Many foreigners know this world attraction by its luxury 'Dead Sea' beauty products and salt scrubs. Bordering Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, the Dead Sea is famous for its incredibly high salt content, allowing visitors to literally float in–or rather on–its waters. Cake yourself in mud, and wade into the lowest point on Earth for a bizarre experience like no other. After a salty selfie, wash off because the Dead Sea isn’t the only top attraction in Israel. With Ein Gedi’s popular oasis and nature reserve to its west, and Masada and the Qumran caves just a short trip away, the surrounding desert offers many historical sites to rival Jerusalem’s history heavy attractions. We’ve compiled the best attractions to visit while at the Dead Sea.
The top things to do in the Dead Sea
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Masada marks the spot where 1,000 Jewish rebels entered one of the final episodes of the Great Revolt against Rome two millennia ago. Instead of fighting, the rebels chose to commit suicide. The scenery surrounding Masada is just as dramatic as its backstory, with Herod’s palace overlooking an immense gorge and the expanse of the Dead Sea. It’s no wonder that Masada continues to be one of Israel’s biggest tourist sites.
Israel in general is famed for its many hiking trails winding their way over breathtaking heights in the north and lunar-like lows in the south. The routes are a fantastic way to see the country's beautiful landscape, and they all link up to form one giant hiking path that traverses the entire country, known as the Israel National Trail. Its northern end is at Dan, near the Lebanese border, and it extends to Eilat at the country's southernmost tip on the Red Sea. The trail is marked with three stripes (white, blue and orange) and has been named by National Geographic as one of the world’s best hikes.
Kibbutz Ein Gedi is the only botanical garden in the world that people live in. Over 1,000 varieties of flora from around the world grow wild here, in addition to 1,000 types of cacti. Take a walk on one of the gentle hiking trails, admire the wildlife, or enjoy the waterfall. For those looking for a weekend getaway, there is a hostel on-site. A nursery sells seedlings for those looking to build their own gardens, while a petting zoo makes Ein Gedi the perfect destination for families.
This nature reserve boasts dramatic scenery, spectacular waterfalls, and a sanctuary for wildlife unique to the area. There are a total of nine different trails which vary in levels of difficulty. Wadi David is the most popular, providing relatively easy access to David’s Waterfall after about an hour’s hike. For a challenge, continue to Ein Gedi Spring, and be prepared for bit of climbing, but nothing too serious. Don’t forget to stop for a dip in the pools along the way, or to take in dramatic views of the Dead Sea below you. The reserve also features numerous archeological sites, including a village from the first century CE.
This most peculiar body of water is located at the lowest point on the face of the earth (approximately 422 meters below sea level). Its extremely high salt concentration (33.7%!) makes it one of the saltiest seas on the planet. The Dead Sea is also chockfull of skin-friendly therapeutic minerals that reputedly combat the effects of aging and skin ailments. Pack your beach bag and head to the popular Kalia Beach, which has changing rooms, showers, lounge chairs, shady areas, a snack bar and a lifeguard. Indulge in a free mud bath, and slather yourself with the gooey mineral mud from head to toe for a great photo op.
The Nahal David stream is located on the northern side of Ein Gedi. It is known for its beautiful springs, caves, and history. The stream is named for King David, as it is the location he hid from the pursing King Saul. Today, it is a nature reserve boasting a scenic hike and cooling natural water, an oasis in the midst of the desert. A favorite with locals and travelers, this site is a must-visit for nature lovers! Swim in the waterfalls and admire the ibex, among other local animals. Suitable for the whole family.
The ancient Masada fortress is one of Israel’s most popular attractions, combining history with a beautiful view of the desert. The museum features artifacts, theatrical presentations, informative audio presentations, and other elements in order to bring the story of Masada to life. Located at the cable car station, it is a great place to learn more about the historic plateau. The museum takes you back in time, to learn Masada’s beginnings, its dramatic fall, and its excavation lead by Professor Yigael Yadin. A highlight of the museum is a recreated rebel dwelling, featuring straw baskets, looms, sandals, clothing, cooking utensils, and clay pots.
The Qumran National Park is famous for being the site where the oldest Biblical manuscripts, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, were found by a Bedouin shepherd. Even though the manuscripts have since been moved to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, there’s still plenty to see at Qumran. Antiquities and ancient ruins point to a hermit Jewish sect, known as the Essenes, that once resided in the area, cutting themselves off from worldly pursuits and engaging in a life of reflection and celibacy. Some theorize that it was the Essenes themselves who owned the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Qumran is best known for being the discovery site of the Dead Sea Scrolls, located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert. The historic village was established during the Hellenistic period. The site now hosts a visitor center where guests can learn about the history of the village and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition to exploring the caves and ruins, visitors can view artifacts from ancient Qumran, including tools, pottery, and ancient documents. The site is easy to get around, and takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to see.