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I came to Israel for the first time knowing the story I was going to write. I would tell of my journey through the country without emphasizing Jerusalem. I would avoid the iconic images of the Golden City — the Western Wall; The Temple Mount; the narrow, winding walkway of the Via Dolorosa; the panorama from the Mount of Olives. Instead, I would detail the experience outside of the Old City, and present a side of this destination that most travelers are not aware of — the flip side of Israel.
Halfway through the trip, I accepted the truth: Like the tomes of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the story starts in Jerusalem. However, as interactions with the locals showed me, nothing here is simple. And so, I found that the less-traveled areas of Israel also have their importance to travelers, albeit as a complement to Jerusalem.
Visitors will find that Israel offers some exciting and somewhat unexpected travel experiences that reach beyond the religious and cultural sights. Going beyond Jerusalem can reveal historical, natural and modern delights and, without a doubt, traveling outside of Jerusalem is comfortable, exciting and friendly.
There are a lot U.S. travelers who don’t know about Israel. The following itineraries shed light on another aspect of the Holy Land that provides travelers the opportunity to immerse themselves into many of the cultures they have only read about. —Michelle Rosenberg, Publisher
Three Days Along the Med: The Coast from Tel Aviv to Rosh Hanikra
Day One: Tel AvivMorning Stroll and Coffee along Rothschild BoulevardRothschild Boulevard is a charming, tree-lined street and promenade where locals and visitors alike can take in the surrounding art-deco and Bauhaus buildings. Stretching from the artsy neighborhood of Neve Tzedek westward to Habima (the national theater), the boulevard offers a variety of unique cafes, restaurants and kiosks for nourishment along the way.
View the Restored Bauhaus buildingsTel Aviv is home to more than 4,000 restored Bauhaus buildings spread out through the city. To commemorate these stylish white buildings, built in the 1930s by German immigrants, Tel Aviv is nicknamed “The White City.” Visitors can view them independently or participate in guided walking tours, most of which begin on Rothschild Boulevard.
Lunch and stroll through the open-air Carmel MarketCarmel Market — known in Israel as Shuk Ha Carmel — is Tel Aviv’s largest outdoor marketplace, comprised of crowded alleyways and long rows of colorful stalls. Vendors come from all over, selling everything from shoes to cheese. It is also a hot spot for fresh produce. Prices are rarely set, so visitors should expect to bargain.
Visit the Design Museum HolonThe Design Museum Holon houses a collection of contemporary and historical galleries and exhibitions. Featured here are many pieces from diverse design mediums, including fashion, industrial, textiles and jewelry. Perhaps its largest work of art is the building itself, designed by esteemed architect Ron Arad.
Afternoon at the Beach Enjoy the warm Mediterranean sand and surf at one of the many beaches of Tel Aviv. Mingle with locals, relax at a beachside cafe or add a workout with a game of matkot, a popular Israeli paddleball sport.
Dinner and Evening Walk Along the Port of Tel AvivRecently transformed from an out-of-use port into an entertainment complex, the Port of Tel Aviv now features restaurants and nightclubs. Enjoy a meal, walk the boardwalk or dance the night away.
Day Two: Jaffa, Caesarea, Zichron Yaakov and Haifa Morning tour of Old JaffaOld Jaffa is believed to be one of the oldest port cities in the world with a particularly rich Jewish, Muslim and Christian history. The city, a popular artists’ colony, is marked by its ancient narrow lanes and centralized location across from the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv. Old Jaffa’s must-see spots include The Clock Square, Mahamoudia Mosque, the Zodiac alleys, Jaffa’s Hill and The Libyan Synagogue, which has been converted into a museum.
Drive North to Caesarea Also an ancient port city, Caesarea is home to a 2,000-year-old Roman Amphitheatre and two archeological attractions, the Herodian Port and Crusader City. Visitors can spend the day strolling among the ruins, browsing the museums or even snorkeling in the ocean nearby. Also located not far from here is the Roman Aqueduct, a spectacular display of engineering and construction set against the Mediterranean surf.
Lunch and Tasting at the Tishbi Wine CellarsThe Tishbi Wine Cellars is a family-run, fourth-generation boutique winery. Travelers can meet the winemaker, tour the new Cognac distillery and chocolate room or sit beneath the grape-leaf arbor for a homemade lunch of local cheese, breads and salads while sampling the wines.
Stroll Haifa’s German Colony for DinnerThe German Colony, established in 1869 by members of the German Templar society, is a famous neighborhood in Haifa. The German dwellings, which still remain intact, are marked by engraved Holy Scripture over the entrances, traditional simplistic architecture and wooden shutters. The colony is opportunely located at the lower level of the Bahai Gardens, a Haifa must-see, and many of the antique buildings have been converted into pleasant restaurants and shops.
Day Three: Haifa, Akko and Rosh HanikraBahai GardensLocated on the edge of the city center, the Bahai Gardens are a serene memorial to the founder of the Bahai Faith. Amid terraced gardens stretching from the base to the peak of Mount Carmel, is the sacred Shrine of Bab. The shrine is considered the second holiest place in the world for the Bahai faith. Visitors can relax in the gardens or partake in daily walking tours.
AkkoJust north of Haifa is the Old City of Akko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest ports. Visitors can learn about its rich history and take in the picturesque view while observing the ancient stone structures, Crusader halls, markets and mosques.
Lunch Along the WaterfrontHa Haveet is a beachfront restaurant located directly on the Dado Beach promenade. The large, covered terrace makes for a relaxing spot to enjoy views of the water while indulging in seafood. Located in the quaint neighborhood of Bat Galim, just a few blocks from the beach, and one block from the Bat Galim Promenade, is Dolphin, an excellent restaurant for fresh seafood. Popular courses include all of the Mediterranean seafood classics, such as fried calamari, shrimp cocktail and fresh fish soup, and the restaurant is also famous for its warm apple pie.
Rosh HanikraRosh Hanikra, located near the Israeli-Lebanese boarder, is a natural wonder of geology, with grottoes and tunnels set right near the sea’s surface. Visitors can take cable cars down to the site to explore the area and get close — very close — to the crashing waves. Because of the astoundingly close proximity to the water and the occasional ocean spray, visitors are advised to wear rain attire. The grottoes are also lit up at night and, thus, make for an exhilarating evening experience.
Three Days in The Galilee: Nazareth, the Golan Heights and The Galilee
Day One: Nazareth, Cana and TiberiasNazarethNestled within the Galilean hills is the city of Nazareth. Although a Christian pilgrimage site, the city inhabits thousands of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. The centerpiece of Nazareth is the Catholic-run Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest church in the Middle East. Visitors can also visit Mary’s Well, the Old Market of Nazareth and Big Fashion, Israel’s first open-air shopping mall featuring designer brand names.
CanaCana is a Galilean town located northeast of Nazareth. Recent excavations of its ruins indicate the town’s presence dating back to the first century A.D. Cana is home to the legendary Franciscan Wedding Church, built on top of an ancient site believed to be where Christ turned water into wine. On the church’s lower level is a small museum with artifacts from the excavation site. Other significant landmarks include Cana’s Greek Orthodox Church and Nathanael Chapel.
TiberiasTiberias, a popular vacation spot for locals, is located off the shores of Lake Kinneret. The marina is an ideal fishing and boating location and, just adjacent, is a promenade and central boardwalk. Here, visitors can sample the various restaurants, cafes, pubs, ice cream parlors and falafel stands. Highlights also include the Dona Garcia Museum, commemorating the woman who saved many Jews during the Spanish inquisition, as well as Hamat Tiberias National Park. The park’s natural springs feed the distinguished Tiberias Hot Springs Spa, a major regional attraction.
Afternoon Sail on the Sea of GalileeLido Cruises Sailing Company offers a ferry that runs between Lido Beach and Kibbutz Ginosar. Departures depend on a minimum number of passengers. The cost is about $8.
The Kinneret Sailing Company, located on the waterfront Promenade, offers a ferry service between Tiberias, on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, and Kibbutz Ein Gev. Ferry schedules vary according to season, and there is a roundtrip cost of about $14.
Holyland Sailing is a religious-themed sailing adventure that departs from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) on a wooden replica boat similar to the “Jesus Boat” discovered in Ginosar. Passengers get a chance to learn more about the Sea of Galilee and about the Holy Land along the way.
Day Two: Golan HeightsVisit the Ancient Boat at GinosarThe ancient boat at Ginosar (now called the “Jesus Boat”) dates back to the first century A.D. It was discovered in the 1980s on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee by a fisherman from Kibbutz Ginosar. Visitors can view the boat at the Yigal Allon Museum on the grounds of Kibbutz Ginosar. Tour the Golan Heights WineryThe Golan Heights Winery is pleasantly situated in the small town of Katzrin in the Golan Heights. The area’s ideal climate conditions allow for top-notch winemaking. The winery produces various popular Israeli wine labels such as Yarden, Gamla and Golan, and it is open to the public via guided tours that take visitors through its intricate winemaking process.
Lunch at Iskander and Afternoon Rafting on the River JordanThe Jordan River runs into the Sea of Galilee and visitors and locals alike enjoy kayaking and rafting in its waters. A tourist rafting complex is located in the Upper Galilee, near the Golan Heights, and on its premises is the restaurant Iskander, where visitors can enjoy fresh Turkish cuisine.
Day Three: Upper GalileeCapernaumCapernaum is an ancient fishing village located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Visitors can see ruins of the ancient church and synagogue of Capernaum, as well as the Modern Church, built in 1990 by the Franciscans. The church, which was erected over the site of St. Peter’s house, is hexagonal in shape and is elevated on pillars with a glass floor, so visitors can see the original church below.
Mount of Beatitudes The Mount of Beatitudes marks the spot where Christ was said to have given his famous Sermon on the Mount. Atop the mountain is a Byzantine-style Catholic chapel. Designed by architect Antonio Barluzzi, the octagonal shape represents the eight beatitudes, and it is furnished with impressive marble veneer and a gold mosaic in its dome. Visitors can also stroll in the chapel’s tranquil gardens overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
TabghaOn the shore of the Sea of Galilee is Tabgha, the location of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. It is thought to be where the “miraculous meal” was laid. Parts of the original fifth-century Byzantine Church are preserved here, and pieces of the figurative mosaic floor have been restored for viewing. (Note: a modest dress code for visitors is enforced.)
Three Days in the Judean Desert: The Dead Sea and Bethlehem
Day One: The Dead SeaDrive to the Dead Sea and hike the Ein Gedi Nature PreserveThe Ein Gedi Nature Preserve contains a multitude of walking trails, archeological sites, native plants and animals. Visitors can walk or hike the trails and enjoy the springs and pools. There are many different hiking routes available, including shorter routes appropriate for people of all ages. There is also a synagogue in the Gedi, which boasts a fascinating floor mosaic and dates back to the Talmudic times.
Afternoon float in the Dead SeaThe Dead Sea, one of the lowest elevations on earth, is famous for its mineral-rich lake and health and wellness resorts. Visitors can spend days lounging in the healing waters and mud or sightseeing in the surrounding Judean Desert.
Day Two: MasadaMorning Tour of MasadaBuilt by Herod the Great, the mountain-top palace ruin of Masada provides visitors with a well-preserved glimpse of the past, including restored palace structures, frescoed walls and mosaic tiles.
Afternoon Jeep Tour of the Judean Desert and canyons There are many Jeep Touring companies located throughout Israel that offer tours through the Judean Desert. Excursions provide off-road touring of different historical and scenic landmarks and run from a few hours to a full day. Reservations should be made in advance.
Day Three: Bethlehem Drive north toward Jerusalem and meet up with an Arab guide (pre-arranged through a tour operator) at the border crossing into Bethlehem.
Church of the Nativity and St. Catherine’s ChurchTwo biblical must-sees on Manger Square in Bethlehem are the Church of the Nativity and the Franciscan monastery connected to it, St. Catherine’s Church. The Church of the Nativity is honored as Christ’s birthplace and, in an underground cavern beneath the church, visitors can see what is believed by many Christians to be the spot where Christ was born.
Drive Down to Shepherds’ FieldLocated near southeast Bethlehem, on the biblical site known as Shepherds’ Field, are the ruins of a Greek Orthodox church. The ruins here include a cave with a flight of stairs and traces of mosaic and frescoes dating back to the fourth century.
Listen to an archived version of our recent Israel Connection webinar with the Israel Ministry of Tourism, Isramworld and Yalla Tours.
View a series of Israel videos, produced by TravelAge West On Air:
Israel: An OverviewIsrael: Holy SitesIsrael: Outdoor ActivitiesIsrael: Sophisticated Sites