Holy Land, Promised Land, ticking time bomb; Israel is many things to many people, but above all, is a country jam-packed with landmarks of celestial significance. Visitors who brave the politics will be rewarded with biblical sights, a unique ancient-and-modern atmosphere and guaranteed sunshine.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Jesus, women soldiers, living history, floating in the Dead Sea, fine beach resorts, mud covers, Kibbutz life, over 50 national parks, falafel, arak liqueur, shopping at Carmel Market, Orthodox Jews.
What’s Not: Politics, suicide bombers, Hamas, unappealing Jerusalem, nervous soldiers, authoritative checkpoints, flash floods, hookah smoking, crazy drivers, molesting men, religious fanatics, jellyfish season.
When to Go
Israel enjoys a Mediterranean climate with a lovely spring (March to April) and autumn (September to October), and this is the best time to visit.
In July and August, southern Israel can be boiling and bone dry, but humid on the coast in Tel Aviv.
In other regions, November to March brings plenty of rain. Snow is rare.
Getting There & Away
The main airport is in Tel Aviv and domestic flights operate between here, Eliat and Haifa. Bus services are extensive, cheap, fast and reliable, while the railway network has recently been modernized. There are good bus services in all major centers. Many transport options do not run on Friday evenings and Saturdays.
Health & Safety
The political situation is far from stable and we recommend you stay informed of developments before and during your stay. In terms of crime, Israel is very safe, but there is always a risk of terror attacks. Water is safe to drink, but the hot climate and sun can quickly burn you. Healthcare is excellent but can be expensive.
Food & Hospitality
Israeli cuisine is a fusion of east and west and has a peculiar weakness for fresh, finely chopped salads, eaten at every mealtime including breakfast. Cooking is generally kosher, conforming to Jewish religious laws. There is a wide range of hotels, but the most interesting option is to stay in a Kibbutz, which offer clean and comfortable accommodation and often have swimming pools.
One week is the minimum you can get away with to take in some of the highlights.
- Two or three days to see Old Jerusalem’s highlights and enjoy New Jerusalem’s lively nightlife.
- Two or three days by the Dead Sea, having a mud bath and floating in the mineral-rich healing seawaters. Nearby attractions include the oasis Ein Gedi and Masada, an ancient Jewish mountaintop fort.
- One or two days at Tzippori archaeological site, first settled by the Hasmoneans in the 2nd century BC, boasting original colonnaded roadways, a Crusader citadel and an underground network of cisterns and aqueducts.
- A couple of days in Tel Aviv, with its Yemenite quarter, sleazy vodka cafés and pastel pink beachfront condos.
- Two or three days in Banias Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights, with the Banias Cave sanctuary and the lovely Banias waterfall. The grave of the Prophet Elijah is also here.
- A month or two to hike the Israel National Trail, crossing historic places, archaeological sites and matchless landscapes on the way from the northern border with Lebanon to the Red Sea.
davids-tower: in Jerusalem brilliantly displays the history of the city. Wonderful views towards Temple Mount can be had from the rooftop.
temple-mount: is home to several highlights including the Dome of the Rock, Western Wall Plaza, the newly reconstructed Hulda Steps and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
jaffa: has a 3,000-year history and is the world’s oldest commercial port. The Jaffa Museum and the vast Eretz Israel Museum trace the city’s past.
caesarea: was once a great Roman city and now features fascinating seafront ruins.
palace-of-king-herod: sits high on the ridge of Masada and offers splendid views of the Dead Sea, the Negev Desert and the Moab Mountains.
Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the biblical sights and landmarks, stunning landscape and fascinating Jewish culture. Mudslinging: at Dead Sea spa resorts. You can’t sink in the intensely salty, mineral-rich water.
Water sports: at sandy beach resorts offering sailing, surfing, swimming and waterskiing at Eilat on the Red Sea, along the Mediterranean and even near the city center of Tel Aviv.
Living in a Kibbutz: the fascinating semi-communal communities, many of which have good facilities for tourists.
Festivals & Events
The motto for many Israeli Jewish festivals is: “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat”.
March: Purim is a wild festival when the Torah tells Jews to ‘drink until they don’t know any more’. People dress up in costumes and stagger around.
April: Passover is the mother of all food festivals, which the Christians turned into Easter. Lots of wine and bread is consumed.
September: Yom Kippur is the ‘Day of Atonement’, when Jews are supposed to settle things with God.
December: Hanukah is the ‘Festival of Light’, when Jews light candles and eat fatty foods, especially doughnuts. Christians turned this into Christmas.