The sea. the desert, green mountains and that’s not all – Israel is a perfect place for a varied vacation; If you come for a week, here are the must sees
Though small in territory, Israel has loads of attractions – spectacular vistas, historical sites, vibrant cities and some of the holiest places on earth. It is very hard to put together a firm list of must-sees, as it boils down to your personal taste: if you’re on a pilgrimage, you shouldn’t miss Jerusalem and Galilee; if scuba diving is your thing, you’ll find a little piece of heaven in Eilat; and if you’re a fun-loving party-goer, you’ll probably want to extend your stay in Tel Aviv.
The following itinerary combines some of Israel’s highlights, and you can mix and match to suit your needs – stay a little longer in one place, and skip another if it doesn’t appeal. Either way, you will enjoy your stay:
Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) is known for its proximity to Tel Aviv, but is actually located on Hwy 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, about 33 miles (54 km) from the latter. Once you land in Israel, the country’s capital and largest city is easily accessible.
Built on several hills, Jerusalem is a fascinating and complicated city, home to Hassidic and secular Jews, to Christians and Muslims. It is mostly a low-rise city, spread over a large area. All buildings, even the most modern, are clad in a special rusticated stone, lending the city a distinctive look. With its massive walls and maze of cobbled alleyways, the Old City is high up on the must-see list. Be sure to visit some of its celebrated sites – the Western Wall and tunnels, the Tower of David, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and more.
Other highlights of any visit to Jerusalem are Yad Vashem, a museum and memorial to Holocaust victims; the Israel Museum, with its exceptional collection of ancient artifacts, alongside Judaica, Israeli and international art; and the colorful Mahane Yehuda Market, with its myriad of stalls piled high with produce, and excellent little restaurants.
Getting there: From Ben Gurion Airport (TLV), take a cab, a shared taxi, the train or a bus from the EL AL Junction (take a shuttle to the junction).
Length of stay: At least two days
Jerusalem to the Dead Sea
The hairpin drive is part of the attraction, as the road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea plummets sharply to the lowest place on earth, 1400 ft (427 m) below sea level. Finally, you reach Rte 90, running along the Dead Sea shoreline, with a few beaches along the way. This is your chance to dip in the world-famous salty water, and see if you actually float.
An arid desert, captivating views, therapeutic black mud and infinite serenity – this is what makes the Dead Sea a one-of-a-kind holiday destination. You can stay at one of the big hotels overlooking the beach, opt for a Kibbutz hotel in the area, or pitch a tent at a campsite. The area has no nightlife – no restaurants, shopping malls or entertainment – but the desert is the perfect place to while away the night and forget all your troubles.
A definite must-see is Massada: the hilltop fortress is a gripping site (take the cable car on your way up and walk back down), with gorgeous views of the desert and the Dead Sea to boot.
Getting there: From Jerusalem, you can reach the Dead Sea by bus or rental car, driving east on Hwy 1, then Rte 90 along the Dead Sea shoreline.
Length of stay: If you’re in a hurry, take a day trip to Massada and the Dead Sea. For a more leisurely visit, spend one night in the vicinity.
Eilat or Tel Aviv
Now you have two options: Drive south on Rte 90 to Eilat, or go up north on Rte 31 and join the freeway towards Tel Aviv.
If you’re into scuba diving, and you find the desert enchanting, driving south across the Arabah valley is highly recommended. The southern city of Eilat is brimming with hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions, but its most outstanding feature is the Red Sea, with its rich marine life.
The Red Sea coral reefs are some of the most beautiful and colorful in the world, and Eilat has ample opportunity to glimpse this wondrous world. Coral Beach Nature Reserve, at the south edge of the city, shelters one of the most beautiful reefs, with plenty of multicolored corals and fish. A few other recommended diving spots are: the Caves, the Eel Garden, the Satil Wreck (a sunken missile boat), the University and more. And you can also swim and dive with dolphins at the Dolphin Reef.
Getting there: It’s about 120 miles (190 km) from the Dead Sea to Eilat, south on Rte 90.
Length of stay: At least one day.
Whether you choose to drive straight from the Dead Sea, or after spending a couple of days in Eilat, Tel Aviv will certainly lure you. Israel’s most vibrant and upbeat city, justifiably called a City that Never Sleeps, is jam packed with cafes, bars and restaurants, and its streets are always abuzz, day and night.
One of Tel Aviv’s greatest assets is a swathe of sandy beaches, stretching from the most northerly neighborhoods to Jaffa in the south. The miles-long promenade is great for waking or cycling, for people watching or enjoying beautiful seascapes. One of the city’s must-see neighborhoods is Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside Old Jaffa. Today, its narrow alleys are filled with quaint stone houses, galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
Old Jaffa, clearly seen from the Tel Aviv promenade, is another fantastic place to visit. The Jaffa Flea Market is full of life and commerce during the day, and rich with atmospheric restaurants by night. Tel Aviv’s green boulevards, especially Rothschild Blvd., are ideally suited for a walking or cycling tour of the city, with the necessary pit stops for coffee.
Getting there: Head north from the Dead Sea on Rte 31, then join Hwy 6 (a toll road) or Rte 40 linking Beersheba with Tel Aviv. Coming from Eilat, the fastest (and most expensive) way is to fly to Tel Aviv, but driving should take about five hours.
Length of stay: One to three days.
The Baha’i Gardens and Acre
Head north of Tel Aviv, and after 55 miles (90 km) you will reach your first stop. Haifa’s neighborhoods fan out from its waterfront, climbing all the way to the top of Mount Carmel. This is where you’ll see the terraced Baha’i Gardens, stretching more than half a mile up the mountain from the German Colony in downtown Haifa.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, these beautifully manicured and perfectly symmetrical gardens include a golden-domed Baha’i temple and 19 terraces of lush vegetation and flower beds, fountains and other water features. The most celebrated view of the gardens is from the roundabout on Ben Gurion St, down by the German Colony (it is especially atmospheric at night, when it is beautifully lit).
From Haifa, continue due north on Hwy 4 to reach Acre. The Old City of Acre is surrounded by massive walls plunging straight into the sea. These walls harbor many points of interest – churches, mosques, museums, the Knights’ Halls (Hospitaller Fortress), lively markets and much more. Leave ample time to browse the quaint shops in the Turkish Bazaar and narrow alleyways of other markets, and don’t leave town without sampling the perfect hummus at some of the local restaurants.
Getting there: Haifa is well connected to Tel Aviv by bus, train or car (north on Hyw 2), and the same goes for the onward jaunt to Acre (north on Hwy 4).
Length of stay: You can visit both cities on a highly packed day trip (no overnight stay), and return to Tel Aviv. If you wish to continue your tour of the Galilee, stay the night in Acre or at one of the B&Bs (Zimmers) in the Western Galilee.
This lush and water-filled area lies in Israel’s northern reaches. Here you will find everything you need for a fun holiday in the great outdoors: Lofty mountains (the loftiest in Israel, at any rate), lots of woods, streams and springs, excellent birdwatching opportunities and even rafting in the Jordan River. To reach the most remote corners of the Galilee, a rental car is highly recommended.
Here are some of the must-sees: Rosh HaNikra grottoes and some of the Western Galilee beaches (Betzet and Achziv), the Artists’ Quarter in Safed, the old village at Rosh Pina, Hula Lake Park (a birdwatchers’ heaven), the Tanur Waterfall near Metula, and the Tel Dan Nature Reserve.