One of the most incredible countries I have ever visited is without a doubt, Israel. It is a tiny country, yet it is rich in ancient history, beautifully diverse landscapes, delicious cuisine, friendly people, and an overall welcoming atmosphere. For such a small country, you would be amazed at how much there is to see! For anyone visiting Israel for the first time, I’ve complied a list of the things you must do, see, and eat while you’re there.
Tour the old city of Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is a small walled area inside modern day Jerusalem. The Old City is divided into four quarters: The Jewish Quarter, The Muslim Quarter, The Armenian Quarter, and Christian Quarter. As I’m sure you can imagine, with four separate religious groups residing within the small confines of the Old City, the walls of the city are lined with a long span of history. While you are in the Old City, I would highly recommend taking part in a walking tour through all four quarters. Check out Sandemans for a free walking tours of the old city. You will undoubtedly come back from your tour with a plethora of historical knowledge.
Leave a note in the Western Wall
The Western Wall, or the “Kotel” in Hebrew, is the last remaining wall that belonged to the Second Jewish Temple built by Herod the Great. The Western Wall is the holiest site of prayer for Jewish people due to its connection to the second temple. It is customary when you visit the wall to leave a note with a prayer in between the cracks of the wall. I found it quite surreal being at the Wall. In that moment, you really feel connected to a time in ancient history.
Visit The Dome of the Rock
The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. This Dome is one of the oldest pieces of Islamic architecture. The site’s religious significance dates back to biblical times. This is the site where it is believed that Abraham sacrificed his son (Isaac according to the Jewish faith, Ishmael according to the Muslim faith). It is definitely one of Jerusalem’s most distinguishable landmarks, and for a good reason – the architecture is a stunning work of art! The Temple Mount has specific visiting hours for tourists and non-Muslims, so be sure to look up the hours before planning your visit.
Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchure is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. The Church is one of the holiest sites in the Christian religion. This is said to be the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. The church contains the last four stations on Via Dolorosa – the final journey of Jesus Christ. The Church has been is a major site for Christian pilgrims dating back to the fourth century.
Masada is an ancient fortress in the Judaean desert, built by Herod the Great. If you are up for an early start, I would highly recommend hiking up Masada in the early hours of the morning to watch the sunrise from the top of the fortress. It is a truly breathtaking sight. Another reason I would recommend a pre-sunrise hike is that it gets extremely hot after sunrise. There is also a cable car you can take if you are not up for the trek.
Stand on the edge of the Ramon Crater
Makhtesh Ramon, also known as the Ramon Crater, is a very unique geological formation in Israel’s Negev desert. It is not a canyon, nor is it actually a crater. Geologists had do give the formation its own name, “Makhtesh,” because it is unlike any other previous geological formation. Makhtesh Ramon is also a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset. If you are planning an overnight stay, be sure to check out the extremely beautiful Beresheet Hotel, which overlooks the Makhtesh!
Chase waterfalls at Ein Gedi
Ein Gedi, which is Hebrew for “spring of the kid,” is a natural oasis in the Judaean desert. And let me tell you, it is an absolute paradise in the middle of the desert. With gorgeous waterfalls and flowing streams, you will not want to miss out on going for a hike and a swim in Ein Gedi!
Watch the sunset over the beach in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is known for its vast expanse of beaches on the Mediterranean Sea. The beach is a great place to watch the sunset.
Float on the dead sea
The Dead Sea is a salt lake that lies on the border of Israel, Jordan and the West Bank approximately 1400 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is aptly named, as because of the high concentration of salt, no platlife or animal life can live in it. Also because of the salt concentration, people can literally float on top of the water! It is a pretty cool and unique sensation to be able to lie on top of the water reading a newspaper! The Dead Sea also produces an exfoliating mud, which is extremely good for your skin. You can even buy Dead Sea skin products from Avaha.
Ride a camel in the desert
A slightly touristy activity, but a very fun one nonetheless! And let’s be honest, how many opportunities will you have to ride a camel in your life?
Visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
Yad Vashem is a Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. In addition to memorializing the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, Yad Vashem also aims to commemorate the righteous gentiles who risked their own lives to save the lives of Jewish people. A visit to Yad Vashem is crucial during your time in Jerusalem. It will be an extremely emotional, yet very meaningful visit. In addition, you get a lovely view of Jerusalem from Yad Vashem.
Eat some street falafel
In New York, you might find hot dog stands scattered throughout the streets. Well in Israel, you are more likely to find falafel/shawarma stands. Israel is known for it’s mouth-watering falafel and shawarma. If you’ve never eaten either before, Israel is definitely the place to try it!
Visit the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa
The Baha’i Gardens are a very popular tourist attraction in Haifa, Israel. The gardens were built as a shrine to the Baha’i faith, and are extremely beautiful.
- Eat shakshuka for breakfast – poached eggs in a hearty tomato sauce with freshly baked bread for dipping. Yum!
- Have chocolate for dinner at Max Brenner, the famous chocolate restaurant. A chocoholic’s dream! There are several locations around Israel.
- Go for a night out in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is renowned for its nightlife and LGBT scene.
- Go for a swim in the beautiful Sea of Galilee
As you can see, there is so much to do, see, and eat in tiny little Israel! I have had the privilege of travelling to Israel three times, and there are still so many things I haven’t done. This list may seem a slightly ambitious for one trip to Israel. So if you can’t tackle everything on this list on your first trip, do not despair. If anything, it gives you an excuse to come back to Israel again!