archaeologist Ehud Galili, and holds several unique fascinations. One of these is the seven megaliths arranged in a semi-circle encircling a freshwater spring, located in the center of the settlement.
Saba’s Little Museum
Saba’s Little Museum is a wonderful museum located in the Jerusalem Hills. Its uniqueness arises from the various items that trace the history of the Jewish people and their way of life from Biblical times till today.
Stuffed in a small cluster of warehouses, this museum contains a collection of items ranging from memorabilia and junk to modern appliances. Children’s toy cars, vintage radio sets, along with some barrels and rusted steel cooking barrels are some of the items that a visitor comes across.
To get a glimpse of the ultra-conservative lifestyle of Jews, head to Meah Shearim. This neighborhood in Israel is home to the ultra-orthodox haredim. A visitor can easily recognize this neighborhood by the community that resides in it – black suits with matching hats, full beards, and long and curling side locks known as peyes. You may end up buying Jewish texts with a high discount, and gorging on some traditional baked goods.
Golden Calf Altar
The Golden Calf Altar was an idol made by Aaron for the Israelites during the absence of Moses. However, most of Israel’s idols were destroyed by the Assyrians when they raided them for their gold in 722 BC. Although visitors can no longer view the Golden Calf as it once existed, they can explore the ruins of the main sanctuary where the calf could have been located. Besides, visitors can also examine the numerous standing stone shrines that line the gate to the city.
Yad Layeled Children’s Memorial Museum
Among the many tourist places in Israel, this one will move your soul and heart completely. Yad Layeled Children’s Memorial Museum is a moving memorial to the 1.5 million Jewish children who were victims of the Holocaust. Visitors are shown various exhibits which include films, period artefacts and the testimonies of children who had to live during those frightening times.
Ein Bokek beach
The Ein Bokek Beach is a wonderful stretch of fine, golden sand that attracts a steady stream of visitors the year round. The beach is equipped with various facilities like beach showers, changing rooms, lifeguards etc. It’s a wonderful place to while your time and enjoy the pleasures of the beach.
Want to taste some authentic Middle Eastern cuisine? Go to Shahrazad. This Middle Eastern restaurant in Haifa serves authentic cuisine of the region with an indigenous twist. An example of this is the dish “mansaf” (rice with ground lamb, tangy goat yoghurt, pine nuts, saffron and nutmeg), which is served with ordinary falafel balls. The tamarind juice here is another great stuff to try out.
Mount of the Beatitudes
This spectacular Roman Catholic Church, built in 1937, stands on a site where it’s popularly believed that Lord Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount. The sermon’s opening lines begin with the phrase “Blessed are.”
The octagonal church inside which is looked after by Franciscan nuns, are commemorated in stained glass just below the dome, with the seven virtues being represented around the altar. Besides, the wonderful balcony and gardens provide spectacular views of the Sea of Galilee.
Hecht Museum is one of the many amazing places to visit in Israel. However, the one collection that stands out is the Ma’agan Mikhael Shipwreck – the well-preserved remains of a 13.5m long merchant ship from 400 BC. Apart from these, the archaeology section also contains an entire section on the Phoenicians. Besides, Israelite, Moabite and Phoenician seals from the First Temple period and an incredible collection of ancient coins can also be found here.
Al-Jazzar Mosque, built in 1781 in typical Ottoman Turkish style, is the third most important mosque in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The mosque is distinguished by its enormous green dome and is accented with a graceful pencil minaret. Somewhere around the base of the minaret, one can find the small twin-domed building which contains the sarcophagi of Al-Jazzar and his adopted son and successor, Suleyman.
To know the ins and outs of wine processing, and sampling some of the best wine to be found anywhere, visit the Tabor Winery. It has gained a legendary reputation both for its red and white wine and produces almost two million bottles a year. Apart from been given a free tasting of the wine, visitors are provided with guided tours for groups of 10 or more. The winery also runs a one-and-a-half-hour grape harvests from late July to August.
Beit She’an National Park
To get a glimpse of what life was like during the Roman Empire, visit the Beit She’an National Park. The opulence and grandeur that surrounded the everyday life of the Romans is reflected through the colonnaded streets, a 7,000-seat theatre which looks the same as it did 1800 years ago, two stone columns and two bathhouses. The incredible part about all of them is that they lie exactly where they fell during the Galilee earthquake of 749 AD.
Centre International Marie de Nazareth
Any tour to Israel inevitably involves a visit to the Centre International Marie de Nazareth. Located across the street from the Basilica of the Annunciation, this place serves as a venue for ecumenical work among Christians, besides the promotion of inter-faith dialogue. Built by Chemin Neuf, a Roman Catholic community based in France, this fabulous cultural center consist of peaceful rooftop gardens which contain plants mentioned in the Bible. They offer amazing 360-degree panoramas.
Your holidays in Israel are incomplete without a visit to Agamon HaHula – one of Israel’s favorite parks, located in Hula Valley. To see an unbelievable amount of storks, pelicans and cranes, you need to head to this place right away. This crane-watching opportunity really comes as a privilege. Comfortably seated in your vehicle, you can view these magnificent creatures from the closest range possible. The other birds that can be seen here occasionally include pelicans and storks.
Visited by over half a million visitors a year, the Bahai Gardens are one of the major tourist attractions in Israel. Their unique design, which combine geometrical shapes with conservation of natural and historic landscape features, enchants the visitors to no end. In July 2008, these gardens were included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List for being holy places possessing outstanding universal value. The gardens comprise a staircase of 129 terraces which extend all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel.
A visit to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem will move your inner spirit and overwhelm your emotions like never before. This memorial is dedicated to the six million Jews who died at the hands of Nazis. One can find the names and personal details of millions of victims recorded in the Hall of Names. The centerpiece of the museum is the Holocaust History Museum, which lies on the lower level. Exploring the entire museum takes about three hours in total.
Ancient Galilee Boat
To come across a fascinating piece of history during your holidays in Israel, visit the Yigal Alon Museum, where you will stumble upon the ancient Galilee boat. The discovery of this boat was made by a local fisherman in 1986, when the waters of the Sea of Galilee were at their lowest ebb. The fishing vessel measures 8.2m in length and is made from 12 kinds of recycled wood. Wall panels and three short films tell the amazing story of its discovery and preservation. It’s said that this boat was used by the members of Jesus’s ministry.
Said Abu Elafia & Sons
You cannot be in Israel and not visit Said Abu Elafia & Sons – one of the best bakeries of Tel Aviv. Established in 1880, this bakery spans across four generations. Visitors love to gorge on its bourekas (stuffed breads with sheep’s cheese), sambusas (filled pastries) and a unique Arab oven-baked pizza-like concoction filled with eggs, tomato, cheese and olives.