Israel and its people have given the world numerous treasures of wisdom, literature, and art throughout the centuries. With its multicultural atmosphere steeped in history, the country provides a truly rewarding vacation experience for Jewish and non-Jewish visitors alike.
Here are brief descriptions of a few of Israel’s most beloved destinations:
A holy city to three major world religions, Jerusalem is also a major tourist destination because of its wealth of historical and archaeological sites. It is often called “Jerusalem of Gold” for the many buildings within its gates constructed of golden Jerusalem stone or topped with glittering roofs and domes. Visitors to this famed city will see stunning vistas of hills and valleys, ancient houses of worship, and vibrant contemporary venues for enjoying the arts, entertainment, shopping, and dining.
The Old City houses the Western Wall, a remnant of the Holy Temple where Jews of all denominations go to pray. This section of Jerusalem is also home to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock, which is sacred to the Muslim faith. Tourists can stroll along the Cardo, which was paved in Roman times as the city’s colonnaded main street, and shop at the stalls of numerous vendor selling art and gift items. The Tower of David rises near the Jaffa Gate at the city’s highest point.
- Tel Aviv
Listed by many travel and style publications as one of the world’s most exciting cities, Tel Aviv is relatively young by Israeli standards. Founded in 1909 by Jews hoping to escape the bustle and crowding of Jaffa, Tel Aviv contains an area known as the “White City,” named after the many white-stone modernist and Bauhaus-style buildings constructed there during the first half of the 20th century. The beauty of its architectural landscape earned the White City designation as a World Heritage Site.
Stretching along the Mediterranean coast, Tel Aviv boasts white-sand beaches, a variety of nightlife entertainment establishments, and the European-influenced sophistication of shopping venues such as Dizengoff Street, which showcases a wide range of local and international designer brands. As the commercial and cultural capital of Israel, Tel Aviv is bursting with the creativity of its residents, who express themselves through design, music, technology, the performing arts, and other areas.
Visitors to Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum can view a breathtaking collection of rare ancient artifacts and Jewish folk crafts. Another tourist draw is the Safari Park zoo, whose African animals roam freely over more than 200 acres of land. Nearby Ramat Gan National Park, which houses a variety of animals, playgrounds, and an artificial lake, is an ideal family destination.
- The Dead Sea
Most visitors to Israel are eager for the experience of floating on the salt waters of the Dead Sea, which gets its buoyancy from its high salinity level. In addition to the water, the mineral-rich soil and mud of the area have attracted people interested in these items’ health-giving and skin-healing properties. In fact, a number of luxury hotels and resorts have grown up around the Dead Sea. The water is at its densest at Ein Gedi, which is among the world’s most stunningly beautiful places, drawing international tourists to its combination of desert, lushly green canyons, and well-tended botanical gardens.
Set atop a steep-sided, plateaued mountain to the west of the Dead Sea, the fortress of Masada is one of the most-visited locations in the country. Masada was constructed during the Roman occupation in about the year 30 B.C.E. At the time of the Judean revolt against Rome, in 66 C.E., a group of Jewish fighters regained control of the fortress and used it as a safe haven for Jews fleeing after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. But in 73 C.E., the Tenth Legion marched against Masada with Roman weapons of war, such as catapults and battering rams.
The Jews withstood the siege as long as they could, but when it became obvious that they would all be taken captive or slaughtered, their leaders made the agonizing decision that they and their families would take their own lives rather than endure Roman slavery. This noble, tragic decision earned the fighters renown throughout the ages, and the remains of their fortress complex today stand as a symbol of courage and faith.
Located in the mountainous Galilee region in northern Israel, Safed is an ancient town filled with mystical and religious significance. It rises some 3,000 feet above sea level, and visitors can see stunning views of the Golan and the Sea of Galilee from its heights. Some legends say that Noah’s son and grandson established the town. Other sources put its founding at about 70 C.E. In either case, it has for thousands of years been home to a variety of Jewish mystics, scholars, rabbis, and students. Along with Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Hebron, it is one of Israel’s four holiest cities.
Tourists here can drink in Safed’s many distinctive art galleries, kabbalistic literature and jewelry shops, and charming winding streets, as well as its deeply religious and meditative atmosphere. If Jerusalem is the City of Gold and Tel Aviv is the White City, then Safed is definitely the “Blue City.” The rich blue tones of many of its doors symbolize heaven above and blend perfectly with the cool mountain air to add another dimension of calm and beauty.