Israel’s inventions, quirks, talents and a healthy dose of chutzpa, have helped the country and its people flourish – putting them on the map as a creative, dynamic and memorable powerhouse. We’ve rounded up 100 reasons to love this ever-inspiring place we call home:
Four bodies of water bless one small country: the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Each delivers its own unparalleled experience. We recommend playing a game of Matkot on Gordon Beach at the Mediterranean, floating at Ein Bokek beach at the Dead Sea, tanning at the Red Sea’s North Beach, and relaxing alongside Hukuk Beach at the Sea of Galilee.
Israel has 137 official beaches. Most have nicknames based on the specific ‘types’ who grace their sands for about seven months out of the year.
Visitors to Jerusalem can connect with the world’s Abrahamic faiths by visiting the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall, all for free.
One of the greatest archaeological finds of the last century was accidently discovered in the remote caves overlooking Qumran by a passing Bedouin shepherd. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain the oldest copies of parts of the Bible in existence, and have been invaluable to scholars.
Its residents are no strangers to strife, but Israel is consistently rated one of the happiest countries in the world.
In the early 70s, American astronaut Neil Armstrong visited wall excavations at the Davidson Center and said that it was more exciting to him as a Christian to experience the Temple Mount through Jesus’ steps 2,000 years ago than it had been to set foot on the moon.
Nine Israelis have won the Nobel Prize for achievements in Peace(3), Chemistry(3), Economics(2), and Literature(1).
The first kibbutz ever was established by an idealistic and Zionistic group of 10 settlers hoping to escape European persecution. Although Kibbutz Degania remained small, its cultural significance to the history of Israel is momentous. Degania and its settlers spurred the socialist movement that became the foundation of Israel.
Friday afternoons in Israel are an out-of-this world experience for those from other countries. Even in secular, licentious Tel Aviv, as the Sabbath approaches, storefronts roll down their shutters, streets empty out and an eerie silence settles on the streets. It’s magical and a bit weird, but it’s 100% authentic Israel.
Israel’s modern day army, the IDF, originated from a small group of dedicated, strong-willed and Zionistic youth called the Haganah. The Jewish underground, started in the 1920s, led the efforts to independence.
Within Jerusalem’s Old City there are 48 monasteries and churches, over 30 mosques, and 142 streets and alleys, including 43 in the Jewish Quarter.
Interested in spending the night at a 200-year old Arab mansion? You can do that in Nazareth at the beautiful Fauzi Azar Inn guest house. (fauziazarinn.com)
Israel has more museums per capita than any other country in the world.
Yad Vashem is the largest Holocaust museum and memorial in the world. After the Western Wall, it is the second most visited site in Israel. Stretching out over 45 acres, the museum is comprised of both educational galleries as well as heart-breaking memorials. Few museums are as moving and powerful as Yad Vashem, which is so much more than a museum for interested tourists and students. It continues to document, archive and preserve the history of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust – keeping their stories alive for future generations to come. Admission is free. (yadvashem.org)
The Islamic Art Museum near Jerusalem’s Talbiya Theater contains one of the world’s largest and rarest collections of art related to Islam.
Hebrew, one of the two official languages of Israel, is the only dead language ever to be revived and spoken by an entire nation. And we can thank Eliezer Ben-Yehuda for that. Before Israel was even independent, the father of modern Hebrew worked tirelessly, editing the liturgical language to work with contemporary speech. Ben-Yehuda’s commitment to Hebrew made it possible for the ancient tongue to return.
No country exists without a heartfelt national anthem. Hatikvah is that song for Israel. Its complicated history begins with a colorful poem written in the 19th century and culminates in the present-day version: a two-stanza song, speaking of the yearning of Jews for a return to the ancient national home.
Israel is home to four world heritage sites declared by UNESCO: Jerusalem’s Old City walls; Masada; Akko’s Old City and Tel Aviv’s “White City."
In 2003, when Tel Aviv was recognized for its concentration of Bauhaus buildings (the largest in the world!) and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the honor took some celebrating, hence the annual fête Laila Lavan – “White Night.”
A pocketsized device that three quarters of the world have access to was first created in Israel. And as anyone who has been to Israel knows, locals love their cell phones. Motorola Israel, the wireless giant’s largest R&D center, is credited with inventing the first ever cell phone.
Since the Iron Dome went live in 2011, the cutting edge missile-interception system has knocked down over 85% of the missiles aimed at Israeli city centers. Its miracle work is now being exported abroad.
The humble cherry tomato was developed by the Agriculture Faculty of the Hebrew University – a sweet snack tomato with excellent ripening and shelf time.
The Maccabiah games, the international Jewish and Israeli Olympic games, unites hundreds of Jewish athletes from around the world to compete in a host of sporting events. It was started by a very determined 15 year-old and is the biggest sporting event in Israel today.
The late Christopher Reeve, who was most famous for his role as Superman, called Israel the “world center” for research on paralysis treatment.
The Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is the largest of all Jewish Zionist women’s organizations, numbering more than 330,000 members, associates and supporters. In keeping with the original mission, it continues to be an organizer, funder and provider of healthcare in Israel.
Google’s Campus for Moms in Tel Aviv educates, engages and empowers women to take a leadership role as entrepreneurs – all in a child-friendly environment. By partnering up with local organization Yazamiyot and directing the program’s focus to moms on maternity leave, Google is tapping into a powerful, underdeveloped market.
Within years of the country’s independence, Israeli engineers turned to the sun for energy and hot water. Levy Yissar developed a solar water heater that was then improved upon by Harry Zvi Tabor. Today, 90% of Israeli rooftops have solar powered water heaters.
Israeli is the only country in the world where women have mandatory army service. The IDF and Israel would not be who they are without the support of the countless women who served in roles identical to their male counterparts. The equality in army service has set the tone for the country and its belief in women’s rights.
The original “iron lady,” Golda Meir was Israel’s first and the world’s third female prime minister. She was both a pioneer for woman’s rights and an incredible leader to the people of Israel.
Krav Maga is an intense self-defense approach used by today’s IDF and police force. It was first developed to help Jews living outside of Brataslava fight off anti-Semitic attacks, then brought to Israel and incorporated into its own protection system. For many, Israel’s tenacity is synonymous with the aggressive Krav Maga martial arts.
Still not impressed with Israel’s technological contributions? The instant messaging program you’re using was originally created by Israel. The software behind ICQ was developed in 1996 by Israeli company: Mirabilis.
The first PC anti-virus software was developed in Israel in 1979. No spam here.
Dubbed as the royal family of Israel, the Rothschilds have contributed an abundant amount of charity to the development of Israel. In fact, Edmond de Rothschild financed two of the original settlements in Israel, Rishon LeZion and Zikhron Ya’akov. The family also helped fund the building of the Knesset and the Supreme Court, as well as cultivated the wine industry in modern Israel.
Israeli water engineer Simcha Blass transformed water irrigation with his slow and balanced drip system. Today, the technology is utilized not only by Israeli farmers, but also those all around the world.
Israel has created quite the impressive name for itself in the tech world, influencing both its own and outside cultures with their inventions. Outside of Silicon Valley in California, this small country has the highest number of startups in proportion to its population. The entrepreneurial and innovative fervor is contagious as more and more Israelis seek to change the world with their pioneering creations.
The Birthright program has, since its inception, enabled over half a million Jewish 18-26-year-olds to visit the country in an all-expenses paid 10-day trip. Camel rides, meeting hot Israeli soldiers, enjoying some Bedouin hospitality and floating on the Dead Sea are all on the intensive agenda for getting to know the country.
Beit Gabriel is not known by many tourists. The hidden gem is nestled off the coast of the Sea of Galilee and acts as a cultural and social center for the area. Its architectural design has been heralded around the world and has won many awards for the small country. The building also offers a glimpse into the past, as it was the setting for the 1994 signing of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, a monumental part of Israel’s history.
Bored of hotels but looking for something higher-end than a hostel? Stay at a Zimmer – an affordable bed and breakfast style accommodation.
Kibbutz Ein Gedi is home to over 600 rare species of trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the world.
Hamat Gader is the oldest and largest spa complex in Israel. Visitors can bathe in hot springs where the ancient Romans built an enormous bath complex 2,000 years ago. (hamat-gader.com)
It is hard to believe that a city as modern and youthful as Tel Aviv was settled and distributed with a seashell lottery 106 years ago. As the story goes 66 Jewish families gathered to parcel out the 12 acres of sand dunes they purchased from Bedouins near Jaffa. To fairly split the land, 66 white shells and 66 grey shells were collected. The names of each of the families were written on white seashells and plot numbers on the gray seashells, and, according to the story, a child matched shells from each pile until none remained. It’s all history from there, and today we have the magnificent and bustling city of Tel Aviv.
Magen David Adom, nicknamed MADA, is Israel’s first aid and disaster relief organization. Officially granted membership to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in 2006, it started in 1930 as a modest one-room emergency medical service. Today the symbolic red Star of David can be seen as a first responder – both locally and providing aid in disasters abroad.
Since its inception in 2011, Tel Aviv Fashion Week has put Israel on the map as an international destination for fresh, young design.
Gorgeous, original work by Marc Chagall can be found in Ein Kerem. In 1962 he gifted the 12 arched stained glass windows that form the walls of the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.
Neve Tzedek was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the port city of Jaffa. Its history is rich and its present is charming. Today, it is a coveted location – a cultural and culinary center blocks from the beach that is home to various intellectual and artistic movers and shakers.
In a fairly unique practice, medical clowns are involved in over 40 medical procedures in Israel, including accompanying patients to CT scans, X-Rays, MRIs, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Dream Doctors – an organization that works closely with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the University of Haifa, where students can get their BA in Medical Clowning – also hosts monthly workshops for the clowns. Here, medical staff teach a range of medical knowledge and training.
Israelis fly by the seat of their pants. That is, don’t be surprised if you get a call to meet up in an hour for drinks. The collective spontaneity that reigns in Israel is both exciting and inexplicable. Just go with it. And on dates, expect to go Dutch.
There are some fabulous bits of Israeli life that make this place extraordinary for tourists. People are incredibly friendly, and tourists are beloved. If you’re lost, confused, or looking for advice, don’t hesitate to ask a local. In major cities, most residents are fluent in English, and even in more far-flung spots, most folks can get by in the universal language. You’ll be welcomed to the country with such open arms that you shouldn’t be surprised if a friendly stranger invites you for Shabbat dinner (or tries to fix you up with his sexy single cousin).
Every Israeli city has a huge central fruit and vegetable market where you can browse local produce, gawk at the hotshot butchers and toss away your shekels on trinkets, housewares and questionable beachwear. Two of the most famous central markets are Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv and Shuk Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem, but Israel’s smaller cities and towns also boast their own local food bazaars.
Arguing is a national pastime and should not necessarily be considered confrontational, but rather a form of healthy debate. As the old saying goes, “Get three Israelis in a room, and you’ll have four opinions!”
Shots of licorice-flavored Arak and ice-cold Goldstar beer.
The unofficial sport of Israel is Matkot, or paddleball. It is next to impossible to go to an Israeli beach and not hear the sound of a ball bouncing off a paddle.
Through excellent websites like the (Israeli-born) eatwith.com anyone can eat with locals in the ultimate of natural habitats: their own homes. A Shabbat meal with an Israeli family, for example, is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to really get a feel for what Israeli home life is like.
Israelis speak with every hand gesture and expression possible. It’s not talking if your whole body isn’t involved.
Going to an Israeli wedding is a rite of passage. And getting invited to one is no biggie because they happen almost every day of the week – and often times even the postman is invited. The numbers can top 800 guests, and the abundance of drinks, food and pure, unbridled joy is simply contagious. Never stuffy or reserved, it is commonplace for the on-lookers to hoot and holler at the bride and groom as they walk down the aisle, and then rush the chuppah (wedding canopy) as the ceremony begins. Don’t be affronted if you hear hollers or ululation (high pitched, tremulous yelling) during the ceremony itself.
The multiple Emmy award winning TV thriller “Homeland”, is based on the Israeli series Hatufim (translated as Prisoners of War) created by Gideon Raff.
Elvis lives! And he’s here in Jerusalem. The Elvis American Diner is a tribute to the king of rock and roll, filled with all things Elvis, from a giant gold statue of the musician to 1950s-themed paraphernalia.
Big shot Israeli producer Arnon Milchan has film credits that include Oscar winners and popular hits alike: Pretty Woman, 12 Years a Slave, L.A. Confidential, JFK, Heat, Fight Club, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, to name a few. Plus, he’s the former owner of international sportswear line Puma.
Israel has the largest fleet of aircrafts outside of the U.S and one of the most highly regarded air forces in the world.
Israel has the world's second highest per capita of new books. To celebrate Hebrew literature visit Hebrew Book Week. For ten days in June, city streets across the country are lined with stalls belonging to top publishers, and bookstores hold their biggest sales.
Israelis have always put a high value on education, so it is no surprise that the small country has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world. Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University are two of the most well known universities.
Many are stunned to find out that one of the most religious countries in the world is also considered a gay hotspot, but the local LGBTQ community forms a huge, colorful part of Israeli culture. Beyond the parades and parties, Israel’s openness towards the LGBTQ community highlights its progressive social attitudes.
A whole episode of The Simpsons was devoted to the so-called “Jerusalem Syndrome”, which Homer Simpson developed during his visit to the Holy City, with predictably hilarious results.
When Starbucks entered the country, Israelis weren’t convinced, and the chain consequently failed – the only time this has happened to the coffee Goliath.
Young Israeli artist Guy Yanai’s pixelated, colorful, Hockney-esque works served as inspiration for LA-based fashion brand Band of Outsiders’ 2014 Resort collection, with several of the pieces incorporating elements of his paintings.
Canadians living in Israel who find themselves homesick for their native land can visit Metulla’s Canada Center. Head for the ice skating rink, the shooting range or the bowling alley. (canada-centre.co.il)
When most people think of Israel, they think of the barren desert, but in fact, Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees. To plant a tree and continue spreading green throughout the country, reach out to the JNF foundation. (jnf.org)
Whether you’re craving a hike that is long or short, wet or dry, uphill or downhill, there’s something for every outdoor lover. The Israel National Trail – stretching 1,000 km – was included in the list of “holy grails of trails across the world” by National Geographic magazine. And a 42-kilometer hiking trail around Beersheva won third place in an annual environmental competition run by the European Travelers’ Association.
Don’t have time to see all of Israel? Visit Mini Israel instead and see a miniature reproduction of the major sites, starting from the Golan in the north and ending in Eilat in the south. Bring your kids because there are tons of other activities, like a kid-friendly bungee jump! (minisrael.co.il)
Did you know that the country notorious for its hot weather also has a great ski resort? Head north to find Israel’s tallest mountain, Mt. Hermon. In winter, visitors can ski or snowboard down the snowy slopes. (skihermon.co.il)
While it is easy to be distracted by Mt. Bental’s breathtaking vistas of the Golan, Syria and Mt. Hermon, it’s hard to ignore the significance of the mountain peak. Visitors can hide out in old war bunkers and see old armor that was used only a few decades ago. Its strategic value has been colossal for the security of Israel.
The entire city of Eilat is a Duty Free and Free Trade Zone, so all purchases are free of the 16.5% VAT. In between snorkeling, tanning and banana boating, do make sure to spend some time shopping.
Although Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, didn’t originate in Safed, it is in this northern city that it got its boost and continues to thrive. Safed is also considered one of Israel’s four holy cities, together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias.
Did you know that Israel’s famous Sea of Galilee is actually a lake? It’s had a variety of names since biblical times, but in Israel it’s called Lake Kinneret, and it holds several distinctions: the largest freshwater reservoir in Israel, the only natural freshwater lake in Israel and the lowest freshwater lake in the world.
The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is the oldest, continually used cemetery in the world. There are tours that go through the area daily. (mountofolives.co.il)
Israel is home to the only Makhtesh in the world. Makhtesh Ramon is often mistaken for a crater, but is actually the result of ancient formations of soft sandstone being covered by harder limestone and dolomite, followed by a process of uplifting by tectonic.
The city of Caesarea was originally an ancient Herodian port. Much of the architecture has been preserved for tourists to visit. Caesarea is also home to the world’s only underwater museum, where you are able to dive through the underwater ruins of the ancient city.
The desert just north of Eilat is home to the world’s oldest copper mines, attributed to King Solomon. You can spend the whole day at the park, hiking and learning about the history of the area. (parktimna.co.il)
The coral reef in Eilat extends for over 1,200 meters and is one of the northernmost reefs in the world. Both novice and expert divers will be in awe of the colorful, intricate reef.
On a hot day, nothing is more refreshing than cold ice cream. Israelis agree! The average Israeli eats about 10 liters of ice cream per year, compared to 6.2 liters per capita in Italy, home of gelato. Israeli ice cream shops offer unexpected flavors including hummus, halva and chocolate tahini.
Abu Gosh holds the unofficial title of the best tasting hummus in Israel. You can’t go wrong with any of their hummus restaurants, but we suggest checking out Naji, a self-declared hummusia.
Israel is the largest provider of tropical fruit – mostly oranges. Next time you’re strolling down Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, stop at any of the fresh fruit smoothie stalls. You won’t be disappointed!
One of the holiest sites for the people of the Baha'i faith is located in the northern city of Haifa. The impeccable Baha'i Gardens is comprised of a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The gardens are incredibly and meticulously cared for – a must-see for anyone visiting Haifa. Entrance is free. (ganbahai.org.il)
Israeli bank notes are marked in braille so that the blind can identify them. Visit the Holon Children’s Museum to experience life without sight. (childrensmuseum.org.il)
While you may know Gene Simmons as the lead singer of Kiss, his parents know him as Chaim Witz from the northern Israel town of Tirat Carmel.
Spend a night living like the nomadic Bedouin. Many Bedouin communities have opened up their villages in the Negev desert so that tourists can explore the unique culture, while sleeping under the stars in traditional Bedouin-style tents. (hanokdim.com)
Albert Einstein is most famous for his scientific contributions and his nutty-professor hair. But did you know he was also almost the President of Israel? In 1952, he was offered, but turned down, the position.
Rummikub was invented by Ephraim Hertzano, a Romanian Jew who immigrated to pre-state Israel in the 1930s. It took off and became Israel’s mostly highly exported game. In 1977, it was the best selling game in Israel.
In case those who keep kosher were worried – the glue on Israeli stamps is kosher.
Jaffa is home to Nalaga’at, an organization that’s the world’s first (and so far only) theater company comprised entirely of actors who are both deaf and blind. Visitors can also try their hands at eating completely in the dark while being served by blind waitstaff. (nalagaat.org.il)
Interested in walking across the whole length of Israel? Shveel Israel, or the Israeli Trail, directs adventurers from the most northern tip of Israel all the way to the most southern. Google Street View even photographed the 660-mile trail, the longest trail yet photographed by Google and the first that spans a whole country.
The Dead Sea existed long before Israel, but the lowest point on earth has come to represent Israeli tourism. It’s customary for visitors to float in the sea, relax on its beaches and buy massive amounts of mud. It has also been an economic boon, with companies bottling the mud and salts to sell around the world as an elite beauty product.
Opera lovers need not be confined to a theater to hear magnificent arias and duets. Opera on Masada is an annual four-day opera festival where musicians perform under the stars.
Into classical music? Israel has more orchestras per capita than any other nation in the world. We suggest buying tickets to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv. (ipo.co.il)
Israel is home to the only farm in the world where you can see over 400 llamas and alpacas. Here, you can witness the whole process from their birth to the spinning of their wool. (alpaca.co.il)
Visit any of the 145 wineries in Israel (some producing as few as 600 bottles, others up to 13 million annually). We recommend traveling north to the Carmel Wineries and going on one of their tours. (carmelwines.co.il)
At least 500 million birds of 200 different species fly across Israel each spring and autumn en route to and from Africa, Europe and Asia. The Eilat region, Dead Sea area, Bet Shean Valley and Hula Valley offer, undoubtedly, the best attraction to migrants in the Syrian-African Rift Valley.
Always wondered what it would be like to eat underwater? The Red Sea Star is an underwater restaurant where you can enjoy a romantic Middle Eastern meal. (redseastar.com)
Extreme sports enthusiasts take note: many adventure seekers head to the Keshet Cave in the Galilee to rappel down to the cave floor.
Despite being young and tiny – Israel is the 100th smallest country in the world, just ahead of El Salvador – this beautiful place has succeeded beyond expectation.