Despite its humble size, Israel has an incredible range of awe-inspiring attractions. The huge number of people who’ve migrated here over the ages have created a country filled with sites you would be a fool to miss. Obviously, it’s impossible to see everything in one trip, but here are just a few attractions of which the locals are particularly proud.
The Western Wall
The Western Wall, or Kotel as the locals know it, is the holiest site in Judaism, with the Temple Mount right behind it home to one of the most important mosques for Muslims worldwide. Situated near the heart of the Old City in Jerusalem, which you can explore with Culture Trip on our epic small-group Israel tour, the Western Wall is surrounded by ages of history and the physical marks it has left. From the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through the Via Dolorosa, to the ancient city walls – built by generations of Israelite and foreign rulers – Jerusalem offers glimpses to ages past.
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On the threshold of the Judean desert south of Jerusalem lies the magnificent Herodium – King Herod’s Palace. Part artificial mountain, part castle, part palace, the audacious size of the Herodium is breathtaking. From the peak, the far reaches of the Judean desert, the Dead Sea and the Moab Mountains in Jordan are visable. The King’s grave, the private theatre and the remains of the palace provide serious interest for history buffs, while the secret tunnels dug by Jewish rebels tell a tale of bloody intrigue and ingenuity.
Overlooking the Dead Sea is the ancient fortress of Masada – another awe-inspiring landmark which features on our specially curated seven-day Israel trip. Built during the first century BCE, the fortress occupies a table-shaped mountain. Although there are now convenient ways to get to the top – including a handy cable car – back then the fortress was only accessible by serpentine pathways snaking up the mountain. Many have taken advantage of its elevated, inaccessible position, including Herod the Great, Roman garrisons and the Jewish rebels who sought to drive the Romans from the land. If possible, any visitor should make sure to catch the sunrise from the top of the mountain.
Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
Just a stone’s throw from Masada is the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, one of the top nature reserves in Israel. The oasis offers a breath of fresh air for any traveller weary from the desert heat. Ibexes and rabbits roam the ground between the various walking trails, along which are situated an ancient synagogue and a Copper Age temple. A dip in the cool water will provide ample refreshment after a hot day exploring the beautiful surroundings. Ein Gedi, beloved by all Israelis, is a must-visit for all nature lovers.
Despite the name, the Dead Sea does contain some life – albeit none of the larger creatures usually found in marine environments – and its mud is said to rejuvenate the skin. Both of these factors are caused by the incredibly high levels of salt in the water. At almost 34 percent, the high salinity makes for some unique swimming experiences: buoyed by the water, floating in the Dead Sea feels like an otherworldly experience. At 430m (1,410ft) below sea level, the Salt Sea, as it’s otherwise known, is the lowest point on land – a great place to relax after exploring the surrounding desert.
Beit Guvrin and the Caves of Maresha
The Beit Guvrin National Park is often called Land of a Thousand Caves. Scholars believe the countless caves strewn around the area were originally quarries, but some seem also to have been burial caves. The Bell Caves especially deserve a visit – these impressive excavations reach a height of 25m (82ft), 80 of them were at one time connected by underground passageways. The nearly intact Roman amphitheatre and the impressive remains of a Crusader church and fortress nearby are also worth your time.
Makhtesh Ramon, also know as Ramon Crater, is a geological formation of a kind found only in Israel and the Sinai peninsula of Egypt. The Makhtesh is some 40km (25mi) long, not to mention 2km to 10km (1mi to 6mi) wide and 500m (1,640ft) deep, with a shape reminiscent of an elongated heart. Due to its isolated nature, Makhtesh Ramon is the least light-polluted place in Israel – a perfect location to view the Milky Way and astronomical events.
The ancient port city of Acre, or Akko, in northern Israel, lies in a natural harbour of exquisite beauty. Its strategic importance drew conquerors from around the world, from Alexander the Great to the Crusaders – who established their capital here – to the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon also tried to take the port city, but was unsuccessful. In the 21st century, Acre dazzles visitors with a wonderful Middle Eastern market offering fresh fish, clothing and more, as well as a theatre and music festivals.
Bahá’i Gardens in Acre and Haifa
After being exiled from his native city of Tehran, Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, found himself in the port city of Acre, which became the centre of his new religion. A circular garden with fig trees and the remains of an olive grove surround the mansion where he lived during the final years of his life and, along with the gardens in the adjacent city, Haifa, deserves a place on your Israel bucket-list. Both are Unesco-listed and are truly a sight to behold. The garden in Haifa consists of 19 terraces pointing down to the sea and provides ample reprieve for those visiting the bustling city.
Nimrod Fortress, or Qal’at al-Subeiba (Castle of the Large Cliff), is a medieval Muslim castle on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel. Built in the 13th century to defend the road to Damascus, the castle was destroyed in an 18th-century earthquake. Now, the ruins of the largest fortress in Israel provide stunning views of the Golan Heights and the surrounding area. Secret corridors and underground tunnels hint at a mysterious past, while the aptly named Beautiful Tower is a great example of Islamic architecture.
Caves of Nahal Me’arot
Tucked away in the Carmel mountain range near Haifa, the Caves of Nahak Me’arot are prehistoric caves that have hosted human and pre-human settlements for millennia. As such, they’re one of the most well-known archaeological sites for scientists studying the development of modern humans and an inspiring endpoint for a day trip visiting the beautiful Mount Carmel.
Montfort Castle has long since become part of every Israeli’s DNA. The remains of the medieval castle provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The castle, one of the most beautiful examples of defensive architecture in the Holy Land, is some 13km (8mi) outside the northern city of Nahariya inside the lush Nahal Kziv nature reserve. Built by the Teutonic Order, the fortress sits atop a narrow, steep cliff – a natural barrier that has the added bonus of providing stunning views of the area.
White City of Tel-Aviv
The White City is a World Cultural Heritage-designated collection of more than 4,000 buildings in the heart of Tel-Aviv, built in the distinctive International architectural style, also known as bauhaus. This densely packed neighbourhood transports visitors to the 1930s, where architects produced buildings using utilitarian principles to exemplify the modernist utopian ethos of the young country. Any architecture admirer will love this glimpse into the past.
The Tel-Aviv Beachfront
The beaches of Tel-Aviv may not be the most picturesque, but what they lack in beauty is more than made up for in atmosphere. The promenade and the surrounding streets serve as the centre of the nightlife in the city and the beaches remain a key place to soak in the sun. During the Tel-Aviv Pride Parade, crowds pack the area for processions taking place along the waterfront and a party on the beach. No trip is complete without a visit.
The ancient port city of Jaffa, which lies at the southern edge of Tel-Aviv, has been constantly inhabited since 7,500BCE. The city provided a setting for the stories of Solomon, Jonah and Peter, as well as Andromeda and Perseus’s escapades in Greek mythology. But the real reason to visit Jaffa is the stunning port and the narrow, sneaking passageways above it. Nearby is the Artists’ Quarter, which has numerous galleries showcasing local contemporary and traditional art.
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