I was recently invited to experience Israel with a focus history: from religious sites to the lowest place on earth, there is so much to see in Israel. However if you’re coming all this way, be sure to keep an open mind and see a little bit of everything, even if it doesn’t entirely interest you (upon first consideration). Throughout this trip I learned so much about religion, history, architecture and even chemicals (in the Dead Sea of course). It was an amazing and insightful week so I’ve shared my itinerary below as I believe I covered most of the highlights in Israel, as well as allowing for some time in the Palestinian territories as this is such a huge factor in the history of this land. Here’s how it went…
Day 1 – Haifa
Arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.
Jump in a car and rive to Haifa – Israel’s third largest city and second largest port, on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Public transport is also a decent option in Israel, with buses running between all the major cities. However for complete freedom to roam around as you please, a car really helps!
In Haifa, be sure to visit the Bahai’a shrine and gardens – the centre of the Bahai’a faith in the world. There is a strong emphasis on nature and this is most prevalent here at the core of the religion, with daily tours offering a more in-depth history into the religion (in multiple languages, free of charge).
Day 2 – Nazareth & The Dead Sea
Today we started early and drove to Nazareth – the childhood town of Jesus. Whilst I thought this would be a huge highlight of my trip, it turns out it can easily be seen and appreciated within a 1-2 hour time frame (although I was visiting during low season and lines were minimal). Be sure to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation, Mary’s Well and the Church of St. Joseph. Next, continue to Gan Hashelosha (Sachne) National Park with untouched springs and a great chance to get out of the car, take a dip and kick back for an hour. If you plan in advance, this is a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch. Next, drive onwards to the Dead Sea – the lowest place on earth (419 meter below sea level)! Be sure to take a dip as soon as you can – chances are you’ll want to stay a while! Sunset is a great time to kick back and float in the salty waters.
Day 3 – Ruins of Massada & Jerusalem
From the Dead Sea, its just a short 10 minute drive to visit Massada – the ruins of King Herod’s mountaintop fortress and the last stronghold of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 73 C.E. You can choose to either hike to the top (around 40 minutes) or take the cable car up and back down. Not only is this a fascinating site in terms of historical relevance, but also has amazing views of the Dead Sea and across into Jordan.
Next, drive for about an hour to Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel and the holy city for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. make your first stop a visit to Yad Vashem – the National Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust. Here you will find a comprehensive insight into the Holocaust and a memorial to the 6 million jews killed throughout this horrific time in history. If you’re looking for a fantastic evening meal, I really enjoyed Caffe Mamilla, a vegetarian restaurant at one of the cities’ luxury hotels. For my time in Jerusalem I stayed at the Dan Boutique Hotel, which has incredible views of the old city and comfortable accommodations at a reasonable price.
Day 4 – Bethlehem & Jerusalem
Today I branched off from my Israel itinerary and chose to visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and an incredibly unique city in the Palestinian territories. No visit to “The Holy Land” would be complete without coming here and the locals were incredibly welcoming and proud to show me around their home. Oh and yes…. I felt entirely safe!
Back in Jerusalem for the later half of the day, I visited the Western Wall (Kotel) – Judaism’s most sacred site, Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross), the Christian Quarter with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the rebuilt Jewish Quarter and Cardo – ruins of a main street from Roman times and the Arab Market (Shuk) in the Muslim Quarter.
Outside of the old town, I spent the late afternoon/early evening at Machane Yehuda Market which was impressive to see in the lead up to Shabbat.
Day 5 – Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv
This morning we drove to Tel Aviv – Israel’s commercial, cultural and financial centre. First of all we walked around the Tel Aviv promenade and made or way to Old Jaffa Visit, easily my favourite part of the city. There is plenty to see and do here on weekdays, however on the weekend (especially on Shabbat – Saturday), it is very quiet and almost deserted. Be sure to enjoy the nearby port and walk all the way along the beach back to the city centre.
Day 6 – Tel Aviv
Today was the last real day to explore as the following day I would be packing my bags and heading to the airport after a whirlwind 7 day itinerary in Israel. In Tel Aviv, be sure to visit the Carmel open-air market (selling fruits, vegetables and clothing), Sheinkin Street – Tel Aviv’s Yuppie area, Rothschild Boulevard – with its unique Bauhaus architecture and cafes, and Sharona – a reconstructed Templars neighborhood. Tel Aviv is full of great boutiques, eateries and has some great ice cream/frozen yogurt to cool you down in the Middle Eastern heat!
Day 7 – Depart!
What a jam-packed week of adventures in Israel! If you’re looking to take a slower pace and enjoy more of the every day life in Israel, you’ll really need more time. It also would have been nice to spend more time in Bethlehem and make a visit to Jericho, so if you’re looking to visit the Palestinian territories as well, be sure to allow for more time in your itinerary. There’s still much more to see in the Middle East beyond Israel, so be sure to consider combining a trip with Jordan or Lebanon, two travellers’ favourites in the region.
My trip was arranged by Go Israel, however my opinions are all my own.