Let’s be real: this is what most people cruising Israel tourism blogs are after, right? This is our list of the best things to see and do in Israel. We’ve split the list into two parts: the best things that we saw and did while we were there, and the things we missed out on that we would have dearly loved to see and do.
Best Things To See and Do in Israel (That We Saw and Did)
Floating in the Dead Sea
This is the number one thing that I recommend, to absolutely anyone and everyone who asks (and even those who don’t). It is a wonderful, unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The Dead Sea is one of the densest bodies of water on our planet, meaning that you don’t swim so much as float or bob – like a cork – in the water. Make sure you arrange safe and suitable access: Ein Bokek is the only free public beach, as far as I know, but most hotels in the area will have an arrangement for guests to access patrolled Dead Sea beaches free of charge. (That’s what we did in Ein Gedi.)
It’s crucial that you don’t try to access the water yourself from the side of the road! The salinity plus the receding waterline has led to a massive sinkhole problem across much of the shoreline, and you could find yourself in real trouble if you stray from the areas determined as safe.
Touring Old Jerusalem
If you’re smart enough, and committed enough to do a lot of research beforehand, you could probably manage a trip through Old Jerusalem without a guide… but we were lucky enough to be gifted a guided tour by our family (in celebration of our nuptials), and we think it’s the best way to go. Our tour guide, Hava, took us through all of the major highlights – the Western Wall, the Stations of the Cross, the Room of the Last Supper, King David’s tomb, and (our favourite) the Zion Gate. She had a very in-depth local knowledge of the history and significance of all of these sites. Plus, we had the comfort of hotel pick-up and drop-off (round trip from Tel Aviv), which alleviated any stress about the logistics of public transport.
Wandering Tel Aviv at Night
The evenings are when Tel Aviv really comes alive. There are hundreds of bars and restaurants all awaiting your custom, and the city life is second to none. We stayed just off Rothschild Boulevard, so that is where we spent the majority of our time. You can eat, drink, or simply wander and do some spectacular people-watching.
Climbing Masada at Sunrise
OK, I’ll admit: I wasn’t wild about this idea. In fact, I bitched about it the entire time. But, upon reflection, even I can admit that this was an experience that we will never forget. We drove our rental car from the hotel to Masada National Park just after 4AM, and hiked all of the way to the top. Admittedly, we were woefully under-prepared (read the full story here), but it was worth it. We watched an amazing sunrise, we wandered through relics of a community stretching back to 30BC, and we had great fun on the cable-car ride back down, with views stretching over the Dead Sea into Jordan. Not to mention, of course, that we got the greatest honeymoon selfie of all time…!
Picnicking in Old Jaffa
Old Jaffa is a short walk along the Mediterranean Sea coastline from where we were staying, and it is cited in many guides as a “must see” for visitors to Tel Aviv. We walked up there via Shuk Ha’Carmel – the detour being necessary to procure a picnic lunch. Carrying a backpack full of cheeses, olives, hummus, cold cuts, and grapes, we walked past The Jaffa Tramway and over The Wishing Bridge to find a nice, grassy spot for a picnic. We sat overlooking the water, eating with our hands, and it all felt very Mediterranean! After we’d eaten, we wandered back through the square and looked at other points of interest, and treated ourselves to a gelato. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon!
Eating Traditional Falafel (and Drinking Traditional Liquor!)
As we’ve mentioned many times on Our Honeymoon in Israel, finding some traditional falafel was high-priority for our trip. We lucked out on the very first day, discovering a hole-in-the-wall advertising “falafel without gluten” behind Shuk Ha’Carmel. It was cooked fresh before our eyes – so hot, and moist, and delicious, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Falafel from major food outlets and tourist traps will likely taste just like what you get back home, but this traditional freshly-made stuff is something different entirely.
And, while we’re on the subject of tradition, if you’re anything like us you can’t pass up a chance to sample some local libations! Sabra came highly recommended (a choc-orange liqueur), but it was a little tricky to find. Arak is an anise liqueur that you might not wish to sample back home, but it’s so ubiquitous in Israel that you won’t be able to avoid it (we recommend trying it mixed with orange juice – it sounds nuts, but it works!). And if you’re looking for something to really knock your socks off, you can try Tubi: no one really knows what’s in it, and you should probably sip it slowly, but it’s another unique experience that only Israel can provide!
Have you read my Ultimate Guide to Drinking in Israel? Check it out for a more comprehensive overview of liquor in the promised land. Also, you should check out the Lonely Planet guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories – they provide the definitive guide to all the best things to see and do in Israel.
Best Things We Wish We Could Have Seen and Done in Israel
Driving through Jericho
Driving from Tel Aviv to Ein Gedi, we passed signs for Jericho – the oldest continuous city in the world. We made a spontaneous decision to turn off and take a look… only we started seeing signs saying “DANGER” and “NO ISRAELIS ALLOWED”. Given that we were carrying Israeli visas, and driving a rental car with Israeli plates, we chickened out and turned back.
Had we been better prepared, we would have known that Jericho welcomes a high volume of tourists every year, and the Palestinian Authority goes all-out to ensure that it’s safe for visitors. Israelis are prevented from entering under the Olso Accord, but there are no active military checkpoints to stop tourists from simply driving in, as we could have done. There are also many tour groups that take visitors through every week.
Of course, if you’re driving (as we were), you would need to double check that your rental car agreement allows you to drive an Israeli rental car into Area A (an area under Palestinian Authority). If your contract prohibits you from doing so, you’d need to find another means of transport (lest you have an accident, in which case the insurance company wouldn’t cover the damages).
Visiting Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre)
This is the one I’m particularly bitter to have missed. I’d dreamed of visiting the center since I first googled “things to do in Israel”. It is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, and one million visitors access the site (for free!) each year. We had planned to visit on our second day-trip out to Jerusalem, until disaster struck in the form of the Shavuot holiday. The only upside is that I’ve made my new husband swear to me that we’ll visit upon our return for some future anniversary.
Staying in Haifa
This one we missed simply because time did not allow. Haifa is the third largest city in Israel, a 3000 year-old settlement on the Mediterranean coast. It boasts some amazing hipster hangouts, the world-famous Baha’i Gardens on the slope of Mount Carmel, more sites of religious and historical significance, and some truly stunning beaches. A road trip north to Haifa (with perhaps another spin at Nazareth en route) is definitely on the cards for the next trip.
Experiencing Nazareth Properly
Speaking of Nazareth: we were terrible travellers in this regard on our honeymoon. We had made a spontaneous decision to road trip to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee upon our departure from Ein Gedi, and after lunch we made an even more spontaneous decision to swing by Nazareth on our way back down to Tel Aviv. We were completely unprepared and, as such, we were unsurprisingly completely disappointed. Nazareth seemed to us to be a huge maze of highways and billboards and multi-lane roundabouts, because we hadn’t taken the time to figure out what there was to see and do, and how to get there. Next time, we will definitely make the effort to learn more about Nazareth (with our trusty Lonely Planet guide) before we visit, so we can get the most out of our time there.
Planting a Tree in Israel
We’ve heard the pop-culture references all our lives: in remembrance, out of respect, with thanks, you plant a tree in Israel for someone you love. There were a few very special someones in our lives for whom we wished to do just that. Planting trees in Israel is not only a lovely traditional way to honour someone, but it also helps ensure that the land of Israel remains fertile and habitable for future generations. Given that the region is so dry, it requires significant human intervention to ensure growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, we were once again foiled by our lack of research. To plant a tree in Israel, one must book an appointment at least a week or two in advance. We had left it too late, and missed out on the opportunity. If we had our time over, we would have made sure to book an appointment before we even departed for Israel, to make sure we had the chance to make our contribution.
So, there you have it, folks: the best things to see and do in Israel. Israel’s Greatest Hits, if you will. Is there something that you think we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!