It’s time to toss out the standard guidebook and venture beyond the Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem route: lakes, caves and little-known cities around Israel are just begging to be discovered. We have the inside scoop. Enjoy!
If you’re planning a trip to Israel, you’ve no doubt included the following in your itinerary: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea… But maybe it’s time to get off the beaten track and see some sites that are less known to the foreign visitor? Lucky for you, we have just the list of five hidden gems in Israel. Lace up your shoes and let’s get ready!
The northernmost gem on our secret guide is Bethlehem of Galilee, fondly nicknamed “The Other Bethlehem”. This small settlement of about 800 residents is rich in Templar architecture and is a picturesque respite from the bustle of Israel’s larger cities.
Bethlehem of Galilee is known for agro-tourism, and not for naught: olive picking at the Galilee Olive Oil visitor center, fruit, vegetable and herb self-picking tours, pleasant hikes are abound. Several quaint cafes comfortably situated in restored Templar buildings will round off your visit and send you off on your merry way to discover more of the magic that Israel has to offer.
Further East is Sataf, a must-visit site for hiking lovers. This forest is a great location for year-round family-friendly outdoor adventures. Choose from five hiking trails or do all of them if you’re feeling especially active, passing through prehistorical agricultural remnants, water springs and ancient settlements. Plan for half a day of outdoor activities, and pack a picnic lunch – or opt for the little café in the upper parking area. The information desk in the upper parking area has a mountain bicycle rental station.
Fancy some more nature? Then it’s time to go underground. The Stalactites Cave, also known as Avshalom Cave or Soreq Cave, situated 3km from Beit Shemesh, is an astonishing cave studded with stalactites and stalagmites dating back some 300,000 years. The guided tour starts with a short film that explains all about stalactites and stalagmites, after which you set off on a 45-minute long underground adventure. It’s a family-friendly course, but not for strollers due to the 150 steps leading to (and from) the cave. Prepare for high humidity and endless oohs and ahhhs!
Now it’s time to turn north and visit a true birdwatcher’s paradise. Welcome to Hula Lake Park, a resting spot for 500,000,000 migrating birds who stop over on their way from Europe to Africa and back. Apart from the 390 different species of birds that take up residence for the spring and autumn, lucky observers might get a glimpse of wild acts and water buffalo.
The lake suffered massive damages following misguided draining attempts in the 1950’s. Thankfully, a re-flooding project initiated in the 1990’s has helped the area regain its past glory. An 8.5km track surrounds the lake and includes many good observation spots.
The city of Ramla (also known as Ramleh, but not to be confused with Ramallah in the West Bank) is located in the center of Israel, a quick 30-minute ride from Tel Aviv, or 45 minutes from Jerusalem. This 1,400-year-old city has plenty to offer in the way of history – Muslim rule, the Crusaders, Ottomans and the British, all favored the city for its central location.
Ramla’s Old City is a good place to spend the day. Start off at the White Tower, a twelfth-to-fourteenth-century beauty overlooking the Ayalon Valley. The 30-meter tower is the alleged home to the Tomb of Nabi Salah (Salah the Prophet), and was possibly used as a minaret for a mosque. Climb up to the observation point for a delightful view of central Israel.
From that point continue to the Pool of arches, where you can enter a small rowboat and explore this underground water reservoir, making your way through beautiful archways. By now you should be hungry enough to hit the famous Ramla Market and take in the colors, head-spinning aromas and sounds of authentic food stalls. You are sure to find a satisfying midday snack, and maybe top it off with a new dress or pair of sandals at ridiculous prices.
Finish the day off at the Ramla Museum, formerly an administrative headquarters of the British Mandate period. It’s a great way to get a grip on the city’s historical significance and take a peek at some ancient relics.