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 see when you visit Israel.
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Paraglide around Mount Tabor
Even if you’re not familiar with its religious significance, Mount Tabor is sure to impress. With a distinctive curve, rising above the pancake-flat Jezreel Valley, it is easy to spot from miles away. It’s actually only about 600m (1,968ft) high – although it looks taller in this landscape – and its accessibility makes it a natural spot for hiking through lush pine forest. This is also the most popular spot for paragliding in Israel – ideal if you’re a thrill-seeker.
Hike through the Red Canyon
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.
Admire the beauty of Timna Park
Parched and photogenic, rugged Timna Park is an essential stop-off point in the impressive Negev Desert. It’s not just good looks either, the attraction also lies in the rich regional history. Here you’ll find the first copper mine in the world and remains of smelting furnaces dating back to ancient Egyptian times. The artful sandstone columns known as Solomon’s Pillars – basically frozen-in-time drips of volcanic magma emerging from the cliffs – are arguably the most impressive natural highlight. Camp overnight and enjoy amazing stargazing.
Hear the tale of David and Goliath in the Valley of Elah
The site of the battle between David and Goliath, this triangle-shaped valley – lush with green fields – provides a surprisingly gentle hike. Many visitors choose to come with a guide so they can hear the tale while touring the landscape but you can just as easily enjoy a spring visit on your own when the valley is filled with purple blooming lupines.
Explore religion on Mount Zion
Outside the old walls of Jerusalem, Mount Zion is a holy site for Jewish, Christian and Muslim worshippers. It is also a great place to learn more about the history of Israel. 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.
Stroll along the ancient port in Acre
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, and considered as one of the top Israel attractions. 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.
Discover the religious significance of Nazareth
An hour or so’s drive from Tel Aviv in the Lower Galilee region of northern Israel, Nazareth is the biggest Arab city in the land. It is also a major spiritual destination for tourists and Christian pilgrims from around the world, who come here to see the Basilica of the Annunciation built where Joseph and Mary had their home. In addition to its religious value as the childhood home of Jesus, Nazareth is a city brimming with culture, history, old Ottoman architecture and fascinating archaeology. Prepare for a heady rush of Middle Eastern charm.
Go wild with watersports on the Sea of Galilee
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.
Take a spring stroll through the Golan Heights
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.
Embark on a free tour of Haifa
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, and learn more about the Israel culture history.
Join a celebration in Tel Aviv
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.
Uncover the ancient world in Jerusalem
Home to important spiritual sites for three major religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – Jerusalem is one of the holiest cities in the world, and you can now explore it with local expert guides on Culture Trip’s specially curated small-group Israel trip. Come for a few days and you’ll feel as if you’ve travelled back centuries. In the Old City, surrounded by a grand wall, you can learn a lot about the religious history of Jerusalem by visiting places such as the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall (aka the Wailing Wall). This part of town is divided into four quarters: Muslim, Armenian, Christian and Jewish. If you can, visit one of the museums outside the Old City, such as Yad Vashem, a Holocaust remembrance centre.
Take a hot-air ballon tour of the Ramon Crater
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.
Slather on mud in the Dead Sea
The lowest point on earth, at more than 430m (1,412ft) below sea level, the Dead Sea is not only fun to float in, it’s also healthy, historic and surrounded by breathtaking beauty. This endorheic lake, which has no outflow, is one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth, creating the perfect buoyancy for floating. Dead Sea mud is also great for your skin, so slather it on. Two sights not to be missed while you’re in the Dead Sea area are Masada, with its archaeological merit and amazing views, and Ein Gedi, a twinkling oasis in the desert.
Go diving in Eilat
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.
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