Africa, Asia, and Europe converge at Israel. Its unique geography has shaped its culture and its landscape, from the breathtaking Negev and Judean deserts, to the Red Sea resorts of Eilat, to the bucolic Golan mountains. A journey through the country is a lesson in history and civilization. Begin in Jerusalem, an ancient city that is sacred to three religions. With hallowed places such as Galilee, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the Jordan River to continue your explorations, you quickly realize that Israel packs huge historical and geopolitical importance into a surprisingly small size.
GOOD TO KNOW
Vastly different Israels attract very different travelers. Spiritual sojourners can visit cities and shrines sacred to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Jerusalem’s Old City alone is significant to each of these religions: Follow Jesus’ steps down the Via Dolorosa; join Jewish pilgrims at the Western Wall; or gaze upon the sparkling Dome of the Rock, from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven. Sun worshipers can turn their attention to Israel’s sparkling Mediterranean coast and beach lifestyle. The health-conscious will trek to the Dead Sea to soak in mud baths and spas, while art enthusiasts may feel more at home in cultural powerhouses like Tel Aviv.
In a country as sunny as Israel, there’s no excuse for sequestering yourself indoors. Do as the Israelis do and enjoy a life lived outside. Hikes through Ein Gedi National Park in the Negev desert reveal ancient ruins, cool springs, and splendid desert flora. Travel north to Mount Hermon in winter and you can visit the ski resort on the summit’s southern (Israeli) side. Those who prefer their adventure at sea level—or beneath it—can take to the Mediterranean for a sail along the coast, the Dead Sea for a salty swim, or the Red Sea to explore the coral reefs and spectacular dive sites that surround the happy, heady vacation city of Eilat.
FOOD AND DRINK
Israel’s diversity is beautifully expressed at the table, and the dishes you eat will often represent a specific culture. Sephardic Jewish tradition, for example, takes the region’s finest produce and prepares it with a distinctly Middle Eastern flair. You’re sampling this cuisine when you dip pita bread in creamy hummus, drizzle tahini over falafel, or chop vegetables into Israeli salad. Meanwhile, gefilte fish, baked goods, and Eastern European flavors characterize Ashkenazi Jewish food. And great tastes do not discriminate: You’re just as likely to enjoy the best meal of your journey in an open-air market as a high-end restaurant.
Although Israel only officially became a state in 1948, the young country has confronted more than its share of struggles, not least of which is integrating millions of immigrants from dozens of nations. Like the United States, Israel is often described as a melting pot. Its culture and identity have deep Jewish roots, but immigrants from Europe, North Africa, Russia, and Ethiopia contribute to an unexpected and inspiring national character. The evidence is in the cuisine, the chatter of different languages in public squares, and the large number of festivals and holidays celebrated throughout the year—both religious and secular.
5 Must-Do’s in Israel
1. Swim in the Dead Sea
One experience you certainly cannot miss when exploring Israel is going for a swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest point of the earth. The salty water lets you float in a seated position without having to paddle! Better avoid diving in – even a small drop of The Dead Sea’s water is unimaginably salty. A face mask with the rich Dead Sea mud is also a must!
2. Visit the Old City in Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is a melting pot like no other with important religious sites such as the Western Wall which represents the holiest site in the world for Jews, the Dome of the Rock which is of utter importance to Muslims and the Church of the Sepulcher where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried, each are only a few minutes walk apart.
3. Go for a scuba dive and snorkel in the Red Sea
Israel mainly lies on the Mediterranean Sea’s Eastern shore but also touches the Gulf of Aqaba in its South. As an avid diver or passionate snorkeler, you shouldn’t miss visiting one of the world’s shore diving capitals, Eilat. Explore the mesmerizing underwater world classed as one of the best-protected coral reefs in the Red Sea. Don’t miss the Wreck of the Satil ship with its fascinating bridge, engine room and missile launching area waiting to be explored!
4. Visit the Baha’i gardens in Haifa
The Bahai Gardens are to be found on Mount Carmel in Haifa, a port city on the northern west coast of Israel. Climb up the 1,700 steps of this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site for the most breathtaking views over the deep blue Haifa Bay passing emerald lawns and bright flower beds.
5. Soak in the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is a city like no other – combining tradition with buzzing beach city vibes it’s an experience that will certainly be with you forever. From cute corner cafés to busy nightclubs, from the historic old town Jaffa to sunsets at the beach filled with families, tourists, millenials and locals alike, this town is one best to be explored at your own pace. Enjoy browsing our Tel Aviv must-do’s listed below – you shouldn’t miss them when exploring the vibrant city!