The top things to do in Israel
What is it? The Old City is a 220-acre walled area overflowing with more history, culture, and spirituality than any other place in the world.
Why go? Divided into four quarters - Muslim, Christian, Armenian, and Jewish – perk your ears up to have a listen as the ancient area whispers its millennia-old stories. Soak up the intensity as you elbow your way through the mosque-going masses on Fridays. Witness the black hats bob and the ritual fringes sway as the ultra-Orthodox quorum prays at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall. Take in the awe-inspiring song of pilgrims shrouded in their white garb, retracing the path of Jesus through the smooth cobblestoned steps of the Via Dolorosa.
Don’t miss: The Old City is replete with sites that jump off of the pages of the Bible, such as the Temple Mount, the Tower of David, King David’s Tomb, and the Last Supper room. In the early 70s, Neil Armstrong visited wall excavations at the Davidson Center and said that it was more exciting to him as a Christian to step on the steps of the Temple Mount through Jesus' steps 2,000 years ago than to step foot on the moon.
What is it? A neighborhood in Tel Aviv rife with original Bauhaus and International-style buildings harking back to the 20s and 30s.
Why go? In 2003, the area was dubbed 'The White City' and designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site for having the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings in the world.
What is it? The artfully architected museum houses the best of Israeli art as well as new and old masters.
Why go? Gracing the walls are Israel’s most comprehensive collections of modern, contemporary, and Israeli art. The museum boasts an impressive collection of the old masters, diverse temporary exhibitions, displays of photography, design & architecture, a performance hall, and a beautiful, calming sculpture garden to wander around or relax in.
Don’t miss: The fittingly beautiful restaurant Pastel, just next door to the stunning Paul and Herta Amir wing of the museum.
Why go? One of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean basin, the Old City of Jaffa is proudly perched on a cliff protruding from the water, puncturing the Tel Aviv skyline. The range of attractions in Old Jaffa is startling, from mosques and churches to ancient clock towers, museums, galleries, restaurants and bars - the list of things to do in this new-old city is never ending.
Why go? Built on 19 terraces, beginning at the foot of the mountain and ascending towards its summit, the main axis points towards Akko, a historically and religiously important city to the Baha'i. At the center of the meticulously maintained gardens stands the Shrine of the Bab, the burial place of the religion's founder, whose golden dome illuminates the grounds.
Why go? OCD lives up to its name, offering a meticulous dinner experience. Tasting menus by the infamous 20-something Israeli chef Raz Rahav, are crafted to perfection with flavors that pop and playfulness that entices your tongue.
Don’t miss: Making a reservation on time. There are only two time slots per evening Monday-Friday - 7 or 9:30. And this top-notch dinner is one of the most talked about experiences in town.
What is it? One of the world’s most spectacular underwater universes, including an observatory, a nature museum, 40 fish tanks, a sea turtle/stingray pool and a shark pool.
Why go? There's a darkroom specifically designed to showcase the fascinating flashlight fish: a bioluminescent fish that carries a glowing bacteria beneath its eyes. Head just off the shoreline for the underwater observatory which boasts observation decks above and below the surface, then climb 90 steps to the Peace Terrace for expansive views of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.
Don’t miss: Science-lovers will ooh and aah at the Coral Beach Nature Reserve’s Oceanarium: a virtual-reality, sci-fi film with interactive moving seats.
What is it? A 12th Century building with 4th century origins, this is one of Jerusalem's most revered Christian sites.
Why go? Built on the site renown by Christians as the location of Jesus' resurrection, the church has been a location of pilgrimage since the 4th century. Christians of all denominations and people from around the world can be seen visiting its various frankincense-laden vestibules and chambers.
Don’t miss: Take an informational guided tour to uncover more about the deeply-rooted history of this ancient church without becoming overwhelmed by its various nooks and crannies.
What is it? North of Eilat in the majestic Negev Desert, Timna Park is an awe-inspiring mix of history and geology. Its 15,000 acres include valleys, cliffs, and even a lake - all surrounding Mount Timna – the world's first ever copper mine.
Why go? The site has a range of attractions, including ancient rock formations like The Mushroom, The Arches, Solomon’s Pillars, and The Valley of Rock Drawings.
Don’t miss: For those who want a total desert experience, you can camp overnight and truly see everything the park has to offer under the stars.
What is it? This most peculiar body of water is located at the lowest point on the face of the earth –with an extremely high salt concentration of 33.7% - making it the saltiest body of water known to humankind.
Why go? The Dead Sea is also chock-full 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, plenty of shady areas, a fully-stocked snack bar, and a lifeguard.
Don’t miss: Indulge in a free mud bath, and slather yourself with the gooey mineral mud from head-to-toe for the ultimate Instagram opp. Just don't dunk your head!
Why go? Located just across from the largest synagogue in the city, you won’t find anyone praying here. With a massive vinyl collection, the hippest waitresses, and a menu created under the supervision of iconic Israeli chef, Eyal Shani (also of HaSalon, HaMiznon, and Beit Romano), you’ll understand why Port Said has been successfully serving the cool crowd for years.
Don’t miss: Sitting on the steps out front and waiting for a table. Running into half of the city and schmoozing while in line is part of the whole experience.
What is it? This newly-minted landmark museum has everything you need to know about Israel’s natural world and then some.
Why go? The only museum of its kind in the world, these collections include 5.5 million plants and animals that illustrate the history of Israel's (and the rest of the Middle East's) biodiversity over the last century.
Don’t miss: The museum boasts thousands of displays for audiences to observe, which include collections like biological archaeology and the history of human biodiversity.
What is it? Considered to be the holiest place for the Jewish faith, this 2,000-year-old wall made of limestone, otherwise known as the 'Kotel' contains the last remains of the Second Jewish Temple.
Why go? No visit to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to the pulsing center of Jerusalem's ancient heritage. The Kotel is a short walk through the Old City of Jerusalem, leading visitors directly to the sacred site.
Don’t miss: Be one of the annual million people to write a wish or personal note on a scrap of paper and slit it into the cracks of the wall, as visitors have done since the early 18th century.
What is it? Launched in Israel in 1954, by Ruth Dayan, Maskit is a luxury women's ready-to-wear brand that pulls influences from Hungarian, Yemenite, Bulgarian, Bedouin, Palestinian, Druze, Lebanese, and Jewish traditional textiles and craftsmanship.
Why go? The original idea, over half a century ago, was to establish a brand to create work opportunities for new immigrants in fabric and design. Today, Israeli designer Sharon Tal (the former head of embroidery at Alexander McQueen) has breathed new blood into the heritage brand, re-establishing its roots with modern takes on each look.
Don’t miss: A visit to Maskit's stunning showroom in Old Jaffa marries the past and present – with both heirlooms from the brand's inception to Maskit’s new “Desert Collection” featuring mesmerizing cloaks re-imagined from original designs.
What is it? Israel's impressive progression has been well documented - and The Photo House's archives are here to prove it.
Why go? First opened on Allenby Street in 1936, the Photo House has a massive collection of negatives numbering close to a million images, and today, the shop houses one of the country’s most monumental private archives of historical photographs, recounting the story of Israel's past, and bursting with nostalgia.
Don’t miss: For those searching for a unique gift, any of the images can be blown up into huge posters, magnets, coasters, and more.
What is it? This sprawling valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has long been important due to its strategic location connecting Egypt to Damascus.
Why go? The area marks an ancient battlefield including a historic battle between the Egyptians and the Canaanites, and many others. It is also the site prophesied by the Book of Revelations in which the Messiah will defeat the Anti-Christ during the battle of Armageddon. Tel Megiddo seems to have a grueling future ahead of it.
Don’t miss: There is also a small, sleepy kibbutz, a fascinating museum, and archaeological excavations that include a well-preserved water cistern from the time of Solomon.
What is it? Diverse landscapes and various routes make the Israel National Trail a must in hiking communities the world over.
Why go? 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. 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 has been named by National Geographic as one of the world’s best hikes.
Don’t miss: Google Street View photographed the 660-mile trail, the longest trail photographed and the first that spans a whole country in Google Maps history.
What is it? Arguably Israel’s most magnificent cultural asset, the Israel Museum is consistently ranked among the world’s leading art and archaeology museums.
Why go? Founded in 1965 and housing the largest encyclopedic collections with works dating from prehistory to the present day in archaeology, fine art, and Jewish art, in the world, this is the place to get schooled on Israel’s 5,000-year history.
Don’t miss: Special events that happen throughout the year, including gallery talks, story times and the 'Big Art for Little Artists' series.
Why go? With three Jerusalem chefs Uri Navon, Assaf Granit, and Yossi ‘Pappy’ Elad running the show (also of London's The Palomar fame), this rustic haven for foodies offers a changing market-to-table menu with all its ingredients sourced from the nearby Machne Yehuda Market. The open kitchen gives diners a front seat to the action, and the lively, spirited vibes are like no other.
Don’t miss: Go for the palatable tasting menu to get a mouthful of everything the restaurant has to offer. And book rezzies waaaay in advance.
What is it? The beautiful port city of Caesarea is known for its remarkable blend of ancient and new architecture.
Why go? Built by King Herod in the first century BC and serving as the regional capital, today, the city beckons thousands of years back into the past with its innovative, one-of-a-kind underwater park. Visitors can view Herod’s elaborate port and marvel at sunken ships and ancient cargo that look as though they’ve been transported straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Don’t miss: Archeological findings attest to the inhabitants’ high standard of living; the port, which encompasses no less than 50 acres, features the remains of pools, wave breakers, docking piers, a promenade, and a lighthouse.
What is it? Rife with abundant natural and historical beauty, from the ruins of ancient cities to the roaring Banias Waterfall, this is the biggest waterfall in Israel.
Why go? Hours can be spent here; walking the trails, exploring the ruins, and picnicking in the lush green woodlands. The Banias Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon and flows powerfully through a canyon for 3.5 km, eventually leading to the waterfall - the most impressive cascade in the country.
Don’t miss: A stepped path near the spring leads to the Banias Cave, where the remains of a temple built by Herod the Great can be seen.
Why go? This is the go-to bar for the beautiful crowd of Tel Aviv’s preeminent hipster kingdom. DJs play sets fusing funk and reggae, electro and hip-hop until the early hours of the morning. With beer on tap and a groovy crowd, this is a must-visit if you have even an ounce of bohemian blood bubbling inside of you.
Don’t miss: The food at Romano is an essential part of the experience. Dig in to all the small plates and wash 'em down with shots of anise-flavored arak.
Why go? Nothing beats walking – or cycling – along the seaside promenade, breathing in the fresh, salty air of the Mediterranean. With Old Jaffa stamping the horizon to the south and the city’s skyscrapers to the north, this is the all-time best spot for people-watching and whizzing by.
Don’t miss: Sitting on a bench to watch local life unfold before your eyes with beach-goers, paddle players, sunset buskers, magicians and more doing their thing as the waves gently crash on the shore.
Why go? The Negev Desert's Ramon Crater has an ancient history dating back 220 million years to when an ocean once filled the massive hole. With a network of hikes ranging from easy loops to advanced mountain scales, this worldwide landmark is the perfect place for thrill seekers to get their adrenaline fix.
Don’t miss: Be sure to catch the unbeatable sunset at the Camel Lookout point or camp out overnight under the stars.
What is it? Yad Vashem is the largest and most comprehensive Holocaust museum and memorial in the world.
Why go? The state-of-the-art, 45-acre campus comprises indoor museums and outdoor monuments, exhibitions, memorial sites, gardens, sculptures, and world-class research and education centers. The museum’s research is devoted to commemorating the victims and the events of the Holocaust and accurately documenting one of the most ominous periods in human history.
Don’t miss: A hollowed-out cavern with a single candle reflected by a series of mirrors commemorates the 1.5 million children who were lost in the Holocaust.
What is it? Purpose-built for kids to explore, this innovative museum offers a range of activities geared to kids ages 2-12.
Why go? The award-winning museum is a wonderland for kiddies, but it is just clever enough for adults to not-so-secretly love the special exhibits on display. Unlike conventional museums, children are encouraged to touch all of the displays, and even play a role in the exhibits. Designed to create tolerance and dialogue is what makes this museum a real-world model for all.
Don’t miss: Not-to-be-missed are the famous 'Dialogue in the Dark' and 'Invitation to Silence' exhibits, two experiences that provide emotional and telling insight into the worlds of blind and deaf people.
What is it? Nestled on a hillside peppered with olive groves, this artists’ colony boasts spectacular views and archeological treasures.
Why go? A visit to the Carmel region without a stop in Ein Hod would be remiss. As well as being jam-packed with galleries and museums, Ein Hod affords views of the Mediterranean Sea and even has a Crusader fortress. There are often free jazz concerts in the outdoor amphitheater and a host of cafes and restaurants make this a popular weekend day spot.
Don’t miss: The range of workshops visitors can take part – everything from sculpting, printing, silk-screening, ceramics and pottery to blacksmithing, lithography, mosaics, and stained glass, as well as several music workshops.
What is it? Showcasing over a thousand samples of the world’s most cutting-edge materials, this innovative display includes the very latest in plastics, wood, ceramics, paper, metal, composites, textiles and biodegradables.
Why go? : The space looks something like a kindergarten class on steroids. It's also one of a handful of material museums in the world that is actually open to the public.
Don’t miss An entrance ticket to the adjacent and amazing Design Museum also includes admission to the Materials Library – the best 2-for-1 around.
What is it? Celebrated chef Eyal Shani’s HaSalon is a quintessential Israeli culinary experience. The famous chef has his own straightforward style, one that has truly shaped contemporary Israeli cuisine.
Why go? Diners will find the best vegetables and raw materials coming together in a slick, but hip manner. Arrive for a late night party of flavors and see how every ingredient stands out on its own. The exquisite menu changes on a whim, so there are always delectable surprises.
Don’t miss: It’s only open Wednesday and Thursday evenings so be sure to plan ahead for this unique dining experience.
Why go? Established in 1985, Tishbi Winery grew from humble beginnings to a much-admired internationally acclaimed winery. Tishbi Estate Winery remains family run and offers a tasting center including delicious chocolate pairings, and guided wine tours in Hebrew and English. The estate also sells farm-fresh fruit jams, wine jams, and olive oil.
Don’t miss: Pop by the delicious on-site restaurant and see for yourself why the winery produces approximately 1,000,000 bottles every year.
What is it? What is known as the Yemenite Quarter, just below the iconic Carmel Market, houses a warm and welcoming labyrinth of small streets wafting smells of home-cooked stews, kebabs, and other Yemeni comfort foods. The authentic eateries and story-telling cooks are a neighborhood classic.
Why go? It is the closest travelers will get to staying in a local's home – the food and hospitality are purely wonderful. Don't miss the area's raucous Friday mornings and afternoons before everything shuts down for Shabbat. The area is transformed with lively music, hordes of people, and good vibes.
Why go? Located in the heart of Jaffa’s port, the Nalaga’at Center is home to one of Israel’s most unconventional and exceptional theaters: both deaf and blind actors and hosts take the audience on a magical tour into the districts of their own inner world.
Don’t miss: Prior to the performance, visitors can try their hand at eating completely in the dark, while being served by blind individuals at the on-site Black Out restaurant. Nalaga’at is also home to Café Kapish - run completely by deaf barristers who are experts at reading lips.