Touring Israel: What You Need to Know

Don’t-Miss Destinations
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Dead Head: A bather tests the immutable buoyancy of the Middle East's Dead Sea (courtesy, Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Jerusalem, particularly the Old City, is a must, but anyone going to Israel already knows that—in fact, it's typically the first destination after flying into Tel Aviv and taking an hour-long bus ride. Walk the narrow cobblestone streets. Tour the tunnels by the Western Wall. Enjoy the view of the city along the ramparts. Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a monumental, ancient shrine that straddles Calvary, the hill on which Christ was crucified. But wherever you do decide to go, don't pet the stray cats. Also, beware souvenir prices in the Old City. The merchants offer items at nearly twice the price that they're ultimately willing to settle for, so be prepared to haggle. Whether you're purchasing a wooden camel, a decorative candle, or an Israeli Army T-shirt, the merchants may get pushy, and sometimes rude. If you're due change, they may claim they don't have small bills and then try to up-sell you.

Another must-see location in Israel is Ein Gedi, a lush oasis in the midst of the barren desert and gateway to the salty Dead Sea on the country's eastern edge. People come from all around the world, sometimes exclusively, to bathe in the therapeutic baths by the Dead Sea, rub mud over their bodies (making for a great photo op), and float in the salt water at the lowest spot on earth. First-time visitors typically stay overnight, wake before dawn, and hike up Mount Masada to view the brilliant sunrise before taking a tour of the history-rich plateau. The fortress here has served as a mountaintop refuge from pillaging Syrians and Greeks, Herod's pleasure palace, and the vanguard of a dramatic revolt against the Romans in the first-century AD, so you'd be forgiven for taking your time to absorb its millennia of history.

When most travelers arrive in Israel, they land at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, and then head to Jerusalem. It's not uncommon, however, for them to spend their last couple of days in Tel Aviv before their return trip home. Unlike Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is a very modern city that's only been around since 1909. It is the country's modern cultural capital and commercial center, and beautiful beaches line the Mediterranean coast. The city is known for its openness as well as superlative nightlife. It has quite a few museums, too, like the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Eretz Israel Museum, and the Diaspora Museum, which features a multimedia exhibit that illustrates the history of Jewish communities throughout the world.

Visitors who have time should travel a couple of hours south to visit Eilat, a resort city that closely borders Jordan and Egypt on Israel's southernmost tip. The border to Taba, Egypt, is accessible by foot, and tourists who want another stamp on their passport often spend part of the day exploring the small town. Tourists frequently take a worthwhile day-long tour to Petra, Jordan, by way of Aqaba. It's expensive, but an unforgettable experience amidst the World Heritage-listed "City in the Rock"—the same amazing locale that Indiana Jones and his father explored in The Last Crusade. In Eilat, be sure to take a glass-bottom boat ride, and when the weather is warm, enjoy the beaches and the soothing waters of the Red Sea. Eilat is also a birder's dream destination, sitting under the migratory flight path of birds beating a path each spring from North Africa to breeding grounds in Europe. Hotels and resorts here abound, among them the five-star Neptune Hotel and Herods Vitalis Spa.

Published: 22 Feb 2006 | Last Updated: 28 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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