Things to see and do in Israel
Attractions in Israel
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 unique and restorative experience.
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.
Lying 430m (1,412ft) below sea level and spanning the border between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea is a natural wonder. It contains more minerals and salt than any other stretch of water in the world, making it inhabitable for plants and marine life. The saltiness also makes it possible to float on top of the water. Its natural properties make it a prime centre for spa treatments and relaxation therapies offered by a number of resorts in the area. The Dead Sea has strong Biblical connections via the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known Biblical documents, and as the site where King Herod built his palace of Masada.
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.
Haifa: Baha’i Shrine and German Colony
Taking pride of place in the heart of Israel's third largest city are the Baha'i Shrine and German Colony. The golden-topped Baha'i Shrine of the Bab, founder of the Baha'i Faith, stands atop an iconic hill that overlooks Haifa and is adorned by the perfectly manicured accompanying Baha'i Gardens. At the foot of the hill, you’ll find the German Colony, the beautifully restored cultural centre of the city full of cafes, restaurants and boutiques.
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.
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.
Jerusalem: Israel Museum
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 which are displayed in an urn-shaped grand wing known as the Shrine of the Book. A trip to the museum will open your eyes to Israel's long and complex history.
Jerusalem: Mount of Olives
Dominated by church spires and the white tombs of the Jewish cemetery is the Mount of Olives. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam meet once again where significant events of each religion's past played out. The Garden of Gethsemane, Dome of the Ascension, and Tomb of the Virgin Mary are top pilgrimage sites.
Jerusalem: Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
The impressive and moving Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem 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 for understanding the history of the country. The museum is extensive and contains many displays and exhibits.
Jerusalem: the Old City
Jerusalem's Old City is a living museum of religious buildings and historical intrigue. Be sure to visit some of the world's most significant buildings including the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jewish Western Wall and the Islamic Dome of the Rock. Explore the bustling markets and narrow lanes of the four Old City Quarters.
These intriguing collective settlements can be found all over Israel and many offer workshops and accommodation facilities for tourists. They give great insight into local kibbutz life which is unique to the country. Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley had the first photovoltaic solar panel field in Israel and is also the site of date palm sprouted from a 2000-year-old seed found at the archaeological site of Masada.
Exploring the traditional markets is a definite highlight of a trip to Israel. Fling yourself into Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, 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's Old City.
The cliff-top palace of Masada was built by King Herod and offers breathtaking 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 when the Romans controlled the land. If you're up for it, make the trek to the top for incomparable sunrise views.
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.
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.
National parks and reserves
Israel's historic treasures and breathtaking landscapes are protected in over 70 national parks and nature reserves (www.parks.org.il). Remains of once grand cities such as Bet She'an and Caesarea are true archaeological wonders, while the Ein Gedi and Yehudiya nature reserves offer natural beauty and opportunities for hiking.
Known as Jesus' childhood home and the scene of Mary's annunciation, Nazareth attracts scores of pilgrims from around the world. In this predominantly Arab Christian city, where tiny, cobbled lanes weave between churches, mosques and a busy souk, you'll find the grand Basilica of the Annunciation looming proud and Nazareth Village, an open-air living-museum showcasing what life would have been like in the time of Jesus.
Negev desert: Makhtesh Ramon
Makhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is a unique geological phenomenon located in the heart of the barren Negev Desert. It was formed after an ancient sea that once covered this region retreated, leaving a massive elongated heart-shaped crater in its wake. Today it measures a vast 40km (25 miles) long, 10km (6 miles) wide, and 500m (1,640ft) deep and provides for some astounding views, a wealth of wildlife-spotting and hiking opportunities.
Old City of Acre
Acre'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 Acre is a lively city with a bustling market and quaint fishing port.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Israel Government Tourist Office in the UKAddress: London, W1A 6GP
Telephone: +44 207 299 1100
Israel Government Tourist Office in the USAAddress:
Telephone: +1 646 799 6758