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Israel leaves no one indifferent. One of the most historically meaningful and sacred places in the world, the small country welcomes every year millions of pilgrims and visitors alike each attracted by the fascinating heritage, be it religious, culinary, geographic or even oenological.
From dynamic Tel Aviv to controversial Jerusalem, zooming through bucolic Galilee and floating in the remarkable Dead Sea, here are a few of the simply-can’t-miss things to do in Israel and the holy land, whatever the purpose of your trip.
It should be noted, at this point, that Transat does offer multi-city group tours and packages.
The Most Iconic Things To Do In Israel
Very few places on this planet can claim to be this masterful at combining history and modernity. A thrice saint city, Jerusalem is rich in contrasts and nuances; it ought to be discovered at a leisurely pace in order to take it all in, through the succession of mazes and the overload of information. As the holy land of three major monotheistic religions, did you know, for instance, that a Muslim family holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most sacred landmarks in Christianity, Jerusalem holds an invaluable ensemble of relics and experiences, both sensorial and spiritual.
A few mandatory stops: the Western Wall, a guided visit of Mahane Yehuda Market with Dado, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Mount of Olives, Mount Sion, the light and sound show over at Tower of David, walking through the souks, Dome of the Rock, and of course, a traditional Israeli lunch while taking in the view of Jerusalem from Panoramic Golden City‘s rooftop terrace.
Located atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert, Masada is a gigantic fortress dating back to the 1st century AD. A veritable feat of engineering and architecture, the complex still holds, to this day, the remains of a Roman camp that once stood there as well as a legendary synagogue.
Avid hikers will undoubtedly opt for the Snake Trail at sunrise while leisurely travellers will prefer a smooth ride in the cable car, which grants jaw-dropping views of the whole region.
It would be unthinkable to make it all the way to Israel and skip a floating dip in the Dead Sea! Located a whopping 429 metres below sea level, this salted lake (not technically a sea) is, in fact, the lowest place on the planet. High concentration of salts and minerals make the Dead Sea’s water highly medicinal, with proven properties for the nervous and glandular systems.
Travel tip: purchase sturdy water shoes or sandals before your trip as the seabed is made of massive and potentially lacerating salt blocks, making it difficult to move around barefoot.
At the northern tiptop of Israel, literally on the Lebanese border, is a wildly fascinating geologic formation created by the relentless waves of the Mediterranean Sea against the soft white chalk cliffs. Rosh HaNikra welcomes visitors in its network of naturally-made passageways and grottoes for a visit rhythmed by the sound of the sea’s wrath.
The historic fortified city, part of the UNESCO World Heritage, profits from the mindboggling heritage left by the multiple civilisations that succeeded one another over the course of two millennia, ever since Antiquity. Acre, as we see it today, dates from the Ottoman era with towering mosques and military citadel; but the veritable crown jewel of the old city is actually a colossal 900 years old back when the crusades made Acre a crucial administrative centre due to its strategic location. The monastic military order of the Knights Templars had massive structures erected all over town including a puzzling, 350-metres long tunnel connecting the citadel to the port.
The Western Galilee area of Israel is famous for its idyllic seaside villages but also for its splendid and surprising wines. The fertile, mountainous region in northwestern Israel are home to almost Tuscanesque-looking wineries where wine is not just a hobby, it’s a way of life. Amphorae Winery’s blanc de blanc is absolutely worth the detour, however long.
The perfect place to get acquainted with Israel! With its Barcelona-esque festive atmosphere and its unmistakably Mediterranean feel, Tel Aviv is an enigmatic city with a multitude of layers which, by sheer definition, will appeal to every kind of traveller. Fundamentally epicurean, the metropolis lives a hundred miles an hour and is breathes creativity, be it for web-based start-ups to concept boutiques. The energy, here, is vivifying. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see Telavivians sipping coffee on a leafy terrasse at 2 in the afternoon or suit-clad businessmen on a bar crawl on a Tuesday evening; that’s just the Tel Aviv way.
The history of old town Jaffa, one of the most ancient ports of the eastern Mediterranean coast, is absolutely fascinating and perfectly embodies the mix of cultures Israel is so notorious for. Occidental and Oriental cultures have been gathering and interacting with each other for over three millennia around these parts. Other things that shouldn’t be missed: Sarona market and the Bauhaus architectural ensemble, one of Tel Aviv’s artistic claims to fame. The former manufactures along the seaboard turned into hip boutique hotels and trendy restaurants, including chic rooftop drinks at the legendary Carlton Hotel. A nightlife-themed guided tour of Tel Aviv with stops at the Sputnik Bar or the surprising Allenby night market.
Fly to Israel on the wings of Transat between June and October!
All photo credits: Marie-Eve Vallières