Israel holidays

Experience Israel

Best Places to Visit

A trip to Israel is a journey to the cradle of civilisation that defines the world today. The lands here have been occupied by Jews, Persians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks and many others. Perhaps this history is most felt in Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world and whose old quarter, simply called the Old City, is a World Heritage site.

Christians those interested in history, biblical or otherwise, may want to visit the cities of Nazareth and Bethlehem (Palestine territory accessible from Jerusalem). Both places were significant in Jesus' life, with Bethlehem his birthplace and Nazareth his hometown.

There are many other historical sites in Israel. In the Judaean Desert, visitors can go to Masada, an ancient fortification which was important to the First Jewish-Roman War. There's also Caesarea National Park on the coast, the site of the well-preserved remains of an ancient Roman city where the Pilate Stone was discovered. Visitors can see impressive ruins of a Roman aqueduct, theatre, hippodrome and temple dedicated to Caesar.

As for sites of nature, Israel has the vast and arid Judaean Desert, with its dunes and canyons occupying central and southern Israel and the Sea of Galilee, the country's largest freshwater lake, often mentioned in the Bible.

Of course, most tourists will likely pass through Israel's modern economic capital of Tel Aviv. Located along the Mediterranean coast, Tel Aviv is a vibrant, cosmopolitan urban centre that is home to several markets, malls, amusement parks, museums and an exciting nightlife.

Haifa is Israel's third-largest city and a great place to visit. It is the largest metropolitan area in the north and home to the Bahá'í World Centre, the administrative and spiritual capital of the Bahá'í religion. The beautiful terraces and gardens here are listed by UNESCO World Heritage.

When done visiting religious and historical sites, holidaymakers in Israel can head to Israel's far south. The tiny strip of coastline facing the Gulf of Aqaba is the location of the country's premier beach resort, Eilat. Nestled next to the Red Sea, Eilat hosts an array of beaches with calm water and beautiful coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and diving. It is also situated close to several tourist attractions, from trekking in the Red Canyon and exploring Timna Park to swimming with dolphins and even braving a shark tank at the Underwater Observatory Marine Park.

Top Landmarks

Religious, historical and even natural landmarks often intertwine in Israel, a country with a past that precedes most religious scriptures.

In the Old City of Jerusalem stand many landmarks which are significant to the major religions that originated here. Temple Mount is a hill in Jerusalem that is home to the Western Wall, the remains of an ancient temple and sacred to Hebrews worldwide. It is also home to the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome and blue walls, the most prominent landmark of Jerusalem and important to followers of Judaism and Islam. Christians, on the other hand, have the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, said to be the site where Jesus' remains were interred.

Another significant landmark in Jerusalem worth mentioning is Mount Zion, a hill located just outside of the Old City. Located on this mountain are a number of sites including King David's Tomb, said to be the burial place of the great King of Israel, the Cenacle, said to be the room where Jesus' last supper took place, and the Chamber of the Holocaust, Israel's first Holocaust museum. The Catholic cemetery here has the tomb of Oskar Schindler, the German who saved more than 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

In Nazareth, visitors will find the Basilica of the Annunciation, the site of a sunken grotto which is said to be the place where the Virgin Mary was given word that she would give birth to Jesus Christ. It also holds St. Joseph's Church, believed to be the site of Joseph's carpentry shop.

Entertainment

Israel's vibrant and open nightlife is widely known throughout the Middle East and Europe. The bustling economic capital of Tel Aviv is a hub for entertainment. Nightlife in Tel Aviv is legendary. Visitors will find it easy to locate bars, pubs, nightclubs and other party venues around the city.

Some districts worth visiting are Tel Aviv seaport and the beach area of Boardwalk and Dizengoff.

As a hub for tourism, Jerusalem has nightlife in the form of pubs, traditional watering holes and nightclubs. The Israeli chain of nightclubs, Haoman 17, are a favourite in Jerusalem and have gained accolades from all over the world.

There are also a number of establishments that showcase some of Israel's most talented classical performers. In Tel Aviv, visitors can see shows at the Habima National Theatre, the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv and the Suzanne Dellal Centre. In Haifa, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra performs at the Haifa Auditorium. The orchestra also performs in Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium and Jerusalem's International Convention Center.

Fans of the art of moving pictures will discover that Israeli cinema is a thriving industry. Movie-going is a favourite pastime here and visitors will be glad that films in Hebrew are subtitled in French and English. There are several cinemas in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, the latter two cities hosting annual international film festivals.

Dining Out

Even with dietary restrictions, Israeli cuisine has much to offer. The Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures that surround Israel have shaped the food eaten in the country.

Any visitor to Israeli must take note of the word kosher. This refers to a set of laws and guidelines that govern what foods practising Jews can eat and how they can consume them. It is of particular importance to note that pork and shellfish are forbidden, while meat and dairy products should never go together.

There are several delicious kosher dishes which are worth trying in Israel. The widely popular vegetarian dishes of falafel and hummus came from Jewish kitchens. Falafel is mashed chickpeas or fava beans, shaped into patties and then deep-fried. Hummus is made from cooking chickpeas, mixing them with olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and tahini - a paste made from ground sesame seeds.

Street food stalls serving well-loved Israeli snacks are common. The same goes for traditional eateries, cafes and restaurants. Visitors will find that most restaurants here are reasonably priced, with the big cities having the widest choice of food in tourist areas featuring English language menus.

Beach

The beaches of Israel are those found in areas facing the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Gulf of Aqaba. Gordon Beach is in easy reach of Tel Aviv (around 2 kilometres) and is complete with showers and beachside establishments. The premier beach destination in Israel, however, is Eilat. This lively resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba offers great swimming, diving and partying.

Romance

For couples planning on taking a romantic break to Israel, there are plenty of spa and wellness trips on offer. Couples can enjoy the tranquil water of the Dead Sea, while treating themselves to a therapeutic mud treatment. Those who prefer to stay along the Mediterranean coast can head to Havatzelet HaSharon, where tourists can ride on horseback at sunset.

Family

The cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are enough to keep children busy on any family holiday in Israel. After taking in the historical sites at Jerusalem, kids can then interact with the city's animals at Tisch Family Zoological Garden. This is locally referred to as the Biblical Zoo, as it plays home to creatures featured in the Hebrew Bible. In Tel Aviv, families can pay a visit to Luna Park, one of the city's main attractions. The city's largest water park is also close-by, Meimadyon .

Adventure

If you're seeking adventures, look no further than a hike to Gamla. Located in the Golan Heights, Gamla is an ancient Jewish city which is now an archaeological site set within a beautiful nature reserve. In the deserts of the south, you will find beautiful camel trekking tours. Here you will find the Ramon Crater, the world's largest eroision crater, or makhtesh.

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Need to know

Language

Hebrew and Arabic are the two main languages of Israel. Hebrew is the native tongue of nearly half the population, with around 18 per cent speaking Arabic. However, English is used on many road signs, product labels and other symbols in Israel. English is also taught within the Israeli education system. Many locals, not only those who work in the tourism industry, can communicate with foreigners in English. Over 90% of Jews and over 60% of Arabs have a good understanding of Hebrew.

Currency

The official currency of Israel is the Israeli shekel. In major destinations, tourists may be quoted in US dollars or euros, especially for credit card transactions. Major credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are available throughout major cities. As for travellers' cheques, it is best to carry them in US dollars. Finally, foreign money can easily be exchanged in the many exchange shops, banks and hotels around the country.

Visas

Visitor visas to Israel are valid for three months of travel within the country. However, nationals of the UK, most EU countries, the US, Canada and Australia can enter the country visa-free. These nationals only need to present a passport which is valid for six months beyond the entry date and a return ticket.

Climate

Israel sits between the subtropical aridity of Egypt and the subtropical humid climate of the eastern Mediterranea. This means Israel recieves long, hot summers and short, cool winters. Winter (November to March) can be chilly, especially in the north, and is also when most of the country's annual rainfall occurs. This usually takes place in the north, with less than 100mm falling in the extreme south, on average. Summer (April to October) is warm to hot. In the major city of Tel Aviv, located along the Mediterranean coast in Central Israel, winter temperatures average 9 to 17°C, while summer temperatures average 24 to 30°C. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit.

Main Airports

The main gateway to Israel is Ben Gurion International Airport and services the two major cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is located over 50 kilometres miles from Jerusalem and 24 kilometres from Tel Aviv. It receives flights from all over Europe, North America, Asia and a few countries in Africa. In the country's far south, Ovda Airport is the country's second airport and receives international flights.

Flight Options

Major carriers use Ben Gurion International Airport as their hub. National carriers fly to and from London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and New York. Other carriers fly from London-Heathrow and London-Luton direct to Ben Gurion. A direct flight from London to Ben Gurion usually takes around 4 hours, 50 minutes.

Travel Advice

It is best to check for deals when travel is low, as savings can sometimes be made. Trains operate from the station at Terminal 3 of Ben Gurion International Airport, taking visitors to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Modi'in and many other cities.

Other Transport Options

Land routes are open for travellers coming from Egypt and Jordan. There are buses from Amman in Jordan to Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Haifa in Israel. From Cairo, Egypt, there are buses to Jerusalem.

Getting Around

Domestic air travel is impractical given the quality of overland transport. Buses are cheap and reliable, while trains are modern and often faster. While car hire is available and roads are reasonably developed, accident rates are fairly high.

Bus

Buses are arguably the most popular form of transport for those travelling to and from major destinations in Israel, such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat.

Train

Rail travel in Israel is fairly new and thus, quite modern. The train network consists of nine lines. The main railway lines run up and down the densely populated coast, with three lines going inland to Hod HaSharon, Modi'in and Jerusalem.

Air

Israel is easy to navigate overland, so air travel in Israel is fairly impractical. That said, Israel has a couple domestic airports which receive commercial flights. They are Eilat Airport in the south and Haifa Airport in the north.

MAP

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AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

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FACTS

  1. Israel has the largest collection of Bauhaus style buildings in the world. Over 4,000 of these are situated in the 'White City' of Tel Aviv and were built by German Jewish architects in the 1930s.
  2. Technology has thrived in Israel. The key components of the first cell phone were developed in Israel by Motorola, voicemail technology was created here and the first anti-virus computer software was developed here, too.
  3. Known for its unusually high concentration of salt, the Dead Sea is also the lowest point on earth - an astounding 1,378 feet below sea level.

FACTS

  1. Israel has the largest collection of Bauhaus style buildings in the world. Over 4,000 of these are situated in the 'White City' of Tel Aviv and were built by German Jewish architects in the 1930s.
  2. Technology has thrived in Israel. The key components of the first cell phone were developed in Israel by Motorola, voicemail technology was created here and the first anti-virus computer software was developed here, too.
  3. Known for its unusually high concentration of salt, the Dead Sea is also the lowest point on earth - an astounding 1,378 feet below sea level.

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