The small Middle Eastern country bordered by Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon has been a meeting place of different cultures and religions since the beginning of history. Our writer Emma Clair Kelly headed there on a tour with Go Israel to discover this intriguing country taking in not only the cities but the beautiful natural sites too…
Israel is a truly extraordinary country with so many attractions to discover from mystical seas to important religious cities as well as so many beautiful nature reserves. There is a certain special dimension to the country that is almost indescribable but the only way to fully understand it, is to go and discover the place for yourself. If you do make it over, make sure you include these 10 intriguing places to visit…
First things first- dive into Jerusalem, head first. Explore every nook and cranny. Around every corner and down every lane is a piece of history or culture that needs to absorbed into your consciousness. Whether it is stepping into the sweltering heat of a basement bakery watching a Master Baker whip up some pitta breads or watching a local trader prepare the traditional shawarma for the busy lunch trade. Not to mention the multitude of religious sites that dot the city: The Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David or the stunning Museum of Israel.
The Sea of Galilee
Along the banks of this famous lake is an architecturally outstanding church which, is built on stilts over the site of St. Peter’s house. The site itself is a haven of tranquillity and calm. Visitors can walk to the shoreline (though swimming is extremely dangerous and forbidden), sitting by the lapping lakewater allows exhausted travellers to spend some quiet moments in contemplation. Various ruins are exhibited nearby which, document the colourful history of the region’s past. An extremely friendly coffee vendor on the site makes the most delicious coffee which, allows you to thoroughly savour the magnitude of the moment.
Wednesday is fish day in this ancient fishing village along the banks of the Sea of Galilee and every part of it is loaded with charm. Ideally located along the banks of the lake and in the shade of the nearby Mount of Beatitudes it is the reputed to be the place where Jesus began his ministry but now, it is the perfect place to have a snack after contemplation at the lake or an appetite-inducing hike along the hillside path from Mount of Beatitudes. The best restaurants serve the famous St. Peter fish (of loaves and fishes fame) so make sure you check the menu before going in! Hint: eat it plainly with just lemon and salt as a garnish. Delish!
Hamat Gader Park
This unique park has been a health resort since ancient times, and now modern thermos-mineral pools sit alongside excavated Roman baths. It’s a very interesting place to visit in Israel and here you can spend an afternoon exploring the vast park -complete with wandering peacocks – marvelling at the beauty of the Roman ruins and hiking along some of the woodland paths. From some of the heights you have views of Syria, Lebanon and back into Israel which, is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all that exertion, relax and unwind in the thermal spring pools. There are different pools depending on your needs and an area for children to play with slides.
Tel Dan Nature Reserve
Tel Dan combines stunning natural beauty with archaeological interest, first comes the hike. There are three different routes, but by taking the mountain route you can experience stunning views over the Israeli landscape with the glittering sea of Galilee at your back and the Golan Heights surrounding you, this is a view to blow your socks off. However, it is not for the faint-hearted as the way down is a tricky via ferrata but there are other options that are easier on the nerves but just as stunning. When you finish your walk, feel free to cool off in the river Jordan which, snakes through the park.
Majrase Nature Reserve
After taking a drive through the Judean desert, you will be amazed to come across the oasis that is Majrase and here you can experience a water hike. This is basically a hike through a delta of the Jordan River and is a totally unique experience that cannot be missed. As you stroll through the icy water with the sun beating down and under the canopy of exotic foliage, it is impossible not to feel like an extra from an Indiana Jones movie! There is something utterly calming about this hike as you completely disconnect from the world and just assimilate with the sights and sounds of nature.
Acre is an absolutely stunning coastal town and another very interesting place to visit in Israel. With a history firmly lodged in Ottoman and Crusader periods and the town’s architecture reflects a diverse past. A stroll through the ancient bazaar is a feast for all the senses- the distinct smell of cardamom cements it as the signature scent of the country. Everything about Acre leaves you in awe, it is almost like stepping back in time with history and quirks oozing from every corner. The seaport is a designated UNESCO site and overlooking it is the famous Uri Buri restaurant which, offers the most amazing dishes but if you’re not feeling dinner, down the street is his ice-cream parlour with a vast array of flavours. Pick the rose flavour- you won’t regret it!
Haifa is not only Israel’s third largest city but it is also one of its prettiest, and is often considered one of the most picturesque cities in the Middle East. Everything about the city is stunning, from the majestic Mt Carmel to the breath-taking Baha’i Gardens. However, you don’t need to spend your time here hoofing between tourist sites to fully appreciate the beauty of the city, everywhere you look there are beautiful and interesting landscapes, many from the late Ottoman and Bauhaus periods. You can take in the views from the aerial cable car or stroll along the streets, the city is as diverse as the buildings within it.
The Dead Sea
Descending to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem through the Judean desert is an experience in itself but as you cross the landscape, it’s easy to understand why the Dead Sea is such a cherished location in Israel. As the lowest place on Earth it acted as a refuge for leaders and communities throughout history and is littered with archaeological remains to attest to that fact. The healing properties of the Dead Sea is well documented but if you’ve had your fill of floating and mud baths, take a cable car up to Masada, the site of King Herod’s mountaintop palace for a slice of history or spend an adventurous day in the desert.
Tel Aviv- Old Jaffa
When you get to Tel Aviv, head straight for Old Jaffa as it is the epitome of East meets West as the influences of the east collide with the Mediterranean. Firstly, stroll through the narrow streets of the oldest neighbourhood in Tel Aviv, Neve Tzedek and then amble through the flea market where any number of bargains can be yours for a few shekels and some haggling. Hint: look for copper coffee pots, tea glasses and hand painted tiles. Exploring more of Tel Aviv will reveal a city devoted to industry, architecture, design and style. Brutalistic towers nestle against colonial-esque buildings while modern hotels complete with infinity pools and roof gardens jostle for attention along the beach. After dark, Tel Aviv will blow your socks off with an explosive nightlife with a variety of upmarket wine and cocktail bars and restaurants with every dish under the sun available. It is impossible not to feel like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
All words by Emma Clair Kelly, Emma was a guest of Go Israel but all her opinions are her own. Photos are by Scott Balaam and Emma Clair Kelly.