This article is about Israel at a glance. Many tourists asked me where they suppose to go! Well, here is your oversight depending on your intentions and preferences. Some people love historical sights, others religious, cultures, hiking, family, cities, beaches, deserts and much more. If that is so, Israel is your excellent destination.
Sacred Sites – The Western Wall, Jesus’s tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock: Jerusalem’s many more religious sites could keep you busy for weeks, if not months. Take a look at the 52 churches in Jerusalem to have a vague idea.
Diversity – Ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing shtreimels (fur hats), secular Jews in short shorts and tank tops, Palestinian Muslims on their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Christian clergy in long robes, feminist Orthodox Jews, gay-rights activists, free-spirited artists – you’ll run into them all on Jerusalem’s wonderfully diverse streets.
As a tour guide, I led and created many tours in Jerusalem. If they were religious tours, pilgrim tours, Israeli or gem tours, the city is huge and the number of sights are staggering. And Jerusalem hides so much history and excitement from us normal tourists, like secret half hidden caves, ‘cursed sites’, haunted houses, curious neighborhoods, hidden churches, tunnels and caves and grottoes and so much more. And it’s Jerusalem, this city with a history not normal (destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times) and its age is 6,500 years! The Jewish people (King David) sacked Jerusalem from the Canaanite inhabitants in c. 1000 BCE. For sure that there are many stories to tell about this city (source).
Tel Aviv-Jaffa (Yafo)
Fine Dining – Yes, Tel Aviv has fantastic beaches, but the city’s real passion is food. From felafel stalls and hummus joints to gelato parlours, European-style cafes, sushi bars and restaurants run by celebrity chefs, you won’t go hungry here.
Entertainment – Tel Aviv is the White City, which never sleeps. That’s certainly true, whenever you are awake, Tel Aviv too but never sleeps itself. The entertainment there goes from the restaurants, bars, nightclubs and dancings to the dynamic street life, enough to entertain anyone in this city. If you are looking for free entertainment, or the most fanciest opera or ballet, or rock concert to techno music, it’s there. And we are talking about entertainment for the teenagers, for the elders and everyone between and not to forget the children with their Luna parks, theme- and water-parks and much more.
Boutiques – Tel Aviv has Israel’s best shopping. Shop till your credit card groans in bazaars, modern malls and designer boutiques on Sheinken, Dizengoff and Shabazi streets. And then we have the markets, from the middle eastern styled markets like the Carmel market in the center of Tel Aviv, to the specialized markets like flea-, second hand-, vegetables-, meat- and food-markets.
Exhibitions – Head to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for Israeli, Middle-Eastern and European art, Beit Hatfutsot and the Eretz Israel Museum for history and culture, and Design Museum Holon for contemporary exhibits and many other museums.
Beaches – Many people are dreaming about white beaches and Tel Aviv has loads of white beaches in an excellent state and they are full each summer day when the tourists are waking up and fill the white burning sand near the cooling water of the sea.
Tel Aviv is not an ancient city, but relative young. But it’s combined with Jaffa, and that’s an old, ancient city with a huge often bloody history.
Haifa & the North Coast
Ancient Ports – Caesarea was one of the great ports of antiquity and, 1000 years later, a walled Crusader stronghold. Akko (Acre), visited by Marco Polo on his way to China, is brimming with medieval and Ottoman history.
Spiritual Gardens – Haifa’s incredible Baha’i Gardens are a spiritual highlight for people of all faiths. Elijah’s Cave in Haifa is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The area was once witness of the titan battles between the Jewish and the foreign gods with fire and brimstone and all.
Lower Galilee & Sea of Galilee
Jesus’s Ministry – Mary is said to have experienced the Annunciation in Nazareth, later Jesus’s childhood home. It is believed that the Transfiguration took place at Mt Tabor, and Jesus spent much of his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Here you can truly follow the footsteps of Jesus.
Upper Galilee & Golan
Wild Trails – Trails for all fitness levels abound, from the alpine summit of Mt Hermon (elevation more than 2000m) to the banks of the Jordan River (elevation less than 200m), and through the cliff-lined canyons of the Banias and Yehudiya Nature Reserves.
Migrations – Half a billion birds migrate through the Hula Valley – you can spot local and migrating species in the wetlands of the Hula Nature Reserve and Agamon HaHula, especially in spring and autumn.
Winery Visits – Many of Israel’s finest wineries, some of them boutique, can be visited at Katzrin, Ein Zivan and Odem on the Golan and on the Dalton Plateau northwest of Tsfat (Safed). But honestly, wineries you can find also in and around Jerusalem, even in the Negev, right in the middle of the desert.
And don’t think that the Golan is some dump nature area, because you are very wrong. The Golan has its own history and can also be called ancient, it knew Israelite settlements before many other cities in Israel (and the world). Ancient civilizations existed here already before the Canaan!
Local Food – Don’t pass up any invitation for a home-cooked meal in the West Bank, where the dinner table overflows with spicy, tangy Middle Eastern delicacies. The best restaurants are in Ramallah.
Holy Sites – For Jews and Muslims the Cave of Machpelah is an important pilgrimage site. Christian sites include the Church of Nativity and the Mount of Temptation. No spiritual exploration of the West Bank is complete without a trip to the Samaritans of Mt Gerizim.
The what is now called West Bank is an area, with a many cultural influences from the Christians to the Israelites. Later it was conquered by the Muslims and since then they stamped their presence all in the area.
The Dead Sea
Dead Sea – Float on your back while reading the newspaper – a cliché but eminently doable in the hyper saline waters of the Dead Sea, which will relax your nerves and soothe your skin.
Masada – The Romans had already destroyed Jerusalem, but high atop Masada, 1000 Jews resisted the besieging might of Legion X, in the end preferring death to slavery.
Desert Oases -Year-round springs feed the dramatic desert oases of Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek, where hikers encounter cool streams, luxuriant vegetation, Edenic waterfalls and rare wildlife such as majestic Nubian ibexes.
But that is not all, of course. There are important caves, there are mountains, deserts, wilderness, which is hardly touched by humans or civilizations.
It’s history is long, far before the Israelites, Romans, even the Canaan were populated the Middle East. Many traces of lost civilizations are still visible, but others are gone, hidden under the sand and waiting to be discovered over the coming years. Now the wilderness is traveled by Bedouins, trekkers, hikers and some tourists, with here and there some islands of wineries and other settlements, which manage to turn desert into grasslands or agriculture.
And of course, it’s also the place of beauty, mountains, deserts, canyons, plains, craters and oasis and here and there some ancient cities half buried under the sand.