From the wave-lapped beaches of Tel Aviv to the craggy peaks of Masada and the mirror-like expanse of the salty Dead Sea, Israel packs a lot of impressive scenery into its compact landscape. Take a few days to enjoy the cosmopolitan delights of the thriving cities, then strike out into the sun-baked wilds to fill your Instagram grid. Here’s our pick of the most beautiful places to visit in Israel.
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A 20-minute drive from the popular Red Sea resort of Eliat, the Red Canyon feels like another planet – Mars, to be precise – as you zig-zag your way along a path carved through swirling rock. When the sun hits, it illuminates red, white and even yellow. With multiple routes, it caters for all kinds of walkers. Ty the easy green trail if you’ve got kids in tow, or the black for a more challenging descent.
Outside the old walls of Jerusalem, Mount Zion is a holy site for Jewish, Christian and Muslim worshippers. Packed with beautiful old buildings and famous spots including King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper, it’s a must-visit for history buffs as well as religious pilgrims. It’s especially atmospheric late in the afternoon, when some of the surrounding structures turn golden in the honeyed light. Pack your camera.
Various cultures have inhabited Acre – or Akko – throughout its history, including the Crusaders and the Ottomans, each leaving their mark on the region. With fascinating architecture, cultural ruins and sights around every corner, this city in the north west is essential viewing on any Israel trip. Take a romantic evening walk alongside the 2,000-year-old port, relax into a meal at one of the lovely local restaurants – keep an eye open for the irresistible crunchy-syrupy pudding kanafeh on menus – or have a leisurely stroll through the city markets.
The Sea of Galilee (or, as Israelis call it, the Kinneret) is the largest freshwater lake in the country and a major national supply source. Its history goes way back. According to the New Testament, many of Jesus’s miracles occurred here, including his walk on the water. Today, visitors to the Sea of Galilee can immerse themselves in the tranquillity of the beautiful environs, have fun building rafts, or enjoy motorboat trips, water-skiing, banana-boat rides and kayaking.
Northern Israel is home to the Golan Heights, controversially captured from Syria in 1967. It is a beautiful, mountainous place with breathtaking landscapes, glorious nature reserves and intriguing historical attractions for the whole family. If hiking is your thing, there are paths of varying levels of difficulty, depending on the time of year. Things are especially impressive during spring, when irises, crocuses and tulips bloom abundantly and the fields are green. In winter, Hermon Mountain is a playground for skiers and snowboarders.
After Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel, with a kaleidoscope of neighbourhoods and blend of cultures that makes it a lively place for visitors. There’s a vibrant port and lively beach, which attracts surfers and offers water sports and tuition. If you want to be at one with nature, pay a visit to the most celebrated attraction in Haifa, the Bahai Gardens, on the flanks of Mount Carmel. Join a free daily tour at noon and admire the fountains, terraces and manicured flowerbeds of this precious place for followers of the Bahai faith.
Tel Aviv is a dream city beside the Mediterranean, where vibrant nightlife and local markets meet mouth-watering food and photogenic architecture – visit the bauhaus-style buildings of the White City if you want some seriously sexy Instagram images. Society here is diverse and people are very open-minded, so you’ll find your place here whoever you are. As the entertainment centre of Israel, Tel Aviv offers a full calendar of events throughout the year. These include the Gay Pride Parade, Purim Street Party and Tel Aviv Fashion Week.
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Head to Mitzpe Ramon, a town in the Negev desert midway between Jerusalem and Eilat, and you’ll be able to visit the Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon in Hebrew). It’s not technically a crater – that would have involved a meteorite – but rather a makteshim (erosion cirque), formed during millions of years of erosion. Discovered as recently as 1945, it is quite a beast: 40km (25mi) long and 10km (6mi) at its widest point. You can tour by Jeep, Segway, or even helicopter, but a hot-air balloon flight will give you the most spectacular views from on high.
After you’ve explored Israel, taking in history, nature and culture, Eilat is all about relaxing in its many beautiful hotels and resorts. In the very south of Israel, it offers many activities: go diving among the stunning coral reefs of the Red Sea, swim with dolphins or laze by the pool. Beware, summer temperatures can be more than 40C (104F); in winter it’s a more tolerable 19C (66.2F).
Ellie Hurley contributed additional reporting to this article.