Israel has much more to offer than the beaches of Tel Aviv and religious sites of Jerusalem. This is a country full of beauty, from curious yet wondrous sites in the desert to urban landscapes and diverse, fascinating cultures waiting to be explored. For those keen to escape the proverbial beaten track, this collection of unique Israeli experiences is for you.
Ready to experience Israel for yourself? Join Culture Trip’s specially curated seven-day trip to this fascinating destination. Guided by our Local Insider, you’ll take a boat cruise on the Dead Sea, camp in the desert and go on a foodie tour around Tel Aviv.
The Israeli offshoot of Burning Man – perhaps the craziest, most unique festival in the world – Midburn takes place annually in the Negev Desert. A five-day event where all social norms are abandoned and creativity and self-expression pursued without limits, it is sure to be an unforgettable (and at times overwhelming) experience.
So you’ve seen the Western Wall, wandered through the Arab markets and stood over Jesus’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – now what? Well, underneath the Old City in Jerusalem, away from the relentless heat of the intense atmosphere and scorching sun, lie ancient tunnels, remnants of a 2,000-year-old Jewish city. Weaving through the Western Wall Tunnels and Zedekiah’s Cave will leave you mesmerised.
In the northwest, just a stone’s throw from the border with Lebanon, these enchanting geological formations are one of the most unique sites to visit in the country. Take the steepest cable car in the world down and explore on foot the mystical grottoes and caves surrounding pools of turquoise water.
Labelled the Israeli Grand Canyon, the Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve is the largest protected area in the country and one of the best for stargazing. For the more adventurous, activities such as hiking, cycling, horse riding and abseiling – not to mention sunrise Jeep tours – are also available.
These salt caves – one of the best-kept secrets in Israel – are reached by abseiling down more than 60m (197ft). Inside, you’ll duck, crawl and slide through narrow gaps and be awestruck by the stunning salt stalactites and stalagmites.
Lovers of nature, rejoice! This is the desert adventure for you. Take a jeep tour with an animal behaviour expert and keep your eyes peeled for wolves, hyenas, desert foxes, porcupines, ibexes, bats, owls and, if you’re very lucky, one of the few remaining Arabian leopards.
A trip to the Holy Land is incomplete without floating in the Dead Sea. Not only is it the lowest point on earth, it is also one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. Lather yourself in its natural, skin-smoothing mud and replenish yourself with the water’s supposed healing properties.
Between Jerusalem and Jericho, the Judean Desert is smaller than the Negev but nevertheless contains numerous hidden gems. From ancient monasteries built into jagged cliffs, such as St George and Mar Saba (still inhabited by 20 Greek Orthodox monks), to the stunning Wadi Qelt nature reserve, home to the oldest synagogue in the world, this desert is a must for those looking to head off the beaten track.
In the east of the Negev Desert, the Arava region has a diverse and fascinating range of attractions: breathtaking hiking trails; a farm with hundreds of African Nile crocodiles; and Timna Park, home to the oldest copper mine in the world and beautiful natural rock formations. Make your visit to the Arava a unique experience by staying in Bedouin accommodation.
This Unesco-listed site in Ashkelon, central Israel, is home to 480 caves. Throughout their 2,000-year history, they have been used for a wide range of reasons, ranging from burials to stables to hideouts.
A stark contrast to the aforementioned desert adventures, wandering the streets of Mea She’arim is nonetheless a unique experience. Upon entering this neighbourhood, one of the oldest in Jerusalem and home exclusively to ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews, you’ll be greeted by a bold sign asking visitors to dress modestly. This area feels like a different world; certainly worth exploring if you’re curious about the ultra-religious Haredim.
For those curious to know what being blind is like, this remarkable exhibition in Holon, just south of Tel Aviv, is a unique and meaningful experience. Upon starting your tour, the door closes behind you and you enter darkness. A visually impaired guide then leads you through a series of real-life simulations, from walking through a park to riding on a boat, finishing in the cafeteria where you can buy and eat snacks in total darkness.
Not many people know about this intriguing and, at times, eerie building in southern Tel Aviv. Originally built as a mall, it consists of an eclectic mix of shops representing a melting pot of cultures, from Filipino to Eritrean to Russian, along with quirky and surprising features including a theatre, a Yiddish museum home to more than 50,000 Yiddish books, a bat cave and a graffiti exhibition.
Nature raves are a unique Israeli experience with a history going back decades. Comparable to underground raves in the UK and USA, they take place in forests, secluded beaches and deserts, with revellers dancing the day or night away to psychedelic trance music.