A Few Reasons to Travel to Israel
By Eric Hammer
Those wishing to travel to Israel should know that it is one
of the most unique countries on the planet, offering something
for virtually everyone, regardless of the interests that you
happen to have. It is one of the very few countries on the planet
where you can spend the morning skiing (on the slopes of Mount
Meron in the north) and then, with a 6 hour drive find yourself
sunbathing in the exact same country (in the port city of Eilat
at the other end of the country). About the size of New Jersey,
Israel truly has it all. Here are a few of the highlights that
you may want to see:
As a country steeped in history, Israel has always attracted
religious tourists and those interested in history alike. The
most famous of the "old" things to see are of course
to be found in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Religious Things to See
Here, you can experience the Via Dolorosa and see where Jesus
took his final steps and then pray at the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher where He is reputed to have risen from the dead to
impart a message of hope to His disciples.
For Jews, the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall
is by far the most famous monument Israel has to offer, being
the last remnant of the ancient Temple which stood in Jerusalem
some 2,000 years ago before the Romans destroyed it.
Muslims of course will find one of the oldest mosques in the
world on the other side of the Western Wall. The Al Aqsa Mosque
compound is open to all visitors regardless of religion, though
you generally must be a Muslim to enter the mosque itself. Maintained
by the Jordanian Wakf since the 1967 Six Day War, the mosque
is considered to be one of the holiest places in Islam after
Mecca and Medina.
Of course, there are other ancient religious shrines in Israel
including the Bahai gardens in Haifa and a number of ancient
monasteries built into the mountainside in the West Bank. Access
to these places is generally available by car or by tour bus,
though the Bahai gardens in Haifa can be visited using regular
Historical Things to See
Those who are less interested in religion and more interested
in history when they travel to Israel will find a visit to the
Jerusalem excavations in the City of David to be a rewarding
experience. Here, you can wade through a 3,000 year old tunnel
which was used by the ancient Israelites to bring water into
the city even when it was under siege. The tunnel is still flooded
with water and as such, you should expect to wear boots and expect
to get wet. Other highlights of the City of David include excavations
showing how people in ancient Israel lived and worked around
the area of the Temple, including a video recreation of life
in the ancient city.
Those interested in Roman times should visit the Cardo, an
excavated area located beneath the present day Old City of Jerusalem
which shows what a typical street was like in Roman times. A
walk along the Old City walls is also a breathtaking experience
which will allow you to experience what life might have been
like in ancient times.
Of course, Israel isn't just about the old. It's also about
the new. The city of Jerusalem sports a number of wonderful pedestrian
markets, including the "midrehov" which is in the western
part of the city. Here, hip cafes mix with numerous tourist shops
and even a McDonalds, the very first in the city. The "midrehov"
is located on Ben Yehuda Street, which is roughly parallel to
In Tel Aviv, one can visit the Israeli Opera House, drop by
the beach or check out the promenade which was built along the
reclaimed Tel Aviv pier. The city is also known for its nightlife,
offering a world class array of clubs and bars catering to every
taste under the sun. In fact, Tel Aviv has consistently ranked
in the top 10 of destinations for those interested in all night
parties and in gay friendly culture.
Of course, one cannot forget about Eilat where snorkeling
and scuba diving mix with the adventure of the undersea observatory
where you can see coral reefs and a wide variety of tropical
fish. Those looking for a further adventure should consider taking
a submarine ride to see deeper into the Red Sea.
Deserving its own section in our review about travel to Israel,
the "shuk" or marketplace in Israel is an institution
in almost every major city in the country. These open air marketplaces
offer fresh fruit and vegetables which would put any farmer's
market to shame for the variety and bounty they provide. Most
Israeli shuks also offer stores with assorted house wares, meat
and dairy products and even some souvenir shops, especially in
the more popular shuks.
The two most famous of these shuks are both located in Jerusalem.
One is the open air Mahane Yehuda Shuk, which offers all of the
above and more. Come in the morning and sample some fresh baked
pastries from the many bakeries in the area of the shuk and then
pick up some fresh fruits from the many vendors in the area.
Stop for a falafel (Israel's national dish) at one of the many
stands in the area and shop for a few souvenirs at the handful
of stalls catering to tourists. Brave souls will try going to
the shuk on a Friday morning when the area becomes a sea of wall-to-wall
humanity as tourists mix with locals preparing for the holy Sabbath
by buying twisted bread loaves called challah along with other
delicacies. Mahane Yehuda is located on Jaffa Street and can
be reached using the Jerusalem Light Rail.
Those looking for souvenirs would do well to visit the Arab
Shuk inside the Old City of Jerusalem. This shuk, which is also
designed to serve the locals with their daily needs caters more
heavily to tourists and includes shops selling both Christian
and Jewish memorabilia as well as general souvenirs and knickknacks
designed to appeal to any budget. Be sure to bargain heavily
with the vendors as this is expected and don't be afraid to sit
down with some of the proprietors for a cup of Turkish coffee,
often served free of charge to visitors in various shops around
the Arab shuk. The Arab shuk can be accessed by entering the
Old City through either Damascus Gate or Jaffa Gate.
Two other "shuks" worth mentioning are the Jaffa
shuk in the Old City of Jaffa (Next to Tel Aviv) and the artist's
shuk in the Old City of Safed (in Northern Israel). The Jaffa
shuk is rather small but quite unique as it is an artisan's shuk
where one can find unique creations produced by local artists.
Another "shuk" of sorts, though quite different from
the others is the Artist's quarter in the old city of Safed.
Here, dozens of artists have gathered to sell paintings and other
artwork to the general public. Most of the work is original and
the variety of products range from oil paintings to silk screens.
Israel's Mediterranean coast line is dotted with beaches and
each major city offers its own form of nightlife, with clubs
and cafes in the German Colony in Jerusalem, dancing and bars
in Tel Aviv and even a handful of clubs and bars in Haifa (though
Haifa does tend to cater to an older clientele who likes things
to be more laid back).
Those with children may wish to visit any of the numerous
water parks which dot the country, offering water slides and
other family fun for all ages. Of course, no visit to Israel
would be complete without a dip in the Dead Sea. Experience the
feeling of floating on the salty water and you'll understand
what everyone has been raving about. Then, visit one of the many
spas along the shore of the Dead Sea for a day of pampering including
mud wraps, facials and more.
If you're looking for a fun boating adventure, peddle boats
can be rented in Tel Aviv to traverse the Yarkon river and motor
boats are available to travel throughout the Sea of Galilee (known
as the Kinneret in Hebrew)
As a country which is rich in history, Israel has one of the
highest concentrations of museums in the world. World famous
museums include the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv
Museum of Art and the Science Museum in Haifa.
The Israel Museum includes such must see objects as the Shrine
of the Book, the oldest known copy of the Bible, preserved perfectly
for 2,000 years by the mysterious Essen sect of Jews who survived
the Roman occupation by hiding in the Judean Hills and the David
tablet, the only archeological evidence ever found to prove that
David from the bible was a real person. These things alone would
be worth your time to travel to Israel to see.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art is known for its displays of modernist
artwork and for having a world class collection of both Israeli
and international art.
Those with children should definitely make the trip to the
Science Museum in Haifa where the please touch display is considered
to be one of the finest examples of a children's science museum
in the world.
Of course, there are hundreds of lesser known museums which
are also worth visiting, many of which are free or low cost.
In Haifa, the Tikoten Museum of Japanese Art is the only museum
in the Middle East dedicated to artistry from Japan. They feature
an ever changing display of Japanese artifacts which are always
interesting to see. Be sure to ask for the combination ticket
which gets you into the Haifa Museum of Art as well as two other
museums in the city for the price of 1½ tickets.
In Tel Aviv, a visit to the Palmach Museum is a must see as
it tells the story of Israel's founding in a moving exhibition
(the exhibition literally moves and is interactive, though it
is also moving emotionally) and in Jerusalem one simply must
visit the Yad Vashem museum and memorial, where a massive display
of artifacts detailing the Nazi genocide puts the entire holocaust
and World War II in perspective.
See How the Locals Live
Of course all these things are just the tip of the iceberg.
In each and every city in Israel there are things to see and
do, even in such sleepy towns as Petach Tikvah, a suburb of Tel
Aviv, there are a number of small museums and a zoo. Out in the
West Bank Settlement of Ariel, a visit to the meandering central
park, which features a world class garden and runs throughout
the center of the city is also a special site to see when you
travel to Israel. The bottom line is that no matter how many
times you visit the country, you'll always find something new
to see and do when you travel to Israel.
Those concerned about personal safety should avoid certain
areas of the Palestinian Authority, though the big cities, including
Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah are generally safe for tourists.
In Israel itself, some cities have a reputation for being
somewhat dangerous. Most notably Lod (not the airport, which
is a separate area completely from the city of Lod) and Ramle,
which are located in the center of the country, have a reputation
for gang violence.
Those who know they'd like to visit some Arab nations should
ask at passport control that their entry visa be stamped on a
separate form rather than inside the passport.
Beyond these, Israel is generally a very safe and friendly
country where most of the locals speak at least some English,
especially in the more tourist oriented areas. So why not join
the 3 million tourists Israel welcomes each and every year and
have an adventure in of the most unique countries on the planet?
Travel to Israel and you'll have stories to tell for a lifetime.