Escape the city and explore the many other sights Israel has to offer, from crusader fortresses in the lush countryside to arid desert landscapes.
There is far more to Israel than Tel Aviv – one of the great things about the country is its size, which makes most areas accessible by day trips. Whether you want to explore what is said to be Jesus’s childhood town, take in spectacular monasteries built into desert cliffs, or simply enjoy beautiful beaches without the Tel Aviv crowds, there’s something for you.
These three sites are stunning in their own right, and can all be enjoyed in one day. We recommend going on a tour that will take you to the foot of Masada, an ancient fortress from the Roman times with an iconic place in Jewish folklore. A cable car will take you to the top (it’s also possible to hike), where you can explore the remains of the site and take in the panoramic views of the desert and Dead Sea. A short drive away is Ein Gedi, a nature reserve with an abundance of waterfalls and wildlife that you should explore before continuing to the Dead Sea, where you can float in the water and get a natural skin treatment from the mineral-rich mud.
Israel is famous for its kibbutzim, which are an indelible part of the country’s history and reflect its socialist roots. Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael is a short drive north of Tel Aviv and one of the most beautiful kibbutzim in the country. On this tour, you’ll learn about the kibbutz concept and its history, with a resident introducing you to the unique lifestyle of the collective community.
This day trip up north encompasses holy sites, delicious street food, and spectacular views. Nazareth is Israel’s largest Arab-Israeli city and what is believed to be the childhood home of Jesus: check out the Church of the Annunciation and Church of St Joseph. Popular among foodies, it also boasts several excellent hummus and arayes (kebab in a grilled pita bread) joints. Continue through the village of Kafer Kana, where Jesus is said to have performed the miracle of wine, and arrive at the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, which is the country’s largest freshwater lake. Here you’ll find the remains of a synagogue that Jesus is said to have taught in, among other religious sites. The final destination is Tiberias, a holy city for Jews perched on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Under an hour away from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem’s Old City is a must-visit. Explore the holy city with a knowledgeable guide who will lead you through a timeline of history and the ancient, cobblestone streets of its four quarters – Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian – and soak up the unique atmosphere of each. Marvel at the sweeping views of the city below at the Mount of Olives and visit landmarks such as the Dome of the Rock, Wailing Wall and Temple Mount. See the site where Jesus is thought to have resurrected, and where he is believed to be buried. Step back in time – some 4,000 years – to uncover archaeological secrets such as Jerusalem’s first palace and its Canaanite water system.
Nestled in the picturesque countryside in Israel’s northern Mount Carmel, about an hour from Tel Aviv by train or car, Zichron Ya’akov is a perfect spot to escape the bustle of Tel Aviv. A town known for its wine production, a day here must include a visit to the Carmel Winery. The town’s pedestrianised main street is lined with cafés and artsy stores, and a stroll along here should also make it onto your itinerary. History buffs will be interested to check out the First Aliyah Museum to learn about the town’s founders – a group of 100 Romanian Zionist pioneers who arrived in 1882.
Head to the wilderness of the Judean Desert near Jerusalem and explore its spectacular biblical landscapes. After a drive through the desert visit the 16th-century Ottoman building, the Good Samaritan Inn, which pays tribute to the samaritan who is said to have helped Jesus. Then venture to the marvellous city of Jericho, where 12,000 years of history and culture have lived. See where it is believed Jesus was tempted by the devil at the Mount of Temptation, and admire the iconic Zacheus’s Sycamore tree.
Akko (or Acre) is home to an enchanting Old City that combines layers of history, legendary hummus, and a vibrant shuk. The city is encircled by remarkably intact Crusader Walls, within which lie an array of sites: head underground to the 350-metre-long (1,150-foot-long) Templar’s Tunnel, built by the Templars who settled in Akko in 1187; wander through the market and the restored Turkish Bazaar, buying souvenirs, spices, and snacks along the way; and stop off for lunch at Hummus Said, a famous generations-old joint. Jump back into the car for a short drive to Rosh HaNikra, near the border with Lebanon, where you’ll find one of the most unique sites in Israel: its stunning naturally formed grottoes, or sea caves.
The Golan Heights offers a great city escape with its combination of lush greenery, natural springs, and ancient sites. Some of the most beautiful spots in Israel can be found here, from the Banias Waterfall to Mount Bental, whose summit overlooks Israel’s Galilee region and into Syria. Hikers should not miss Nimrod Fortress, located in the northern part of the region, which is the biggest crusader fortress in the country that blends into the rugged mountains. On the southern side lies the Hamat Gader hot springs, which have been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. The best way to explore the Golan is by car or on a tour.
Tel Aviv’s beaches are packed with people on weekends, but just a short drive north, in Herzilya, lies even more idyllic beaches without the crowds. Sidna Ali (also known as Nof Yam) is arguably the pick of the bunch, with its pristine sands and surrounding cliff formations. Here you’ll also find a quirky house carved in the rock, known as Nissim the Caveman’s house. For sunset, head up to the Cliff Spot, adjacent to the Sidna Ali Mosque, for stunning views.
The Dead Sea is home to the lowest elevation of land on the planet, and although it’s called the Dead Sea, it’s actually a saltwater lake. Take a 10-hour expedition in a 4WD jeep into the Judean Desert and admire the ancient city of Jericho from a distance. Float in the Dead Sea and soak up the therapeutic benefits of the surrounding black mud.