The 10 Best Places To Visit During A Trip To Israel

The 10 Best Places To Visit During A Trip To Israel

My first trip to Israel was in November 2016. I spent just a week there, visiting Jerusalem and falling in love with Tel Aviv. I liked it so much that even before leaving, I vowed to go back as soon as possible. So, I made sure to travel to Israel again in the spring. I stayed longer then, and explored much more of the country.

Yet, that wasn’t enough for me. I went on my third trip to Israel in December 2017. Yes: I have been there 3 times in little over a year. So often I visit Israel that friends started suspecting the existence of an Israeli better half – there isn’t, I’m afraid.

I suppose I am just in love with the country. I feel incredibly comfortable in Israel – starting with the fact that I can easily pass for a local. I like its food, its people, the overall vibe and way of life, which is so similar to the one I am used to. Besides, there’s so many things to do in Israel, so many places to visit in Israel, that I am never quite done exploring.

Most people who travel to Israel limit themselves to the main cities. They go to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and little else. I love both cities; but there there are so many more interesting things to see in Israel, that it would be a real pity not to enjoy them.

Whenever I travel to Israel, I am amazed by how a small country has such an incredible variety of landscapes and sights. Just think about it: Israel is right on the Mediterranean; but it also has a window on the Red Sea. The North is all hills and forests; while most of the South is desert. Some cities are incredibly modern; others are a walk through history. This is a country of contrasts, and I love them all.

Things To Consider Before A Trip To Israel

Planning a trip to Israel is easy. The country offers a great variety of options that suit any kind of traveler. It really is just a matter of deciding to go, and things typically fall into place then. In any case, it’s always useful to have a good idea of what to expect before and during the trip, so here’s a few things that those who travel to Israel should consider.

Safety in Israel

Every time I travel to Israel, someone has to say it. “Watch out for the bombs.” This joke is so old that I can’t possibly hear it one more time, especially in a time where terrorist attacks can really – and sadly – strike anywhere and the whole world is a target.

Sure enough, though, safety is a common concern for those who are considering going on a trip to Israel. Foreign affairs government websites list it as a high risk area, too. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact that countries that are geographically closer to Israel, such as Syria and Iraq, are in conflict, and that others such as Jordan, Egypt or even Turkey are (wrongly) perceived as dangerous doesn’t help.

I find Israel is a safe country to visit, and those who travel to Israel realize it the minute they get there. Even on my most recent trip, after President Trump’s declaration of his intention of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the subsequent protests, I didn’t perceive any sort of danger.

I was walking around the Old Suq in Jerusalem in January, supposedly during the most heated times, and I met several Italian families traveling with small children who opted for a trip to Israel against their friends and families’ advice, and they typically commented that they felt safe.

What about the presence of soldiers everywhere, then? Well, first of all, soldiers aren’t everywhere in the country. They are typically monitoring the most famous places to visit in Israel. And they are there to keep everyone safe. Their presence is hardly obtrusive, and more often than not they are up for a friendly chat.

Finally, those who are thinking to visit Israel should keep in mind that there is a real difference between the life of the average Israeli and Palestinian, and the decisions taken by political authorities. Media reports typically stress  incidents that occur in the West Bank or Gaza, while life in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and all the other places to visit in Israel carries on as normal.

My two cents? Those who are considering a trip to Israel should absolutely go ahead, and discover this enigmatic, beautiful country – and hopefully grasp a bit more of its difficult history and current situation. I am convinced they will fall in love with it.

When to visit Israel

Any time of the year is good to travel to Israel, to me. I have been there in November, and Jerusalem was pleasant, while Tel Aviv still felt like summer. I have visited in March and April, and it was pretty much the same – save for a terrible heat wave that hit the country at the end of April. I went in December and January, and the temperatures were mild, though it rained a few times.

While it regularly snows in the winter in Jerusalem, the country never gets unbearably cold. On the coldest day of January, Jerusalem temperatures were around 9 degrees during the day, while Tel Aviv averaged a pleasant 16. On the other hand, the country apparently does get terribly hot in the peak summer months (July and August), so I’d advise against a trip to Israel during those months.

Traveling to and from Israel

Israel is well connected to the rest of the world through its Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Aiport. Low cost flights land both there (at terminal 1) and also in Eilat, in the Red Sea. This makes it incredibly easy and fairly cheap to travel to Israel.

One thing that those planning a trip to Israel should consider is that security for flights to and from Israel tends to be stricter than average, especially on El Al (Israel’s national airline) flights. Whether flying to or from Israel, plan to be at the airport well in advance.

In my experience, depending on the stamps on the passport, the questioning and searches are more thorough. The way to go about it is pretty obvious: answer the questions in all honesty and just be patient, as the security staff are just doing their job. Besides, one of the last things to do in Israel is challenge security or police officers.

Crossing the border to and from Jordan

A lot of people who travel to Israel often go to Jordan too, either to just visit Petra for a few days, or to explore the rest of the country. There’s 3 places to cross the border: Wadi Araba between Eilat and Aqaba, in the South; Allenby / King Hussein Bridge; which is the closest one to Jerusalem and Amman; and Sheikh Hussein at the North, closer to Nazareth and Lake Tiberias.

Crossing the border is relatively easy and pain free (there’s a small exit fee on both sides, but in Jordan that depends on the duration of stay); but keep in mind that while it is possible to travel to Israel from the 3 borders, it is only possible to leave Israel from the North and the South borders.

How to travel across Israel

My Israeli friends will likely disagree, but like me, those who travel to Israel are generally impressed with the good infrastructure and the efficient yet cheap public transportation system. Buses and trains go literally everywhere in the country.

A thing to keep in mind during a trip to Israel, however, is that public transportation doesn’t work at all during Shabbat, which pretty much signals the weekend in Israel and starts right before sunset on Fridays and ends right after sunset on Saturdays. I’d say it is best to avoid flying to and from Israel on Saturdays, because getting to the airport then can be a real hassle (and expensive).

Renting a car is one of the most common things to do in Israel, and quite cheap to do (though gasoline isn’t). I don’t mind driving there at all, though keep in mind I am Italian and I am used to being surrounded by crazy drivers (I am quite sure most would define me a crazy driver too!). Israelis also rely on sherut, or shared taxis, when public transportation isn’t available.

Currency in Israel

The Israeli Shekel (NIS) is the official currency of Israel. At the moment of writing, $1 USD is NIS 3.5 and €1 euro is around NIS 4.4. Before a trip to Israel, it is best to check what the bank commissions are to withdraw money, and to also consider credit card commission. ATMs are easy to find, though some don’t accept foreign cards.

Paying by credit card may be one of the handiest things to do in Israel, especially as credit card payments are accepted pretty much anywhere in Israel, even for small transactions. Keep in mind that a signature is often not required.

The costs of a trip to Israel

There’s no other way to put it: Israel is an expensive country and a trip to Israel is never going to happen on an extreme budget. In fact, it is one of the most expensive countries I have visited. The costs of traveling around Israel are similar to those of European countries such as Italy and the United Kingdom, and North America.

The average cost of a dorm bed is around €25, but that includes breakfast – by the way, eating breakfast is one of the top things to do in Israel. A meal at a restaurant typically costs no less than €17, to which it is necessary to add the customary tip to the waiter. Having said so, during a trip to Israel it is an absolute must to try the local eateries and markets, where food is much cheaper (around €7 for a meal).

Wifi

Good news! Wifi works really well in Israel, and it is basically available in the entire country. Hotels, hostels, restaurants, bus and train stations, buses and trains all have wifi. Even most cities have free wifi. Not having to worry about a decent connection to look for basic things such as the location of a place on maps, or other apps, makes a trip to Israel incredibly easy.

Shopping and scams

One of the nicest things to do in Israel is shopping, and Israel may well be shopping paradise, were it not for the fact that it can be expensive. Having said so, other than regular (beautiful shops), there’s also many fantastic markets to buy souvenirs (though watch out for the real thing, a lot of stuff is not made locally) as well as spices and other local produce (hint: Israelis are nuts about nuts).

Though haggling in Israel is hardly a thing, it is acceptable (and in fact a must thing) to do that at markets. I still think I should have haggled way more fiercely during my last trip to Israel, when I bought a leather bag at the Old City suq in Jerusalem.

Although scams are not common in Israel, I’d recommend watching out for taxi prices and advise anybody who is planning to travel to Israel to get update information on taxi fares, for example within the city and from the airport. Same thing with markets: as I have already said, haggling is probably the best way to avoid being ripped off.

People in Israel

Those who visit Israel don’t take long to realize that it is a multi-cultural country. There are 3 main groups, which can be identified with the monotheistic religions that are most widely practiced in Israel: the Jews (some religious, others secular), who are the majority of the country; the Muslims and the Christians.

People in Israel are generally friendly and welcoming, though there is an aura of mystery about the stricter religious groups. The fact that virtually everyone speaks English is a major bonus, as it makes communication incredibly easy. Of all the places to visit in Israel, I found that people in Tel Aviv and Eilat are the most relaxed – must have something to do with the sun!

Eating and drinking in Israel

There’s no doubt that one of the greatest things to do in Israel is eating. Food is just delicious here. The combination of great ingredients such as top quality olive oil; fresh produce; and simple yet tasty recipes makes it a paradise for foodies. There is an incredible choice of vegetarian, vegan and overall healthy food options.

An unmissable meal during a trip to Israel is breakfast. Forget the Italian cornetto and cappuccino; and set aside all sugary cereals. Israelis love breakfast, and there is no weekend without a brunch invitation. Think eggs (shakshuka style); lots of salad options; fruits and good tea and coffee.

Hummus is another must try in Israel (though it actually is a Palestinian traditional food), and the real thing should be eaten as soon as it is made. Keep in mind that, traditionally, this is another breakfast food. So chances are that all good hummus places will close by 2:00 pm. Those who travel to Israel should never leave the country without trying it.

On top of all the great local food, Israel offers plenty of choices of international food. It won’t be hard to find good food on a trip to Israel.

When it comes to drinks, the options are just as good. Israel actually makes some very good craft beers – pub crawls and food tours typically include a couple of craft beer samples. Moreover, the climate is perfect for growing grapes, meaning that Israeli wines are good. In fact, wine tourism is growing and one of the nicest things to do in Israel is going on a wine tour.

Environmental protection and responsible tourism in Israel

Israel isn’t considered a wildlife destination, though it is possible to admire dolphins and other species in the Red Sea. Those who visit Israel and intend to dive in the Red Sea should always double check that companies that run diving expeditions are fully responsible. Attracting dolphins with food should alert responsible travelers as to the ethics of the company.

Israelis love animals and many of them own cats and dogs. It is quite common to see cats hanging around the streets of a city. Most of them are taken care by shelters: they are spayed and neutered; and the locals typically care for them with food and vet care. One of the nice things to do in Israel, if staying long enough, is to volunteer for an animal shelter.

With regards to environmental protection, Israel still has a bit of work to do. Recycling still isn’t a thing there, though locals are doing it more and more every day, and there is pressure to implement proper environmental protection policies. During my trip to Israel last spring, I noticed that aside from the typical garbage found in all big cities, there is an issue of big waste being abandoned where it shouldn’t be – forest, the highway, and similar places.

The 10 Best Places To Visit During A Trip To Israel

There are many places to visit during a trip to Israel. I have my favorite ones, those that I keep going to every time I travel to Israel. But I also love discovering new, less visited ones. That’s the beauty of visiting a place more than once, and getting to know it really well.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of places I recommend visiting during a trip to Israel.

Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Tel Aviv is the obvious starting point of a trip to Israel, as this is where most people arrive anyways. It is a fantastic, lively city that has a lot to offer to its visitors. The vibe in Tel Aviv is simply great, so much so that I fell in love with it, and it quickly became my happy place, and my home away from home.

The center of Tel Aviv is packed with interesting sights and historical landmarks, such as Habima Square and the Rabin Memorial. I recommend those that travel to Israel to go on a city tour of Tel Aviv, which will give some insights on its history as well as its uniqueness, such as the Bauhaus buldings.

One of the nicest things to do in Israel is biking around: each city in the country has plenty of bike lanes that make it super easy to go from place to place. Tel Aviv certainly is the best place to do that, and a great way to discover the city is by going on a bike tour.

When the weather is pleasant (which is almost every day, in Tel Aviv), one of the top things to do in Israel and for which Tel Aviv is amazing is going to the beach. There’s something going on in any season: people playing beach volley; surfers catching waves; some going for a run and others simply catching the sun.

Jaffa, the oldest side of Tel Aviv is one of the unmissable places to visit in Israel. There’s daily free tours of Jaffa that leave at around 2:00 pm from the Clock Tower. It’s a nice way to explore the oldest part of the city, which has a wholly different feel from Tel Aviv – though equally fun.

Those who want to enjoy Tel Aviv nightlife during their trip to Israel should definitely go on a pub crawl. There’s a wealth of cool bars and clubs around town. Sputnik and Radio are quite famous and can get crowded, but they are fun.

These are the best tours of Tel Aviv and Jaffa:

For a more in depth guide of Tel Aviv, check my post “20 things to do in Tel Aviv.”

Where to sleep and eat in Tel Aviv

Whenever I visit Israel, my go to place in Tel Aviv is Abraham Hostel. I love the relaxed atmosphere; the modern and comfortable rooms; the cozy and spacious common areas; the fabulous bar and terrace, and the variety of events they have all the time. Not to mention, the location (on Levontin, right by Rotschild and not far from Neve Tzedek) is excellent.

As far as hostels go, Little Tel Aviv is a good alternative. For a more upscale place to stay at during a trip to Israel, Dan Hotel is a great choice. It is right by the beach and centrally located. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and the breakfast buffet simply outstanding.

The following is an essential list of the best places to stay in Tel Aviv:

For a more complete list of where to stay in Tel Aviv, check out this post. 

One of the coolest things to do in Israel is eating and the good news is that Tel Aviv is packed with excellent restaurants. I have my favorite restaurants in Tel Aviv, where I go as soon as I am in town, but I love discovering new ones. For Vietnamese food I go to Vong, on Rotschild. If I crave Thai, I head to Thai House on Bograshov: the portions are very generous and the food oh so tasty.

Eating gourmet burgers is one of the fun things to do in Israel. Burgers are great at America Burgers, on Allenby – I just love the vibe there. Prozdor, on Mendele Mokher Sfarim, is another good option. Finally, Vitrina, on Shlomo Ibn Gabirol, has some great burgers and to die for fries: they grate lemon skin on top of them and the result is extra yummy.

As far as local food, the best hummus in Tel Aviv is in Jaffa, at Abu Hassan. Miznon has several locations across town: it offers good stuffed pita and delicious grilled cauliflower, though the music is really too loud to be able to stay there for long. It is popular among locals as well as among people who travel to Israel for work or for fun.

Carmel Market is the go-to place for street food during the day. Since one of the most fun things to do in Israel is trying all the street food, Tel Aviv has taken it to the next level and opened an entire street food market between Rotschild and Allenby. It’s a cool place to hang out and also have a drink.

Getting to and around Tel Aviv

Traveling by public transportation is one of the easiest and cheapest things to do in Israel. Ben Gurion Airport is well connected to the city. The best way to get to Tel Aviv city center is certainly by train. There’s several stops in town, all more or less central, such as Tel Aviv University or Savidor Center, from where there’s buses to other locations in town.

Tel Avivians typically complain about the poor public transportation in Tel Aviv. True, there isn’t a metro. But the buses go everywhere, and a ride only costs NIS 5.90. Anyways, it is worth repeating that one of the best things to do in Israel is biking around, and since there’s bikes for rent pretty much everywhere in Tel Aviv, and good bike lanes, I suggest biking as the best way to move around.

Jerusalem

Believe it or not, there’s people who go on a trip to Israel and only plan to visit Jerusalem on a day trip. To each their own I suppose, and it certainly is doable. But Jerusalem deserves way more than a day trip. In fact, it deserves more than a trip – take it from someone who’s been there four times and is still not done with it.

Jerusalem is a timeless city, and it has some of the most amazing places to visit in Israel. This is where to go to get at least a basic understanding of the country’s culture and history; to appreciate how multicultural it is; and to unveil some of its mystery. Besides, it is simply gorgeous and photogenic.

A good day city tour of Jerusalem includes visit to all its most important landmark, such as the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the Old City. It’s a good way have an introduction to the city, and one of the things to do in Israel – though by no means it goes to all the places to visit in the city.

Among the unmissable places to visit in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel, there’s Temple Mount. It takes a bit of standing in line to enter, but it is worth it. It opens every day (except Fridays, during prayer time) from 7:00 to 10:30 am, and from 12:00 to 1:30 pm. The best view over Temple Mount is from Mount of Olives, a historic cemetery in East Jerusalem, at sunset. There’s even tours of Mount of Olives.

Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum are both a must for those who travel to Israel for the first time, as they give insights into the history of the holocaust as well as into that of the country. For a better understanding of the history of Jerusalem, from its foundation to modern times, the Tower of David and the City of David are two excellent archaeological sites – and they both offer incredible light shows. Tours of the City of David and underground Jerusalem can be booked online.

The Old City Suq and Mahane Yehuda are incredible markets, and those who travel to Israel should not miss them. I especially love the buzz of Mahane Yehuda on Friday mornings, when people are shopping right before the start of Shabbat. Come to think of it, tourists can even join a Shabbat experience tour nowadays.

Jerusalem’s nightlife is great, too. A pub crawl tour is a good way to discover it. Good places to go for a bit of action are Mahane Yehuda market – I love the Beer Bazar; Machneyuda, which is a favorite of the locals; the Great Gatsby for a bit of jazz. Discovering Jerusalem’s night life is definitely one of the nicest things to do in Israel.

These are the best tours of Jerusalem:

To discover more amazing things to do in Jerusalem, read my posts “Alternative and traditional things to do in Jerusalem” and “My Jerusalem: places I love in this timeless city.”

Where to sleep and eat in Jerusalem

Inbal is my go to place during a trip to Israel. Its rooms are spacious and comfortable, the location is exellent, the breakfast buffet is to die for and there is a 25 meters pool that a swimmer like me has to love.

Another place I recommend for those who travel to Israel with a higher budget is the Mamilla hotel, which is located very near the Old City. Rooms are incredibly cozy there, and as always the breakfast is fabulous.

And for those who are on a budget trip to Israel, Abraham Hostel is the perfect choice, with its comfortable dorms, excellent common areas and the possibility of meeting like minded travelers. Oh, and the breakfast is great there too.

The following is an essential list of the best places to stay in Jerusalem:

Eating is one of the greatest things to do in Israel, and Jerusalem has a fantastic choice of restaurants. The best hummus is found in the Old City, at either the tiny Abu Shruk, or at the nearby Lina. They both close at around 2:30 pm.

A good way of discovering the various flavours of the city is that of going on a food tour. There’s even the possibility of taking self-guided and completely customizable food tours around the city – definitely a cool thing to do during a trip to Israel.

As far as restaurants go, the best in town are Adom, located at the First Station, Anna Ticho, on Ha’Rav Hagan, and Machneyuda, which is located by Mahane Yehuda market – which, by the way, is packed with good small eateries and bars and pubs.

Getting to and around Jerusalem

Jerusalem is very well connected to anywhere in the country, as anybody on a trip to Israel will see. There’s regular buses leaving from Tel Aviv HaHagana or Savidor Center and a one way ticket costs NIS 16. Jerusalem is connected to Ben Gurion Airport by bus 485, which leaves every hour and every day except on Shabbat, right outside the main bus station (on Jaffo street).

The best way to get to know Jerusalem is walking. Having said so, the public transportation system is quite efficient and those who travel to Israel are typically impressed with it. There’s a light rail that connects the main points in the city, and buses that go everywhere. A single ride costs NIS 5.90.

Hebron (West Bank)

Hebron is located in the West Bank, and it is one of the most highly contested cities in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Visiting Hebron definitely adds to a trip to Israel (though it actually isn’t in Israel) as it is a good way to get two different perspectives of what is an incredibly complicated issue.

I am not saying that visiting Hebron will shed some light on the issue – in fact if anything, everything will become even more blurry. It took me days to be able to digest all the information I received when I went, but I am glad I did, and I feel that those who travel to Israel should add it to their itinerary.

Hebron is divided in two parts: 3% of it is inhabited by Jewish settlers, while the rest of the city is Palestinian. The city is definitely interesting and visiting is one of the most unique things to do in Israel (or better, the West Bank). This is where the Abraham Avinu Synagogue and the Sanctuary of Abraham are located (the latter, a holy place for both Jews and Muslims). The feeling one gets when walking around, especially on the settlers bits, is that of an eerie, at times abandoned city.

The city can be easily visited on a day tour from Jerusalem – the best one is the dual narrative tour, which sees an Israeli guide leading the group on the Israeli bits of the city; and a Palestinian guide leading in the Palestinian parts. The Dual Narrative tour is by far one of the most interesting things to do in Israel.

These are some of the best tours of Hebron:

And here’s my post on Hebron and the West Bank.

Where to sleep and eat in Hebron

Those who visit Israel yet wish to spend the night in Hebron may not have too many options in terms of accommodation. H2 Hostel Hebron may be the most suitable place. When I visited, I ate at a local family – a lovely, home cooked meal. There’s however a few budget eateries in town.

Getting to and around Hebron

Hebron can be easily reached by public transportation from Jerusalem, though expect a few road checks on the way. Once in the city, there’s regular check points to point the division between Israeli and Palestinian territory – definitely an interesting experience to have during a trip to Israel.

Masada, Ein Gedi Reserve and the Dead Sea

The Masada is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Israel. This archeological site is an old fortress built around 30 B.C. and which overlooks the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert. The views from up there are simply breathtaking.

While it is possible to visit the Masada throughout the day (the cable car to get to the top starts running at 8:00 am), I recommend an early wake up call and getting there while it is still dark, to walk all the way to the top (the hike lasts around one hour, depending on how often one stops) to admire the sunrise from it. It’s one of the best things anybody can do during a trip to Israel.

The Ein Gedi Reserve is not far from the Masada. The park is home to various species of animals, and there’s a few beautiful waterfalls too. There’s 9 different hiking trails that can be followed. It is an overall incredibly quiet, pleasant place to visit during a trip to Israel to get away from the chaos of the cities.

Visiting the Dead Sea is a must during a trip to Israel. This is the lowest place on earth, and the heat is strong, even during the winter months. There’s several beaches, offering different experiences. Some have the famous mud pools, where it is possible to literally cover oneself in the mud that has great benefits for the skin and the body. Other beaches are more traditional, with clear waters.

In both cases, the Dead Sea is a fun experience and floating there is one of the most fun things to do in Israel. Beware: the water is incredibly salty and it’s really not recommended getting it into the eyes or mouth.

Tours of Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea depart daily from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Here’s the best tours:

Be’er Sheva and the Negev Desert

Not many visit Be’er Sheva when they travel to Israel. But during my last trip to Israel, I thought I’d want to add to my knowledge of the country, and decided to go on a little day trip. To be fair, it isn’t exactly the most beautiful city I have ever visited. But it certainly is interesting and I had an overall good time there.

Though not the ultimate among the places to visit in Israel, Be’er Sheva has the advantage to get hardly any tourists, and being almost entirely local. It is the biggest city in the Negev Desert, home to a university – which makes it packed with students and quite lively. Among the most interesting places to visit, there’s the Old City, which has some lovely cafés, and the Bedouin Market. Abraham’s Well is located in the Old City, in a pleasant little square.

Where to sleep and eat in Be’er Sheva

As I wandered around Be’er Sheva with my friend, I stumbled upon a little place near the university that was packed with students and decided to give it a try. It’s called Hahomos Shel Thina and it is located in HaBaitBe Matityahu 70. It serves lovely hummus, falafels and salads at really good prices – remember, eating hummus is one of the yummiest things to do in Israel and this is a good place to do it!

Coca Bar is a good place to have a drink later during the day, or at night, as well as Nachman Jungle. As for hotels, I only spent a day in Be’er Sheva, but as I walked around I noticed there’s some decent looking ones and small guest houses that those who travel to Israel may want to check out. Here they are:

Getting to and around Be’er Sheva

Be’er Sheva can be easily reached by train from Tel Aviv. The ride is inexpensive and lasts around 1 hour and 30 minutes, on comfortable and clean trains that also have wi-fi. Once in the city, buses are quite efficient, talking to all the most interesting parts – though it is also pleasant to walk. As I have said before, traveling by public transportation is one of the top things to do in Israel.

Eilat and Timna Park

I would have hardly imagined before visiting, but I actually really enjoyed Eilat and I would definitely add it to a trip to Israel if there’s enough time. Eilat is Israel’s outpost on the Red Sea, and it is part of the Southern Negev Desert.

Israelis call it “Eilat Vegas,” to refer to how much entertainment there is in the city. Many dismiss it, thinking it isn’t really one of the places to visit in Israel. It’s a pity: this is a pure fun place, but it is not tacky. Eilat is the perfect place to relax, to enjoy the clear waters of the Red Sea – diving, snorkeling, and other water sports such as wind and kite surfing – and to explore the incredible surroundings.

If one of the things to do in Israel is visiting the desert, then Eilat is the perfect starting point to do that. Timna Park is located at around 30 km from Eilat, and is a fabulous combination of an archaeological site and a natural site with unique rock formations.

To read more about Eilat, check my post “Why I love Eilat.”

Where to sleep and eat in Eilat

As one of the most fun places to visit in Israel, Eilat is packed with good accommodation options. These are some of the best places to stay:

As for food, the choice is just as wide and goes once again to prove that eating is one of the nicest things to do in Israel. My favorite restaurants in town are Pastory, which serves superb Italian food (take it from an Italian picky eater); Colonia, which serves delicious salads and seafood; and the Fish Market, also serving fabulous seafood and fish. The choice of bars for drinks and live music is wide too.

Getting to and around Eilat

Eilat is well connected to the rest of the country via Egged, the main bus company for long distance travel that those who visit Israel are likely to use at least once. The buses are cheap and convenient, but don’t run on Shabbat. The city is fairly small and walkable, but in any case there’s public buses connecting the main points of the city and the beaches of the northern side to those of the southern side.

 

Netanya

Not many people that travel to Israel visit Netanya. I go every time I am in the country because that’s where my friend Eyal grew up. We go visit his mother, eat at Uzi Hummus (quite possibly the best hummus in Israel) and just go for a walk to the market and at the beach.

Netanya isn’t a touristy place at all, and to be honest the city could do with some good reconstruction work. Yet, it retains the charme of a place that isn’t crowded with tourists, it has some interesting spots, so it may be an interesting addition a trip to Israel.

Most of the people living in Netanya are of Northern Africa descent – Tripoli, Tunisia, Morocco – so it is quite common to hear people (especially older generation) speaking a mix of French, Arabic and Hebrew. This is also reflected in the street food that can be found in the area around the market. Finally, if going to the beach is one of the nicest things to do in Israel, Netanya has quite a few good ones to pick from.

Where to sleep and eat in Netanya

Despite not being on the top of the list of places to visit in Israel, Netanya has a few good accommodation options. These are some good places to stay in town, most of them close to the beach.

Eating hummus is one of the top things to do in Israel, and Uzi is a great place for that. Other places to eat and have a drink in Netanya are The Goons, Red Burger and Uranus, which is a locals’s favorite.

Getting to and around Netanya

Netanya is very close to Tel Aviv. It takes around 30 minutes by car to get there, and there’s regular buses connecting the two cities (and actually, taking the bus is one of the recommended things to do in Israel to avoid being stuck looking for a parking spot). Once in Netanya, the public transportation works well, but the main attractions are all concentrated in the main street and right at the end of it there’s the beach, so I recommend walking.

Haifa

No trip to Israel can be complete without a visit to Haifa. The third largest city in the country is pretty, but what makes it special is the incredibly easy going, friendly atmosphere. Haifa has all the perks of Tel Aviv – beautiful beaches, a lovely city center, nice shops, a fantastic restaurant scene, good nightlife; minus the chaos.

Haifa best sight is the Baha’i Gardens, which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The view of the incredibly well kept park and of the harbor from the terraces on the hills of Haifa is possibly one of the top things to see in Israel. The German Colony is a lovely part of town where it is pleasant to go for a walk.

These are some of the day tours of Haifa:

Where to sleep and eat in Haifa

Most people who visit Israel only go to Haifa on day trips. Yet, the city has a good selection of places to stay and of good restaurants and bars, scattered along Ben Gurion Boulevard and in the small streets around it and even along the beach. The following are some of the best hotels in town:

Getting to and around Haifa

Haifa is at about 92 km and less than one and a half hour drive from Tel Aviv. The city is well connected to the rest of Israel via trains and buses, and once in there, public transportation is efficient. The center is quite small, so it is pleasant to walk around.

Acre (Akko)

I went to Acre, which Israelis call Akko, during my second trip to Israel. This small city is located at around 18 km from the border with Lebanon, and it is right on the shores of the Mediterranean sea.

One of the nicest things to do in Israel is getting to know the history of its cities, and for as small as it is, Acre has plenty of it and it is a lovely place to visit. It isn’t by chance that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Acre is a maze of narrow alleys, hidden squares, a beautiful local market. Among the best sights there’s the Citadel and the City Walls, originally built by the Crusaders and subsequently reinforced.

As Israel is a multi-cultural and multi-religious country, those who travel to Israel typically end up also visiting mosques. One of the nicest ones is Al-Jazzar Mosque, in Acre, which was built at the end of the 19th century.

Here’s some of the best day trips to Acre:

Where to stay and eat in Acre

Eating is one of my favorite things to do in Israel and Acre is a great place for it: right by the sea, there’s a good selection of seafood and fish restaurants right by the harbor and inside the market. Uri Buri is the place to go for fish; while the best hummus is at Hummus Said. The following is a selection of the best places to stay in Acre:

Getting to and around Acre

Acre is at about 120 km from Tel Aviv, and it is connected to the rest of the country via Egged buses as well as via trains. The center of the city is quite small and pleasant to walk around.

Nazareth and Galilee

A lot of Christians that travel to Israel on pilgrimages visit Galilee, heading to Nazareth, Cana, Tiberias and other places that have strong religious significance and that are located around the Sea of Galilee. I am an atheist, but I have always had a strong interest for the historical and cultural aspects of religion, so I decided to go.

I visited Galilee during my second trip to Israel, spending a few days in Nazareth and then walking the Jesus Trail with my friend Eyal. The trail starts in Nazareth; it goes through various places of natural, historical, cultural and archaeological interest and then finishes in Tiberias.

Read more about my experience on the Jesus Trail in my post “Why I hiked the Jesus Trail.”

I do understand, however, that not everyone may have the time and energy to walk for days. The good news is that one of the nicest and easiest things to do in Israel is renting a car. It may be a good option for visiting Galilee, as it saves a lot of time getting from one place to the other. Otherwise, I recommend joining a guided tour. These are the best tours of Galilee:

For those that still wish to travel independently, I recommend Nazareth as a starting point. This is considered one of the places to visit in Israel. The Old City has been restored, yet as a result of the renovation works most of the shops have been closed and they haven’t moved back yet. It is nevertheless interesting to walk around, visit the Basilica of the Annunciation and Mary’s Well.

My favorite place in Nazareth remains the Fauzi Azar, a beautiful historic home which has been converted to a beautiful boutique hostel. I also love El Babour, a fantastic shop in suq style, with an antique mill, where they sell all sorts of nuts, dried fruits, teas and coffees. Middle Eastern people in general have a passion for nuts, and eating them is definitely one of the things to do in Israel: El Babour is the place to go for that.

Zippori National Park is a nice addition to a trip to Israel. It’s on the way between Nazareth and the village of Cana. Inside the park there’s the Old Zippori Village, where excavations have discovered the ruins of a Roman Villa dating back to 200 CE.

Cana, or Kfar Cana as the Israelis call it, is known by Christians to be the traditional site of the wedding party where Jesus performed one of his miracles, turning water into wine. There’s a nice Franciscan Wedding Church that a lot of people who visit Israel for religious purposes go to.

Ilaniya is a tiny village along the Jesus trail, past the peaceful Beit Keshet forest. No more than 500 people live there. It was founded in 1899, during the first wave of immigration to the Holy Land, by the Jewish Colonization Association. It was a model farm and today it remains pretty much just a rural village. It’s a one of the pleasant places to visit in Israel to get away from the city.

Not many people make it to the Horns of Attin during a trip to Israel. In fact, nobody was there when Eyal and I visited. It is located on the way between Ilaniya and the village of Arbel, and it is in fact a volcanic formation that looks like the horns of a bull. This is where in 1187, during the battle of Hattin, the Crusaders faced the army of Saladin. The view from the site is splendid, and the place incredibly peaceful that it is worth a detour to visit.

Among the places to visit in Israel located along the Jesus Trail there’s Nebi Shu’eib. This is a beautiful building where the tomb of Jethro, who was the father in law of Moses and a prophet in the Druze tradition, is located.

Moshav Arbel and Mount Arbel are quite possibly my favorite places in Galilee. While not many people on a trip to Israel visit the village and the archaeological ruins of a synagogue right outside it, Mount Arbel gets more visitors. The view of the Sea of Galilee from there are breathtaking.

The surroundings of the Sea of Galilee, locally known as Kinneret, are packed with interesting sights. Many people that travel to Israel visit Capernaum, considered one of the most sacred sites in the Christian pilgrimage, to visit the remains of an ancient synagogue and those of the Church and House of Peter.

Where to sleep and eat in Nazareth and Galilee

Most people visit Galilee on day trips that start in Nazareth, so this is where most of accommodation options are. Yet, those who embark on the Jesus Trail during a trip to Israel are generally surprised with the quality of the places to stay located even in the most remote villages. In most cases, guest houses also serve food.

Here’s a list of good places to stay in Galilee:    

  • Fauzi Azar Inn, in Nazareth – has dorms and private rooms, it’s located in the Old City, in a beautiful historic home.
  • Cana Wedding Guest House – it has male and female dorms and serves a delicious family style dinner.
  • Yarok Az Ecolodge and Organic Farm – it has some lovely huts that sleep several people, common showers and toilets, a guest kitchen and serves delicious family style vegetarian food.
  • Kibbutz Lavi Hotel – not far from Ilaniya.
  • Arbel Holiday Homes – a lovely place in Moshav Arbel, with nice cottages, a pool and delicious home style food.

Getting to and around Nazareth and Galilee

Nazareth is well connected to the rest of Israel via public buses. The center of town, where all the attractions are, is small and can be easily walked. Unless walking the Jesus Trail, the easiest thing for those on a trip to Israel who also want to visit Galilee is to go on guided tours, as they save a lot of time in going from place to place.

Have you ever been to Israel? What do you plan to see on your next trip to Israel?

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Find out what do to during a trip to Israel - via @clautavani

Why I hiked the Jesus Trail

Why I hiked the Jesus Trail

I don’t even know why I hiked the Jesus Trail. I am not religious at all. But I still loved every minute of it.

I fell in love with Israel the minute I set foot there. It started with an itch to get to know Jerusalem, get a better understanding of its history, of its many layers, of the people that live there, of the conflict over a city that is holy to the 3 biggest monotheistic religions in the world.

But it was when I finally made it to Tel Aviv that I understood that this country is a second home to me, to the point that it is the only place in the world, other than Cagliari (where I grew up), where I can see myself living long term. I was charmed by this city, learned about the many things to do there, got out of the city to get a bit of a taste of the rest of the country, but my visit was way too short.

To read more about what Tel Aviv has to offer, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”

I was still in Israel when I decided that I’d go back as soon as possible and visit more of it – and I usually keep my word. I started reading about more places to visit and things to do in Israel pretty much right after I came back after my first trip there. I knew that I’d want to explore more of Jerusalem (one is never fully done exploring it!!) and spend more time in Tel Aviv, checking out more things to do there.

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Hiking is a great way to get closer to nature

I also knew that I’d want to head south and check out the Red Sea and the big hype about Eilat, which I ended up truly enjoying (as reported on my post “Why I love Eilat”). And there was no way I’d leave the Middle East without also visiting the West Bank and trying to learn a bit more about the Palestinian conflict – which is why I visited Ramallah, Jericho, Betlehem and Hebron.

To read about the impact Hebron left on me, read my post “Why I Took A Dual Narrative Tour Of Hebron.”

But there was more. On my second visit to Israel, I would not want to miss the chance to hike. After all, hiking is how I met most of my Israeli friends.

You see, I find hiking to be one of the best ways to explore a country. It gives me the chance of getting closer to nature, of learning more about the culture and the people of a place, of meeting new friends on the road who like sharing the experience, with whom I can complain about the fatigue and I can share a beer at the end of the day.

I enjoy all kinds of hikes – mountain and hill ones; those that offer coastal and lake views; those that go through the desert or through forests; those that allow me to visit villages and archeological sites; short day ones and multi-day hikes. As long as I get to walk, I am happy.

The Jesus Trail

Israel is packed with good hiking trails. The most famous one is the Israel Trail, which cuts through the country, all the way from the border with Lebanon to the south, through the Negev desert and to Eilat. It takes roughly 8 weeks to walk its full length. I would love to do it, eventually, but I didn’t have time for it on my trip.

So I looked for other multi-day hikes, and the Jesus Trail came up. It’s quite ironic that a self professed atheist like myself may consider hiking the Jesus Trail. But this appeared to go through a region of Israel that I was keen to explore, and to combine beautiful views with interesting cultural and historical aspects of the country.

The Jesus Trail is a 62 km long walk that can be covered in the space of 4 days. It starts in Nazareth, known as the city where Jesus grew up, and goes all the way to Capernaum via Zippori, Cana, Kibbutz Lavi, Moshav Arbel and Mount of Beatitudes. It pretty much crosses the entire region of Galilee, thought to be a crossroads of cultures and a gateway for trade since humans have been living there.

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Following in the footsteps of Jesus – literally

Although it remains to be proved whether or not Jesus actually walked this trail, most of the sites the trail goes through have been identified as places visited by Jesus in the New Testament. What is certain is that Jesus walked this region.

Interestingly though, the Jesus Trail actually goes well beyond Christian holy sites, as it goes through Arab towns, Jewish archeological sites, Muslim shrines and even Crusader battlefields. An added bonus is the landscape of olive groves, hills, nature reserves and at the end of it the Sea of Galilee.

The idea of the trail was conceived in 2007 and the first group of hikers ventured on the trail in 2008. In 2009 the trail was officially recognized and fully marked with signs – incidentally, the same year Pope Benedict XVI visited Nazareth.

The idea of walking the Jesus Trail sounded fascinating to me – not to mention, totally doable in terms of time. I was pretty set on it: whether people considered it a religious and spiritual walk or not, I wanted to do it. I walked the Jesus Trail pretty much for the same reasons I walked the Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela: for the views, for the culture, for the company, and for the adventure.

Speaking of company, I was delighted to have the company of my very dear friend Eyal, who’s like a brother to me. We’ve known each other for 7 years now. Apparently walking the Jesus Trail was also his dream, and when he found out I was planning to do it, he decided to join me. Needless to say, we had a blast.

However, we didn’t have much time to research the itinerary or the accommodation options along the trail, so we thought it may be a good idea to take advantage of a Jesus Trail pre-packaged tour.  We saw that the Jesus Trail can be walked, either independently or with a guide; and it can even be biked (but I do not recommend hiking it alone: you can read more about why I think that hiking alone is a bad idea in this post). We opted for a self-guided tour which included all accommodation and meal reservations (breakfast and dinner); a Jesus Trail detailed guide book (which literally became our Bible) and updates on the trail (which we soon learned were very much needed); briefing before we actually started and regular support before and during the trail.

Hiking the Jesus Trail was an incredible experience. I am happy to have done it and would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking. Following is a recollection of my experience, with some useful tips for those who wish to embark on it.

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Splendid views along the Jesus Trail

Hiking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee

Day 0 – Tel Aviv to Nazareth

Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail. It is fairly easy to reach via bus from Tel Aviv old bus station, where there’s both direct buses and shared mini vans. It takes around 3 and a half hour to get there. Keep in mind that the bus doesn’t go to the Old City, so it is a bit of a walk from the final bus stop to hostels located in the centre.

Nazareth is the main city in the Galilee region. Around 70000 people live there, and pretty much 100% of the population is Israeli Arab (or rather, Palestinian), divided among Christians and Muslims. Due to its connection to Christianity, Nazareth is a major tourist spot for groups of pilgrims.

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The Old City of Nazareth is the starting point of the Jesus Trail

The sights

Nazareth is an interesting city, though a bit more chaotic than I expected. The Old City boasts a beautiful market, though most shops have been closed as a result of the renovation works and owners haven’t moved back. I am hoping that more of them open again in the near future, because it would bring it new life (and more economic turnaround!).

There’s a few historical homes in Nazareth – the most interesting one is the Fauzi Azar, a beautiful traditional Arab home with a gorgeous living room and high ceilings that is currently being used as a guest house. The best part of it is that it also is a hotel!

Other places of interest are the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is the largest church in the Middle East, and Mary’s Well and Ancient Bathhouse. A place I absolutely loved and could have spent hours in is Elbabour: this amazing old mill sells all sorts of spices, teas and coffee, dry fruits and nuts. It’s where I also tried the za’atar, which is a mixture of herbs (mostly oregano and thyme) that is mixed with olive oil and spread on traditional Arab bread. I think I got addicted to it.

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Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth

Where to sleep and eat in Nazareth

The best place to stay in Nazareth is the Fauzi Azar Inn. There’s a range of private rooms with private bathroom (though they are not cheap) and of dorms with shared bathrooms. The place is incredibly charming, and quiet. The breakfast is good, the kitchen perfectly equipped and they even do occasional traditional cooking classes.

Having a good kitchen is a plus, considering that there aren’t many good options for food in Nazareth that are budget friendly. I tried Rosemary, a restaurant near Mary’s Well and the food was good and not too pricey. Other options are the various kebab places around the square – cheap and filling.

Day 1 – from Nazareth to Cana

The first day of the Jesus Trail is spent walking out of Nazareth and (literally) finding the way to Cana. The trail starts in Nazareth Old City, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, and goes through the Market, where it is well marked: it leads to a flight of over 400 steps that take to a nice viewpoint from where the city can be admired.

Once there, the trail it goes through a suburb of the city to eventually lead to Zippori village and Zippori National Park, Mash’had Village and eventually to Cana. It pretty much feels like an urban hike for almost the entire way.

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The lovely view of Cana from a distance

The sights

The views around Nazareth Old City are pretty: narrow alleys with the odd cat walking by, or children playing football; back yards with lemon trees and pouring bouganvillea flowers. From the Promenade of Nazareth the view opens up to the rest of the city below.

Zippori National Park (for which there is an entrance fee) allows access to Old Zippori Village, with excavations of buildings from different time periods and which include a Roman Villa from around 200 CE and various mosaics. Eyal and I didn’t actually visit the ruins. We got lost on the way out of Nazareth (more on that below) and wanted to get to Cana before dark, so we pushed on.

My recommendation for those who are keen to visit Zippori is to leave Nazareth really early – we felt it was a pity to miss it, but we would have run really late if we visited.

Once past the National Park, the trail goes through a forest until it reaches Mash’had, a small town of around 7000 people, who are mostly Muslim. There, the main point of interest is the Central Mosque.

From Mash’had it is a shorter walk to Cana (known in Israel as Kfar Cana), the traditional site of the wedding party where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. The main attraction in Cana is the Franciscan Wedding Church, where it often happens that already married Christian couples go renew their vows.

Cana

The Franciscan Church is the main sight of Cana

Cana, a tranquil village, is also known for its pomegranates, whose seeds are pressed into a delicious juice or used in various recipes.

What to expect

The walk from Nazareth to Cana is by far not the longest of the Jesus Trail – it’s only 13.6 km. It shouldn’t even be the most difficult one, because it mostly goes through small cities and villages. Yet, for some reason, it is.

The main difficulty during the first day of the Jesus Trail is in finding the way out of the city. Once on the promenade, the signs to follow are not easily visible and the constant road works imply regular changes to the actual route.

I admit Eyal and I actually got lost after walking up all the stairs and once we got to the Promenade. After all, I am an unsuccessful backpacker, and I am starting to think Eyal is too! We took a right turn, instead of a left (which was the new route) and eventually went around in a circle and found ourselves back in the Old City, having to walk up the over 400 steps again. We had a good laugh when we realized where we were; but we laughed a little less when we went up the stairs for our second time!

The good thing is that the locals we met on the way were all really friendly – when they saw us walking with our backpacks, they asked us if we were walking the Jesus Trail and were keen to give us directions. Eventually, we bumped into a family that realized we were lost and would not be happy unless they could drive us to at least the junction to Zippori (they were going in that direction) and since we had already been trying to find our way out of Nazareth for a couple of hours, we decided to take advantage of their kind offer.

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The garbage was one of the bad sights of day 1 of the Jesus Trail

One thing that we didn’t enjoy so much on the first day of the Jesus Trail is the amount of garbage we saw on the side of the road on the suburb areas of Nazareth and as we left the city, and at times thrown right between the bushes and under the trees near Zippori National Park. I am not talking about a plastic bottle here and there. I am talking about literally heaps of garbage, which at times included forniture and even home appliances.

I don’t know who’s responsible for that – the local authorities, the national authorities, the people? Either way, it was really sad to see that a place that would be otherwise beautiful is ruined by garbage.

Where to sleep and eat in Cana

There aren’t many sleeping options in Cana. Eyal and I stayed at Cana Wedding Guest House, we slept in dorms – they have separate female and male dorms, and also double rooms. It’s a nice, clean place and the hosts are really caring. They have a small communal kitchen for guest use, and they serve an incredible home cooked dinner for the guests for an additional charge. Other than that, there aren’t many options to eat in town other than a small falafel shop.

Day 2 – from Cana to Ilaniya

On the second day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Cana to Ilanya. From the main church in Cana, right by Cana Wedding Guest House, the trail exits the village past a lovely mosque and then goes down on a dirt road with views of the Tur’an Valley and of Tur’an town and through the forest of Beit Keshet.

It then borders an army base pretty much following the road, and takes a small detour to reach the lovely and peaceful Ilanya village.

On the second day of the trail, I fell down. I was happily walking and talking to Eyal while we were bordering Beit Keshet forest, and I didn’t notice a big piece of iron coming out of the dirt road. I tripped on it and fell, badly scratching my elbow. Luckily it was just a scratch and – coming from the Jordan Trail where I had injured myself quite badly – I had all sorts of medication with me.

To find out what happened while I hiked the Jordan Trail, read my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail.”

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Catching my breath after falling on day 2 of the Jesus Trail

The sights

Once leaving Cana, the path at first goes steeply downhill through the countryside. The views of Tur’an and the valley below are very pretty. It is incredibly quiet and peaceful, with nobody in sight. Once at the bottom, it becomes more gentle, with lovely hills and the Beit Keshet forest providing lots of shade.

The ending point of the second day of the Jesus Trail is usually the village of Ilaniya, a tiny community of no more than 500 people founded originally in 1899 with the name of Sejera. It was one of the earliest model farms founded by the Jewish Colonization Association during the First Aliyah – the first wave of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Ilaniya was briefly home to David Ben Gurion, famous Zionist who later became the first prime minister of Israel.

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Solitary walking on the second day of the Jesus Trail

What to expect

The walk from Cana to Ilaniya is around 11 km, and mostly downhill. Getting out of Cana is easy, but once in the countryside it’s not so easy to actually follow the trail as in some parts the signs are missing. Do keep an eye out for them. In any case, Tur’an can always be seen in the distance so it is virtually impossible to get lost.

The good news is that once at the bottom of the hill, the forest offers a lot of shade, hence being a nice break from the strong sun.

Other than in Cana, there are no shops and no water fountains along the trail so buy snacks, lunch and water before you start hiking.

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Crossing beautiful green fields during the Jesus Trail

Where to sleep and eat in Ilaniya

Eyal and I spent the night at Yarok Oz Ecolodge and Organic Goat Farm. It’s a family run business where they grow organic fruit and vegetables and they have a few goats and sheep that are used to produce milk and cheese. There’s even a couple of lovely cats and dogs that roam around the farm.

At Yarok Oz there are some very big huts with beds inside, which are also air conditioned, and they also have places to pitch tents. Toilets and showers are shared and there’s a super equipped common kitchen that guests can use. We didn’t bring our own food so we took advantage of the family cooked vegetarian dinner and breakfast – they were both delicious, very healthy and a real feast (so much food we were unable to actually finish hit).

Other sleeping and eating options are further along towards Lavi (which is passed on day 3 of the Jesus Trail), in Lavi Forest where there is a free campground where it is possible to pitch a tent, there are picnic tables, water and bathrooms (sometimes locked, however); and at Kibbutz Lavi Hotel.

Day 3 – from Ilaniya to Arbel

The third day of the Jesus Trail was great, despite being by far the longest. We walked from the village of Ilaniya, walking back to the main trail, all the way to Arbel. We walked on the underpass to Road 66 at the Golani Junction, then Road 77 and following the old Roman Road to pass right behind Kibbutz Lavi.

We then followed the trail to the Nebi Shu’eib and to the Horns of Hattin and eventually crossed some ancient olive groves to reach the lovely village of Moshav Arbel, where we spent the night.

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The view of the Horns of Hattin from a distance

The sights

What makes day 3 of the Jesus Trail even better than the rest is the amount of interesting sights that can be seen. Right after the Golani Junction, there’s the ruins of an old Roman Road that used to connect Acre to Tiberias.

Close to Kibbutz Lavi there’s the remains of ancient wine presses and a cemetery and holocaust memorial. Pushing further along, the Horns of Hattin can be seen from a distance. It is a double volcanic formation that resembles the horns of a bull and from where there’s a fantastic view of the entire Jesus Trail. The Battle of Hattin took place right below the Horns in 1187: the forces of the Crusader army faced the Muslim ones under Saladin.

This was one of my favorite places along the trail. Eyal and I had the site to ourselves for most of the time we spent there. We were only interrupted when a small group of teenagers walked by to also enjoy the view. We took the chance to rest under the shade of a tree, boil some coffee (Israelis never go on a hike without carrying a small stove and coffee pot) and just admire the view.

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The Horns of Hattin were one of my favorire sights throughout the Jesus Trail

Another place of interest on day 3 of the Jesus Trail is Nebi Shu’eib, a building which houses the tomb of Jethro, father in law of Moses and a prophet in the Druze tradition.

Not far from Nebi Shu’eib, there used to be the Palestinian village of Hittin. This was one of the more than 400 Arab towns and villages that were destroyed and abandoned right after the 1948 war. The remains of these villages are not immediately visible – quite often, the abandoned villages have been buried and forests were planted over the ruins.

What to expect

The walk from Ilaniya to Moshav Arbel is around 20 km, making it the longest day on the Jesus Trail. The path is a mixture of smooth uphill and downhill. The main difficulty is the long distance and the fact that for most of the trail there is little shade (there’s some at the Horns of Hattin).

The only place to get food and water is at Golani Junction, where there’s a gas station and a small shop, and at a fountain near the ancient wine presses. Other than that, there’s nothing on the trail and we hardly met a soul. So do make sure to refill water bottles and get food before getting on the actual trail.

Another difficulty is that the trail isn’t clearly marked in some places, and Eyal and I got so concentrated in our conversation that we missed a sign or two and got lost again. The good thing is that Moshav Arbel is actually visible from the hills around the Horns of Hattin, so we eventually cut through the olive groves to reach the village for the night.

Where to sleep and eat in Arbel

There are a few sleeping options in Arbel. Eyal and I stayed at Arbel Holiday Homes (Konowitz Family) and it was the best stay during our Jesus Trail. We had a whole cabin to ourself, with a cozy bedroom, a living room with a huge couch, a well equipped kitchen and a fabulous bathroom with a huge jacuzzi. Once again, however, we took advantage of the home cooking of the owners and had a scrumptious dinner and breakfast the day after.

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From Moshav Arbel ancient synagogue there’s a lovely view of Mount Arbel

Day 4 – from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee

On the fourth day of the Jesus Trail we walked from Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee. The trail actually continues to Capernaum and Mount of Beatitudes, and from it is possible to actually continue to walk around the Sea of Galilee. But by the time we made it there Eyal and I were exhausted with the heat we had accumulated from the previous days of walking, and had to catch a bus back to Tel Aviv: it was the end of Pessach break and Eyal had to go back to work the day after.

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The view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel is simply stunning

The sights and the views on the fourth day of the trail were amazing. We visited an ancient synagogue; we walked up to Mount Arbel and from there could admire the Sea of Galilee, and eventually made it all the way there (and Eyal also had a dip!).

The sights

Right outside the village of Moshav Arbel there are the ruins of an ancient synagogue which dates back to the 4th century. It’s a beautiful site, and we were lucky to have it all to ourselves – as pretty much all other sites on the rest of the trail!

From the synagogue, the view of Mount Arbel is simply spectacular. We exited the site from the other side, and from the parking lot the paved road goes steeply uphill until it reaches Arbel National Park (for which there’s a fee to pay).

The view of the Sea of Galilee and of the valley (including of the village of Wadi Hamam) from the top of Mount Arbel is breathtaking.

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Taking in the view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel

Walking from Mount Arbel down to Wadi Hamam, we passed several ancient cave fortresses – some where actually being used by cows who were taking advantage of the shade!

Right at the exit of Arbel National Park, a few trees, some bushes and a creek offer a good break from the sun. We rested for a short while and then continued on the trail, crossing several agricultural fields and eventually crossing the road 90 to get to the Sea of Galilee.

Once on the Sea of Galilee, the trail leads to several small beaches where it is possible to relax and swim. I was too tired to even just conceive the thought of swimming, but Eyal sure took advantage of it.

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The Sea of Galilee is an incredible shade of blue

What to expect

On the final day of the Jesus Trail we walked around 13 km. It’s an extra 5 km to get all the way to Mount of Beatitudes. The walk from Moshav Arbel to Arbel National Park is a short but steep uphill, and from there to Wadi Hamam a steep and somewhat difficult downhill.

There are several paths to get down from Mount Arbel to Wadi Hamam. The shortest one is the one that people afraid of heights should not take. It’s also possible to walk back to the main road and follow that to the village.

Eyal and I opted for the third option. We walked down a trail that leads all the way to the village. We had to go down an incredibly steep trail (good thing that there’s some very useful rails to hold on to) until the very narrow path got a bit easier and we could follow it all the way to the bottom where there’s a small creek and from there to the village.

Once down, the path is actually nice and flat until the Sea of Galilee. Please note that from Mount Arbel the Jesus Trail follows the path (and the signs) of the Israeli Trail until the entrance of Nakhal Amud, before Tabgha.

On the final day of the trail, we actually met more people – either tourists on Mount Arbel, or other people hiking bits of the trail, and even a family enjoying a day out at the Sea of Galilee. By this, I don’t mean that it was crowded at all. It was simply pleasant to cross path with others and exchange tips and experiences. Eyal and I walked part of the way with Tal, a truly nice guy we met coming down from Mouth Arbel.

Where to sleep and eat around Tiberias

Once down from Mount Arbel and past Wadi Hamam, the trail goes right by a village called Migdal. Right on the main trail there is a convenience store that sells snacks, drinks and meals such as schnitzel or falafel sandwiches and fries and salads.

Eyal and I didn’t spend the night in Galilee but there are plenty of accommodation options in Ginosar Village, Tabgha, Capernaum and Tiberias.

General tips for hiking the Jesus Trail

When to hike the Jesus Trail

Eyal and I hiked the Jesus Trail in mid April, right after Pessach (Passover). We had perfect, dry and sunny weather throughout. I would not recommend starting it any later than that, as it does get really hot. The temperature was around 24 degrees during the day, and we sure sweated a lot between walking and carrying a backpack.

What to pack and what to wear for the Jesus Trail

My packing and clothing tips for the Jesus Trail are meant to be applicable to any multi-day hike.

My first recommendation for those who intend to walk the Jesus is to pack as light as possible. Anything over 30 liters and more than 5 kg is going to be heavy to carry around, bound to cause back and leg pain in the long run. It is also important to make sure that the backpack fits nicely to the body, properly sitting on the hips.

My backpack was nice and small. Eyal had a bigger one as he also carried a sleeping bag and a tent (he intended to camp but ended up taking advantage of the accommodation available throughout the trail). He also carried a small camping stove, coffee and coffee cups, for which I made fun of him – except that I ended up drinking the coffee and truly enjoying it.

Jesus Trail

Comfortably dressed for the Jesus Trail in my Kuhl clothes

Essential items for the Jesus Trail are: good hiking boots with proper ankle support; a pair of hiking pants (or anyways, comfortable pants), and a pair of shorts (because the weather does get really hot). Kuhl hiking pants and shorts are very comfortable and lightweight – the top choice is the ones that have the zipper so that they can turn into shorts.

T-shirts and tank tops are a must. Kuhl has some light, colorful and comfortable ones. Summer hiking socks keep the feet comfortable and give extra padding which is a good way to obviate the pain that walking for a long time causes. I had a rain proof jacket and a light sweater too, which I only used at night. I also recommend wearing a hat to protect the head and face from the sun and heat.

As for the beauty items, I carried the basics: and toothpaste, soap and shampoo, deodorant and quite importantly so a good sunblock. I realized on the second day of the hike that my arms – to which I had forgotten to apply sunblock – were completely sunburnt!

Also make sure to take prescription medicines as needed and, more importantly so, an emergency kit – I wish I had one after my accident. This should have: disinfectant spray, sterile gauzes, medical tape, antibiotic and / or antisepctic ointment and last but by all means not least some steri-strip.

Budgeting for the Jesus Trail and other general tips

Walking the trail together with Eyal, we understood that it is completely doable without a guide – though we’d need to read maps, use a GPS, and rely on the very few locals we’d encounter for directions. It is possible to sleep in local guest houses or camping grounds and eat at local eateries or take advantage of the food cooked by the hosts of the guest houses for a small fee.

Water is free in all of Israel. Whenever there is a tap, the water is drinkable. Personally, I found the taste of it quite strong so whenever I had a chance I preferred buying bottled water.

The Jesus Trail isn’t a strenuous hike. Provided that one pays attention at the sign and properly reads the map (which Eyal and I didn’t, but that is a different story!), it’s easy to follow and can even be done alone. There aren’t many people on the trail – in fact, we didn’t meet a soul on certain days. So this certainly isn’t the kind of thing that someone who’s keen on meeting other people should do.

More information on the Jesus Trail is available on the Jesus Trail official website.

Finally, here’s a few tips on how to plan the perfect trip to Israel.

Have you hiked the Jesus Trail? What was your experience?

Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Abraham Tours throughout my Jesus Trail. They kindly provided accommodation and meals during the 4 days hike, and offered the incredibly useful Hiking The Jesus Trail book. Eyal and I hiked completely alone and all the views expressed are my own.

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Find out all the tips for hiking the Jesus Trail, Israel - via @clautavani

 

 

 

 

Why I love Eilat

Why I love Eilat

I had the lowest expectations about Eilat. To be fair, I doubted I would like it all. But I had to go anyways, as I was on my way to Jordan and it was the easiest place to cross the border without a pre-arranged visa.

To read more about my experience in Jordan, check my post “All the places to visit in Jordan for the ultimate adventure.”

Since I had to go by it anyways, I thought of staying along to see what the hype was all about. But I couldn’t help asking myself what I, lover of nature, silence and culture, currently immersed in the sophisticated Jerusalem, would be doing in a right-in-your-face resort city that has developed to the point of being nicknamed Eilat Vegas.

To find out more about Jerusalem, read my post “Traditional and alternative things to do in Jerusalem.”

Eilat Israel

So it turns out that Eilat is actually amazing

After having spent three very intense days in Eilat before entering Jordan, I can say that, despite all my pre-assumptions, I really enjoyed Eilat – to the point that I was actually sad to leave. I can finally see why Israelis rave about it, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it as a fantastic destination for a long weekend or a short holiday.

What’s so special about Eilat to make me fall in love with it? Read on to find out why I love Eilat.

Why I love Eilat

The weather is nice, year round

Eilat knows no winter, and hardly gets any rain. The average temperature in winter time is 21 degrees. It does get very hot during the summer, but then the waters of the Red Sea are a good way to escape the heat. I visited at the end of March and it was simply perfect.

Israel Eilat

I am all about pristine waters, such as those found in Eilat

There’s some really cool beaches

I am a beach expert. After all, I come from Sardinia and that says a lot about me. I enjoyed the beaches in Eilat, where they spread over 13 km of coast and give amazing views of the surrounding Edom Mountains. Some beaches are fully supervised with lifeguards, easily accessible even to family with small children, and there’s even some that cater to religiously observant people.

Three beaches have received the Blue Flag, meeting international standards of environmental management, water quality, safety and services. There even is a beach, called Dolphin Reef, that has become home to various cats (and dogs) who are nicely taken care of and hang out among tourists. To a cat lover and beach goer like me, this is a great bonus!

Israel

Crazy shark is crazy fun!

It’s water sports paradise

Most beaches in Eilat offer water sports. Diving is the most obvious options for those who enjoy observing marine life, as well as snorkeling. As it gets quite windy, kite and wind surfing are very popular in the area.

My favorite, though not a water sport proper, was the crazy shark. A speed boat pulls an inflatable mattress that seats up to 6 persons, twisting and turning. Holding on is hard work, by the end of the ride, my entire body ached. But it was possibly the most exhilarating experience of my life.

It’s a great place to observe marine life

Located right on the Red Sea, one of the most incredible places on earth for the variety of marine life, it is quite obvious that Eilat is a great place to observe marine life. Divers have an incredible choice of spots in the area.

Those who don’t dive can go to south of Coral Beach, where the Underwater Observatory is a fantastic place to learn more about marine life. There is a shark pool (the largest in the Middle East), and guides that give great insights about the local underwater life. Besides, the view from the observatory tower are stunning.

Eilat Israel

Driving a buggy in the desert is a lot of fun

It’s a stone’s throw from incredible desert adventures

I love deserts, the silence and emptiness that characterize them. I have seen many deserts – including Wadi Rum in Jordan, Atacama in Chile, and the dunes of Huacacina in Peru. Needless to say, one of the reasons to go to Eilat is to experience the Negev Desert, where it is located.

All it takes to be fully surrounded by the emptiness and silence of the desert is a short drive from the city. There, it is possible to find great hiking trails (this is where the Israeli Trail, which goes all the way up to the border with Lebanon, starts), bird watching opportunities, and it is possible to rent buggies to enjoy a bit of fun in the desert.

One of my dreams is to hike the entire Israeli Trail. After failing at hiking part of the Jordan trail, and having learned a lot from that experience, I would like to go back to Israel and give this a try!

To read more about my experience on the Jordan Trail, check my post “Why I hiked the Jordan Trail(and failed).”

Eilat Israel

The iconic arch of Timna Park

It’s near the amazing Timna Park

At about 25 km north of Eilat, Timna Park is a great archeological site where the world’s earliest copper mine is located. But there’s more than ancient mine at Timna Park: the site is also home to some beautiful geological formations, such as the Natural Arch, the Mushroom, and Solomon’s Pillar.

It is possible to hike and bike in Timna Park, but the site is actually quite spread out, and there hardly is any shade anywhere. Plan to carry lots of water and wear a hat and sunblock.

There’s lots of music festivals

Throughout the year, there’s a wide range of music festivals that take place in Eilat. Jazz festivals take place twice a year, in the winter and in the summer, at various venues in town. But there’s also the Eilat Beer Festival, with live performances by Israeli and international artists, and the Oriental Dance Festival, with more traditional middle eastern music.

It’s shopping paradise

I am hardly a shopaholic, but there are so many beautiful boutiques in Eilat that I could hardly resist the temptation to shop. The good news is that Eilat is a free port, so there’s no VAT added on prices, which makes it significantly cheaper than the rest of the country.

Eilat

A perfect salad spread

It’s packed with delicious restaurants

I hardly travel for food, but being Italian I am used to really good food, and I can be an extremely picky eater. This is to say, I know what good food is supposed to taste and look like. I tried many various restaurants while in town and the food was consistently fresh and full of flavor.

My top choices were Pastory, an Italian style restaurant that makes the most delicious fresh pasta and desserts; Colonia, which prepared delicious fresh salads and seafood; and the Fish Market, where I found a fantastic, easy going atmosphere and super tasty seafood and fish.

The nightlife is thriving

I don’t think I have ever had such refreshing, inventing, inviting, and simply beautiful to look at cocktails such as those of Fifth Avenue. This trendy cocktail bar and restaurant is an absolute must when in Eilat! There’s also a bunch of easy going pubs that play live music. Three Monkey is very popular in town, but I wouldn’t pass on Paddy’s either.

Eilat hotels

I enjoyed this gorgeous sunset from my room at King Solomon hotel in Eilat

There are some fabulous accommodation options 

Such a popular destination as Eilat is packed with great accommodation options. I stayed at King Solomon Hotel and enjoyed a very spacious and comfortable room, with a fabulous view over the city (and the sunset was spectacular). The breakfast buffet was outstanding.

Although most options in town tend to be expensive, there are a few hostels which are more budget friendly, such as Arava Hostel, and even a camping site.

Here’s a post that will explain how to make the most of a trip to Israel.

Have you ever been to Eilat? What was your favorite thing to do there?

Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with The Tourism Board of Eilat, of whom I was a guest. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.