Israel Government Tourist Office in the UKAddress:
Mon-Thurs 0900-1600, Fri 0900-1230.
Israel Government Tourist Office in the USAAddress:
Mon-Thurs 0900-1600, Fri 0900-1230.
Things to see and do
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee is a large lake in Israel’s beautiful Jezreel Valley that is as picturesque as it is historically important. The shores are dotted with churches commemorating Jesus’ miracles and baptism, while Tiberias – one of Judaism’s four holy cities – is a popular tourist destination for young Israelis.
Baha’i Shrine and German Colony, Haifa
Taking pride of place in the heart of Israel’s third largest city are the Baha’i Shrine and German Colony. The perfectly manicured Persian Gardens tumble down the hill that characterises Haifa’s topography and into the German Colony below, at their centre the golden-topped Baha’i Shrine of the Bab, founder of the Baha’i Faith.
Known as Jesus’ childhood home and the scene of Mary’s annunciation, Nazareth attracts scores of pilgrims from around the world. The predominantly Arab Christian city, where tiny, cobbled lanes weave between churches, mosques and a busy souk. The grand Basilica of the Annunciation takes pride of place in the centre of the city.
Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Dominated by church spires and the white tombs of the Jewish cemetery is the Mount of Olives. Christianity, Judaism and Islam meet once again as significant events of our past were played out here. The Garden of Gethsemane, Dome of the Ascension and Tomb of the Virgin Mary are top pilgrimage sites.
Akko Old City
Akko’s Old City is a jumble of buildings dotted by minarets and church spires, and encompassed by a great citadel and imposing walls. Crusaders, Ottomans, Napoleon, the British Mandate authorities and Jewish freedom fighters combine to form a colourful past, while today Akko is a lively Arab city, with a bustling market and quaint fishing port.
This unique geological phenomenon is located in the heart of the barren Negev Desert. It was formed as an ancient sea that once covered this region retreated and today measures a vast 45km (28miles) long, 8km (5miles) wide and 500m (1640ft) deep and provides for some astounding views, and a wealth of hiking opportunities.
Jerusalem's Old City
Jerusalem’s Old City is a living museum of religious buildings and historical intrigue. Be sure to visit the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jewish Western Wall and Islamic Dome of the Rock – some of the world’s most significant buildings. Explore the bustling markets and narrow lanes of the four Old City Quarters.
Dome of the Rock
The intricately beautiful Dome of the Rock stands high on Temple Mount (Har HaBayit in Hebrew, Haram esh-Sharif in Arabic) in Jerusalem and is spiritually significant for both Jews and Muslims.
Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim district is home to Israel’s largest community of strictly observant Orthodox Jews who keep all their East European dress and traditions alive. Go there for a stroll and it’ll feel like you’re in pre-war Europe.
Western Wall Plaza
Encounter Jewish faith and resilience in the immense, animated Western Wall Plaza (www.thekotel.org), below Temple Mount. Go on a Western Wall tunnel tour, which takes you to portions of the wall now buried deep beneath the city.
Jerusalem Archaeological Park
The newly reconstructed Hulda Steps, once the main entrance to the Temple, are in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (www.archpark.org.il), a few paces from Western Wall Plaza. Its Davidson Center includes a virtual reconstruction of a visit to the Temple 2,000 years ago. Experience Christianity at its most profound, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the site of the Crucifixion. A complex of different shrines, it is the heart of the Christian Quarter.
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
The impressive and moving Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum was built in remembrance of the six million Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust. A visit to Yad Vashem (www.yadvashem.org) is crucial to understanding the history of the country. The museum is extensive and contains many displays and exhibits.
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem (www.imj.org.il) houses the country’s principal collection of impressive archaeological discoveries and ancient art. These include the Dead Sea Scrolls housed within their own grand wing known as the Shrine of the Book. A trip to the museum is crucial to understanding Israel’s long and complex history.
Museum of the Jewish Diaspora
Music, textiles, reconstructions and film footage at the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora (www.bh.org.il) convey the cultural diversity of the Jewish people during the 2,000 years of worldwide diaspora. Have fun while learning about Israel’s kaleidoscope of history at the fascinating seafront ruins of Caesarea (www.caesarea.org.il), once a great Roman city, with later Byzantine and Crusader sections. Wander marked paths or visit the Caesarea Experience multimedia presentation.
The cliff-top palace of Masada was built by King Herod and offers breath-taking views of the Dead Sea and Negev Desert. It also holds an important place in the history books and hearts of Jews as the last remaining Jewish stronghold in of the Roman-controlled land.
Lying 400m (1320ft) below sea level, the Dead Sea is a natural wonder. Its abundance of minerals and salt make it hugely buoyant, and it is a prime centre for health treatments. The Dead Sea has strong Biblical connections; here the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and King Herod built his palace of Masada.
Exploring the traditional markets is a definite highlight of a trip to Israel. Fling yourself into Tel Aviv’s Shuk HaCarmel, brimming with spices and fresh produce, try the traditional dishes in the Mahane Yehuda food market in Jerusalem or haggle for anything from souvenirs to jewellery along the narrow streets of Jerusalem Old City.
A trip into the Negev desert is a must-do. There are tours by jeep, on foot or on horseback from the desert town of Mitzpe Ramon and from the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
The waters off Eilat are rich in coral and perfect for some underwater sightseeing. Scuba or snorkel on underwater trails, take a submarine tour, or just marvel at the scene through the windows of the Eilat’s amazing Underwater Observatory.
Go to a performance by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, or the New Israel Opera, or one of several other great orchestras in Tel Aviv which draw audiences from all over the world.
The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City traces the traditional path Jesus walked from judgment to crucifixion. The nine ‘stations’ along the route lead to five more in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
These intriguing communities can be found all over Israel and many offer accommodation facilities for tourists. They offer a great insight into a local kibbutz life and are unique to the country. Several kibbutz offer workshops or, as with Israel’s first kibbutz, Deganya A a small museum.
National parks and reserves
Israel’s historic treasures and breathtaking landscapes are protected in over 60 national parks and nature reserves (www.parks.org.il). Remains of once grand cities such as Bet She’an and Caesarea are true archaeological highlights, while the Ein Gedi and Yehudiya nature reserves offer natural beauty and opportunities for hiking. .
With four coasts to choose from, Israel has an impressive variety of beaches. Sandy beaches line the Mediterranean Coast, notably Tel Aviv and north of Netanya, while the Red Sea offers access to colourful coral reefs. The Sea of Galilee’s beaches are ideal for picnics and the Dead Sea offers a truly unique experience.
The spooky Hezekiah’s Tunnel (www.cityofdavid.org), a 500m (1,649ft) underground passage, looks like the perfect set for an Indiana Jones film. The tunnel serves to bring spring water to the Pool of Siloam, mentioned in the Bible as the place where Jesus healed a blind man. You’ll need shorts, sandals and a strong flashlight.