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.
Jaffa is a must see during a trip to Israel
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.
I was glad to hike Mount Arbel during my trip to Israel
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.
Jerusalem is the ultimate place to visit during a trip to Israel
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).
It’s nice to visit the Masada during a trip to Israel
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!
Visiting markets is one of the things to do during a trip to Israel
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.
Not many people that travel to Israel visit Be’er Sheva, but the Old City is nice
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.”
Tel Aviv is a must during a trip to Israel
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 is the ultimate place to visit during a trip to Israel
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.”
Those who travel to Israel realize how multi-cultural the country is
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.
Visiting Hebron, in the West Bank, is an interesting addition to a trip to Israel
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.
Ein Gedi reserve is a nice day trip 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:
Volunteering at a cat shelter is a nice thing to do during a trip to Israel
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 is a fantastic addition to a trip to 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 doesn’t get many visitors at all. For a good local feel, add it to a trip to Israel
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.
Baha’i Gardens, in Haifa, are a must when on an extended trip to Israel
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 is a lovely place to visit in Israel
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.
A lot of people that travel to Israel visit Galilee: this is a view from Mount Arbel
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.
I was glad to hike Mount Arbel during my trip to Israel
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.
Not many people visit Moshav Arbel ancient synagogue during a trip to Israel
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?
Pin It For Later
I have been to Israel 3 times in a year (and 4 times to Jerusalem overall), and I intend to go back again and again. I went pretty much anywhere: from North to South; from cities to nature. I got lost in the narrow alleys and in the nature when I hiked the Jesus Trail.
My love for this country must be somewhat contagious: so enthusiastically I talk about it that a few friends have approached me to announce they have finally booked their flights, and will be going there soon. I have even put together a proper guide for a trip to Israel for them.
A city I love visiting every time I am in Israel is Jerusalem. Mind you, it wasn’t love at first sight. At first it left me interested: I could see its beauty, but we didn’t click; I wasn’t completely charmed by it. It took me a second and third visit to get to appreciate it first, and then fall in love with it.
Discovering Jerusalem a bit at a time
Jerusalem is the kind of city that I am never quite done exploring. I guess my friend Yana, the lovely guide behind Authentic Jerusalem Tours, was right when she said that.
What I love about it is that there is always so much to discover – famous and less famous attractions; historical landmarks and hidden that are completely off the tourist radar. Different cultures meet and mix in Jerusalem – at times painfully, but typically peacefully. It is this mix of cultures that keeps it so interesting to me, I suppose.
The things to do in Jerusalem are endless. And while I have my favorite places that I always go back to, each time I go I end up in some new, pretty place: a coffee shop I didn’t know existed; a small, quirky square.
In January, I visited Jerusalem again. I spent little more than 48 hours in Jerusalem this time, but since i know the city well already, I went to all my favorite places – attractions, restaurants and coffee shops, and even my favorite hotel in town. I finally visited some of the most iconic attractions in the city – it was about time I did so. And I took the time to wander around, and ended up in some really cute squares away from all the chaos and crowds.
Exploring the historical landmarks
A city like Jerusalem is packed with attractions, and it would be impossible to visit them all (and actually enjoy them) in just one go. Picking what to see isn’t easy, in a city that has so much history and culture. That’s why I am always a bit surprised when I hear people say that they intend to go there on just a day trip from Tel Aviv.
To each their own, I guess. But if anybody asks for my opinion, I will say not to do it that way. Jerusalem is simply too special to be dismissed in just a day. It took me four visits to explore the most famous attractions, and even then I yearn to go back and see more.
Here are some of the places I visited on my fourth trip to Jerusalem. Some I had never seen before, and one I had, but I felt compelled to return to.
Temple Mount may well be the most iconic place to visit in Jerusalem. It’s the classic image one thinks of whenever hearing the word Jerusalem; the one shown by the media whenever they speak of the city. Yet, I only made it there on the very last day of my fourth visit.
Mind you – I had seen Temple Mount from a distance, and from all possible angles, many times. I first caught a glimpse of it as I walked down from Dung Gate. I then realized it was right behind me when I walked the narrow alleys of the Old City. And I admired the most amazing sunset over the Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives.
This time I actually made the effort to go and stand in line to finally get in and properly explore it.
Though there are 11 gates scattered across the Old City that all lead to Temple Mount, tourists and non-Muslims can only enter through the Moroccan gate (Mughrabi Gate) located close to Dung Gate and near the Western Wall Plaza.
Tourists can access Temple Mount between 7:30 and 10:30 am, and between 12:30 and 1:30 pm. The line can be a bit overwhelming, but it actually moves quite fast. Needless to say, it is worth the wait. I recommend planning an early morning visit, simply because there’s more time to explore inside – the complex is actually huge.
Needless to say, Temple Mount is an impressive sight. The atmosphere inside, despite the presence of tourists (which I never perceived as overwhelming) is peaceful and silent. I could see a few people praying; others quietly chatting. The views of the Old City from it are splendid.
The City of David
I had visited the City of David on my first trip to Jerusalem, when I also walked Hezekiah’s tunnels, built by King Hezekiah in the 8th century to protect the city’s main water source from the Assyrian invasion.
The City of David is thought to be the original urban core of Jerusalem. The site is constantly being excavated, as new finds are regularly brought to the surface, bringing testimony of the way of life, the religious beliefs and the culture of the people that lived in the area.
I wanted to visit the City of David again as I had heard of the launch of the new light show, and since I was there I took the opportunity to go on another guided tour, which offered a completely new perspective – if anything because I visited during sunset (the view of East Jerusalem from the City of David is simply stunning) and then in the dark.
My night time tour also went through the water channels, of which I had a rather realistic “view.” Indeed, after the first few minutes of the visit the lights that normally illuminate the tunnels went off, and my guide and I were completely left in the dark – we could not find any torch though we rummaged through our bags. It made the experience all the more interesting, and I have to say I was truly impressed with the guide skills – she truly proved to know the place as the palm of her hand, guiding me in the dark in each and every step!
The City of David Light Show started immediately after my tour. It is a fantastic, interactive way to learn about the history of Jerusalem, with a movie actually projected on the site – right in the places where the history unfolded.
The film, which is projected on two different parts of the City of David (first on the walls, then on the actual ruins), tells the story of how Jerusalem was destroyed more than 2500 years ago, and then rebuilt thanks to the efforts of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah, who won the support of the king of Persia.
The show lasts around one hour and 15 minutes, and currently runs in Hebrew, with headphones in various other languages. As it is in the open, it can get quite cold – so being dressed appropriately is a must. It costs 65 Israeli Shekels (which is around $19 USD, or €15) to view the show.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I had actually seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the outside, before. This time, I made the effort of going inside. I was raised Catholic, and though I am now a professed atheist I still find the history and the culture behind religions to be very interesting. So I decided to finally go inside.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the place where it is said Jesus had been crucified and later on buried – though he resurrected and his tomb is empty. As it is easy to imagine, the church is crowded with tourists but it still makes for an interesting visit.
It’s also the place where the last four stations of the Via Dolorosa, which representes the final episodes of Jesus’ Passion, are located.
Staying in my comfort zone
It happens in every place I visit multiple times: I have my own favorite spot in Tulum, Yucatan; I always eat in the same place in Leon, Nicaragua. Just as well, I have my own favorite places in Jerusalem. They are the ones I head to the minute I arrive; the ones where I feel comfortable exploring and the ones that I find photographically stimulating.
The Old City Bazar
I love markets. The Old City Bazar of Jerusalem remains one of my favorite places in the city, one I visit each time I am there. I love the narrow alleys, that offer some incredible photo opportunities. There are some beautiful sights, and the market is like a window to a great part of the Jerusalemite culture.
The Suq is a maze of small shops that sell anything from leather goods (though triple check the quality of the products); ceramics; spices and all sorts of other souvenirs. They also have some of the best hummus places in town, and a few good traditional coffee places.
Abu Shukri Hummus
Speaking of hummus in the Old City, an absolute must that I always make a point to visit is Abu Shukri. This is a really tiny, plain hummus place, with no more than 4 tables and just a few things on the menu – hummus, foul, falafel and traditional salads, all served with warm pita bread. Prices are more than fair (a novelty in Israel!) and needless to say the hummus is delicious.
Outside the Old City, Mahane Yehuda is a market I love going to, especially on a Friday morning when it buzzes with life and it is packed with people doing some last minute shopping before Shabbat starts. I love the noise, the colors and the flavours of Mahane Yehuda.
There’s plenty of fruits and vegetable stands, as well as places that sell all the delicious baked goods – baklava, rugelach, and much more. I also love the dried fruits stands, the tea stands, and typically make a stop at the Beer Bazar, to have a taste of a good Israeli craft beer. It’s just a place I like going for a bit of comfort food, especially on a chilly day.
Speaking of comfort, this time I decided to sleep at Inbal Hotel, the hotel I stayed at during my first trip to Jerusalem. It was a great decision, and I was glad to have a bit more time to fully enjoy all its amenties, including the amazing on site restaurants and the wine cellar.
Now that I have mentioned food, I have just remembered the breakfast spread at Inbal is almost ridiculous: there is an incredible choice of quality food – from fruits and salads, to breads and other baked goods; cheese, fish and freshly squeezed juice, as well as a variety of coffees.
What I love about Inbal is that it is right between the Old City and the more modern side of Jerusalem, near the Parliament and the German Colony and in an area that is safe, trendy, quiet and well connected.
Inbal, which opened 35 years ago, is an institution among Jerusalem hotels. It is currently going through some major works, to renovate the lobby and public areas, and to add two new floors, with the idea of having more luxury rooms, all offering lovely views of the city and with a larger and newer design. All works will be done by summer 2018.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Sharon, the marketing manager of Inbal, and to ask him the reason for all the renovation works. He explained that demand for rooms in Jerusalem keeps increasing (it’s easy to see why), with more and more people visiting each year. There’s always some conference, some event – even the Giro d’Italia biking competition is going to start in Jerusalem in summer 2018!
The hotel intends to position itself in the “warm luxury” market, and I can see that happening. Each and every detail is taken care here: the look of the hotel in the furnishing and colors; the background music that sofly plays in the common areas; and even the fresh fragrance that can be smelled throughout the establishment.
Rooms are incredibly cozy. Each have a large, comfortable; an espresso machine – and I do like my coffee first thing in the morning! The toiletries are top notch quality, made by a local brand called Sabon. I love the idea of keeping even the small things local.
As a sports junkie, I finally got the chance to take advantage of the fitness centre. I have traveled the world, but I typically stay out of hotel pools because they are frustratingly small for avid swimmers like me. Anything smaller than 20 meters is not worth me getting my feet wet. Inbal has an incredible 25 meters pool, attached to a state of the art fitness centre. I was extremely pleased to be able to train there!
Discovering new (old) places
The beauty of going back to a place I already know quite well is that I know my way around quite well, and I am thus comfortable taking a little side street as opposed to walking on the main one. This always leads me to discover hidden gems, quiet corners that are really just steps away from all the chaos and life. I love that.
The following are some of the hidden corners I discovered during my last trip to Jerusalem.
Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street
This actually is a less than hidden street. In fact, it is an open mall not far from Mamilla and on the way to the busy Yaffo street. I had just never been there – or perhaps I had, but never paid real attention to how pretty it is, and how quiet it is compared to the busy Yaffo street.
Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street is lined with lovely small shops, selling all kind of stuff. They are all small local businesses, where the owner also makes the stuff s/he is selling. It’s a quite artistry part of Jerusalem, in a neighborhood called Nachalat Shiva and which is one of the first that grew outside the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s also a couple of interesting bars and coffee shop.
Speaking of interesting coffee shops, right on Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street there Tmol Shilshom. To be fair, this isn’t so much of an hidden gem – it is mentioned even on the Lonely Planet. I just didn’t know of it, until my friend Ben, who lives in Jerusalem, took me there to have tea.
Tmol Shilshom is a lovely place, and a real institution in Jerusalem. It is the kind of place where one immediately feels the cozy, welcoming, and literary atmosphere – there’s bookshelves filled with books, vintage furniture, and regular exhibitions and book presentations.
The coffee shop is located on the second floor of a really old building, and while the windows face the main street, the entrance is actually at the back, in a tiny alley.
Haim Alboher Alley
I was on my way to Mahane Yehuda when I noticed a tiny alley and I decided that, since I had enough time to wander around, I could walk there and see where it took me. That’s how I ended up in a lovely small square, literally steps away from all the shops, traffic and noise of Yaffo, called Haim Alboher Alley.
There were just a few people in the square – some young guys who looked like students; a girl that was intently reading a book; an elderly man. And, as in any proper square in Jerusalem, there were cats – at door steps, on the trees, and just playing around.
I’d dare say, this was a quintessential Jerusalemite scene, one that however only those who linger a little longer in the city are able to enjoy.
Have you ever been to Jerusalem? What are your favorite places in the city?
For more things to do in Jerusalem, head over to my post “Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem.”
Pint It For Later
I had been warned: “You go to Jerusalem to pray; you go to Tel Aviv to party.” That’s what my friends told me – those who had been to Israel on business or on holidays; and even the many Israeli friends I had made throughout my travels.
The general consensus among all – Israelis and foreigners – was that Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but that it sends a distant, almost cold vibe.
To be fair, I felt exactly the same way after my first visit to Jerusalem. The people seemed a bit unfriendly – or maybe I just wasn’t understanding them. I am sure that religious people can appreciate Jerusalem even at a first glance. The city exudes holiness – after all, it is one of the most sacred cities in the world, for the 3 biggest monotheistic religions.
Is Jerusalem all about prayers?
Trouble is I am not religious at all (though I have always been interested in the history and culture that are connected to religions). During my first visit, I found Jerusalem to be a great city; I realized there were many things to do there, many beautiful sights. But I just did not get it, so much so that after 3 days there I just wanted to leave.
To read more about what Jerusalem has to offer, check my post “Traditional And Alternative Things To Do in Jerusalem.”
I was immensely relieved when I got to Tel Aviv. It was buzzing with life. Everyone was smiling, everyone seemed friendly, everyone was out and about, having a good time. And what it lacked in history and traditions, Tel Aviv made up for with a down to earth charme, an incredible range of fun things to do, and an altogether great vibe.
To find out what to do in Tel Aviv, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”
It looked like my friends were right after all – Jerusalem was a city for culture and prayers, and Tel Aviv was the go-to place for fun. I fell in love with Tel Aviv.
A typical scene in Jerusalem: young soldiers casually wait for the metro
Jerusalem take two (and three)
It took me two more trips to Jerusalem to finally get it, and to fully appreciate it. I could find plenty of reasons to visit Israel, but I was reluctant to go back to Jerusalem, to be honest. I got such a cold vibe from it during my first time there that I really didn’t care to see more of it. But I had been invited to talk at a bloggers’ conference, and thought that I may as well give it a second chance.
It was when I finally gave Jerusalem a bit more time to go beyond the main tourist attractions and places of interest, when I started walking the narrow streets off the tourist tracks aimlessly, when I didn’t set myself a schedule but just went with the flow that I discovered a different side of it and I could finally connect with it.
On a Thursday night, finally done with the conference, I met Yoav, one of my many Israeli friends. He came all the way from Tel Aviv, where he lives. We had not met in over a year, and were on a quest to have a good time, though we weren’t too sure where to start from.
Street life around Mahane Yehuda
All the roads lead to Mahane Yehuda
After dinner at one of the trendiest fusion restaurants in Jerusalem, Yoav suggested we headed to Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s famous market. I had no idea what we’d do in a place that during the day sells bread, fruits and vegetables, but he promised we’d find a place to hang out.
He was right. Mahane Yehuda looked completely different from what I had seen. The blinds of the many shops were down, revealing interesting street art. Tables, chairs and stools were out to accommodate the multitude of trendy people waiting to have a drink or a quick bite. Cats waited patiently next to the tables, hoping someone would drop some food at them. Music blasted throughout the alleys. It was festive.
Enjoying a drink at Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
Pushing through the crowds, we went to the Beer Bazar and grabbed a sampler tray of beer. People around us were deep in conversation – some talked about politics, some talked about life. Yoav and I talked about traveling: after all that’s how we met. In the midst of it, it occurred to me that what I was doing that night in Jerusalem was no more, no less than what I’d do on a night out back home: have dinner, go for a drink, enjoy the buzz and talk to friends. Come to think of it, it was no different from the nights out I’d had in Tel Aviv and for which I loved Tel Aviv.
The following morning, I headed back to Mahane Yehuda Market to buy some food for dinner. It was crowded, but it was a different crowd from the night before. People were busy shopping for the Shabbat dinner. It felt like there was a competition for the louder vendor, each and every one calling on customers to try the freshest fruits, the crunchiest nuts, the most fragrant coffee.
The younger crowds were still sitting at the bars – the same one that I had seen on Thursday night, enjoying a beer to properly kick off Shabbat. Every now and then a street musician would blast his loud music and passers-by would gather around to listen. It was chaos, but it was a lot of fun to observe. How come I had not noticed that the other times I had been at Mahane Yehuda?
A game of cards in Jerusalem
All it takes is hummus and coffee
Getting the vibes of the city, I continued my ramblings and went on to explore the narrow alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem. I found a multitude of trendy vintage shops, lovely eateries and coffee shops. A bunch of elderly men were playing backgammon. A group of young soldiers was passing around a bowl of hummus. That made me hungry, so I sat at a nearby table and ordered some hummus and pita myself.
Then I went on to have the coffee whose smell kept coming my way throughout lunch. It was a thick, hot and fragrant infusion of coffee and cardamom. As I sipped my coffee, I found myself thinking that the Jerusalem I had come to know in the last few days was so different from the city I had explored months before. It was warmer, friendlier and altogether more human.
As I kept on walking, I couldn’t help being attracted by the every day life of this city, that looked so different from what the one I had come to know. A group of women stood outside a bakery. They were making so much noise, laughing so loudly, that I could not help stare at them to try to understand what the fun was about. I smiled at them as I walked by. That’s when they stopped me and offered me a piece of the delicious, moist orange and almond cake they had just bought.
I never found out what they were laughing about, but it is just as well. They were happy, and seeing them so happy made me happy too.
Jerusalem is wholly lovable
In the following days, I continued exploring the city, walking around aimlessly. I came across modern art galleries – whatever had happened to all the prayers and traditions that defined Jerusalem? I ate at the trendiest restaurants in the city, amidst art shops and beautiful boutiques. I enjoyed live music and a drink with friends old and new.
The minute I relaxed and leaned back, Jerusalem reached out to get me. It grabbed me tight and won’t let go of me. This is the Jerusalem I want to go back to.
Here’s a more detailed Jerusalem travel guide. And here’s my full guide of Israel.
Before visiting, I used to think that pretty much all the things to do in Jerusalem would relate to its ancient history, with its being one of the holiest cities in the world and the meeting point of the three most important monotheistic religions. I had just returned from India, where I visited Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities, and I was curious to explore another city with such a strong religious significance.
However, after visiting I can say that there isn’t just one Jerusalem, there’s many Jerusalems. The city has a lot to offer not only to the most traditional tourists – the ones who take guided group tours and who invariably enjoy the most famous places to visit in Jerusalem; but also to a younger crowd looking for more alternative, innovative and off the grid Jerusalem tourist attractions.
There are more things to do in Jerusalem than what one would ever imagine
There’s no doubt that the most popular Jerusalem tourist attractions are the iconic ones that are regularly photographed, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall. But Jerusalem is a city in a constant turmoil – and no, I am not referring to the security concerns that are generally raised when talking about Israel. Indeed, I actually found it very safe to visit.
One of the things I enjoyed the most in Jerusalem was walking around aimlessly
When I talk of the turmoil that characterizes Jerusalem, I am referring to the fact that the city is constantly changing, and it is way more modern than one may think, in a quirky, unique way. There is a whole range of fun things to do in Jerusalem that make it a top tourist destination from all points of view.
After all, this is a city where the market where the oldest generations shop during the day has become a hipsters meeting point at night, packed with small restaurants and pubs. It is a city where old meets new, and a little bit more. New, interesting ways have found to enjoy the most famous places to visit in Jerusalem.
Three generations all in one place: there are things to do in Jerusalem for all of them!
My visit to Jerusalem came as a bit of a surprise. I had been wanting to visit for a long time, so many are the places to visit in Jerusalem that I was keen to explore, but I had not planned to go in 2016. However, I must admit that of the places I said I’d visit in 2016, I actually went to a fraction and ended up in wholly different places. Interestingly, one of them is a place that has one of the largest Jewish communities of Africa: Djerba, in Tunisia.
To read more about Djerba, go to my post “Ten reasons to visit Djerba, Tunisia.”
I was lucky enough to experience both sides of Jerusalem – the most traditional one, and the more modern, younger one – in the very short time I spent there. Needless to say, I didn’t get to visit all of Jerusalem tourist attractions – I think a month there would not be enough to quench my curiosity for this interesting, unique, complicated and beautiful city.
Walking around is the best way to discover all of Jerusalem tourist attractions
This means two things. Firstly, of all the things to do in Jerusalem, I only managed to do a fraction. Secondly, and consequently, I need to go back – and I plan to do so as soon as possible, so that I get to see the rest of the places to visit in Jerusalem.
Meantime, here’s my selection of the places to visit in Jerusalem and of the traditional and the most alternative and fun things to do in Jerusalem.
A selection of the places to visit in Jerusalem and of the things to do in Jerusalem
Things to do in Jerusalem and places to visit in Jerusalem for the most traditional travelers
I believe there is no point at all in visiting a destination and then miss all the things it is famous for. Call me a tourist, think of me as mainstream, and even say I am an unsuccessful backpacker, but there is no way I would go to Jerusalem and avoid all the most famous places to visit in Jerusalem. So, here’s my pick on the things to do in Jerusalem for the most traditional travelers. Sure enough, I took a guided full day city tour of Jerusalem which I had booked in advance, so that I could make the most of my time there.
These are some of the best tours of historical Jerusalem:
The City Walls are among the places to visit in Jerusalem
Walk along the City Walls
Of the most well known Jerusalem tourist attractions, walking along the walls is one of the top things to do in Jerusalem and I truly liked it. The Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Ramparts Walk is a 1 km jaunt that goes on top of the city wall and it is a good way to get a breathtaking view of both the Old City, with all the incredible places to visit in Jerusalem, and the new one. Not only that: walking along the Ramparts Walk gives a proper idea of how small the city really used to be in the past.
Walking along the City Walls is one of the things to do in Jerusalem – especially to enjoy some stunning views
Explore the tunnels of the City of David
I find that one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem is walking along the tunnels of the City of David. This is the path that in ancient times would lead to the hidden springs where kings were coronated. The tunnels were dug around 700 BC to channel water from the Gihon Spring, under orders of King Hezekiah. The idea was that of securing a source of water to the city even when it was under siege.
In order to access the tunnels, which is one of the most fascinating Jerusalem tourist attractions, it is recommended to carry a change of clothes (there are changing rooms and lockers) and wear shorts and sandals, as the water in the tunnels can be up to 80 cm deep. The walk along Hezekiah’s Tunnel lasts about 30 minutes, and it is totally in the dark (save for the flashlights). To me, this is one of the most interesting and unique places to visit in Jerusalem. What I really appreciated is the idea of how advanced the engineering work was at the time in which the city was built.
Dung Gate is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Visit the Dung Gate and the Jaffa Gate
According to legend, the area around Dung Gate was once the garbage dump of the city – hence the name. Of all the city gates – which are some of the most popular Jerusalem tourist attractions – this one is the smallest, although it was widened by the Jordanians during their tenure of the city, so that cars could drive through. Seeing the Dung Gate was one of the things to do in Jerusalem that I really enjoyed.
Another of the places to visit in Jerusalem is Jaffa Gate, where the breach in the wall though which everyone passes now was actually made in 1898 – the original one is on the side and it is much much smaller.
One of the new things to do in Jerusalem – which yet has a connection to the most traditional Jerusalem tourist attractions – is taking the tourist train which has recently been activated between Dung Gate and Jaffa Gate. It is a short but nice ride.
Even non-religious people will feel like placing a prayer on the wailing wall: it is one of the things to do in Jerusalem
Place a prayer on the Wailing Wall
There simply is no going to Jerusalem without visiting what may well be the most iconic of all the places to visit in Jerusalem. Even non-religious persons like I am can still feel very moved at the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall): seeing so many people concentrated in their prayers, feeling spiritually closer to God, was for me a unique and touching experience.
The most iconic of Jerusalem tourist attractions was built around 2000 years ago as an outer wall to support Temple Mount, when the temple was destroyed in AD 70, Jews were forced to leave and the exact location of the temple was lost. When they got back, they avoided the Temple Mount for fear of accidentally stepping on the Holy of Holies – the ancient inner sanctum of the temple which was accessible only to high priests. So, they began praying at the outer wall.
The Wailing Wall is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem: this is the men’s side. I could only peep in from a distance
The Wailing Wall became a place of pilgrimage during the Ottoman Empire: Jews would go there to mourn and lament their ancient loss. That’s where the name Wailing Wall actually comes from. Nowadays, one of the things to do in Jerusalem is visiting the Wailing Wall (there is a men and a women section, and modest clothing is required to access), write a prayer in a small piece of paper and fold it, then place it in the cracks of the wall.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher remains one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Compared to the rest of Jerusalem tourist attractions, which are visible from a distance, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher can almost be overlooked if one doesn’t know it is there. Yet, visiting it is one of the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is considered to be the biblical Calvary – the place where it is said Jesus was nailed to the cross, then died and rose from the dead. It is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, and if looking for a place of Christian religious significance in the city, visiting it is what to do in Jerusalem.
Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Walk around Temple Mount
If there is one among the places to visit in Jerusalem that shall not be missed, that is Temple Mount – at the centre of a recent controversy due to the fact that UNESCO ruled that Temple Mount has nothing to do with Judaism. The Jewish identified in the rock protruding from Mt Moriah the foundation stone of the world. According to the Talmud it was here that God gathered the earth used to form Adam, and later on the Biblical figures (Adam, Cain, Abel and Noah) performed ritual sacrifices here.
All in all, visiting Temple Mount gives a nice break from the noise and chaos outside. It is an astonishing complex where the most prominent sights are the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and visiting is definitely one of the top things to do in Jerusalem. Nowadays, Al Aqsa Mosque stands on what once was the marketplace on the edge of Temple Mount. It is a mismatch of various restorations taken across time, with columns donated by Benito Mussolini too.
Visiting the Dome of the Rock is what to do in Jerusalem if in search of an iconic attraction. This is the symbol of Jerusalem, and one of the most photographed buildings in the world. As the name explains, the Dome of the Rock covers the stone that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, in the place where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son and Prophet Mohammed launched himself to take place next to Allah.
The interior of the Dome of the Rock is generally only accessible to Muslims and so most visitors will have to make do with admiring the outside. Nevertheless, visiting the Dome of the Rock is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem.
Visiting Yad Vashem is one of the unmissable things to do in Jerusalem
Remember the atrocities of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem
Visiting the Yad Vashem Museum may well be the most important among the things to do in Jerusalem, to be reminded of the effects of the Holocaust – one of the many genocides that happened in the past. As a former human rights lawyer, I did not want to miss on this. It is a strong, touching experience, but nevertheless an unmissable one.
The funky architecture of the Israel Museum is a work of art itself, making it one of the places to visit in Jerusalem
Visit the Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is one of the most important Jerusalem tourist attractions. I found it to be an incredibly interesting structure from the architectural point of view – both inside and outside. But, most importantly so, the collection is simply incredible and what makes it one of the unmissable places to visit in Jerusalem is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. These (there’s 800 of them) were found in 1947 and in 1956 in eleven caves in the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea, and date to around AD 132 – 35.
When I visited the Israel Museum, I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Adolfo Roitman, who is the Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of the Shrine of the Books. It was an incredible experience to have him explain the significance of the Scrolls. I appreciate that not everyone will have the curator of the museum as a guide, yet visiting the Israel Museum remains one of the best things to do in Jerusalem.
Visiting Mount of Olives is one of the things to do in Jerusalem – this is a view of Temple Mount
Get a spectacular view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
One of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is going on a tour of the Mount of Olives. Not only does this have a great historical and religious significance, but the view of the city from it is simply spectacular. Mount of Olives is the world’s oldest continually used cemetery, and the area is packed with churches and gardens that are nice to visit.
Ein Kerem is so pretty and relaxed, it is one of the nicest places to visit in Jerusalem
Walk around Ein Kerem
One of my favorite places to visit in Jerusalem is Ein Kerem. This is a lovely village of Arab-built stone houses and beautiful Lebanese cedars and pine trees, which is hidden in a valley right outside the city. There’s various churches to visit in Ein Kerem, my favorite is that of St John the Baptist.
The Church of St. John the Baptist is one of Jerusalem tourist – photo courtesy of Tal Pitel
However, what I enjoyed the most in Ein Kerem was the laid back atmosphere: I actually think that one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is spending a good day or two in Ein Kerem to just soak in its vibe.
Exploring Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
Shop at Mahane Yehuda Market…
I have a slight obsession with markets. It pretty much means that I have to visit the local market in every single city or village I visit. And I don’t mean a tourist market (well, I like those too and they are incredible places to shop for souvenirs). I actually like the real thing, the places where the locals go shop for their groceries. Sure enough, one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is visiting the Mahane Yehuda Market.
Looking at some delicious fresh produce at Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the things to do in Jerusalem
What makes Mahane Yehuda Market one of the unmissable places to visit in Jerusalem is the fabulous, colorful array of produce on sale: from the freshest fruits and vegetables, to the freshly baked bread; from the mix of dried fruits and nuts to the hundreds of teas and infusions; it is simply impossible to resist the temptation to shop here.
… and then look for souvenirs
Even though I prefer regular market to tourist markets, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy looking around for souvenirs. Sure enough, one of the things to do in Jerusalem is exploring the small shops at the market and – even better – observe the locals.
Shopping at the Old City Suq is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
Eat at a fabulous restaurant…
There is no such thing as going hungry in Jerusalem. Good food is available pretty much anywhere in the city and the restaurant scene is thriving. There are a lot of vegan restaurants in Jerusalem too. There is no doubt that one of the things to do in Jerusalem is enjoying local food (hummus, anyone?) and have one or more fantastic meals. I have had the pleasure to try the Machneyuda, the best restaurant in the city, and surely one of the top ones in the world: the use of excellent seasonal local ingredients cooked to perfection by the chef, the cozy and easygoing atmosphere make it a top choice in Jerusalem.
Eat! That’s one of the best things to do in Jerusalem
If eating is what to do in Jerusalem, I was surely not disappointed by some other fantastic places to eat: the Modern, which is the restaurant adjoint to the Israeli Museum; Adom, located at the First Station (Jerusalem old railway station) and Anna, an Italian style restaurant that has recently opened and that has already become one of the top ones in the city.
… and enjoy a good cup of coffee afterwards
I am a coffee addict, and even more so I am a coffee snob. Don’t think of me as the typical Italian who would only drink espresso, though. Save for instant coffee, I enjoy pretty much any kind of coffee: French press, American filter, espresso, Italian coffee pot, Costa Rican sock coffee… you name it. As long as the quality is good and there’s no sugar involved, I am in. Needless to say, I did not pass on coffee in Jerusalem. In fact, I think that having coffee in one of the traditional coffee shops is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem.
Coffee is a real ritual and one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is to enjoy it at a lovely coffee shop
Coffee here is more a ritual than a drink: it is brewed slowly, cardamom and other spices are boiled with it, and it is served piping hot and accompanied with traditional sweets such as baklava – which is packed with honey, butter and different kinds of nuts and is totally yummy. Having coffee is definitely what to do in Jerusalem to have a break from all the sightseeing!
Things to do in Jerusalem and places to visit in Jerusalem for the youngest and most alternative travelers
One of the things I enjoy the most when I travel is getting lost. I do get lost because I start wandering, deep in my thoughts, taking pictures of the interesting life around me. That’s how I end up discovering many interesting places – with less tourists, more locals, and with incredible sights. Sure enough, one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is getting lost in its narrow alleys and get a bit off the beaten path. That is how I came across some of the most unique things to see in Jerusalem.
Discovering hidden corners such as this is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
The good news is that there are a lot of places to visit in Jerusalem that are great, and fun and alternative ways to discover the city and that make the experience all the more enjoyable to younger generations – as well as older ones, because really: who says that only younger people enjoy a little bit of fun and games?
Explore Jerusalem by segway
It took me a few tries to be able to stand and move on a segway, but once I got the hang of it, I truly enjoyed this way of exploring various Jerusalem tourist attractions. I started off at Jaffa Gate, then zipped along King David Street, passed the YMCA and other beautiful buildings. I then made my way through the picturesque neighborhoods of Mishkenot Sah’ananim and Yemin Moshe and finally arrived to the viewpoint of Moshe Montefiore Windmill, from where I enjoyed a breathtaking view of the city. Doing a segway tour is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
Once I learned how to use it, doing a segway tour was one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem
Participate in a Scavenger Hunt
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the Scavenger Hunt. All I can say is that it was one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem among those I tried. It was a nice way to discover more about the history of the city, to explore some of the places to visit in Jerusalem and to find some of its hidden gems. Too bad my team did not win the hunt, but we surely had a great time.
Doing a scavenger hunt is a fun way to discover hidden places to visit in Jerusalem
Discover the art scene of Jerusalem
Along with the most well known Jerusalem tourist attractions, there is a whole range of things to discover – in particular, Jerusalem has an incredibly vibrant art scene, with entire buildings that were once abandoned and that are now used as art galleries and to create art. It is just an interesting way to discover another side of the city, and one of the things to do in Jerusalem that a younger, artsy crowd may truly enjoy.
Jerusalem tourist attractions include some very interesting art installations
Enjoy the Mahane Yehuda Market by night, and discover its street art.
A proper shopping market during the day, Mahane Yehuda becomes the ultimate place to hang out in Jerusalem at night. Not only that: hidden in the shutters of the stalls, there are more than 150 paintings of historical and contemporary figures, which make Mahane Yeduda a proper, open air art gallery. I truly believe that one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is enjoying its night life at Mahane Yehuda. There even is an organized pub crawl of Jerusalem: can it get any better than that?
Enjoying a drink at Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
This is packed with small street food places where it is possible to taste some local specialties, as well as lovely restaurants; there are lots of bars and pubs and, more importantly, the atmosphere is incredibly friendly and laid-back. It is a good place to see and be seen. One of the coolest places to visit in Jerusalem at night.
Do a guided food tour
I love food tours. I think they are an incredible way to get to know the culture of a place much more in depth – there’s so much of what we are and of our ways of life in the way we eat, and in what we eat. Besides, during a food tour one walks around a city and enjoys some good sightseeing. That is why I think that doing a food tour is one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem. Sure enough I didn’t want to miss out, so I went on a food tour of Jerusalem.
These are some of the best food tours of Jerusalem:
Starving? One of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is a self guided food tour
In Jerusalem food tours have been taken to the next level. Through the app Bite Mojo it is possible to book a self guided food tour, that can be completely tailored to one’s needs (which is super convenient to a picky eater like me!) and rhythm. It is a super fun way to do a food tour for technology savvy people. Besides, all the food I tried on my tour was delicious. If eating is what do to in Jerusalem, a self guided food tour is how to do it.
Pet all the cats
I love cats, and I automatically love all cities where I get to befriend them. Jerusalem is packed with cats that roam around freely, and I could not help but notice them. They were in the streets, near homes, by archeological sites, at the market… One of the things to do in Jerusalem that I enjoyed the most is petting the cats. In fact, I would even dare suggest the development of a whole tourism theme around them, similarly to what other cities (Rome and Istanbul are just two of them) have done already.
Mike Huxley got it right: befriending the local kitties is one of the cutest things to do in Jerusalem
Other fun things to do in Jerusalem
One of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem is to actually get out of the city. The following are some of the best day trips to take from Jerusalem:
Doing a tour of the Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea is one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem. The Masada is a gorgeous archeological site that is at about one hour drive from the city. There is a cable car going to the top, but I walked all the way up to the top of the hill (and even then, I was still below sea level) to watch the sunrise – it took me about 1 hour to walk up, and perhaps 45 minutes to walk back down.
Doing a sunrise tour of the Masada is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem
Wearing comfortable hiking shoes is important: the hike isn’t too hard, but the terrain is hard (lots of stones) so not a place to go around in flip flops.
A day trip to visit the Masada is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
The Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, is a gorgeous fortress, which became famous for having resisted during an incredible long siege. It was built between 103 and 76 BC and fell into the hands of Herod the Great in 43 BC. The view of the Dead Sea at sunrise from the top is simply spectacular – and I recommend doing this tour as one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
Enjoying a beautiful sunrise from the Masada – one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem
The view from up there is simply stunning – I surely recommend not missing on this one.
The view of the Dead Sea at sunrise, from the Masada: one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem is participating in a day tour there!
Among the things to do in Jerusalem, there’s taking a day tour to Ein Gedi
After descending from the Masada, the tour continues to the beautiful natural reserve of the Ein Gedi, which is home to beautiful waterfalls and some beautiful wildlife.
Covering myself in mud from the Dead Sea – one of the iconic things to do in Jerusalem – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg, of The Crowded Planet
The tour finishes with a visit the Dead Sea, and that is where the fun begins. As soon as I got there, I changed into my bikini to walk down to the sea and simply float on it – the water is so salty that it is impossible to actually swim there, and in any case it is recommended not to put the head in the water as it hurts! I also covered myself in mud, as it is said to be very good for the skin. All I can say, is that going to the Dead Sea is one of the most fun things to do in Jerusalem.
Margherita and I posing for the iconic “floating with a magazine” picture in the Dead Sea – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg
If taking a tour outside of the city is one of the best things to do in Jerusalem, I also wholeheartedly recommend to learn more about Palestine, by doing a guided tour of the West Bank, even better, by taking a dual narrative tour of Hebron.
Read more about Hebron on my post “Why I took a Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron.”
One of the best things to do in Jerusalem is taking a dual narrative tour of Hebron
Where to stay in Jerusalem
A major tourist destination such as Jerusalem is packed with good accommodation options for all budgets and all tastes.
One of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem is staying at a fabulous hotel such as the Inbal, which is located at walking distance from either modern Jerusalem and to most of Jerusalem tourist attractions. Inbal has spacious and cozy rooms, a fabulous 25 meters swimming pool and a gym, an executive lounge and a restaurant. The breakfast buffet is out of this world – I don’t think I have ever had a better breakfast in a hotel.
Staying at Mamilla is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Jerusalem
If staying in a boutique hotel is one of the things to do in Jerusalem, nothing beats Mamilla for that. This state of the art hotel has fabulous interiors. Rooms are stylish, with a fantastic bathroom where the glass turns opaque with just a switch. Have I mentioned the incredible breakfast?
Outside the city, in the lovely neighborhood of Ein Kerem, there’s the fabulous Alegra Boutique Hotel. This is located in a beautiful building that dates back to 1850, and staying there is what to do in Jerusalem if needing some special pamper treatment.
Ein Kerem is one of the places to visit in Jerusalem – and one of the nicest areas to stay
Last but not least, those that are traveling on a tighter budget can count on a fantastic hostel, the Abraham, which is located in the city centre and close to all the coolest places to visit in Jerusalem. The Abraham has both private rooms and dorms, which are all impeccably clean. There is a bar, guests can use the kitchen and there are plenty of common areas. More than anything else, the Abraham offers a really good, easygoing vibe which makes anybody feel welcome and at home.
These are the best places to stay in Jerusalem:
Alegra Boutique Hotel
How to get to Jerusalem
The closes airport to Jerusalem is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, which is at about 60 km (roughly a one hour drive) to Jerusalem. Israel airport security isn’t exactly a piece of cake, but once out there are various buses departing daily from Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Jerusalem, and although these work quite well during the week, counting on public transportation during the Shabbat (from Friday afternoon) is not one of the things to do in Jerusalem.
To find out more about Tel Aviv, read my post “Twenty things to do in Tel Aviv.”
Needless to say, there are many more things to do in Jerusalem, and many more places to visit in Jerusalem than the ones I have mentioned. In fact, as I have said before, there isn’t just one Jerusalem, but there is many Jerusalems: there’s the religious, orthodox one that looks down upon anybody who is not a believer; there is the modern, welcoming Jerusalem of the younger generations that strives to keep up with the latest trends.
I feel that in my time there I have barely scratched the surface and another visit is due soon, because I want to at least try to unveil some of the mysteries of this incredibly beautiful, yet enigmatic city.
Finally, find out how to make the most of a trip to Israel.
Legal Disclaimer: This article is written in partnership with the TBEX, the Tourism Authority of Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Development Authority as part of the #ilovejerusalem and #tbexjlm campaigns. 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.
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