10 Most Important Places To Visit In Israel
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Israel is such a small country but is full of diversity and so many interesting places to visit. The population is a mix of religions, with Jews being the majority, and then Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Baháʼí. The main Jewish population is also a mix of cultures, as the Jews came to Israel from all over the world, each group bringing its unique traditions and foods, to create the actual Israeli culture.
Geography-wise, Israel has beaches and mountains, deserts and green valleys, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and more. It has spiritual and holy sites, but also world-class night clubs and a vibrant night scene. Israel is full of history, culture, attractions, and it’s so small that you can enjoy it all in a relatively short visit.
Here are the best places to visit in Israel:
Tel Aviv – The City That Never Stops
The biggest city of Israel, Tel Aviv is where everything happens. The development of Tel Aviv represents the development of the country. It started as a small neighborhood of one street and has grown to be a live-and-kicking city, that never sleeps. The first street, Hertzl, is still in the same place today with the old 2-floor buildings.
The cafes, and there are plenty of them, are always full of people enjoying their coffee with a sandwich or a full meal. The streets are alive with people strolling and shopping. The shopping malls are a great escape from the hot and humid days. The beaches of Tel Aviv, almost 9 miles long, are one of the city’s magnets. They are well maintained, beautiful – especially during sunsets, and full most of the time. The restaurants are amazing, and I mean – AMAZING. Israeli and international cuisines, street food or fancy restaurants, the local chefs know how to make good food. The vegan food scene is also very interesting here. It is one of the best in the world, thanks to its creativity, freshness, and wonderful flavors.
In the evenings the bars fill up with groups of people for a beer or two (or more) and this is when the night scene awakes. Night clubs are open not only on the weekends, so prepare yourself for great party time. Some of the best clubs are Kuli Alma, Lima Lima, and The Block.
Tip 1: You want to spend a few days in Tel Aviv, a weekday and the weekend, day and night. Try to absorb everything that the city has to offer.
Tip 2: The entrance to the beaches is free but the services are pricey. To avoid high costs, bring a rug or chairs, and your favorite food or fruits (beers are a no no). That’s how the locals do it.
Jerusalem – The Holy City
Jerusalem is probably the holiest city in the world and one of the most fascinating places to visit in Israel. For Judaism, this is where many events from the Bible took place, and where the Temple was standing (on Temple Mount). Christians find it holy as this is where Jesus had the Last Supper, was crucified, and then resurrected. For Muslims, this is the third most important city, where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven (on the same Temple Mount). Throughout the years, many synagogues, churches, and mosques have been built in the city. This brought international influences and created one of the most interesting architectural styles.
The city of Jerusalem carries so much history, especially because it was so important to all religions. It was conquered by the Romans, Greeks, Mamluks, Crusaders, Ottomans (Turks), and many others. Archeological sites that show this wide history are all around the city. The more interesting ones are the Tower of David museum and The Western Wall Tunnels. The tunnels’ exit is on Via Dolorosa, where you can follow Jesus’s path towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The population of Jerusalem is a mix of Jews, both orthodox and secular, Arabs, Armenians, and more. That creates a unique cultural mosaic that is impressive to look at. The people of Jerusalem demonstrate a good co-living environment. Blend in as you walk in the alleys of the old city, in the markets, and in between the religious sites.
More places you don’t want to miss are The Shuk Mahne-Yehuda (the market) – during the day and during the night; the Knesset – the local parliament of the only democracy in the Middle East; Temple Mount and the golden Dome of the Rock; and Mount of Olives for an amazing view of the old city from the east. Read more about Top 10 sites in Jerusalem here.
Tip 2: One of the best restaurants in Jerusalem is Machneyuda, which offers high-quality Israeli food in Jerusalem style. The chefs that are responsible for the excellent food here are Assaf Granit and Uri Navon. Granit owns several other restaurants in the city, in Paris and London, but the vibes here different and special. Playing loud music, the waiters sometimes dance, and it’s an overall fun time. It’s not the typical upscale chef-restaurant, but it’s a great experience. Book your table in advance.
The Dead Sea – The Lowest Place On Earth
The Dead Sea is a salt-lake on the east side of Israel and is the lowest spot on earth. 400 meters below sea level, this place is a big attraction for people from all around the world. The Dead Sea is located one to two hours southeast of Jerusalem (depends on which places you are driving to). You can make a one-day trip, or you can stay longer in one of the fancy hotels on the beach. If you choose the latter, prepare yourself for relaxation in the salty water, hot tubs, spas with mineral-rich mud, or just around the hotel’s pool. The mud of the dead sea is famous all over the world for its high concentration of minerals that are good for the detoxification process, tightening and exfoliating dead skin.
If you are looking for some adventures, the dead sea is also a great point to explore the Judea mountains around you. Climb up the mountains to see the beautiful view below you and the mountains of Jordan in front of you. Walk down, carefully, in the creeks, alongside freshwater streams, back to the beach. If you are lucky, you might see the impressive wild Nubian Ibex in their natural habitat. The most famous trek in this area is the one that goes up to Masada. It’s not an easy one, so if you want to go up effortlessly, use the cable car (paid).
Masada is a unique landmark that is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The stand-alone mountain with a flat peak was the last village to stand against the Romans in the Jewish revolt of 66-73 AD. The archeological findings are fascinating and the view from above is breathtaking.
Tip 1: If you want to purchase rich dead sea skin products, check out Ahava (means LOVE in Hebrew). They have a store here, and you can also order online and ship worldwide.
Tip 2: Daniel Dead Sea Hotel is a good hotel in this area. The rooms are big, with a big swimming pool and easy access to the beach.
Eilat – the desert meets the red sesa
The Southernmost city of Israel is like no other city here. Located between the Eilat Mountains on one side and the Red Sea on the other, this city is a diamond for tourists. The beach promenade is full of big 5 stars hotels, restaurants, and bars. Behind them, around the marina, you can find some less-fancy hotels, but almost all have swimming pools and good size rooms. The big hotels are known for their services – Kids activities, Spa, and buffet breakfast. Oh, the breakfast!
The attractions of Eilat combine water and desert. The beaches on the promenade are good, well equipped and might get very busy in the summer. You can either chill out or go for some water activity like Speed boats, Parasailing, Catamarans, and more. A short taxi ride towards the border with Egypt will take you to the diving and snorkeling zone. The coral reef of Eilat is beautiful and is the home of hundreds of species of corals and other aquatic animals. If you want to see the underwater life without getting wet, visit the Underwater Observatory.
The desert is the other side of Eilat’s attractiveness. Mountains and valleys are only a short ride from the hotel area. You can hike, take a 4WD tour, or go to Timna Park, the world’s first-ever copper mine, dated to ancient imperial Egypt. Here you can see impressive rocks shaped beautifully by nature, enjoy around the lake (yes, lake!), and learn about the history of the place.
Tip 1: Eilat is the only city in Israel that doesn’t charge VAT. It means that big chains, that keep the same prices all over the country, will be 17% cheaper here.
Tip 2: You can take an interesting day trip from Eilat to the lost city of Petra in Jordan. It was built 2500 years ago inside the walls of the desert canyon and is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. Read here more about how to spend a week in Jordan.
The Craters – Wonder Of Nature
The craters of south Israel (and Sinay desert) are a unique landscape that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. They weren’t created by a meteor or a volcanic eruption, it was nature at its best! Throughout millions of years, rivers have been carving the soft rock of the desert, forming the shape of the crater.
Ramon Crater (Makhtesh in Hebrew) is the largest one and the way in is through the visitor center in Mitzpe Ramon. The visitor center provides information about the geography, geology, flora, fauna, and history of the region. There are multiple hiking options inside the crater, from 2 hours to a full day. So based on your plans and strength, choose your route and enjoy the beauty of the desert. Seeing the Nubian Ibex or the gazelles is an amazing sight of nature.
If you want to stay here for the night and enjoy the outdoors, there’s a camping site in Khan Be’erot. On the other side of lodging options, you have the very fancy Hotel Beresheet in Mitzpe Ramon on the edge of the Makhtesh with unbelievable views.
Caesarea – historical Roman city
One of Israel’s major tourist attraction is the old Roman city of Caesarea. The history of Caesarea goes back to 30 BCE when it was established by Herod the Great, the Roman ruler of the area. Later it was conquered and ruled by many others, each leaving their remarks on the city.
The biggest attraction here is the old Roman amphitheater. The amphitheater is a spectacular relic of the past, that today is a live concert venue for the best performers of Israel. Inside the gate of the theater you can see a plaque that was found here with names of the rulers from the time of Jesus. This is a replica and the original is at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Climb up the seating area and imagine the Roman-style performances that took place on the stage here, with the crowd cheering all around. Yes, I also think about Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
Leaving the amphitheater, continue to explore the archeological park. Walking between the ruins and seeing the items that were found here take you back in time, while the view and breeze of the Mediterranean escort you along the way.
Tip: 20 minutes north to Caesarea, on the south edge of Mount Carmel, there’s a small town called Zichron Yaakov. The city has an interesting story from the beginning of the 20th century about spies, settlement, and love. The city center is a short promenade with a small museum that tells that story. On the edge of the mountain there are few hotels with lovely views of the Mediterranean.
Haifa and Carmel Mountain – mixture of cultures
Haifa is the third biggest city of Israel and has some unique attractions like no other city in Israel. The City’s landscape is very interesting as it is built on the shore of Haifa bay, where the biggest port in Israel is located, and it goes up to the peak of Mount Carmel. You can view this beautiful landscape from Louis promenade on the top of the mountain.
There are two interesting ways to get up the mountain, that are not by car or a bus. First, the cable car that goes from Bat Galim promenade on the beach to the Stella Maris monastery in the Carmel Woods. At the bottom of the cable car, you can visit the Navy Museum and get into a submarine. The second option is to take the only underground train in Israel, Carmelit, that goes from downtown Haifa up to Gan Ha’Em on the mountain. This train is probably one of the most bizarre trains you’ve seen and that’s already a good reason to take a ride. From the last stop at Gan Ha’Em, you can go to the local zoo, the Louis Promenade, and the Bahai Gardens.
Bahai and Druze
The Bahai religion is the fourth and latest monotheistic religion, started only 200 years ago, and set its world center here in Haifa. The Gardens are astounding and built on 19 terraces down the mountain. Check here for more information on the tours and hours of operation.
On the bottom of the Bahai gardens you will make it to the German Colony. This is a great spot for lunch or dinner, with the view of the gardens in front of you. Not far from here, you can walk to Wadi Nisnas to see the old market of Jews and Arabs selling artisan wares. If you are still hungry then this is the place for a good falafel or hummus.
On the back of Mount Carmel, you can find two Druze towns, Isfiya and Daliyat El Carmel. This is your chance to see another ethnic group of Israel. Walk in the alleys or the market of the main street and you might get an invite into a family home and learn from them about their religion. The Druze are famous for their hospitality and kindness.
Akko (Acre) – middle eastern history
Akko is located on the northern side of the Haifa bay and the old city of Akko is facing Haifa. The history of Akko goes back four thousand years ago with a continuous existence. While the walls of the old city are relatively “young” (built by the Ottomans 200 years ago), the older part of the city is the Knights halls. Here you can see and learn about the history of the Crusaders who ruled the city 1000 years ago. Another interesting site from that era is the Templar Tunnel that connected the Templar fortress with the port. The Fortress doesn’t exist today, but the port does, and it’s another place you would want to visit. Walk on the port to the Marina and inside the old city to see the market and the Turkish Bazar.
Sea of Galilee – where nature and history meet
The Sea of Galilee, Kinneret in Hebrew, is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth. Moreover, the only lake that is lower is the Dead Sea (saltwater). The surrounding landscape is beautiful with the Golan Heights to the east, and the Galil mountains to the west. To the north and south you see the Jordan valley, with the Jordan river crossing the lake.
The biggest city around the lake is Tiberias, that offers nice hotels, a promenade along the lake, restaurants and lots of water activities. If you just want to spend time on the beach, then go to one of the 40 beaches that surround the lake. Some of them offer guest houses or camping areas if you want to spend the night here.
On the south side of the Kinneret, you can enjoy Hamat Gader – Thermo mineral hot springs that the Romans have already discovered 800 years ago. The site is a popular destination for tourists and locals, that come here to relax in the pools, jacuzzi, and spa. Next to the springs, there’s an alligator farm, where you can see and learn about these interesting and frightening creatures. Accommodation in the place is also available.
Other interesting sites here are related to the history of Christianity and Jesus. The Yardenit in the south of the lake is where Jesus was baptized. On the northwestern side you can visit Capernaum National Park – the town of Jesus, and Tabgha, where Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Tip: The Golan heights, right above the Kinneret, has many sites to visit. If you have few more days in the area you can enjoy hiking trails, watch bald eagles at Gamla, watch over Syria at Mount Bental, or take a wine tour in one of the wineries here.
Nazareth – the hometown of Jesus’ parents
Nazareth is a very interesting city. On one side, it hosts many important Christian sites, and on the other side it gives you a peak to the Arab lifestyle in Israel, as the population consists of both Christian and Muslin Arabs.
The most important church of the city is the Basilica of the Annunciation. The church stands where used to be the house of the Virgin Mary when she was told she will be the mother of the Son of God. Other sites here are St. Joseph’s Church, where Joseph’s carpentry workshop was at; the Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent with an exceptional view of the old city of Nazareth; the Synagogue Church; and St. Gabriel’s Church, the place of Annunciation by the Greek Orthodox.
Outside of churches, the city’s market (souk) is vibrant and colorful. Stroll in the alleys of the old city, between food, spices, veggies and fruit stores, and traditional Arab garments and clothes shops. This is a great location for gifts and souvenir shopping.
Tip: two eateries that you don’t want to miss: Tishreen for lunch or dinner, offers fusion Aran cuisine in a classic-Arab-design restaurant; and Nazareth sweets for dessert and takeout of Baklava and Knafeh.
The street food of Israel is Falafel and Hummus. Every city has its famous places that every local would recommend. I’d say that the majority is good and probably better than the ones you find in the outside of Israel (EU or US). It doesn’t matter how long you stay, eat at least once Falafel in a pita, and once Hummus.
Traveling in the big cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is easy with public transportation and taxis (no Uber here). if you go outside of the cities, it’s better to rent a car. The distances are not that big, but when you travel to the north or the south, it’s hard to rely on buses.
Saturday, Shabbat, is the holy day in Israel. While the country is not religious, many places are still closed on that day, which lasts from Friday Afternoon to Saturday evening. Restaurants and cafes are mostly open, but stores and shopping malls in the cities (especially in Jerusalem) are closed.