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.

Devout Christians or just about anyone 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 being his birthplace and Nazareth his hometown.

There are many other historical sites in Israel. In the Judean Desert, visitors can go to Masada, a castle which served as the final stronghold of the Jews against the Roman invaders. 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 Judean 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 city and a good 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. This town on the Red Sea is host to an array of beaches with calm water and beautiful coral reefs, perfect for snorkelling and diving. It also has plenty of tourist activities on offer, 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 even older than 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 believers 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 1,000 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, and 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 centre of everything is the bustling economic capital, Tel Aviv. Nightlife in Tel Aviv is legendary. Visitors will find it easy to locate bars, pubs, nightclubs and other party venues to have a fun night out.

Areas full of night-time entertainment establishments are scattered throughout the city. Some districts worth checking out are Tel Aviv seaport, the beach area of the Boardwalk and Dizengoff, and Ben Yehuda Street.

Jerusalem, also being a touristy town, has nightlife in the form of pubs, traditional watering holes as well as nightclubs. The Israeli chain of nightclubs, Haoman 17, has a location here and this particular venue in Jerusalem has been rated by some as of the best of its kind in the world.

There are a number of establishments that showcase the most talented of Israel's classical performers. In Tel Aviv, visitors can see shows at the Habima National Theatre, the HaCameri Municipal Theatre and the Suzanna 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 ICC 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 is quite developed. Elements and styles of not only Jewish cooking, but that of the Middle East and the 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 eat them. It is of particular importance to note that pork and shellfish are forbidden and that meat and dairy products should never go together within a dish or within the same meal.

There are several kosher dishes which are worth a try when visiting Israel. The widely popular vegetarian dishes falafel and hummus came from Jewish kitchens. Falafel is mashed chickpeas or fava beans shaped into balls or patties and then deep-fried. Hummus is made from cooking chickpeas, mashing them and 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 choices and eateries in tourist areas featuring English language menus.

Beach

The beaches of Israel are those that can be found in areas facing the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Gulf of Aqaba. Gordon Beach, a public beach which is easy to reach from Tel Aviv, 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

Romance can easily be had in any couple's Israel holidays by booking a spa and wellness trip to the Dead Sea. Couples can relax while being covered in therapeutic mud or they can float in the saline waters of the sea. Those who prefer to stay along the Mediterranean coast can head to Havatzelet HaSharon for horseback riding along the beach at sunset.

Family

The cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are enough to keep children busy on any family's Israel holidays. After taking in the historical sites in Jerusalem, kids can then interact with the animals at the city's Tisch Family Zoological Garden, locally referred to as the Biblical Zoo because it is home to creatures featured in the Hebrew Bible. In Tel Aviv, families can go to Luna Park, the city's main theme park, or to Meimadyon, a large water park.

Adventure

Thrill and adventure in the wilderness can easily be experienced with a hike to Gamla. Located in the Golan Mountains of the north, Gamla is an ancient Jewish city which is now an archaeological site set within a beautiful nature reserve. In the deserts of the south, the best activity is camel trekking in the Ramon Crater, the world's largest makhtesh, a deep closed valley with steep rock walls.

Need to know

Language

Hebrew and Arabic are the two official languages of Israel. Hebrew is the native tongue of two-thirds of the population, having amalgamated ancient Hebrew dialects and other influences to form a modern version of the language that has been spoken since the 19th century. It is also used on road signs, product labels and other symbols in Israel. Arabic is spoken by one-fifth of the population. English is the most widely spoken foreign language because it is taught within the Israeli education system. Most locals, not only those who work in the tourism industry, can communicate with foreigners in English.

Currency

The official currency of Israel is the Israeli new shekel (ILS). In major destinations, tourists may be quoted in US dollars or euro, especially for credit card transactions. Major credit cards are widely accepted. 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 in 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 eastern Mediterranean, balancing it out to a Mediterranean climate with long, hot summers and short, cool winters. Winter (November to March) can be chilly, especially in the north. Winter is also when the most of the country's annual rainfall occurs, and it usually takes place in the north, with an average of less than 100mm falling in the extreme south. 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. The airport services the two major cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is located 25 miles from Jerusalem and only seven miles 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, the secondary gateway, Ovda Airport, receives international flights and services the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Flight Options

There are three major carriers which use Ben Gurion International Airport as their hub. They are national carrier El Al, including its subsidiary Sun d'Or, Arkia Israel Airlines and Israir. El Al flies to and from London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and New York. British Airways flies from London-Heathrow and EasyJet from London-Luton direct to Ben Gurion. A direct flight from London to Ben Gurion usually takes 4 hours, 30 minutes.

Travel Advice

It is best to check with El Al for deals as this carrier sometimes offers discounts and upgrades, especially when travel is low. Israeli Railways operates trains 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 but not from Syria and Lebanon due to the political situation. 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 high quality of overland transport. Buses are cheap and reliable, while trains are modern and often faster. Car hire is available and the roads are developed, but 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. The main operator of the bus network is Egged, a public corporation.

Train

Rail travel in Israel is fairly new and thus, quite modern. The trains are operated by Israel Railways and the current 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

ISRAEL`S WEATHER TODAY

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AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

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FACTS

  1. Israel has the largest amount of Bauhaus style architecture in the world, mainly in the aptly named White City, Tel Aviv. Over 4,000 of these white buildings dot the city, 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 antivirus computer software was developed here, too.
  3. Known for its unusually high concentration of salt, the Dead Sea is also the lowest place on earth, at an astounding 1,378 feet below sea level.

FACTS

  1. Israel has the largest amount of Bauhaus style architecture in the world, mainly in the aptly named White City, Tel Aviv. Over 4,000 of these white buildings dot the city, 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 antivirus computer software was developed here, too.
  3. Known for its unusually high concentration of salt, the Dead Sea is also the lowest place on earth, at an astounding 1,378 feet below sea level.

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