Famous Archaeological Sites in Israel
Israel’s history dates back thousands of years and, all across the land, are magnificent and moving historical sites, giving visitors a taste of life in the Holy Land from across the centuries. Whether Roman, Byzatine, Crusader or Ottoman, ancient artifacts, structures and holy sites are in great supply and tours in Israel are easy to book and an ideal way to get the most out of your time here. Even better, in such a small country, you’re never never far from famous archaeological sites, whether you’re in the north or south, near a city or far from the crowds. So, region by region, let’s take a look at what historical sites this country offers:
Cardo, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
- Temple Mount - holy both to Jews and Muslims, as the site where Abraham offered his son to God and Mohammed flew above the city top en route to Mecca, this is a must-see tour to Jerusalem. Visitors can access this walled compound via the Old City’s Mughrabi Gate - better with a guided Temple Mount tour and view all kinds of ancient structures, save for the Dome of the Rock (which is open only to Muslims).
- Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnels - the Western Wall (‘Kotel’) is the last remaining wall of the Second Temple and, therefore, incredibly sacred to Jews. Equally magnificent are the tunnels that run 488 meters beneath it, complete with vaulted arches, long corridors, and an aqueduct. Not to be missed!
- Davidson Archaeological Park - Located next to the Western Wall, here you can find structures from the First and Second Temple, Byzantine and Crusader era. Visitors can walk a street that was trodden by thousands of Jerusalemites, from 2000 years ago, as well as watch presentations at the adjacent museum.
- City of David - older than the Old City itself (circa the Early Bronze Age) this site is full of surprises, including underground tunnels, the pool of Siloam, the Gihon spring, and walls dating back to 8 BCE. Old Jerusalem at its finest, this is a wonderful and famous archaeological tour and highly recommended.
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre - site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, this is the holiest of sites for Christians but a fascinating and moving site for any tourist. With its spectacular interior and enormous wooden doors, this is a place that every visitor - whatever their faith - to Jerusalem must see.
- Cardo - the north-south thoroughfare of Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem. Today you can see the fragment of the excavated Cardo in the Old City - solid columns, beautifully decorated capitals, as well as the flagstones that paved the main street.
Tower of David Museum. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
- Tsipori National Park - located just outside of Nazareth, Tsipori (meaning ‘Bird’ in Hebrew) offers visitors the chance to view the remains of a Roman theatre, cobblestone streets, mosaic floors, a ritual bath, and synagogue from Byzantine days. A gem of a tour in Galilee.
- Beit Shean National Park - On the edge of the Jordan river, this often overlooked site boasts magnificent ruins from the old Roman city, stroll down the reconstructed Cardo, explore a bathhouse, central monument, and truncated bridge and, after sunset, enjoy a fabulous audiovisual presentation.
- Tel Megiddo - Once one of the most important cities in Canaan, today you can find a city gate and palace, temple area, and the “Aegean tomb'' which dates back to Late Bronze/Early Iron Age. White mustard flowers and marjoram herbs grow here too!
- Beit Shearim - nestled in the Lower Galilee, this ancient site is home to a basilica, olive press, a ‘number of Coffins Cave’, and hiking trails. Known for its famous rabbi Yehuda Ha Nasi, it was also once the seat of the Jewish High Court (the ‘Sanhedrin’).
- Capernaum - one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Christians, visit the synagogue where Jesus preached sermons and the Church and House of Peter, with a glass floor through which to peer. Any tour of Galilee is not complete without a visit here.
Capernaum, Corinthian capital with Menorah. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
- Beit Guvrin - Dating back to the First Temple period, this site boasts Roman mosaics and an amphitheater, as well as a Byzantine church. It also is home to some fantastic underground caves, some of which are linked by underground tunnels.
- Herodion Park - this marvelous complex is home to the famous King’s summer palace, as well as a labyrinth of underground caves. Built as a fortress, on a historical tour you can find an ancient synagogue, a Jewish ritual bath, and the stones of a mausoleum that may have belonged to Herod himself (though archaeologists aren’t quite sure!)
- Tel Gezer National Park - Situated halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, this city dates back 3000 years and excavated finds include monumental stones and the ‘Gezer Calendar’ (an inscription on a limestone tablet, probably written in the age of Solomon).
- Tel Jericho - just north of Jericho and the Dead Sea, the Sultan’s Hill, as it is known, holds a huge tower and remains of the world’s oldest city. You can also drink water from the spring nearby and gaze at Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land, before his death.
- Tel Lachish - Located in the Judean Hills, this ancient, fortified city has a rich past and is an ideal tour for anyone interested in Biblical archaeology. Excavations there have uncovered a palace, two Canaanite temples, and an Assyrian ramp and the panoramic views of the desert are tremendous.
Beit Guvrin Caves. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
The Coastal Plain
- Caesarea National Park - This Herodian city was once a major port and is a “must visit” - it boasts frescoes, sculptures, a Hippodrome, and beautifully preserved mosaic floors. It also contains a magnificent Roman amphitheater, which hosts musical performances by famous Israeli artists, every summer.
- Acre Crusader City - a tour of Acre is something no visitor to Israel should miss. With its preserved city walls, mosques, citadels, baths, underground tunnels, and views of the Mediterranean, no wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tip: Don’t miss the Knights’ Halls of the Hospitaller Fortress, after lunch at a fish restaurant on the harbor.
- Apollonia-Arsuf National Park - Situated on a cliff, overlooking the Mediterranean, this settlement was founded by the Persians in the 5th-6th century. Stroll around the remains of a Roman villa and Crusader castle, and soak up the past, even though Tel Aviv is just 15 km away!
- Carmel Caves - Just south of Haifa lie these impressive caves, evidence of life in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic Ages. Walk trails - ‘Prehistoric Man’, botanical and geological - then watch a video presentation. Finally, enjoy spectacular views of the Carmel coastal plain at this World Heritage site.
- Tel Dor - once a Canaanite city and, in Hellenistic times, an impressive fortress, this is another hidden gem to explore on the Carmel coastline. A perfect spot to drink in the wide-open spaces and savor the uninterrupted views of the Mediterranean.
Apollonia National Park. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
The Dead Sea and Southern Israel
- Masada National Park - Perched on a steep hill, overlooking the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea, this ancient fortification is a highlight in any tour of Israel. Transport yourself back thousands of years, as you explore the remains of a Herodian palace, storehouse, bathhouse, mosaic floors, and enjoy panoramic views for miles on end. By far and away a must-visit attraction.
- Ashkelon National Park - this site’s treasures include a wall dating back to the 12th century, a Roman basilica, rampart, and ancient wells. Moreover, you can enjoy natural sand dunes and a beautiful beach (with excellent bathing) at the same time!
- Mamshit - explore the remains of a Nabatean city here, including a city gate, ancient tower, churches, houses, and even a bathhouse. Mamshit overlooks the beautiful Negev hills. Fun fact: ‘mamshit’ is the name of a drink made from milk, honey, and dates.
- Ein Avdat National Park - above the Tsin stream in the Negev lies this impressive site. Avdat, an ancient Nabatean city, boasts a Byzantine bathhouse, a Roman burial cave, and two churches. The views of the desert are quite spectacular.
- Qumran National Park - at the foot of the Judean desert, Qumran is home to ancient buildings that point to a distinctly communal living style, as well as an aqueduct, pottery workshop, and stables! Tip: look out for the ritual purification pools, close to the dining area.
Ashkelon National Park. Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin
The Golan Heights
- Gamla - this fortified city is often referred to as the Masada of the Golan! Situated on a high ridge, crossing two gorges, Jewish rebels once bravely fought Roman soldiers here. (Fun fact: Gamla got its name from ‘camel’ since the hill on which it sits is shaped like that very animal!)
- Nimrod Fortress - dating back to the Middle Ages, and located at the foot of Mount Hermon, this is the largest Crusader castle in Israel. With its steep cliffs, and at 760 meters high, it’s perfect for hiking and exploring, as well as enjoying picturesque sunsets with views all the way to Syria!
- Katzrin - just 13 km from the Sea of Galilee step back in time and explore this ancient village, complete with the synagogue and excavated houses (inside which you can view agricultural tools and others). Transport yourself to Byzantine times in this veritable time capsule!
- Tel Dan - nestled in the Hula Valley and close to the Jordan River, this site contains Bronze Age ramparts, tombs, and an intact mud-brick gate. They are all evidence that, historically, ‘Dan’ was a religious center for the Kingdom of Israel.
- Banias - At the foot of Mount Hermon lies Banias (‘Panias’ in Arabic), historically an important Christian center. Excavations after 1967 have uncovered the remains of a sanctuary complex dedicated to the god Pan. The surrounding area, with cliffs and springs, is also perfect for a nature walk
Ruins of Ancient Buildings in the National Park of Gamla. Photo credit: © Shutterstock