Israel Itineraries

There are several suggested itineraries for your stay in Israel, depending on whether you prefer to travel independently or with an Israel tour package.  As independent travelers, you could hire a car, or use public transport to get around. Maybe mix in a few day tours to get to difficult-to-reach locations or places where you’d want a knowledgeable guide. Base yourself in Tel Aviv to explore the city and to visit places on the Mediterranean coast like Caesarea, Haifa, and Acre. Travel to Jerusalem to enjoy the sites and make side trips to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, and Masada. Then spend time in the north where you can visit Nazareth, the Golan, and places by the Sea of Galilee like Capernaum, and Tiberias. If you have more time, you could spend a couple of days in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat.

Alternatively, you can join a group package tour in Israel, where the logistics, accommodation, and transportation are organized for you. From the moment you land at Ben Gurion, you are taken care of, as you explore the country. There are several advantages to tour packages, and you can usually fit in a lot more attractions. Tour packages give you a few free days where you can discover Tel Aviv or Jerusalem independently. Depending on how much time you have in Israel, you could take a tour package that includes a short visit to Petra, Jordan.

Top 5 Water Hike Trails in Israel

Israel has many hike trails which go through streams offering some relief from the heat as you hike. These water hike trails are usually free and sign posted so that you can follow the colored lines painted on rocks to show you the route. For these hike trails wear good walking shoes or sandals that you don’t mind getting wet and a swimming costume or clothes to change after completion of the hike. You’ll have a good time following the many streams which criss-cross Israel, keeping cool and enjoying the gorgeous countryside. These wet hike routes are greatattractions for families with kids.Majrase National Park, Israel.Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityEin MaboaEin Maboa or En Fawwar spring runs through the Wadi Kelt (Prat River) riverbed carrying water from the Judean Hills near Jerusalem to the Jordan River. This is a very easy hike, in fact, there is hardly any hiking involved at all; rather the fun is in swimming in the spring pool. Each day an underground karstic cave fills up with subterranean water and only when the cave is full does it empty into a pool where the water remains for about 20 minutes before continuing on its journey.From the car park walk about 300 meters to an old British Mandate-era pumping station. Water flows out of the spring at this point into a pool which would have been part of the pumping station. After about 20 minutes the pool empties as the spring water continues on its course. In this area, you can see the remains of ancient mosaics on the ground. A few meters downstream you can see the remains of an ancient aqueduct.Prat River (Wadi Kelt). Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplashZaki TrailThis water trail follows the last part of the Meshushim Stream which flows from the Yehudiya Nature Reserve into the Sea of Galilee. The walk takes about 3 hours and much of the trail is in the water. This is not a loop trail so if arriving in one car you will have to make the walk back to your starting point after completing the route. The river is quite wide and about knee-deep with gorgeous green trees and vegetation on both sides protecting hikers from the sun. At some points along the trail there is deeper water so bring water wings if you are with children who can’t swim. If the trail is too long for you it is possible to exit the water trail at several points and follow the road back to the parking area. The Majrase is another water trail running parallel to the Zaki Trail.Yehudiah Waterfall, Israel.Photo credit:© ShutterstockNahal Amudׂׂׂ(Amud Stream)This is a challenging trail in northern Israel when taken from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean but you can also do a small section in a couple of hours. The most popular section is Nahal Amud not far from Safed. The trail goes alongside the stream with several points for jumping in along the way. This is a perennial stream that runs through a valley from Safed and empties in the Sea of Galilee but there are several points of entry including Meron where there is a parking lot and the start of a circular 4km route.Nahal Kziv (Kziv River)Together with the Monfort Trail, this is one of the most beautiful trails to follow in Israel. Meandering through the green Galilee following a perennial stream and passing by a Crusader Fortress, mountains, and a spring tunnel. There is an easy 6km circular route that requires some climbing towards the end but is suitable for all ages. Amud Stream National Park.Photo credit: © Afiw Bkreia. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityThere are other trails here that are not circular. You can enter the ancient spring tunnel (Ein Tamir) if you want but be sure to bring a flashlight. The Spring Tunnel ends in a dead-end so you have to double back to get out. This is a wonderful place to see wildflowers especially in spring (April-June).Nahal HaShofet (Shofet River)This water hike takes you through a landscape of HaZorea Forest and the greenery of the Ramat Menashe Biosphere Reserve in the Mount Carmel area. It is an easy hike suitable for the whole family and can be completed in 1-2 hours. Part of this hiking trail is fully disabled-accessible. The water flows in this stream year-round starting near Kibbutz Ein HaShofet, joining the Kishon Stream southeast of Kibbutz HaZorea. There are several routes you can take but the most popular one is a circular route.Mount Carmel, Israel. Photo credit: ©Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
By Petal Mashraki

How to Get from Jerusalem to Eilat

The great thing about traveling in Israel is that it’s a pretty small country, which means that whether you’ve got a few days or a couple of weeks at your disposal, you can still see a great deal. For many tourists, an ideal trip for them in Israel means combining relaxation with culture, beaches with mountains, sea with deserts, and the old with the new.Eilat at night, Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsWell, you don’t get much older than the city of Jerusalem and you don't get much newer than the Red Sea resort town of Eilat! Jerusalem - holy to three major world religions, a city steeped in history and spirituality, a city renowned for its golden Dome of the Rock, ancient stone walls, and tiny, narrow alleyways...a city like no other.You can get lost in Jerusalem, and we don’t mean just in the backstreets of the Old City, but lost in yourself. With its religious landmarks (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Western Wall), its endless museums (of which Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum are must-visits), and its charming neighborhoods (the German Colony, Ein Kerem, Nachlaot near the thriving Mahane Yehuda Market) Jerusalem is fascinating, charming, and sometimes a little ‘intense.’Eilat, on the other hand, is anything but overwhelming. It’s the quintessential ‘fun’ city in Israel, with its sandy beaches, warm Red Sea waters, and endless leisure activities to keep you amused. Whether you want to snorkel or dive, sun yourself on Coral Beach, pet dolphins, rent a jet ski, or even take a day trip to Petra, the ancient Nabataean city in Jordan, and just two hours drive from Eilat. And at night, you’ll never be short of places to eat, drink and make merry. Israel’s most southern city really is the perfect place to kick back after a few long days in the capital. Let’s look at the different modes of transportation from Jerusalem to Eilat, and find out which one is best for you.Incense shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel.Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplash1. How to Get from Jerusalem to Eilat by Bus from the Central Bus Station, Jaffa RoadTraveling from Jerusalem to Eilat by bus is a good option - it’s not expensive (public transport is subsidized in Israel), buses run regularly and the journey is pretty comfortable. You’ll always recognize the national bus service in Israel because their fleet has a distinctive green and white logo - they’re called Egged. The distance between Jerusalem and Eilat is 318 km (197 miles) and, without traffic, the journey takes just over four hours.There is a direct bus 444 from Jerusalem to Eilat - and it leaves from the third floor of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. There are four buses a day and the bus makes several stops en route, at which you can get out and stretch your legs, take a bathroom break and get a cup of coffee. Tickets cost 82 NIS one way (approx. 25 USD).In terms of availability, you can definitely show up and just hope for the best - either buy a ticket from the counter in the station (all representatives will speak a certain level of English) or simply pay the bus driver in cash when you board. You can also use a Rav Kav card (a green public transport card easily purchased across Israel, onto which you can load credit).However, if you want to be assured of a seat (and the route certainly does get busy just before Jewish holidays and in the summer) you can also order your ticket online, via the Egged website, or by calling customer service on +972 3 694 8888 or *2800.Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinSomething else - in case you can’t get a seat for the direct journey, it’s also reasonably convenient to take a bus from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva (Israel’s gateway city to the Negev desert) and from there change buses. It’s the same bus station, so you won’t have to make a big journey, and it’s full of cafes and bakeries, as well as shops and places to grab a falafel - arguably Israel’s favorite snack.Egged bus 470 leaves from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva at least once an hour and takes an hour and 32 minutes. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you can pick up one of many buses running south - the 397 is direct and takes approximately 3 hours 30 minutes. The cost of the journey this way may be a few shekels more, but nothing significant, and it will give you the chance to see some breathtaking scenery between Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Hills.Our tip: nearly all of the buses stop at Yotvata in the Arava desert, which is a kibbutz famous in Israel for its fabulous dairy products. There you can try one of their Italian ice creams (for those that prefer non-dairy, they also sell sorbets). They have a restaurant where you can buy lunch and also a shop, which sells olive oil and local Majool dates (a fantastic gift to take home to friends and family).Finally, if you want to break up your journey between Jerusalem and Eilat with some fun, then you can always take a bus to the Dead Sea and Masada - the 486 bus to Ein Gedi is ideal in this respect - and then continue on, a few hours later, or the following day (there are endless accommodation options in the Dead Sea, ranging from camping and kibbutz guest houses to fancy hotels on the edges of the sea itself).A Hotel Swimming Pool Area, Eilat, Israel.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsEgged Buses ScheduleThe Israeli workweek begins on Sunday and runs until Thursday (or in some cases Friday morning). In terms of reaching the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, it is located in the heart of the city, not far from the Mahane Yehuda market, on the Jaffa Road, next door to the Yitzhak Navon central railway station. It can most easily be reached by the Light Railway or different local buses. Inside the terminal are many stores and cafes, so you can begin your journey armed with water and snacks. Take the escalator up to the departure floor (clearly marked in English) and look for the electronic boards or ask a member of staff to direct you.On Fridays, the last bus from Jerusalem heading south will leave no later than 1-2 pm, since Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) arrives at dusk and does not end until 25 hours later. It’s important to note that between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening, no public buses run in Israel, which means you will not be able to travel. So if you are planning on heading south on Friday, do check the timetable carefully and - just to be on the safe side - give customer service a call to confirm your departure times.All buses to Eilat arrive at the same bus station, which is in the city’s downtown area and from there it is a short walk or taxi ride to many of the hotels and the beach. If you are traveling on the border with Jordan and then continuing to Petra you can either take a private bus or the hourly bus that runs close by (you will have to walk the last 20 minutes, which could be tough in the summer months).Jet skiing in Eilat, Israel. Photo byShalev CohenonUnsplash2. How to Get from Jerusalem to Eilat by Plane from Ben Gurion AirportIf you aren’t a fan of long car journeys, you could consider this option, although bear in mind that you will have to first travel from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport (which takes about 45 by bus or taxi). There are no direct flights from Jerusalem to Eilat. Internal flights from Ben Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv) to Ramon Airport in Eilat take just under an hour and are operated by Arkia and Israir, around every 2 hours. A flight will cost you around 350 NIS (110 USD) one way and it’s definitely recommended if you’ve just arrived in Israel after an exhausting long-haul flight. All flights from Ben Gurion airport arrive now in the new Ramon Airport, which is a 15-20 minutes drive from downtown Eilat and can be reached either by taxi (around 100 NIS / 32 USD) or public bus (4.50 NIS / 1.5 USD). 3. How to Get from Jerusalem to Eilat by TaxiThis is a costly option and if you are going to travel by taxi, we’d recommend booking one in advance (Israel’s Gett Taxi is a very popular app) or asking advice from your hotel concierge. A taxi from Jerusalem to Eilat and from Eilat to Jerusalem could run into the hundreds of dollars - as much as 1500 NIS (approximately 464 USD).Eilat coast, Israel. Photo byJosh AppelonUnsplash4.How to Get from Jerusalem to Eilat with a Private TransferWithout a doubt, the fastest and most convenient way to travel from Jerusalem to Eilat is to book a private transfer. This really is a ‘door to door service’ and gives you complete autonomy over when and where you want to be collected and dropped off. Make sure to use a trustworthy tour operator, who will be able to recommend an honest and reliable driver.The good thing about the private transfer option is that once you’ve agreed on the price quoted, and paid with your credit card, you don’t have to worry about another thing - the company will take care of every detail. And you can choose the itinerary - so if you want to break up the journey in the Dead Sea, Mitzpe Ramon or one of the kibbutzim in the Arava - where you can take tours - the choice is yours. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your tour operator either and let them know about your specific needs beforehand. Here at Bein Harim, we’re always happy to help - contact us night or day and we’ll get back to you fast, with a competitive quote.5.Petra tour & Leisure Day in EilatThis is an ideal way to combine time in Eilat with a trip to the astonishing ‘lost city’ of the Nabateans - Petra. Start your Eilat-Petra vacation with a free day on the Red Sea, snorkeling, sunning yourself, hanging out with the dolphins at the Dolphin Reef, or enjoying a movie at the IMAX theatre. The next day, join your group, cross the border early in the morning and drive down to Wadi Musa, where you’ll explore Petra. With its red-colored rocks, astounding Treasury and Monastery, and rock architecture, it’s hard to be disappointed at this contemporary Wonder of the World. On the way back to Eilat, as long as there’s time, you’ll be given a quick peek at Aqaba too.Marina in Eilat, Israel. Photo byShalev CohenonUnsplash6.How to Get from Jerusalem to Eilat with a Rental CarRenting a car in Israel is quite easy and not that expensive if you feel like making the journey and being in the driving seat yourself. Jerusalem has quite a number of rental car businesses that will be happy to help you - they include Hertz, Shlomo Sixt, Avis, Budget Eldan, and Tamar. Car rental in Israel can be as cheap as 260 NIS (80 USD) a day so if there are 2 or more of you, it’s not a particularly costly option, particularly when you consider how much freedom it gives you - you can go at your own pace and really act spontaneously.You’ll need nothing more than your international driver’s license and a credit card to start the ball rolling and, if all goes well, you should be driving away within the hour. Alternatively, shop around online beforehand because there are some really good deals to be had if you do your homework. Many cars can be reserved online beforehand with nothing more than a few clicks.It is a 4-5-hours drive from Jerusalem to Eilat, using Route 90, depending on how fast you drive, and whether you make a stop along the way). As we’ve said above, there’s plenty to see along the way - the Dead Sea (the perfect place to have a float and slather yourself in black mud, Mitzpe Ramon (with its breathtaking views of the Ramon Crater and alpaca farm for the kids, and Timna Park (a wonderful place to take a hike) are all highly recommended by us.One thing we would say is that from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat and the Red Sea, the road can be quite narrow and it does wind around for a while, so drive carefully. We’d actually recommend making this journey in the day if you haven't done it before - making it night could leave you sick or nervous (there are long stretches in the dark). Besides, if you travel in the day, you get to take in the astonishing desert scenery and watch the landscape change color as the day progresses.We hope this article gives you all of the information you need to make planning your vacation in Israel a little bit easier but should you have any questions, just reach out to us any time - we’re at +972 3 542 2000 and - so don’t hesitate to get in touch. Coral Beach, Eilat, Israel. Photo credit: © Doron Nissim. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
By Sarah Mann

How to Get from Ashdod to Jerusalem

First of all, let’s assume you’re reading this because you’re already in Israel, or planning a visit to Israel, in which case “Congratulations - you’re going to have a great trip!” This country is an incredible destination with an enormous amount packed into a small amount of land, and there’s really something for everyone - whether it’s museums and galleries, old churches, beaches, mountains, nature reserves, deserts or archaeological sites. Whether it’s your first time in Israel or you're a returning visitor, you won’t be disappointed...The Western Wall, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe fact is, however, that whether you’re here for a few days or a few weeks, you want to make the most of your time, and that involves a bit of forward planning when it comes to moving between cities. The majority of visitors to Israel really do want to take advantage of the fact that you can get from the north to the south of the country in just a few hours, and between major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa in an hour or two. So let’s give you the good news straight up - Israel has a very well-developed infrastructure in terms of public transport and highways. A great deal of investment is being put into them at the moment so whether you want to get around on the road or by the train system, you’re not going to have too many problems. In fact, your biggest problem may well be traffic, because Israelis love their cars and as quickly as highways are being expanded, more people are purchasing new vehicles!That being said, if you plan ahead and travel outside of the busiest hours (rush hours being between 7 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 6 pm) making journeys between cities won’t be too bad at all. In this particular piece, we’ll be taking a look at how to travel from Ashdod (on the Mediterranean Sea coast) to Jerusalem (up in the hills), and hopefully, when you’ve taken a glance, you’ll have a better idea of your options and can choose the one that suits you best. Let’s start exploring Israel! First of all, let’s take a quick look at both Ashdod and Jerusalem and what they have to offer the visitor.Ashdod - is Israel’s sixth-largest city, home to a large Russian community, and the largest port in the country (receiving 60% of the country’s imports). It is situated in the south of the country, on the shores of the Mediterranean, 32kms from Tel Aviv. The distance between Jerusalem and Ashdod is 64 km.Non-touristy Ashdod, Israel.Photo byOleksandr KovalonUnsplashAlthough it’s not the first city people tend to visit after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, it is where many cruise ships arrive, making a ship to shore excursion to Jerusalem ideal.Alternatively, you can spend time there visiting the old Arab Citadel/Fort, built at the end of the 7th century, the Museum of Philistine Culture and the Sand Dune Park. It’s also got fabulous beaches, where you can soak up the sun and swim in clear blue water.Jerusalem - is a city that needs no introduction. Home to three of the world’s major faiths, it brims with charm, excitement and spirituality. No visitor can fail to be moved as they walk through the narrow streets of the Old City, past the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al Aqsa Mosque, down to the Western Wall. Whether you’re a Christian pilgrim, a history student, a fan of museums or a lover of open-air markets, you’ll be enchanted by what you see and experience and come away longing for more.Now to methods of transport - well, you have plenty of options. There is plenty of information on the various ways you can travel between these two cities - whether it’s taking a bus, booking a train ticket, using a private or shared taxi, enjoying a ship-to-shore excursion or renting a car. Let’s take a look at them all, one by one, so you can choose the one that’s best for you.People praying at the Wailing Wall. Photo byOndrej BocekonUnsplash1. How to Get from Ashdod to Jerusalem by BusIsrael’s bus service is comfortable, efficient and pretty cheap (since the bus system is subsidised by the government). Even better, the bus from Ashdod to Jerusalem runs very regularly, from early in the morning (5.30 am) until late at night (11 pm), notwithstanding the Jewish sabbath (from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, when all public transport grinds to a halt).If you don’t travel in rush hour (usually between 7-9 am and 4-6 pm) the journey will likely take about 70 to 90 minutes. Bus number 448, operated by Egged, will take you there directly and it leaves every 45 minutes. A one-way ticket from Ashdod to Tel Aviv costs approximately around 20 NIS (6,5USD).You can either pay the driver as you board (in cash), buy a ticket from the counter beforehand, use one of the self-service machines, which often have different language settings) or pay by Rav Kav card. These green cards are easily purchased all over the country (in every bus and train station, small stores and the ‘Superpharm’ chain). Just purchase one for 5 NIS and then put as much credit onto it as you like. When you board the bus, press the card onto the electronic screen, as directed by the driver, and it will automatically deduct the cost of the ticket for you. (The receipt that’s printed out will also show you how much money you have left on your card). To learn more about this, go to the official Rav Kav website.Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashAshdod Central Bus StationThe Ashdod Central Bus station is located on Menachem Begin Boulevard, in the city centre, and just under 20 minutes walk to the Marina. You can see inside very easily from which platform the bus departs - there are electronic signs everywhere in Hebrew and English - or ask a member of staff. Jerusalem Central Bus StationThe Jerusalem Central Bus Station is very close to the entrance to Highway 1 (where you’ll see the famous Bridge of Chords), on the Jaffa Road, which runs through the city centre and down to the Old City walls. It’s a large and modern building and is also located next door to the new and impressive Yitzhak Navon railway station.The Jerusalem central bus station is also a central hub for buses that run everywhere else in the country - north and south. From here you can reach Haifa, the Galilee, the Jordan Valley, Beer Sheva and Eilat, which is where you’ll be heading if you’re planning on making a trip to Petra, Jordan. Religious Jews walking near Old City Walls, Jerusalem. Photo byArno SmitonUnsplash2. How to Get from Ashdod to Jerusalem by TrainTaking the train from Ashdod to Jerusalem is also a good way to make this journey - it’s comfortable and reasonably fast, although you can’t travel directly (you have to make a change). The train leaves every half an hour and the first part of the journey takes about 45 minutes. At Tel Aviv HaHaganah station, you have to change trains (the waiting time is approx. 7 minutes) then the fast train on to Jerusalem will take you about 35 minutes.Ashdod railway station is in the Ad Halom area, near the eastern part of Ashdod. There is a drinks stand and small kiosk inside, as well as self-service ticket machines and a counter at which you can buy tickets and speak to officials. Yitzhak Navon central railway station is a super modern, recently opened building in Jerusalem. And it has the honour of being the world’s deepest station too (it’s 80 metres underground). With its glass ceilings and attractive mosaics, it’s capable of transporting thousands of people a day and can also hold large numbers, in case of emergencies. Once you arrive there and travel up to ground level by elevator or escalator, you’ll find yourself directly on Jaffa Road. From there you can catch the light rail downtown - to Mahane Yehuda Market, Zion Square and the Old City or, in the other direction, Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem. There are also a number of buses that stop outside the station, which can take you to neighbourhoods such as the German Colony, Rehavia and Talpiot.Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byRoxanne DesgagnésonUnsplash3. How to Get from Ashdod to Jerusalem by Private TaxiFinding a private taxi in Israel is no problem at all. The first scenario is you hail one down in the street (in the big cities, you will see them everywhere). Either ask them to put on the meter before you begin your journey or negotiate a price beforehand, so there are no surprises when you arrive in Jerusalem. Secondly, ask your hotel concierge, who will be able to recommend a local firm, who supplies them with trustworthy and honest drivers. Thirdly, you can always book a taxi directly from your Smartphone using an App such as Gett. The cost of a private taxi from Ashdod to Jerusalem will probably be somewhere between 400 - 500 NIS (125-155 USD). It is usually to give the driver a tip at the end of the journey - between 10-15% is fine.4. How to Get from Ashdod to Jerusalem with a Private TransferPrivate transfers are easy to arrange, but we advise you to book them through a trustworthy tour operator, to ensure you will be put in touch with a reputable and honest operator. You will be given a price and if you are satisfied with it, you can pay by credit card and from then on all matters will be handled expertly by the company and you don’t have to worry about a thing.At Bein Harim Tourism Services, we are always happy to help obtain quotes for people visiting Israel who need a private taxi - please call us or send us your details on our ‘Contact Us’ form and we will get back to you promptly, with a competitive offer.A shop in Jerusalem Old City.Photo byChristian BurrionUnsplash5. Ashdod Shore ExcursionsMaking a shore excursion from Ashdod Port to Jerusalem is a great way to spend your free day since you can be at your destination quickly and have several hours to spend exploring the old and new parts of the city. With ship-to-shore excursions from Ashdod Port, as soon as you step onto dry land, you will be met by a private guide and within minutes you’ll be in a comfortable vehicle, heading off. In just over an hour, as long as the traffic doesn't hold you up, you’ll arrive in Jerusalem. Then it’s up to you - explore the tiny alleyways of the Old City, walk in the footsteps of prophets and Crusaders, visit churches such as the Holy Sepulchre and Dominus Flevit, or take a trip to the world-famous Israel Museum then grab a light bite at Jerusalem’s famous Mahane Yehuda. We give you our word that when you book with Bein Harim, we’ll have everything go to plan and promise to get you back to your ship in good time for your departure.Gethsemane Garden, Jerusalem. Photo byStacey FrancoonUnsplash6. How to Get from Ashdod to Jerusalem with a Rental CarRenting a car in Israel is an excellent way to see the country. You’re in control from start to finish - it’s all up to you. You can leave what you want, make as many stops. As you like and even change your plans at the last minute. Car rental prices in Israel are quite competitive and, besides, renting a car gives you a level of freedom no other method of transport has, and who can put a price on that?If that’s not enough to convince you, unfortunately, there is no public transport in Israel from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening (the Jewish Shabbat), so options for travelling are quite restrictive. Of course, once you rent a car, this problem is gone! Driving from Ashdod to Jerusalem, without too much traffic should take you around 55 - 75 minutes. We would warn you, however, that Jerusalem is a very tough place to find parking. There’s a lot of traffic in the centre and free parking is a great challenge. There are underground garages and parking lots all over the city, however, so you can of course bite the bullet and pay for a ticket. Alternatively, you can try and park for free in a quiet suburb and take a taxi or bus into the centre. There are several well-known rental hire companies in Israel which include Hertz, Shlomo Sixt, Eldan, Avis and Budget. On average, renting a small car may cost you between 260-300 NIS (80-94 USD) a day but if you want to shop around, you might even be able to pick up a bargain. Take a look online a couple of days before or call and speak to their representatives - Israelis really do love to help...Now start planning your trip!Chruch of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.Photo byCristina GottardionUnsplash
By Sarah Mann

Top Hikes near Jerusalem

Jerusalem is built on a plateau in the Judean Hills; this ancient city is surrounded by rocky peaks; thick forests and lush valleys. It is incredible to think of all the pilgrims, armies and travelers – Jews, Christians and Muslims that made their way to the City of Gold on foot over thousands of years.Sataf Nature Trail.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWith some of the spectacular hikes around Jerusalem, it is possible to experience, in a small way, the awe ancient travelers must have felt when making their way through the rugged hills towards Jerusalem. Today the precious landscape around Jerusalem is preserved in national parks and nature reserves. Here is a selection of just some of the trails you can follow in the Jerusalem area, although there are many more.Ein Kerem to Derech HaGefen HikeThis unique and rather off-the-beaten-track hike takes you from Ein Kerem, a quant community near Jerusalem to the well-known Derech HaGefen Café. It is a short, easy hike where you can see the Jerusalem suburbs on the horizon most of the time. The bonus of this hiking trail is that you can explore the picturesque community of Ein Kerem where stone houses are draped with ivy and bougainvillea and the quaint lanes have courtyard cafes and arts and crafts stores. Leave Ein Kerem's main street, Rechov Ein Karem where an Israel Trail marker leads down to Madregot Gan Eden (Steps of Paradise). Pass the trail market indicating Derech Sorek and continue down Emek HaTeimanim Street leaving the Israel Trail. Continue on Emek HaTeimanim which becomes a lane and then a dirt path leading into the open countryside. Hike until you see a sign to Derech Hagefen. The last part of the hike is on a road (Derech Hagefen) and passes rural dwellings with charming gardens. End the hike with a meal or drink at the Derech Hagefen Café then retrace your steps back to Ein Kerem.Ein Kerem, Jerusalem.Photo byLaura SiegalonUnsplashNahal Refa'imHike Trail in Begin ParkMost hikers head to northern Israel when they are looking for winter hikes, but the best winter hike near Jerusalem is to Nahal Refaim which only flows in the winter. This hike is especially good after a few days of rain when the river is at its fullest. The hiking trail to the river banks and back again is about 2km altogether with quite a steep climb on the way back. The hike starts in Begin Park, less than a half-hour from Jerusalem. Follow the red trail markers through forests and over rocky areas. The trail crosses a road and continues on the Israel Trail taking you down a steep hill. Then cross another road and join the trail marked by green markers. At that point, the trail meets the wide, rapidly-flowing river flanked by eucalyptus trees, wildflowers, and other vegetation. If you want to extend the hike, then continue following the green markers or you could opt to retrace your steps.Givat HaTurmusim Hike through Wild FlowersHikers visiting the Holy Land often imagine they will only find desert hikes in Israel but on this stunning hike route just outside Jerusalem, you'll be awe-struck by the spectacular show of bright purple-blue "turmusim" or wild lupine flowers. You can see the flower-filled meadows in full bloom in February and March but the rest of the year you will still find yourself surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The brilliantly colored flowers stand out against a backdrop of dark green hills. Givat HaTurmusim (Lupine Hill) can be explored on a 6km circular route or you can simply scale the hill.Wild lupine flowers,Givat HaTurmusim, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockShvil HaMayanot Hike TrailOn this 3km hike trail, you'll need to double-back and return to the starting point along the same route. The hike starts about 15 minutes from Jerusalem city center close to Ein Hendek on the road between Ein Keram and Moshav Even Sapir and meanders through the western slopes of the Judean Hills. Shvil HaMayanot (Trail of Springs) takes you along a chain of five natural spring pools. You'll also encounter tunnels; woodlands; olive groves and ancient ruins. At some of the springs you can see how ancient inhabitants channeled the spring water into stone-constructed pools; some of which have been restored. The route ends near the Yad Kennedy memorial. It's possible to do this hike year-round but it is best from December to April. If you want to stretch out this hike to make it longer take a detour to Handak Spring which is a tunnel spring carved into the stone and dry in the summer. If you have a flashlight you can walk into the spring tunnel.Sataf Nature TrailSataf is a site where ancient agricultural techniques, specifically terraced farming have been recreated alongside two picturesque springs – Bikura Spring and Sataf Spring. The original agricultural terraces were built 4500 years ago. Sataf is about 14km from Jerusalem and the hiking trail can be accessed from the Sataf parking lot. The hike can be done year-round and has various amenities such as a café, toilets, and picnic trails. Within the Sataf grounds are two hike trail options – the 1.5km-long Blue Trail that takes a circular route and the 2km-long Green Trail which passes the two springs. There are other longer routes including the 8.5km Red Trail which is considered one of the best in the Jerusalem area.
By Petal Mashraki

The Israel National Trail

Criss-crossing the entire land of Israel, and stretching just over 1000 kilometres (around 630 miles), the Israel National Trail (‘Shvil Israel’) is the kind of experience every hiker will remember for years after. National Geographic have listed it as one of the world’s “most epic” trails and when you hike it you’ll understand marries mountains with desert, coastal plains with green fields, snow-capped hills with warm waters in the Red Sea, Roman and Crusader ruins with Arab/Druze villages...basically, it’s a taste of everything the land of Israel encompasses.Rare OpportunityIt also offers the hiker something else too - a chance to understand more about the Biblical significance of the land as well as the opportunity to meet Israelis from every walk of life...not just those whose villages and towns you’ll pass through, but those who will aid you practically, as you continue on your journey. (But more of that later.)The trail itself is easily marked in colorful stripes - blue white and orange - and is the brainchild of Avraham Tamir and Ori Dvir, who love hiking and nature. Inaugurated back in 1995, first and foremost its aim is to give hikers the chance to experience Israel in its most natural settings. What’s also great about the National Israel Trail is that you don’t have to complete the entire stretch. If you're not an expert hiker, or you only have a few days to spare, that’s fine - you can focus on one particular part of it or even take day trips. But for any ardent hiker, between 4-6 weeks will need to be set aside in order to complete the entire stretch.Trail AngelsOn a practical level, strong boots, snacks, and a hardy water bottle are all must-haves, particularly for when you’re in remote areas of the trail. The SPNI (Society for the Protection of Nature) sells high-class topographical maps, in English, with an emphasis on the hiking trails - they are an invaluable resource!There’s also more good news - all along the route, you’ll be able to call upon the services of “Trail Angels”. These wonderful people provide hikers with a place to shower/sleep, kitchen facilities, and quite often dinner, or at the very least a coffee and a chat, in their homes. Getting to meet locals in their natural habitat? It doesn’t get much more authentic than this! Some Trail Angels also partake in a water-burying scheme (in the desert areas) which really comes in handy when you’re halfway through your day and parched.It’s up to you whether you want to work your way up or down the country, but since trekking in Israel’s summer can be unbearable, we suggest you begin your journey in the autumn or winter. Here’s an example of an itinerary, beginning in the south, in mid-February.Timna, the Arava and the NegevStart your journey in Eilat (on the tip of the Red Sea), and spend your last day of ‘freedom’ on the beach, enjoying views of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi. With its endless palm trees and clement waters, it’s the ideal place to enjoy some R&R.Trekking through the Eilat Mountains, and the Arava desert, pass through Timna Park - 15,000 acres set in a valley shaped like a horseshoe, surrounded by Mount Timna and some very steep cliffs. The geology is quite fascinating (our tip: look out for the Pillars of Solomon, two sandstone columns that tower above you). Heading up through the vast desert expanses, you’ll pass Kibbutz Neot Samdar (they sell excellent vegetarian produce) and arrive in Mitzpe Ramon, a small town that sits on the edge of the magnificent Ramon Crater. (It’s actually possible to hike, bike, or take a jeep tour inside the crater). About 35 kilometers north, you’ll arrive at the Midreshet Ben Gurion, an intimate community that boasts scientific institutes, the burial site of David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister), and some striking views of Wadi Zin. Call upon Trail Angel Arthur du Mosch, who leads tours of the desert, is an expert horse-rider and actually caught a leopard in his home, many years back!Judean HillsThe Judean Desert, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockHead north through the Negev to the Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest forest which, despite receiving very little rainfall, is home to some of the country’s most varied woodlands (including a unique eucalyptus with red blossoms). Enjoy some archaeology - the Yatir Ruins (associated with the Biblical city of Jatti).From there it’s into the Judean Hills. Don’t miss the breathtaking views inside the ‘British Park’ and sites such as the Luzit Caves, Kidon Ruins, and Monastery of Beit Jamal. Trek through dirt tracks, pass caves and look over Highway 1, which served as a battleground in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The trail continues through the Sharon coastal area, including Tel Aviv. The ‘White City’ (named after its Bauhaus Buildings) can be a good place to enjoy a couple of days’ rest, some good coffee, and sandy beaches.Carmel and the GalileeIt’s then north to the incredibly lovely part of the trail, with wondrous views of the Galilee and steep ravines in which you can hike. The path runs through Kibbutz Yagur, where you’ll find more helpful Trail Angels. Dip your feet in the Nakhash Stream, sip at your water bottle and breathe in the clean air.Further north, you’ll arrive at Mount Tabor, rising up from the very flat Jezreel Valley. Green all year round, it provides magnificent observation points. (Our tip: don’t miss the caves and the Greek Orthodox/Franciscan churches).Mount Meron, the Yesha Fortress, and the Upper GalileeAbout 70 kilometers north, just after the spiritual center of Safed, you’ll arrive at Mount Meron which, at 500 meters above sea level, is Israel’s largest peak. It is home to ‘Elijah’s Chair’ (a huge lectern-shaped rock that is rumored to be where the great prophet sat). Parts of the area are a protected nature reserve - and don’t miss the village of Meron either (where you’ll find the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai).Another 30 km north, you’ll arrive at the imposing Yesha Fortress - built by the British during the Mandate period. Today it’s used by the Israeli border police. Hike up the path that leads to a splendid panorama of the Hula Valley below. On your left, you will see the villages of Metula and Kiryat Shmona and, across the Valley, the Golan Heights (whose peaks might even still have snow on them).You will also find at the site a plaque that remembers the 28 men who died fighting here in the War of Independence (our tip: don’t miss the small grove nearby that has 28 trees planted in memory of the men). The last part of the trail - the Hula Valley, Upper Galilee, and Naftali Ridge - will see you hiking when spring has truly arrived - with luck you will have blue skies and sunny days, and all around you will be fields carpeted with brightly colored crocuses.On the eastern side of the Naftali cliffs, the trail will afford you views of planted forests (after the Second Lebanon War, a reforestation project was undertaken). Don’t miss the Saadia Scenic Lookout, the Manara Cliff, and the Shepherds Spring. And by then, you’re homeward bound and you can honestly say you know the land of Israel a great deal better!
By Sarah Mann

UNESCO Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev

The ancient incense route ran from Yemen, Oman, Somalia and Arabia through Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea port of Gaza, Palestine, covering 1,800 km and passing through 56 stops along the way. The stretch of this route which goes through southern Israel is 100 km long from Moa on the Jordanian border to Halutz. This ancient route through four towns in the Negev – Avdat, Halutz, Mamshit and Shivta; four fortresses – Kazra, Nekarot, Makhmal and Grafor and two caravanserais – Moa and Saharonim was deemed of outstanding universal importance by UNESCO in 2005. The remains offer evidence of the sophisticated engineering, knowledge of agriculture and irrigation used to settle this challenging environment to facilitate trade.Starting in the 3rd century BC and continuing for 700 years the Nabataean people traveled in large caravans from Petrain Jordan, across the burning desert to bring the precious incense and spices to the west. They managed to conquer the harsh desert and bring luxury goods from the Arabian Peninsula to the Hellenistic-Roman world. Their cargo included Myrrh, salt, spices, perfumes, and their most valuable item – Frankincense, which was used in large quantities by the Romans as incense, medicine, and in cosmetics. However along with trade goods came an exchanging of ideas and interaction between different nations, this is another reason the route was so valuable.Renovated Market in MamshitTowns, forts, and caravanserai were established as rest points along the route; as support for the Nabataean population who settled the rough land, and as a way to monitor, secure and defend the route. The innovative town planning involved in creating towns like Avdat is apparent in the surrounding pastoral landscape, field system, and water system with cisterns, dams, and reservoirs. This is another testimony to the power of the Nabataean culture and economy. Due to the challenging desert environment, there has been little damaging modern development on these ancient sites and fossilized landscapes. The settlements have, to a large extent, managed to retain their authenticity and integrity since being abandoned after the Arab conquest in 636AD.Thankfully all of the sites are state-owned and protected within national parks or nature reserves.In Moa on the Jordanian border, there are the ruins of an inn, storerooms, a guard post, and an aqueduct. In Mamshit are the remains of an inn, churches, a bathhouse, and parts of the ancient town’s sophisticated water system. Avdat was perhaps the largest Nabataean settlement along the incense route. Here you can see the remains of a sophisticated bathhouse and steam rooms, a fortress, burial caves, a deep well, a Nabataean shrine, and a furnace. Shivta was a much smaller settlement and here you can still see evidence of the water system, oil presses, and several churches. Halutz was the last town before the caravans headed towards their final stop in Gaza port and here you can see the ruins of a theatre and a church.For more detailed information feel free to read this article Ancient Routes of Israel.
By Petal Mashraki

Israel Cruise Excursions - All You Need to Know

Tourists arriving in Israel’s port cities of Haifa or Ashdod can take a short ship-to-shore excursion to many of the top attractions. Israel is a small country and most of the important destinations are close enough to Haifa or Ashdod to be included in a day tour. Israel cruise excursions include pick-up from the port, a fully-guided day of sightseeing and drop-off at your cruise ship in time for your cruise departure. Most shore excursions are private tours which means there is a recommended suggested itinerary but you can alter it to your liking. If there are places you are more interested in you can stay longer and if there are places you would rather not visit you can swap them for places that interest you more. The cruise excursions include air-conditioned transportation and the tour price is determined by the distance covered; guide language; length of tour (usually 10 hours); size of vehicle and the day of the week.Israel Cruise Excursion Options from Haifa PortCruise Excursion to Nazareth and the GalileeAlthough Ashdod is a little too far south to get all the way to the north and back in time for your cruise departure Haifa is well located for a day trip to the north. From Haifa port this ship-to-shore excursion travels north to one of the most beautiful areas of the country. The Galilee has rolling hills with a patchwork of farmlands; forests; olive groves; vineyards and small villages and towns. Stop in Nazareth to tour the Church of Ascension and the Church of Saint Joseph built above grottos that may have been the Holy Family’s home and Joseph’s carpentry workshop. Then continue to Tiberias on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and visit Biblical landmarks around the lake like Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes.Haifa Port Cruise Excursion to Haifa and AcreSeeing as you are docking in Haifa why not do some sightseeing here. Visit the magnificent Baha’i Gardens planted on 18 terraces that cascade down Mount Carmel. You can also learn about the unique Baha’i religion. At the foot of Mount Carmel see the restored German Templar Quarter. As you travel north stop in Acre, an ancient city built of stone. Descend beneath the Old City of Acre to an underground Crusader city and learn about the many conquerors that have passed through Acre leaving their mark. Your guide will take you on a walk through the bazaar and show you the Turkish baths and Turkish Citadel used years later by the British to hold Jewish prisoners. If you have time travel to the northernmost point of Israel’s coast and walk through the pristine sea caves of Rosh HaNikra.Israel Cruise Excursion Options from Ashdod Port or Haifa PortJerusalem and Dead Sea/BethlehemTake a tour of the Holy Land’s top destination – Jerusalem. Get an overview of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives where there are many churches marking Biblical sites and at the foot of the mount is the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane. Take a walk through the Old City where you can visit the Western Wall; the Old City bazaar; ancient synagogues; walk the Via Dolorosa and spend time in the stunning Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As this is a private tour you can pick and choose the sites in the Old City that interest you. Perhaps even include a visit to Mount Zion to see King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper. You could also visit the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum or the archaeological site of the City of David established 3,000 years ago. As an option, you could spend half your day in Jerusalem and the other half visiting Bethlehem to see where Jesus was born or the Dead Sea, a natural wonder at the lowest point on Earth where the water is ten times saltier than the ocean.Masada and Dead Sea Ship-to-Shore ExcursionTravel from your cruise ship south to Masada, a massive “mesa” a flat-topped mount with steep rocky sides. Masada rises out of the flat desert landscape and served King Herod who wanted a safe retreat. Visitors can take a cable car to Masada’s summit and tour the remains of Herod’s large fortress-palace complex which includes storerooms, guardrooms, palaces, Roman baths and more. From the top of Masada, there are brilliant views across the desert all the way to the Dead Sea which is where you can spend the rest of the day. The tour takes you to one of the Dead Sea beaches where you can indulge in the sun, sea and fresh air which have been found to have therapeutic beauty and health benefits. Get a classic photo floating in the salty water where it is impossible to sink! As a private cruise excursion, you can choose how much time to spend on the beach and whether to include other stops like Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found or the desert oasis of Ein Gedi.Caesarea and Tel AvivAfter being met by your personal guide at Haifa or Ashdod port travel to Caesarea to the excavated site of a powerful Roman port city built by King Herod. Here you can walk among the remains of storehouses, temples, palaces and Roman baths. See the amphitheater that is still used to this day and the hippodrome where chariots once rode alongside the sea. Also, see the Crusader walls and structures build hundreds of years later. From the old to the new the tour takes you to Israel’s modern metropolis of Tel Aviv. See the long stretch of beach flanked by a wide promenade; discover the up-market Rothschild Boulevard; experience the hustle and bustle of Carmel Market and wander through the quaint historic neighborhood of Neve Tsedek. Other sites to include on your private tour of Tel Aviv are Dizengoff Street; Yitzchak Rabin Square and the marvelous Jaffa Port.See all our recommended Israel Shore Excursions
By Petal Mashraki

Best Desert Hikes in Israel

Israel has snow-capped mountains; rolling green meadows; lush valleys and stark desert landscapes. Israel's deserts are concentrated in the southern half of the country and include the Judean Desert, home to the Dead Sea; the Negev Desert covering about 16,000km²; more than half the total land area of the country and the Zin Desert also known as the biblical Wilderness of Zin.There are numerous hike trails in Israel's deserts with various levels of difficulty and different lengths. The deserts offer a unique look at a fascinating ecosystem with spectacular flora and fauna; picturesque waterfalls and endless awe-inspiring views. It is best not to hike in the desert alone and you should always follow the well-marked hike trails. Bring plenty of water and wear a hat when hiking in Israel's deserts. The best way to experience Israel's deserts is to follow one of these exhilarating desert hikes in Israel.Red Canyon HikeThis is one of the most breathtaking desert hikes in Israel. The Red Canyon is part of Wadi Shani which starts in the Sinai Desert in Egypt and crosses into Israel. Over the course of thousands of years, the elements have carved through the red sandstone rocks creating this natural canyon. There are a few places along the trail where you need to use metal wedges and ladders to get through the narrow canyon. The trail is at its best from November to April when the weather is slightly cooler. You can take the 5km route or the easier 2km route from the trailhead parking lot. You'll pass a few dry waterfalls and take some sharp turns in the narrow canyon which is less than 2 meters wide at some points. You'll reach a junction where there are black markers that will take you back to the starting point if you want to take the short hike. Otherwise, continue following the green markers into the Wadi. The loop trail should take about 3 hours to complete.Ein Gedi Nature ReserveA hike through the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve; an oasis in the Judean Desert, is one of the most enjoyable and greenest hikes in Israel. The reserve is home to the Arugot Stream and David Stream. There are several trails of different lengths and levels of difficulty ranging from a family-friendly 2km trail to a challenging 10km hike trail. Much of the shorter route is along wooden walkways or well-trodden paths that are not too challenging. You'll feel like you're taking a hike in northern Israel, surrounded by lush vegetation, trees, and abundant streams and waterfalls. The short Nahal David hike from the park entrance to David's Waterfall takes just 30 minutes. The rest of the hike involves tougher terrain, a twisting route through a narrow canyon, and some steep climbs. You'll also find sections where it is easier to wade through the streams than stay on the path. Continuing through the canyon you'll reach a spot where a natural opening in the rocks creates a "window" overlooking the Dead Sea.Wadi Qelt HikeThere are plenty of hikes near Jerusalem but if you want to experience the desert then Wadi Kelt (also known as Ein Prat or Nahal Kelt) is an excellent choice less than an hour from the capital. Starting at the trailhead in Ein Prat Nature Reserve parking lot the scenic route has a total length of about 9km but there are shorter versions of 1-5km. The best time to hike through Wadi Qelt is December to March. Most of the hike is through rocky terrain and there are some parts where metal handles have been hammered into the rock to help you. You'll go through a gorge with steep cliff sides and find natural pools you can swim in. Stop at Ein Prat, the biggest spring in the valley; enjoy small waterfalls; ancient aqueducts, and the 330AD hanging Faran Monastery on the southern cliffs. The highlight of this hike is at the end of the trail when you can look up at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. George that was built precariously clinging to the cliffs. End the hike by returning the way you came or taking a shortcut along the top of the canyon where you can look down on the famous monastery on the opposite cliff.The Nekarot Horseshoe Hike Trail through the Ramon CraterMakhtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) is a phenomenal massive crater formed by erosion. It is 40km long, 500m deep, and 2-10km wide. Enter the Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve for the best experience of the crater on the southern edge of the Negev Desert. This huge natural indentation in the landscape has vibrant colored rocks, a variety of plant life, and unusual geographical formations. Take the Nekarot Horseshoe Trail loop through the crater. At a little over 6km, this trail should take about 3 hours and is suitable for families. The trail takes you past the Saharonim Spring where pools of water bubble up from the ground; past families of agile ibexes on the rocks and steel white chalk cliffs. Depending on the season you may have to swim, wade or walk through water-filled canyons. See Ardon Mountain in the distance and enjoy the deafening silence of the desert.Ein Avdat National Park Hike TrailsEin Avdat is part of the Zin Wadi or the Biblical Zin Wilderness in the Negev Desert. It is home to the largest natural spring in the Negev and a stunning 2km-long hike trail. This short hike takes you from the Ein Avdat National Park entrance to the beautiful natural pools and back again. If you are looking for something a little longer then hike to the spring water pools and instead of doubling back climb to the top of the cliffs and return via Marl Wadi of Havarim. This 10km hike is for moderately fit hikers and is best followed from December to March. The highlight of both the short and long hikes is the chain of three Ein Avdat spring pools. The first pool (Ein Ma'arif) has cascading waterfalls; the second, Ein Avdat has a 15m-high waterfall and an 8m-deep pool; the final pool is beautiful Ein Mor. When you leave the pools you can take the vertical ladder up the cliff and head back to the starting point through gentle hills that have multiple shades of golden brown.
By Petal Mashraki

Top 8 Things to see and do in Safed [2023 Update]

center;">If you want to be transported back to another time, then making a trip to Israel is the way to do it. And after you’ve walked the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, sunned yourself on white sandy Tel Aviv beaches, explored ancient fortresses in the Judean desert and floated in the Dead Sea, then it’s time to head north.High up in the Galilee is where you’ll find Safed - perched on a hill, this ancient city is breathtakingly pretty, with a mystical air that is noticeable the moment you arrive. Historically, it was one of the four most sacred cities in the Holy Land (along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias) and after you’ve spent a day exploring it you’ll understand why.The lovely views of SafedSafed is famous for many things - an ancient Citadel, a charming Artist's Quarter, cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, medieval synagogues but also an air of spirituality - which is intrinsically tied up with kabbalah - an old, esoteric Jewish school of thought, concerning mysticism, the divine realms, and metaphysics.Even the rooftops of the city are imbued with this ancient tradition - they are blue, which in Kabbalistic philosophy is a color that symbolizes water, and tricks evil spirits into thinking they cannot pass. And the air in Safed - well, some say it’s the purest in the entire land, which is reason enough to make a trip here.1. The Safed CitadelThe highest point in the highest city in Israel (about 1,000 meters above sea level) the Citadel is at the hub of the city and, in some ways, takes center stage in Safed. A historical landmark, fortresses across Israel (including this) date back to the Second Temple era but the remains today are from Crusader, Mamluk, and Ottoman times.Archaeologists believe that it once sat on an area of 40 dunams, had seven defensive towers, and fortresses, and survived until 1837 when an earthquake struck and was plundered by locals. Today, it will afford you tremendous views over the Sea of Galilee (the ‘Kinneret’ in Hebrew).The Safed Citadel2. Artists' QuarterThere are few things more charming in Israel than a wander through the Artists’ Quarter of Safed. Make sure you have comfy shoes before you set off because you’ll be doing a fair bit of walking - there are plenty of steps, and narrow, winding paths, and do expect to get lost!The main street itself is always busy, but if you wander off the beaten track, you’ll have an amazing experience. Between the blue doors and nooks and crannies of tiny streets, you’ll find many artists’ studios. Many of them are well-known in Israel and if you’re lucky you’ll actually meet one or two of them, at work inside.This part of the country is also an excellent place to shop for gifts, and if you’re looking for souvenirs from Israel, there are all kinds of art, sculptures, and Judaica (seder plates, mezuzot, menorot, etc). You really can spend hours watching artists paint, weave and give calligraphy demonstrations. And then, of course, purchase something!Everything you'll see is an authentic, hand-made creation3. Hameiri House MuseumDating back to the 16th century, this beautifully-restored stone house is home to clothing, furniture, tools, and a photo archive, all which tell the story of the last 200 years of Jewish history here. Built by Yehezkel Hameiri (1934-1989), a Safed resident, it’s a museum well worth visiting - don’t forget to go outside either, where within the courtyard you’ll find ancient grapevines and old water wells.The streets of old Safed4. Safed Candle FactoryEstablished almost two decades ago, Safed Candles (located in the Old City) was the brainchild of a local resident who wanted to set up a small business that would help provide employment for locals. Along with fellow workers, he began making candles, which are an integral part of Jewish festivals such as the Sabbath, Hanukkah, etc.The shop became so popular that today it also sells sculptures in all kinds of designs - including Jewish Stars of David, and the ‘good luck hand’ Hamsa sign - all made of beeswax. Brightly colored and beautifully decorated, it’s the kind of place where everywhere you look, there’s something you want to purchase.See how candles are made5.Memorial Museum of the Hungarian-Speaking JewryFounded in 1986, the Memorial Museum of the Hungarian Speaking Jerwy is devoted to showcasing the past of Jewish communities in Hungary, Transylvania, Slovakia, Carpathian-Russia, and Backa and looks at the enormous contribution they made to Jewish culture and history.Jews actually lived in Hungary for more than 1,000 years until the Nazis destroyed their community in 1944. The museum has all kinds of artifacts relating to life pre-war including video and audio recordings, photographs, Judaica, personal memorabilia, and even a model of the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest.6.Safed’s Old CemeteryLocated below the old city, graves in the ancient Safed cemetery can be traced back to the BCE (Before the Common Era) and as far as 2,800 years ago, to the time of Hosea the Prophet. This alone gives you an indication of how important this city was, historically, for the Jewish people, over the centuries.Today, people come here from across the world to pray and contemplate, in front of the tombs of famous Rabbis such as Isaac Luria and Rabbi Yosef Caro, who is famous for penning the famous ‘Shulchan Aruch’ (basically the ultimate code of Jewish Law to which orthodox Jews refer).Safed's old cemetery7. Ha'Ari SynagogueBuilt in the 16th century, this synagogue was founded by Spanish exiles who first moved to Greece and then journeyed onto the Holy Land. By 1560, Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as ‘Ari’ in Hebrew - initials of "our master rabbi Issac") arrived in Safed and began a tradition of welcoming Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) by praying there and then continuing with his followers to a nearby field, where they sang. This, it is said, is where the famous melody ‘Leha Dodi (‘Come my beloved’) was dreamt up.Ha'Ari Synagogue8. Abuhav SynagogueThis 15th-century synagogue is named after the Spanish rabbi and kabbalist, Isaac Abuhav. Interestingly, legend states that the Spanish authorities wanted the original synagogue (in Spain) to be converted into a church, but Abuhav clicked his fingers, and - as if by magic - the entire structure appeared in this tiny town.Abuhav SynagoguePlanning a trip to the Holy Land? check out these tour packages in northern Israel, and Israel Day Tours (and to Petra, in Jordan) that we offer. Feel free to take a look at our blog, which takes deep dives into every imaginable aspect of Israeli life: from food & drink, sandy beaches, and national parks to ancient fortresses, hiking trails, and galleries & museums.
By Sarah Mann
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