Israel is a complex, intriguing, and significant state to visit no matter your background. The region draws travelers worldwide who come out of interest, religious pilgrimage, or to simply have a luxurious vacation. From desert to sea, Israel is anything but boring. Those who visit gain a deeper understanding of life in one of the world’s most complicated places, and are sure to have an experience of a lifetime.
Adventure travelers will feel a thrill exploring Israel’s vast range of natural features, history buffs will get their fix among ancient ruins, foodies must try hummus flavored ice cream, and religious travelers will find deeper meaning.
No matter the type of visitor you are, here are the fifteen best places to visit in Israel when you go:
One of the most historically important cities in the world, Jerusalem is home to the Old City, packed with religious sites like the Western Wall, the Church of Holy Sepulchre – where Jesus is thought to have risen from the dead, and Dome of the Rock. Also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center and the citadel of Tower of David. It’s a sacred city where Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all hold strong roots.
When not venturing through the Old City, head to the more modern area and sit at Ben Yehuda, one of the best spots for people watching. After sunset, go bar hopping and sample the local fare. Beware of visiting on the weekend, when religious ceremonies are likely to take place and restrict tourist movement.
2. Tel Aviv
With beaches, architecture, and historical sites, Tel Aviv is a well-rounded glimpse of Israel where many visitors opt to spend most of their time. Sharpen your bargaining skills at the Camel market in the city center, go wild with the nightlife venues, and explore the alleyways in the neighborhood of Old Jaffa.
The neighborhood of Miraflores is prime for shopping (especially diamonds) and trying the trendiest bars and restaurants. Also check out the Beit Hatfutsot Jewish histoy museum, Yarkon Park, and the ornate architecture of the city’s mosques and synagogues.
Don’t be fooled by the name of the Red Sea, located in Eilat, is one of the world’s best destinations for snorkeling and diving. Expect to see carpets of coral reef and schools of fish. For those who want to stay dry, head to the Underwater Observatory or one of Eilat’s pristine beaches set to the backdrop of granite hills.
When you get your land legs back, head to Timna Valley, the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, and the Aqaba Archaelogical Museum.
On the western side of the Sea of Galilee is Tiberias, one of the Judaism’s four holy cities and a popular vacation spot for Israelis and foreigners alike. Here, you can enjoy nearby hot springs, the Korazim National Park hosting an ancient synagogue, and a light show every evening that takes place on Tiberias promenade.
Tiberias is also the main touch point for Lake Kineret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, where visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, kayaking, and windsurfing on the state’s largest lake.
The Negev Desert spans as far as the eye can see, taking up over half of Israel’s landmass. Venture here for a magical sunrise or sunset to watch the tan sand shift from different hues of red to pink to yellow. Join an ATV tour, make some furry friends at the Negev Camel Ranch, and geology buffs will love the sandstone pillars of Timna Park.
Adventure travelers will get a thrill from walking around the Ramon Crater and through the valley of Ein Avdat. If you want to hike through the crater and up to Ramon’s tooth, plan on bringing a jug of water to combat the scorching heat. For those who prefer an expedition that includes air conditioning, hire a driver and travel through Negev with a 4×4 SUV.
Venture to the high altitudes of Safed, also known as Tsfat, where you’ll be in a sacred site atop Israel’s highest city. One of the four holy cities in Israel, Safed is home to a variety of colorful synagogues, mystics, and artists – who all feature their work at local galleries.
If you want to dive deeper into Jewish mysticism, head to the Tzfat Kabbalah Center to learn more about sages, artwork, and finding spiritual meaning in life.
A lively beach town loved by tourists and locals alike, Ashdod is a modern area with a variety of spas, shops, and parks. Don’t miss seeing Ashdod Yam Park, the fortress at Metzuda Beach, and take a dip at Gil Beach. As a creative touch, Ashdod also hosts “The Eye of the Sun,” a quirky giant sculpture that is illuminated by colorful lights every night (though many visitors claim it just looks like a crashed flying saucer).
8. Nimrod Fortress National Park
The Nimrod Fortress National Park has the ruins of a medieval Muslim fortress that tells a history of the Muslim rulers and their clash with Christian crusaders. It is the biggest castle in Israel, and has been a stronghold since the 13th century.
Walk through the fortress and discover dilapidated staircases once leading to a high tower, the outline of a labyrinth of hallways, watchtowers, and prepare to be met with incredible views.
9. Beit She’an
Beit She’an is one of Israel’s most beloved ancient city, that played an important role throughout history due to its strategic location. Today, it’s a mix of modern buildings and ancient ruins where travelers can visit its National Park and wander through the Crusader fortress of Kohav HaYarden.
Haifa is a modern city in northern Israel that is renowned for its diverse population prolific tech industry and community of young businessmen and women. Come here as a base for Mount Carmel and to admire the manicured Bahai Gardens and Golden Dome temple.
Take a walk down Yefe Nof street, the best viewpoint overlooking the city, and grab lunch at Dado Beach. Cultural buffs will also enjoy wandering through Haifa’s many museums, parks, and sports centers.
11. Old City of Akko
Acre, or Akko, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its preservation of medieval Crusader buildings intertwined with old Muslim architecture. Its baths, citadel, mosques, are well preserved and can be seen and learned about via a guided tour.
Visitors can spend days exploring the Enchanted Garden, the Hospitaller Fortress, the Al Basha Turkish Bath, the Templars’ Tunnel, visiting the Souk market and hundreds of other interesting sites. There are a variety of old inns that are interesting to walk through to see the grounds they would have stayed in dating back to the Crusader Period.
12. Garden of Gethsemene
At the foot of Mount of Olives near Jerusalem is the Garden of Gethsemane, known for being the site where Jesus prayed with his disciples and ascended into heaven. Whether you’re on a pilgrimage of sorts or simply a visitor interested in seeing a beautiful site of olive trees with an undeniable significance, this is a must-see stop while in Israel. If you go, arrive early to beat the crowds and to see the olive trees in soft lighting.
13. Bat Yam
Take a break from the heat of the desert and head to Bat Yam, an uncrowded town known for its pristine beach with interesting sculptures near the sand. Adventure enthusiasts will love Bat Yam as a base for surfing, windsufing, and paragliding. Spend time walking along the boardwalk and promenade, then head inland to the town’s museums for contemporary art and the Havayedda science center.
Overlooking the Dead Sea is Masada, a rust-colored mountain with a foreboding fortress balancing on top, built by King Herod the Great. Legend claims that during a siege of Masada, Jewish rebels commited mass-suicide by choosing to throw themselves off of the bordering cliff rather than be captured by Roman forces. Though exact details are questionable, Masada is a cultural, architectural, and natural must-see attraction while in Israel.
The best time to visit Masada is at sunrise, when it’s likely to be less busy and for great views of the desert below.
15. The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea, or the Salt Sea, is the lowest point in the world. Slather yourself in the dark mud and spend a day floating in the salty sea, over eight times saltier than the ocean. Floating in the sea makes you float as though you’ve put on a life preserver vest and is a feeling you won’t be able to get anywhere else in the world.
The combination of mud, salt, and heat is thought to purify the body and exfoliate the skin – an experience not offered at your everyday spa.