If you’ve found this article today because you’re thinking of taking a trip to the small but diverse country of Israel, read on for an expert list of must-see sights and activities that I highly recommend you check out on your visit.
Israel is a country that sticks with you long after your plane has landed back in the States. The incredible foods, diverse cultures and changing landscapes all contribute to what makes this little country so captivating. It is a great place to visit, especially if you enjoy shopping, cultural exploration, and a change from your routine.
Below is my list of recommended items to see/do during your visit. All the included images were taken on my most recent visit to give you a true, hands-on perspective of the region.
I was going to wait to put this action item further down on my list, but the truth is, when I close my eyes and think of Israel, the first thing I miss is the food! There are so many types of things to eat and you will find small, locally-owned restaurants almost everywhere you visit. The most popular and easy to find food in Israel would be the Falafel sandwich- ground chickpeas and spices shaped into balls and deep-fried, placed in a piece of pita bread with tahini sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and if you’re very lucky, chopped mini pickles. If you’re in Haifa, stop at Falafel George along the coastline and say hello to my uncle, the owner! In the Old City in Jerusalem, you will find amazing falafel vendors throughout the streets. Seasoned fries, fattoush salad, baba ghanoush, and pickled veggies are also among some of the staple foods you can get anywhere you like.
The Old City- Jerusalem
This area of Israel is so beautiful and there is so much to do, it was difficult not to write a second article entirely for this gem city. You can easily spend several days in Jerusalem making trips back and forth to visit the Old City for all of its cultural aspects. Below are just a few of my favorites:
Dome of The Rock- Old City, Jerusalem
The Dome of The Rock is an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount inside the Old City. The Temple Mount is considered the third holiest site for Muslims. In the Muslim tradition, this is where the prophet Mohammed made his Night Journey to the throne of God. In the seventh century, when the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, they built the Dome of the Rock. All visitors are welcome to tour the compound and Al-Aqsa Mosque, however, only Muslim visitors may enter the Dome of The Rock.
Wailing Wall- Old City, Jerusalem
The Wailing Wall is the most religious site in the entire world for people of the Jewish faith. It is a smaller segment of a very large portion of the wall known as the Western Wall. Visitors may come to the Wailing Wall to leave notes of prayer in the wall, based on the belief that all the prayers ascend to heaven through the Temple Mount, which the wall supports. The prayer areas of the wall are segregated between men and women- this is because, in the Jewish religion, men and women are prohibited from engaging in prayer with one another. All are welcome and encouraged to visit the wall and leave messages of prayer in its walls. Twice a year, the Rabbi of the Western Wall collects the prayers and buries them on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
Church of The Holy Sepulchre- Old City, Jerusalem
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is easily the single most breathtaking church I have ever had the pleasure of stepping inside in my life. Considered a major pilgrimage center for Christians all over the world, many believe this is the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried, and where he rose from the dead. Visitors have been traveling from all over the world to visit this stunning site since it was founded in AD 326. Below are a few more photos of the inside, because I could not stop taking (non-flash) photos while there.
The Bahai Gardens
Easily the most distinct tourist attraction in Haifa, the Bahai (buh-hai) Gardens always takes my breath away. Also known as the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, these formal gardens flow down 19 steep terraces to a stunning domed shrine, the final resting place of the prophet-herald of the Bahai faith. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008, the well-tended gardens have an extremely regal feel with not so much as a blade of grass out of place. Great for photographers, the views of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea are stunning from the top. Visiting hours are limited, so check ahead before you go.
Mount Carmel is a range of mountains stretching along the coast of Northern Israel from the Mediterranean Sea. There are many small towns sprinkled throughout the mountain range, providing day-trippers the opportunity to stop for lunch, do some shopping, and appreciate local art. There are also numerous bed and breakfasts, as well as a nature and wildlife reserve. You can explore Mount Carmel by car, on foot, or by my preferred choice of travel- off-road ATV.
Caesarea is a coastal national park where a stunning beach, amazing cultural harbor ruins, and private modern homes all marinate together. Originally an ancient port city located along the Mediterranean coastline, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The Old City provides visitors with a range of shopping and dining options, while the recently restored outdoor amphitheater hosts mid-day and evening concerts in the summer months. Caesarea is a wonderful half-day attraction and a beautiful place to enjoy the sunset and a nice meal.
There are so many items to visit and check off your Israel bucket list, I recommend you visit for at least 5-6 nights and travel through the areas of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa extensively. Apart from the above activities, Israel offers an abundance of exquisite nightlife, a fantastic cultural music scene, and miles upon miles of beautiful warm-water beaches. With a good exchange rate and so much to see and do, Israel should certainly be on your list of top countries to visit.
Written by Travel Specialist: Hallah Karaman