Israel is a unique destination that should make it onto your once-in-a-lifetime bucket list. The long and storied past is riddled with conflict, even today, but the depth of its cultural antiquities can hardly be compared to anywhere else. Travelers to Israel can indulge in the modern-day beaches of Haifa, the culinary scene of Tel Aviv, and the unique wineries of Galilee, but it’s the past that draws visitors to this small country the size of New Jersey - that and its incredible natural beauty.
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Atlit Yam is a 40,000-square-meter underwater remnant of a neolithic civilization dating back 9,000 years. Located in the Levantine Sea off the coast of Atlit, Haifa, the settlement was first discovered by marine archaeologists in 1984. Since then, underwater excavations have continued to produce new finds, including human remains, and forensic testing revealed that at least one of the residents died of tuberculosis, which was a major discovery for TB research. Other finds include megaliths, houses, wells, tools, graves, and animal bones, indicating a shift from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to agriculture. Best guesses for its abandonment are a possible tsunami or glacial melting resulting in rising sea levels. Divers are required to have mandatory dive insurance.
Caesarea Diving Center, Hadar 32, Keisarya, Israel, Phone: +97-26-26-58-98
2.Avdat National Park
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Once the 62nd station along the Incense Route, which ran from Yemen to Gaza, the ruins of Avdat are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the premier attraction in Avdat National Park. Visitors can choose from three hiking routes, which range from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. The shortest route includes the Roman tower, citadel, lookout and winepress, churches, Roman bathhouse, and storage caves. The longest also includes the Roman army camp, Nabatean settlement, and farmhouse. Park amenities include a guide kiosk and a visitors center that provides local artisan products, souvenirs, travel literature, and a video about the Incense Route. There is also a café, restaurant, picnic area, and gas station.
Upper City access road, 40 Highway, Mitspe Ramon, Israel, Phone: +97-20-86-55-15-11
3.Beit Guvrin Caves
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Beit Guvrin Caves are located in Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, the center of the “Land of a Thousand Caves.” Road 35 cuts through the park, and the caves are to the south of it. The dramatic network of caves was created over hundreds of years through several eras, and apparently for a variety of purposes. Some were from chalk mining, others defensive hideaways, and still others burial chambers. With over 3,000 chambers, the most impressive are the Sidonian painted burial rooms. Visitors wanting to see the Roman amphitheater, fortress ruins, and Crusade-era church will find those north of Road 35.
Bet Shemesh – Kiryat Gat Road, south of Road 35, Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park, Israel, Phone: +97-60-86-81-10-20
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Caesarea Maritima, built during the early period of Christianity by King Herod the Great to honor Caesar Augustus, was once a spectacular harbor city overlooking the sea. Today, visitors can explore the ruins of the Roman theater, including the Pontius Pilate Stone. The theater offers the best views. The hippodrome is also largely intact and was the home of chariot races. Following the Jewish revolt, many Jewish captives were killed here in gladiatorial battles. The castle, bath house, Crusade-era cathedral and gate, and city walls are all still visible. The double aqueduct is an engineering wonder, and the stunning seashore promenade is a perfect place to take a sunset stroll.
Coastal Road 2 miles South of Caesarea, Caesarea Maritima, Israel, Phone: +97-20-46-26-70-80
5.Church of the Nativity
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The Church of the Nativity, located on Palestine’s West Bank, is a basilica built in 339 AD that marks the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity are among Christianity’s most sacred sites. Today, the Church of the Nativity is part of a monastic complex. Visitors can expect a unique experience from the start. The entrance is through a small door from the Ottoman era called the Door of Humility. A 4th century mosaic floor, original limestone columns, and frescoes of the saints greet the eyes. The premier experience is Grotto of the Nativity, with a 14-point silver star marking the birthplace of Jesus, the Chapel of the Manger representing the nativity scene, and the Altar of the Adoration of the Magi, depicting the Three Wise Men.
6.Dialogue in the Dark
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Dialogue in the Dark is an exhibition of the Israeli Children’s Museum that was the brainchild of journalist Andreas Heinecke. Visitors are led through museum galleries that are engulfed in darkness, simulating the experience of being blind. Their partially sighted or blind docent guides them through the art galleries, helping them experience the spaces with their other senses – texture, scent, sound, and temperature. Being dependent on their blind guide to navigate and appreciate the museum is meant to enlighten visitors about strengths of the blind and dispel ideas of disability. Visitors can also check out Dialogue with Time and Dialogue in Silence at the museum.
Israeli Children’s Museum, Sderot Yerushalayim 214, Holon, Israel, Phone: +972-36-50-30-00
7.Dome of the Rock
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Dome of the Rock is located on the Temple Mount (also called the Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem. It is revered by the Islamic community as a Muslim shrine. The shrine is built over a stone that Muslims believe is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during his experience of the Night Journey. Visitors will want to take note of the complex patterns and rhythms that make Dome of the Rock an architecturally stunning place. Interior mosaics, columns, carved ceiling, and the sacred rock itself all contribute to the grandeur. On the outside, Turkish tiles, marble finish, elaborate inscriptions, and the great gold leaf dome are impressive.
Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: +972-25-95-58-20
8.Eretz Israel Museum
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The Eretz Israel Museum has an impressive array of diverse exhibits for visitors to peruse. From a reconstructed flour mill to a Byzantine bird mosaic, there is much to see here. The Glass Pavilion displays enchanting ancient pieces from the 15th century BC to the 7th century AD in its permanent collection. Visitors will also find exhibits on ethnography and folklore, ceramics, and copper work. There are eight permanent exhibits in all as well as a flow of temporary exhibits. The museum’s planetarium features five shows on such themes as Galileo’s telescopic observations and the life of trees. There is a museum shop with a wide range of quality items as well as a café.
Chaim Levanon Street 2, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel, Phone: +972-36-41-52-44
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The Israel Museum is among the top art and archaeology museums in the world. In total, it holds over a half million objects, including the world’s largest Holy Land archaeology collection. The museum, founded in 1965, has collections ranging from pre-history to the present, and visitors can see treasures like the Dead Sea Scrolls in Shrine of the Book. The Jerusalem Model from the Second Temple era is another of the museum’s must-see exhibitions. Other highlights include the Archaeological Wing statuary and the Fine Arts Wing with its contemporary Israeli art collection. The Jewish Art & Life Wing is another collection visitors won’t want to miss.
11 Ruppin Boulevard, Hakyria, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: +972-26-70-88-11
10.The Baha’i Gardens Haifa and Akko
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Among the most popular sites in the Middle East and UNESCO World Heritage listed sites, the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa and Akko are outstanding places of pilgrimage and holy places for the followers of the Baha’i faith. The gardens in the center of Haifa consist of a staircase with 19 terraces climbing up the slope of Mount Carmel. On the central terrace looking across the bay facing Akko sits the golden-domed Shrine of Bab, where the Prophet-Herald of the Baha’i Faith is enshrined. The gardens in Akko form a broad circle around the historic mansion where the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, resided in his final years and where his remains were enshrined.
48 Sderot Ben Gurion, Haifa, Israel, Phone: 04-8-31-31-31
11.Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
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Originally founded as a children’s zoo in 1940, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has grown and changed locations numerous times before ending up in its current location in 1993. The beloved zoo is situated on 62 acres in a graceful valley surrounded by the verdant Judean Hills. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is an informal name that has stuck over the years, but officially, it’s widely known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens after its latest benefactor. Drawing 750,000 visitors a year from the three major religions, every age group, locals and tourists, they aim to bridge diverse communities. This family-friendly venue features a variety of attractions and exhibits.
Derech Ahron Shulov 1, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: +972-26-75-01-11
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In the middle of the Israeli desert, travelers will find a massive heart-shaped geological formation resembling a crater. Though not a crater, it looks mysteriously like one, but was formed by wind erosion. The Makhtesh Ramon is almost 25 miles long and has a width of between 1 and 6 miles at various points. Visitors are encouraged to go into the crater to explore, being mindful of the midday sun. The Makhtesh Ramon Visitor Center on the crater’s rim provides a context for the crater as well as a tribute to the first Israeli astronaut. Visitors will also find an observation deck, souvenir shop, and information station. The town of Mitspe Ramon, a restaurant, and Bedouin tent accommodations are nearby.
1 Ma’ale Ben Tur Street, Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, Phone: +972-86-58-86-91
13.Masada National Park
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Masada National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on an isolated clifftop in the center of the Judean Desert. Nestled on the towering plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, it was once the home of a magnificent palace that served as the stronghold for the last of the rebels against Rome during the days of the Great Revolt. Their story of seeking freedom and the archeological discoveries made upon this mountain have made this a popular attraction. Visitors to Masada National Park will find many points of interest, including an amphitheater featuring a light and sound show, ancient northern cisterns, the remains of Herod’s three-level private palace, and a synagogue.
Masada, Israel, Phone: 08-65-84-20-78
14.Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve
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Located on Carmel Mountain, the Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore caves that prehistoric humans once occupied for hundreds of thousands of years. Guests tour this area by following various trailheads. The most popular is the Prehistoric Man Trail, a pathway leading to the entrance of the Tabun Cave, which was first excavated in 1927. They will continue on to Camel Cave, which features displays of prehistoric human lifestyles throughout various prehistoric periods. Lastly, they will enter the el-Wad Cave, which boasts a vast entrance hall and artifacts of the Aurignacian and later Natufian cultures. Additional trails include the Botanical Trail and the Geological Trail.
48 Sderot Ben Gurion, Haifa, Israel, Phone: 04-98-41-75-02
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Lying at the base of Mt. Hermon at an elevation of roughly 2,500 feet, Nimrod’s Castle is Israel’s largest remaining castle from the Middle Ages. It is surrounded by lofty cliffs and offers picturesque views of the northern region while visitors explore this ancient fortress. A prominent point of interest is the Baibars Inscription – the most imposing and largest inscription found in Israel. It also includes the southwestern tower, the western gate, the northern tower, two large cisterns, a moat, and a secret passageway. The Beautiful Tower, a magnificent seven-sided building, and The Keep, the castle’s highest point and first line of defense, are the most prominent remains.
By car- on road 989 between Kiryat Shemona and Mt. Hermon. 30 minutes from Kiryat Shemona, Israel, Phone: 04-6-94-92-77
16.Rosh HaNikra Grottoes
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Situated on the coast near the Lebanon border, the Rosh HaNikra Grottoes are a well-known natural site that once could only be accessed by divers. Thousands of years of powerful waves beating against the fragile chalk cliffs on the Mediterranean created large sea caves that formed around the base. These intriguing geological anomalies could originally only be viewed via an approach from the sea, but their growing popularity encouraged Israel to create the steepest cable car in the world so that all visitors could have access. The gondola cars travel more than 200 feet in 2 minutes, beginning at the top of the white cliffs and ending at the bright blue waters that fill the grottoes.
1 Ga‘aton Avenue, Nahariya, Israel, Phone: 04-6-01-55-33
17.Shrine of the Book
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An abstract modernist dream, Shrine of the Book is the home of the ancient biblical vellums, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Built in 1965 for the sole purpose of housing the scrolls, Israel’s Shrine of the Book boasts a unique shape – circular with a pointed peak reminiscent of the tip of a volcano. The interior of the spacious shrine features glass cases that surround its outer ring, which contain pages of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Its central display, a huge Torah scroll encircled by a ring of spinning scroll pages that are lit up, dominates the space, creating a breathtaking display.
Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: 07-2-21-57-00
18.Tel Aviv Museum of Art
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The Tel Aviv Museum of Art was established in 1932, switching locations numerous times before receiving its permanent residence in 2011. Made up of two buildings, the Main Building and the Herta and Paul Amir Building, the museum is known as much for its architectural beauty as the art displayed within its walls. It showcases the works of both Israeli and international artists with permanent exhibitions including works of Dali, Monet, Cezanne, Chagall, Henri Moore, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Auguste Rodin. Visitors who purchase a ticket to this museum will also receive entry to the Helena Rubenstein Pavilion, which features exhibitions centered on social messages and politics.
Golda Meir Compound, Sderot Sha’ul, HaMelech 27, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel, Phone: 03-6-07-70-20
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In 2005 three biblical tels were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Tel Beersheba, Tel Megiddo, and Tel Hazor. The latter is the largest of the three tels, located just north of the Sea of Galilee and occupying more than 200 acres. It has produced some of the most remarkable archeological discoveries to date of the ancient Near East. Of these finds, the most notable and prominent are the Stele Temples and the Canaanite Orthostat. The Solomonic city gates dating back to the Iron Age, the city acropolis, and a restored temple from the Late Bronze Age are also highlights of Tel Hazor.
70 Tel Hai Boulevard, Kiryat Shemona, Israel, Phone: 04-6-81-71-52
Next read: The Bahai Gardens
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Temple Mount is an area in Jerusalem’s Old City that has been at the center of inter-religious tension for dozens of years as it’s considered holy to both Muslims and Jews. This elevated plaza overlooks the Western Wall in Jerusalem and was the site of both of Judaism’s ancient temples. Similarly, it is also considered the third holiest site in Islam after Medina and Mecca. The site is currently under Israeli sovereignty but overseen by Muslim Waqf. Many Jews oppose Muslim control over the site. Consequently, violence flares up on occasion, requiring Israeli forces to restrict Muslim access. In general, anyone can access Temple Mount, however, non-Muslims can only enter through the Mughrabi Gate.
3 Omar Ibn El Khattab, Jaffa Gate, Old City Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: 02-6-27-13-62
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Delicious Israel is a culinary walking adventure tour company founded in 2011 by Inbam Baum, taking participants on a journey through Jerusalem and Tel Aviv's best foodie spots, family-owned joints, and hidden gems. Experienced tour guides lead groups through popular market stalls and food shops, giving visitors a taste of true Israeli culture while sampling delicious small plates. Tours explore sites such as the Carmel, Levinsky, and Machane Yehuda Markets, ranging in length from two hours to all-day food and wine excursion tours. While all food and beverages on the tour's routes are included with ticket price, visitors are advised to bring additional cash if they wish to purchase additional items to take home at vendor sites. Phone: 972-525-699-499
22.Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem
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Situated near the Jaffa Gate, the historic entrance to the Old City, is the Tower of David, a medieval fortress. Inside the Tower of David is the Museum of the History of Jerusalem, showcasing Jerusalem’s story, detailing the prominent events in its history starting with the first evidence of the city in the second millennium BC until it became the capital of the state of Israel. The permanent exhibition housed here illustrates the city’s history with explanations in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. It is also considered a fascinating archeological find and provides 360-degree picturesque views of the Old City of Jerusalem. It hosts Night Spectacular, a light and sound show that is a must-see.
Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: 02-6-26-53-33
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The Western Wall, sometimes referred to as the Kotel or the Wailing Wall, is the last remaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and the Western Wall is all that remains of the original structure. While it wasn’t considered a significant part of the temple originally, today it is considered to be extremely holy. The Wall is open to anyone of any religion, with visitors typically praying or meditating against or near it. It is also a common practice for visitors to write down short prayers on parchment and insert them into the crevices of the Wall.
Ha ‘ Omer 2, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: 02-6-27-13-33
24.Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
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Located at the edge of Jerusalem on the slopes of Mount Herzl (Mount Remembrance), Yad Vashem is the largest Holocaust museum and memorial in Israel. Yad Vashem was originally started as an organization in 1953 to document the victims of the Holocaust and the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust as well as honor their memory so that future generations would never forget this period of great horror. In 2005 the new Yad Vashem Museum opened, featuring nine galleries. These exhibit historical interactive displays, films, documents, photographs, works of art, letters, and other personal items found in the ghettos and in the concentration camps.
Har Hazikaron, Jerusalem, Israel, Phone: 02-6-44-34-00
25.Gan HaShlosha National Park
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Located in the Lower Galilee, Gan HaShlosha National Park is quite possibly one of Israel’s most stunning places, and some are certain it’s the actual site of the Biblical Garden of Eden referred to in Genesis. The park’s focal points are its beautiful natural pools. All maintain a temperature of 82°F year round and are surrounded by green lawns shaded by lush palm trees. Visitors flock to this national park to enjoy its natural beauty, swim in its relaxing pools, and explore the area’s rich history. Aside from the pools, the park features a tower and stockade as well as an archaeological museum.
Road 669, Beit She’an and Hashita Junction, Phone: 04-6-58-62-19
25 Best Things to Do in Israel
- Atlit Yam, Photo: Courtesy of MZalevsky - Fotolia.com
- Avdat National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Cornelia Pithart - Fotolia.com
- Beit Guvrin Caves, Photo: Courtesy of Kushnirov Avraham - Fotolia.com
- Caesarea Maritima, Photo: Courtesy of Photos by L - Fotolia.com
- Church of the Nativity, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Dialogue in the Dark, Photo: Courtesy of tugolukof - Fotolia.com
- Dome of the Rock, Photo: Courtesy of Bill Perry - Fotolia.com
- Eretz Israel Museum, Photo: Courtesy of schankz - Fotolia.com
- Israel Museum, Photo: Courtesy of megustadesign - Fotolia.com
- The Baha’i Gardens Haifa and Akko, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of LevT - Fotolia.com
- Makhtesh Ramon, Photo: Courtesy of oldmn - Fotolia.com
- Masada National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Nitr - Fotolia.com
- Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of VOLODYMYR KUCHERENKO - Fotolia.com
- Nimrod Castle, Photo: Courtesy of PROMA - Fotolia.com
- Rosh HaNikra Grottoes, Photo: Courtesy of Rafael Ben-Ari - Fotolia.com
- Shrine of the Book, Photo: Courtesy of Rafael Ben-Ari - Fotolia.com
- Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Photo: Courtesy of jdoms - Fotolia.com
- Tel Hazor, Photo: Courtesy of LevT - Fotolia.com
- Temple Mount, Photo: Courtesy of alon - Fotolia.com
- Delicious Israel, Photo: Courtesy of yuliiaholovchenko - Fotolia.com
- Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, Photo: Courtesy of Sam Spiro - Fotolia.com
- Western Wall, Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
- Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Photo: Courtesy of dr322 - Fotolia.com
- Gan HaShlosha National Park, Photo: Courtesy of t_o_r_q_u_e - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of urza - Fotolia.com
Israel National Trail
The 620-mile-long Israel National Trail stretches from Kibbutz Dan in the north to Eliat in the south. Inspired by the Appalachian Trail in the U.S., it was founded by Avraham Tamir in 1995. The Israel National Trail is a mishmash of local ancient trails joined into single long trail that crosses the Golan Heights, Negev Desert, and Jerusalem Mountains. Named one of the World’s Best Hikes by National Geographic, it includes highlights like the Makhtesh Ramon, the Spice and Incense Route, the site of David and Goliath’s battle, and the Mount Arbel Caves with views of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus was said to walk on water.
Beit Ussishkin Museum, Kibbutz Dan, Israel, Phone: +972-46-95-17-03