In many ways the New York City of Israel, Tel Aviv is the center of modern Israeli life. From its gorgeous beaches on the Mediterranean Sea to the corporate high-rises that mark the skyline, Tel Aviv is a crucial destination for any trip to Israel.
Tel Aviv, founded by Jews in 1909, was built by the ancient port city of Jaffa (Yafo). Jaffa, one of the oldest ports in the world, is even mentioned in the Bible. Tel Aviv and Jaffa were merged into the same municipality soon after the State of Israel was founded.
A trip to Tel Aviv must include time spent relaxing on the beach or walking on the Tayelet (boardwalk) as well as some time exploring the many clubs and restaurants throughout the city. The city is also home to the Diaspora Museum, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which holds a large collection of Israeli and international art, and the Palmach Museum, which celebrates the historic heroic actions of the Palmach, an elite unit in the pre-state underground defense forces. Finally, Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv is an important and moving plaza that serves as a memorial to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated in 1995, and to the values of peace and unity that he represented.
A beautiful oasis in the Negev desert, Ein Gedi is rich with exquisite plant and animal life amidst spectacular waterfalls and canyons. Many travelers enjoy a hike in the trails and a swim in the waterfalls, especially during the hot summers. Among the canyons, be sure to look out for ibexes! See also this post: So many places to visit, so many things to do!
The Dead Sea
At about 1,300 feet (400 meters) below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. Located at the southern end of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea is famous for the mud and salt deposits at its bottom that have myriad commercial uses, and of course for the ability of people to float in it! Swimming in the Dead Sea is one of the most unforgettable travel experiences in the world – take something to read, and relax with your hands and feet in the air! It is also common to cover in mud and give yourself a personal spa treatment with the natural salt and minerals from this extraordinary body of water.
This impressive plateau hosts the magnificent ruins of King Herod’s Mountaintop Palace, a place that was later used as the last stand of Jewish fighters resisting Roman conquest. Climbing Masada by way of the snake path – at least one way (down is certainly easier, and often travelers do this trip during the cooler early- morning hours) – is an incredible experience. Alternatively, you can get up and down Masada by either walking on the Roman Ramp or taking the cable car. Once at the top of Masada, take time to explore the ruins, including the Bathhouse, the Synagogue, the Western Palace, and the Mikvah but make sure you plan everything in time!
The Negev Desert
The Negev, a vast desert that encompasses more than half of Israel’s land, is known for its epic natural beauty and is regarded as Israel’s “final frontier.” In fact, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, famously expressed the desire to “make the desert bloom.” Ben-Gurion’s desert home and grave are often visited by travelers, who are inspired by the beauty and opportunity of the vast desert expanses that can be seen from the gravesite. The Negev is a destination for excellent desert hiking (thankfully many common trails lead to waterfalls or pools), and of course for camel riding! A trip to the Negev should also include a visit to Be’er Sheva, Israel’s largest desert city, both famous in the Bible and thriving today, as well as a stop by the tents of the Bedouins, who are known for their unique food, music, and hospitality.
Located at the very southernmost tip of Israel and at the northern edge of the Red Sea, Eilat is not only an important port but also one of the most popular resort destinations in the region. Filled with vibrant restaurants and nightclubs, Eilat is particularly known for its scuba diving in the magnificent coral reefs of the Red Sea. So if you plan to visit Israel, take a little more time if you can (some take a whole year) to enjoy all the country’s highlights.