FROM THE PICTURESQUE GALILEE REGION IN THE NORTH TO JERUSALEM, TEL AVIV, THE DEAD SEA AND SOUTH THROUGH THE NEGEV TO THE RED SEA RESORT TOWN OF EILAT, ISRAEL’S STUNNING COLLECTION OF ANCIENT HOLY SITES, NATURAL LANDSCAPES AND MODERN ATTRACTIONS IS SIMPLY “BEYOND BELIEF.”
By Ross Belfer
The north of Israel offers a calming mix of breathtaking landscapes, historic churches, modern marvels and world-class spa resorts. In the Galilee, locals and travelers alike often spend the day touring a mélange of holy sites, including Tiberias, Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes. After a day of traversing and exploring the region’s holy sites, many locals look to retreat to the Sea of Galilee for a refreshing swim, or to set up shop at one of the area’s camping sites and zimmerim, Israeli bed-and-breakfasts.
In the Western Galilee, travelers can pay a visit to Rosh Hanikra, a 650-foot-deep naturally formed underground cavern known for its sparkling turquoise waters; or the Old City of Acre, a UNESCO World Heritage site with an abundance of 16th-century Crusader ruins. For the wine-loving traveler, northern Israel is replete with world-class wineries, including Tishbi, Binyamina and Rimon, which offer wine tastings and master classes, as well as pairings with fresh, locally produced cheeses.
And those travelers simply looking to relax and unwind amidst a lush green landscape can visit one of Israel’s many 5-star spa resorts, including the Carmel Forest Spa, Mitspe Hayamim and Amirey Hagalil.
JERUSALEM, TEL AVIV AND BEYOND
Home to holy sites for the world’s three major monotheistic religions, Jerusalem offers an unprecedented mix of historical and modern attractions that will surprise even the most sophisticated of travelers.
Travelers to Jerusalem can witness more than 4,000 years of ancient artifacts and ruins by visiting the City of David, an active archeological site where new discoveries are unearthed regularly. The Old City of Jerusalem is also home to: the Western Wall, the holiest site in the world for the Jewish religion; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the holiest sites in the world for Christians; as well as the Via Dolorosa and Dome of the Rock.
Just a short drive from Tel Aviv are inspiring and innovative attractions waiting to be discovered
In addition to its historical sites, Jerusalem is robust with high-end hotels, world-class museums and innovative modern attractions. Just this year, Jerusalem unveiled its original Ottoman-era train station as the First Station Complex, a new entertainment hotspot boasting restaurants, live music performances, monthly festivals and shops.
For art-focused travelers, Jerusalem is home to dynamic art and culinary scenes in the buzzing German Colony, Nahalat Shiva and Mahane Yehuda neighborhoods, and features the world-renowned Israel Museum, Israel’s largest arts and culture institution.
West of Jerusalem on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea is Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Israel’s economic and artistic hub, offering a wide range of activities and experiences for travelers of all tastes and interests. Tel Aviv has recently emerged as a culinary hotspot with the city’s Levinsky Market being named the #1 Travel Destination for 2013 by Saveur magazine, and boasts an endless selection of high-end restaurants, authentic food stalls, cafes and bustling al fresco markets.
Tel Aviv is also home to world-class museums and galleries, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and exhibition spaces in the SoHo-esque Neve Tzedek neighborhood, as well as state-of-the-art music and cultural performance spaces, such as the HaBima National Theater and Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Jaffa is also teeming with modern attractions and historical sites, including the Jaffa Port, one of the oldest ports mentioned in the bible, which stands today as a culinary and entertainment hotspot, as well as the St. Peter’s Church located in the Old City, and the Jaffa flea market.
Just a short drive from Tel Aviv are inspiring and innovative attractions waiting to be discovered, including the award-winning Design Museum Holon in the nearby city of Holon; Apollonia, a beachside archeological park boasting ruins from the Crusader period; and Caesarea, boasting an archeological park and ruins from the Roman period, as well as high-end restaurants and Israel’s only 18-hole golf course, which was created by legendary designer Pete Dye.
ISRAEL DOWN SOUTH
For those more tuned to serene desert landscapes, Israel is home to the Judean and Negev Deserts, popular destinations for both locals and travelers alike. Built by King Herod more than 2,300 years ago, Masada is Israel’s most visited attraction and an ideal destination for early risers and travelers looking to witness the majestic view of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert. Masada is the mountaintop fortress built and maintained by King Herod and recognized as the last stronghold of the Jewish people against the Roman conquest. Many travelers prefer to tour Masada during sunrise, followed by a relaxing soak in the salty, buoyant waters of the nearby Dead Sea.
Water-enthusiasts, snorkelers and scuba divers will never find a dull moment in Eilat, Israel’s seaside resort town along the Red Sea. Eilat welcomes hundreds of thousands of travelers and locals each year to swim amongst the tropical fish and coral reef (and dolphins!) in the crystal-clear Red Sea.
For travelers wishing to explore the Negev Desert off the beaten path, the region is home to a collection of majestic natural attractions including the Ramon Crater, the world’s largest geological crater; the Mars-like Timna National Park; and Ein Avdat, a massive canyon adjacent to Sde Boker just south of the city of Beersheba.
From north to south, Israel definitely has something for everyone.