How to Travel Israel on a Budget
Budget travel in Israel is possible with careful planning. You can avoid the tourist traps and instead enjoy your Israel vacation without worrying too much about going over budget. The major cities have plenty to see without paying entrance fees; cheap-eats are in abundance and even day-tour prices are reasonable.Travel to Israel Off-SeasonAs with all travel destinations, it is cheaper to travel off-season. For Israel, this means avoiding the national holidays and the July-August summer high season. During any of the holiday periods and in summer prices of airfares and hotels are higher. Don’t worry about traveling in the shoulder or low-season as Israel has good weather throughout most of the year and attractions stay open year-round (except some that close on national holidays and Saturdays). Another way to get low-cost flights to Israel is to check-out flights to the new Ramon Airport near Eilat.Budget Accommodation in IsraelLow-cost accommodation in Israel includes couchsurfing which is popular in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There are plenty of hostel options but even the hostels are a bit pricey in Israel. Luckily many of the hostels are centrally located and of a high standard. You can find hostels along Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Street opposite the beach or in Jerusalem’s stunning Old City or historic YMCA. Try to book accommodation that comes with a free breakfast or alternatively with access to a kitchen. This will cut down on your food expenses.Budget Transportation in IsraelIsrael has an extensive bus system that is reasonably priced. You can reach most parts of the country, even the smallest communities on the Israeli bus system for just a few shekels. For example, the cheapest way to travel from central Israel to Eilat is by bus. The next cheapest transportation option is a sherut taxi or a shared taxi. Sherut taxis are mini-buses that run along popular routes or take you directly to your address. The only draw-back is that the sherut will stop for all passengers thus making it a long journey. There are sheruts between the major cities and inner-city routes in large cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa that follow a set route. Although not as extensive as the bus system Israel’s train system is also useful for reaching some locations and is budget-friendly. You will also find that many of Israel’s cities are walkable.Eating on a Budget in IsraelIsrael has some of the healthiest street food in the world – and plenty of it! You can’t go far on any street in Israel before coming across a falafel stall, hummus shop or shawarma restaurant. You can indulge yourself with the delicious street food options and still keep to your budget. Also make use of Israel’s wonderful markets like Carmel Market in Tel Aviv and Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. Here you can buy fresh produce and other ingredients to make your own meals.Israel Daily ToursOne way to save money and time is to take the occasional daily tour to locations that are harder to reach by public transport. Of course, there is the added advantage that you will have a tour guide telling you all about the various landmarks and arranging all the transportation logistics. For example, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea are both locations that are more difficult to reach than places like Tel Aviv and so why not rely on a local tour company to do all the hard work. There are Israel daily tours specially designed for budget travelers.Free Attractions in IsraelAlthough Israeli museums are relatively expensive you can enjoy many of Israel’s top attractions simply by walking the streets. Wander through the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City and discover the quaint churches and Biblical landmarks like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. You can enjoy many free attractions in Israel including the beaches, markets, religious landmarks and natural wonders like the Sea of Galilee.And more hot budget tips for travel in Israel….If you’ll be in Israel for an extended period buy a local SIM card. Ask in one of the many phone stores or even at the airport on arrival. Alternatively, you could make use of the extensive free WiFi options in Israel. Almost every café, restaurant, hotel or store will have WiFi.If you’re shopping in an Israeli market be sure to haggle over the price.Alcohol is expensive in Israel so you could do what many Israelis do and get your alcohol in the local supermarket instead of in a pub or nightclub.
Get to know Jerusalem
The best way to get to know Jerusalem is to spend several days exploring both independently and with an organized tour. Some of the sites and attractions you can discover for yourself while others are better seen with a knowledgeable guide on one of the many Jerusalem day tours. Here are a few ideas on how you can get to Jerusalem.See the Highlights of JerusalemBefore you start delving into the unusual and unique attractions of Jerusalem it is worth seeing thetop 10 Jerusalem attractionsthat all visitors to the city should see. Among the top 10 there are the Western Wall; Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the Mount of Olives and the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum. Although there are some Jerusalem attractions that all travelers will want to see, your personal top 10 will depend on your interests. If you are a Christian traveler you will probably be drawn towards the churches on the Mount of Olives; the Room of the Last Supper and Via Dolorosa among other Biblical sites. Jewish travelers will want to include other landmarks in their top 10 Jerusalem attraction, for example the City of David; Knesset and the ancient synagogues of the Old City.Jerusalem Old CityIf your time is short and you can only go to one place in Jerusalem then it has to be the Old City. Within the 16th century stone walls, the 1km² city holds Jerusalem’s top attractions. TheOld Cityis also home to the most important Christian, Jewish and Muslim landmarks – the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the Western Wall and Temple Mount, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Spend your time exploring the narrow lanes of the Old City. In the Armenian Quarter see the exquisite painted ceramics; in the Christian Quarter follow the Via Dolorosa and see where Jesus was crucified; in the Muslim Quarter shop in the traditional market and in the Jewish Quarter see ancient synagogues, museums and beneath the Temple Mount walls.Attractions in New JerusalemDon’t miss out on theattractions in New Jerusalem. Many tourists, especially those short on time concentrate all their sightseeing in the Old City but New Jerusalem has much to offer. Visit the ultra-religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim; the colorful Machane Yehuda Market; the Knesset; the Chagall windows; the Bridge of Strings; the Israel Supreme Court and theJerusalem Israel Museum. New Jerusalem has some incredible malls and the lively Ben Yehuda pedestrian street with outdoor cafes. There are plenty of art galleries, parks like the Wohl Rose Park and the Haas Promenade where you can get an overview of the city. Visit the 130-year restored Old Train Station that is now a hip cultural and culinary hub and spend some time in a local café people-watching.Jerusalem Machane Yehuda MarketIf you really want to experience the lively atmosphere of local Jerusalemites then head for theMachane Yehuda Market. You’ll find stalls selling fresh produce, baked goods, pickles, spices, fish, meat, eggs and about every other type of food you can imagine. Not only that but the market, which has both outdoor and covered sections is home to excellent restaurants. Some of the market eateries are run by top Israeli chefs and others serve up traditional dishes from around the world. Try Ethiopian pita bread; a Georgian pastry; British fish and chips or Spanish tapas. In addition to food the market sells household goods, fashion items and more. Be sure to visit the “doctor” who serves up freshly squeezed fruit drinks made with unusual ingredients that are said to have therapeutic properties whether you want to treat a sore back or a broken heart!Get to Know Jerusalem NeighborhoodsAlthough most travelers limit themselves to the Old City there are several wonderfulJerusalem neighborhoodsworth visiting. Stop in downtown West Jerusalem for excellent food and a vibrant nightlife scene. Near Machane Yehuda Market see interesting street art and one-off bars and restaurants. In the Nachlaot neighborhood see where a former ultra-orthodox traditional neighborhood has transformed into a hip, cosmopolitan hang-out for artists and musicians. The neighborhood has narrow lanes, historic homes with hidden courtyards and a bohemian atmosphere. Musrara is a picturesque neighborhood with many art galleries and museums including The Museum on the Seam that focuses on socio-politically inspired contemporary art. The German Colony is where you’ll find up-market boutiques, charming cafes and restaurants housed in historic buildings with Bauhaus, Ottoman and Templar-style architecture. The Germany Colony’s Emek Refaim Street is the place to people-watch and visit the neighborhood’s best stores and restaurants. Ein Karem is arguably the most beautiful of the Jerusalem neighborhoods. Ein Karem has a village-feel with charming stone houses, window boxes, craft stores, excellent restaurants and several attractions including Mary’s Well and John the Baptist Church.
The Second Temple
The Second Temple was a sacred Jewish place of worship on Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 520 BC to 70 AD. Temple Mount was the site of a First Temple until 586 BC; the Second Temple and today is the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Temple represented a divine presence on Earth and the place where heaven and Earth meet. Only in the Holy Temple could sacrificial worship be performed in accordance with the codes of the Torah. Construction of the Second Temple is referred to in the Book of Ezekiel; Ezra 1:1-4 and Chronicles 36:22-23.History of the Second TempleFifty years after Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in c.587 BC they were vanquished by Persians. King Cyrus II of Persia gave permission for the Temple to be rebuilt. Under Governor Sheshbazzar attempts were made to start the project. Only in 522 BC when Zerubbabel became governor was work on the Temple continued by exiled Jews returning to the Levant from Babylon. Construction of the Temple continued in 521 BC under Persian King Darius I. Two Jews from Judea, Ezra and Nehemiah were a major force in the reconstruction. This early modest version of the Second Temple was completed in 516 BC. In the following years the Jews and Palestine were ruled by the Persians, Greeks and Romans yet they continued to keep their faith and worship at the Temple.In 163 BC the Greek ruler Antiochus erected a statue of Jupiter on the altar of the Temple. For three years the Temple was profaned in this way until the Jews revolted. It was at the end of the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC) that the story of Hanukah unfolded. Storming and retaking the Temple the Maccabees found only a small jug of blessed oil to lite the Menorah. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted seven days until new oil could be obtained to light the Temple’s Menorah. During a brief period of Jewish rule by the Hasmonean Kingdom (140 BC-116 BC) the Temple was refurbished. Starting in 20 BC Herod took it upon himself to extend and refurbish the Temple complex although maintaining the character of Zerubbabel’s Temple. He undertook several mammoth building projects in Palestine wanting to cement his place in history. The Second Temple was his masterpiece. This final version of the Temple is the one we remember today as a grand, elaborate complex. The Biblical story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers took place at the Second Temple on Temple Mount.Destruction of the Second TempleThe Temple stood for 420 years from 349 BC to 70 AD. Jews across Palestine began to revolt against the Roman authorities in 66 AD. Jews were drawn together to fight their common enemy. The Romans led by Titus decided to aim at the heart of the Jews – the Temple. The Jews were outnumbered and defeated. Later the Romans built a pagan temple on the site of the former Second Temple.Features of the Second TempleAt its height the Temple covered 450 acres and was 100 cubits (about 45 meters) tall. The Roman historian Josephus described the Second Temple as have in 10 entrances; several courtyards; ritual baths; a place for sacrificial animals and the Holy of Holies. Among the features of the Temple there was the golden Menorah; a golden altar for incense; and the heart of the Temple – the Holy of Holies (Kodesh HaKodashim) or the Inner Sanctum.The Second Temple TodayToday Temple Mount is no longer the site of a Jewish temple. Those who want to learn more about the Second Temple can visit the Davidson Archaeological Park where remains of the destroyed Temple have been excavated alongside the retaining wall of Temple Mount. If you visit the Israel Museum you can see a scale model of the Second Temple and Second Temple Era Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Second Temple on Tisha b’Av according to the Jewish calendar Jews have mourned the loss of their Temple which is mentioned in several prayers and numerous Biblical references. Tisha b’Av is a day of fast and Jews pray for the reconstruction of the Third Temple on Temple Mount.
Jerusalem Southern Wall Excavation
Since the 1960s excavations in the area of the south-west side of Temple Mount in Jerusalem have uncovered remarkable remains from the Second Temple (516 BC-70 AD) which stood on Temple Mount. Part of these excavations included what would have been the southern retaining wall of Temple Mount. The Southern Wall Excavation Site is accessed from the Dung Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Just past the gate is an archaeological park which includes the Southern Wall, the Southern Wall Museum and a Visitors Center.The Second Temple was originally built in 516 BC but was drastically altered and expanded under Herod the Great from 37 BC to 4 BC. It was during this reconstruction that the southern side of Temple Mount was fortified. The southern retaining wall of Temple Mount would have risen 32 meters above street level and run for a length of 281 m. The Temple and almost all of the Temple Mount structures were destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt of 66 AD-70 AD.Herodian StreetRunning the length of the wall would have been a paved street lined with stores. Along the wall remains were uncovered of an 8 meter wide street now known as the Herodian Street. When the Herodian Street was discovered it was cleared of a mountain of rubble that had accumulated over the almost 2,000 years since the temple’s destruction. On one side of the ancient Herodian Street the massive Temple Mount Southern Wall rises 32 meters and on the other side of the street a wall was uncovered with openings where there would have been stores. Here pilgrims could buy offerings to sacrifice in the temple and also visit the money changes. It may have been here in these stores that Jesus “cleared the temple courts of people selling cattle, sheep, doves and people sitting at tables exchanging money” (John 2:1322). As the Roman’s set about destroying the temple in 70 AD they would have toppled down massive stones onto this street. Above the stores we can see the remains of the base of a staircase.Robinson ArchHalfway up the side of the Southern Wall are the remains of the Robinson Arch (named after the researcher who discovered the arch in 1838). The arch was part of a large bridge structure which allowed access from the lower city to the Temple Mount. The arch was part of a 13 m wide and 19 m high walkway giving pilgrims access from the Herodian Street up a wide flight of stairs to the south-western Temple Mount entrance. This would have been one of three such bridge walkways into the temple. Only the small section of the arch attached to the Southern Wall and the base of the staircase have survived.Trumpeting PlaceOn the southwest corner of the Southern Wall a large slab of stone was found inscribed with the Hebrew words meaning: to the trumpeting place to proclaim. This could refer to the place where a priest would stand on the walls and blow a trumpet to announce the approaching Shabbat. The stone may have been thrown down from the temple walls during the destruction.Ritual BathsWhile excavating the Southern Wall many ritual baths (mikvah) were found. The baths are located close to the walls and were built according to Jewish laws. The baths would have been used by thousands of pilgrims to purify themselves before they entered the temple.Later Structures at the Southern WallThe Al-Aqsa Mosque was built in 705 AD and stands along the inside of the Southern Wall; you can see the mosque’s distinctive silver dome above the wall. Along the Southern Wall it is possible to see the remains of several structures from the later Arab Period including a number of Umayyad Palaces.
Guide to the Jerusalem Old City
If you were to choose just one place to visit while in Israel it should be the Old City of Jerusalem. Packed within the 450 year old city walls is 1km² holding some of the country’s top attractions.The Old City is an exciting, exotic, spiritual and fascinating world of narrow cobbled alleys, mosques, churches, eateries, markets and more. The Old City remains as it was thousands of years ago and people still live and work here in the ancient buildings. Among the wonders of the Old City are the most important Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites in the country.Brief History of the Old City of JerusalemIt was here in Jerusalem that the ancient Jewish temples were built and where Jesus often visited and eventually was crucified. Golgotha, the site of Jesus crucifixion is within the Old City marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites in the 11th century BC and established his kingdom. Muslims took the city in 637AD and in 1099AD the first Christian Crusaders arrived. The city changed hands several times and saw pilgrims arriving to the various religious sites. The Old City walls we see today were built under Ottoman leader Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1500s. Up until 1860 all of Jerusalem was within the Old City walls, then the first neighborhood beyond the walls was established and the new city grew into the modern metropolis we see today. But within the Old City walls time seemed to stand still. From 1848 to 1867 the Old City was ruled by Jordan and no Jews were allowed to visit or live in the Old City until it was retaken by Israel in the Six Day War. Jews returned to the city and it was repopulated with people in all four of the Old City’s quarters. The city has remained a tourist attraction and a pilgrimage site for Muslims visiting Temple Mount, Christians visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Jews visiting the Western Wall.Overview of the Old CityThe Old City is surrounded by fortified walls and it is possible to walk along the ramparts. Visitors enter the Old City through the wall’s seven gates (there are actually eight gates but one is closed). The Old City is divided into four uneven quarters – the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian quarters. The division is not with walls but rather the quarters flow one onto the other. In each quarter there is a distinct character; you’ll see people in traditional dress in each of the quarters – Hasidic Jews in their black coats and black hats in the Jewish Quarter, nuns, monks and friars in their habits in the Armenian and Christian Quarters and in the Muslim Quarter the traditional keffiyeh headdress and long kaftan-type jalabiyyah. In each of the quarters you can buy souvenirs, taste ethnic food and see art and architecture unique to that quarter’s culture, religion and history.Christian QuarterThe Christian Quarter in the northwestern of the Old City has the New Gate, Jaffa Gate, Damascus Gate and the junction of David Street and Souk Khan el-Zeit at its corners. This quarter is home to approximately 40 holy sites but the star of the quarter is without question the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church is a beautifully ornate and cavernous structure with many small chapels and intricate art work. The church dates back to at least the 4th century and houses the site where Jesus was crucified at Calvary, the tomb where he was buried and resurrected and the last four Stations of the Cross. The church is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox churches as well as the Syriacs, Ethiopians and Egyptian Copts to a lesser extent.Jewish QuarterJews have inhabited the Jewish Quarter almost continuously since the 8th century BC. Parts of the Jewish Quarter have been excavated to reveal ancient Roman remains including the Cardo, which would have been the colonnaded main street during Jesus’ lifetime. The star of this quarter is the Western Wall; the last remaining part of the 2nd Holy Jewish Temple which was destroyed in 70AD. The Western Wall (Kotel) opens up to a large plaza and Jews come from across the globe to worship here. Local Jews worship at the Western Wall as they would at a synagogue. You can place a prayer note with your personal message to God between the large stones of the Western Wall.Muslim QuarterThe largest quarter of the Old City is home to the Muslim population (and a few Jewish families). It has narrow cobbled lanes that are a bustle of activity. Within this quarter there is the Temple Mount, this is where the ancient 1st century Jewish Temple stood and today it is the site of the beautiful Dome of the Rock which covers the Foundation Stone from where Muhammad is believed to have ascended to Heaven. The Dome of the Rock has a distinctive golden dome which is a symbol of the city. Also on Temple Mount is the al-Aqsa Mosque, Muhammad’s destination in the Night Journey and the Dome of the Chain a free-standing dome and the oldest structure on Temple Mount. The Western Wall Tunnels run beneath the Muslim Quarters and the Muslim Quarter has several Roman and Crusader remains. The Muslim Quarter has a lively market or “shuk” where you can find a huge rang of goods. The Via Dolorosa runs through the Muslim Quarter and is home to the first seven Stations of the Cross.Armenian QuarterThis is the smallest quarter of the Old City. It is home to Christian Armenians who arrived in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD when Armenia adopted Christianity and Armenian pilgrims came to visit the holy sites and settled here. The Armenian Quarter centers on St. James Monastery and the 4th century Cathedral of St. James which houses the Jerusalem Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. (Pop trivia: This is where Kanye West and Kim Kardashian held their daughter, North’s christening in 2015) The Armenians have their own distinct culture, religious traditions and language. The Jerusalem Armenians are famed for their distinctive hand painted tiles, tile murals and handmade ceramics. You can buy ceramics in several stores in the Armenian Quarter and see street signs made from the brightly painted Armenian tiles.Must-See Old City Sites You can safely wander the lanes of the Old City discovering hidden gems around every corner. But just so you don’t miss any of the essential attractions here are a few must-sees:The Western Wall in the Jewish QuarterChurch of the Holy Sepulcher – Christian Quarter.Dome of the Rock – Temple Mount, Muslim QuarterAnd now for something special in the Old City….Dei res-Sultan Ethiopian Monastery accessed via the 9th Station of the Cross on the roof of a medieval annex in the Christian Quarter.Shopping in the Old City Market.Walking the Ramparts of the Old City walls.The Tower of David (Jerusalem Citadel) at Jaffa Gate, a museum, archaeological site and sound and light show.Mamila luxury shopping street – Northwest of Jaffa Gate.Follow the Via Dolorosa retracing Jesus’ route as he carried his cross towards Calvary.Join today to our wonderfulJerusalem Temple Mount & Dome of the Rock Tour.
Christmas in Bethlehem
Christmas in Israel can be magical and a truly spiritual experience. There are services in local churches (mainly in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem) as well as services held at the locations where Christmas events took place. Many tour buses leave Jerusalem on Christmas Eve to services in Shepherd’s Fields where an angel appeared to the shepherds on Christmas Eve. The tours continue to the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and end off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for the Midnight Mass.Of all the Christmas celebrations in Israel perhaps the largest and most moving is at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, where gather in Manger Square to be a part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth on the spot where the events unfolded.Roman Catholics celebrate on the 24th December at Saint Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem, as well as on the 5th and 6th of January when the Epiphany is commemorated. Greek, Coptic, Romanian and Syrian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January in Bethlehem. In Nazareth there are Christmas Eve parades and firework displays as well as church services. In all over 90,000 foreign visitors arrive in Israel annually to celebrate Christmas.Christmas in Bethlehem includes processions through the streets, carol singing and religious services which can all be an extremely spiritual experience. It is important to remember that throughout the rest of Israel you could probably not even notice that it is Christmas as unlike America and Europe the streets and stores are not decorated, there is no Santa ringing a bell outside shops and Christmas music cannot be heard in the streets.Book a tour to the Christmas Eve in Jerusalem & midnight mass in Bethlehem
The Festival of Purim
Purim is a religious festival based on the Biblical book of Ester and celebrates the thwarted attempt by the Persian ruler to wipe out the Jewish population in the 1st century. Unlike many Jewish festivals Purim is a joyous celebration and definitely the most popular Jewish festival for kids! The tradition in Israel is for kids to dress up in fancy dress (as kids do on Halloween in the USA) they get the day off school and the streets of Israeli cities come alive with parades. The main cities of Israel hold parades (Hebrew: AdLoYaDa) during the day where large parade floats, costumed performers, bands and dancers entertain the onlookers. Each year each Israeli city takes on a new theme for their Purim parade, these themes cover a wide range of subjects but they are always colorful, fun and accompanied by uplifting music. The best thing about attending a Purim festival parade is that it’s free! The various cities don’t necessarily hold their parades on the same days or at the same times so you could go from city to city enjoying the free entertainment. Be sure to try the traditional Purim cookies – Oznahaman, and don’t hesitate to join in the fun and dress-up! In the evenings you’ll find Purim costume parties in many of the bars and nightclubs.When: Annually in February/March. 24th – 25 February 2013Where: All large cities in Israel. Most renowned in Holon, Tel-Aviv and Haifa..
Ein Gedi Half Marathon
Shalom Marathon or Dead Sea Half Marathonwhen: Annually in February. February 16th, 2013Where: Starting from the Ein Gedi Spa, Dead Sea, Israel.This annual half marathon is organized by the Tamar Regional Council and has been held for the last 19 years. Each year the road race has grown in importance and in the number of participants. This marathon has the unique statues of being the “Lowest Race on Earth” as the starting line is at the Ein Gedi Spa on the shore of the Dead Sea – the lowest point on Earth. The dramatically dry and hot weather of the Dead Sea region makes this a particularly challenging race although the race is held in February when the weather is relatively mild. The marathon route runs along the shores of the Dead Sea past striking scenery and Mount Masada.Runners can choose to compete in 5 competitions: half marathon, 10km race, 5km race, walking competition, children’s competition or the hand-bike half marathon. The Ein Gedi Marathon is also called the Shalom Marathon as it strives to promote peace and cooperation between the different sectors of society. In 1999 the Palestinian flag was carried during the race as a symbol of peace. Runners come to the Dead Sea from around the world often taking first place. In 1997 Bernard Boiya from Kenya took first place.
5 Day Trips from Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is located in the center of Israel and has highway and public transportation links to cities across the country. Luckily Israel is not that big so you can easily base yourself in Tel Aviv and make day trips to other destinations. Take a look at these Tel Aviv day trips which give you a good variety of top tourist destinations and less obvious day trip choices.Jerusalem from Tel AvivJerusalem is one of the must-see destinations in Israel and is only an hour away (depending on traffic) from Tel Aviv. If you are taking a day trip from Tel Aviv then don’t waste any time and start your trip with a walking tour of the Old City. Most of Jerusalem’s top attraction are in the Old City; here you can see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall and Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock stands. In the Old City there are many interesting stores, eateries, museums and other places of interest.You can go into the “new” city and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the capital or alternatively visit the churches on the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is home to the beautiful Church of All Nations, the Russian Orthodox Church, Pater Noster Church, the Chapel of the Ascension and Dominus Flevit Church. Families might like to visit the Biblical Zoo and others might be interested in visiting Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum or the Israel Museum.Dead Sea and Masada day trips from Tel AvivNo trip to Israel is complete without a visit to the Dead Sea which lies 87 km south of Tel Aviv. This unique body of water is the lowest point on Earth. The Dead Sea water is three times as salty as the ocean. The mud that lines the banks and floor of the Dead Sea is rich in minerals that can benefit your general health and specifically your skin. Being the lowest point on Earth it is also the furthest point from the sun and so you can avoid the dangerous sun rays and just get the benefits of the sun. The Dead Sea air is also good for your health as it hashigh levels of oxygen and is pollen-free.While you are in the Dead Sea region you can visit Masada which is only a short drive away. Masada is a “mesa” or flat-topped rock outcrop which rises majestically out of the desert. Masada’s summit was the site of an ancient Roman palace complex and many of the structures have survived. Masada was also the site of a significant event in Jewish history and is a symbol of Jewish devotion to national freedom and faith. Visitors to Masada can take a cable car (or walk up the Snake Path) to the summit and tour the remains of the palace complex.
Zichron Yakov from Tel Aviv , Zichron Yakov is often overlooked by tourists but it is worth making the day trip from Tel Aviv, especially if you enjoy wine! Zichron Yaakov is about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv. The small town is surrounded by lush forests, vineyards and mountains; in fact it is somewhat similar to a typical European village. The quaint town was established in 1882 and most of its historic buildings have survived. There is a stone-paved shopping street lined with one-off stores including those selling homemade confectionary; locally made textiles and handmade paper. You’ll also find art galleries, museums and many cute eateries. Zichron is one of Israel’s main wine-making towns. While here you can tour the Carmel Winery and the nearby Binyamina Winery and Tishbi Winery.Zichron Yakov from Tel AvivZichron Yakov is often overlooked by tourists but it is worth making the day trip from Tel Aviv, especially if you enjoy wine! Zichron Yaakov is about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv. The small town is surrounded by lush forests, vineyards and mountains; in fact it is somewhat similar to a typical European village. The quaint town was established in 1882 and most of its historic buildings have survived. There is a stone-paved shopping street lined with one-off stores including those selling homemade confectionary; locally made textiles and handmade paper. You’ll also find art galleries, museums and many cute eateries. Zichron is one of Israel’s main wine-making towns. While here you can tour the Carmel Winery and the nearby Binyamina Winery and Tishbi Winery.Petra, Jordan from Tel Aviv , Petra tour from IsraelBelieve it or not you can even take a day trip from Tel Aviv to Petra in Jordan and be back in Tel Aviv the same evening! There are organized tours which start in Tel Aviv with a short flight down to Eilat Israeli’s southernmost city. From there tours continue across the Israel/Jordan border and on to Petra. Petra is a UNESCO site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The city was created about 2300 years ago when the Nabataean people carved Petra’s buildings out of the red-hued desert cliffs. The ancient structures have survived and include temples, tombs and homes each with intricately carved facades and cavernous interiors.On a tour to Petra you can learn about the ingenious water gathering system the Nabataeans used to keep Petra’s 20,000 residents supplied with water. Also learn of the trade routes which passed through Petra and the civilizations which inhabited Petra after the Nabataeans left. At the end of the day visitors are taken back across the border to Eilat for the return flight to Tel Aviv.Herzliya from Tel AvivIf you fancy a short day trip from Tel Aviv to a place close by then Herzliya is a good choice. It is also a great destination if you want to relax and get some retail therapy. Drive just 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv to reach the stunning beaches of Herzliya. While you’re down by the water check out the Herzliya marina and its adjacent Arena Mall. Herzliya has several great malls including a large Outlet Mall, the Arena Mall at the marina and the Shevat HaKochavim Mall (Seven Star Mall). Opposite Shevat HaKochavim is a great park with amazing tube slides and playgrounds. This park also has areas which have been left in their natural state and a park café where parents can sit while their kids play. Finish off your relaxing excursion to Herzliya with a movie at Cinema City Glilot, a cinema complex with stores, eateries and over 20 movie theatres.
Tel Aviv’s Most Picturesque Neighborhood – Neve Tzedek
Neve Tzedek (“oasis of justice” in Hebrew) is not only one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods it is also thought to be one of the most beautiful. Neve Tzedek is located south east of Carmel Market and was established in 1887 as the first Jewish neighborhood built outside of the walls of Jaffa. A group of families decided to leave the confines of Jaffa where conditions were crowded and set up their own community which soon grew as other Jewish families joined them. They built the neighborhood with low-rise buildings along narrow streets incorporating elements of the art nouveau and later Bauhaus architecture. By 1909 the neighborhood had expanded to such an extent that Tel Aviv was born. Over the years as new developments were built people moved away from Neve Tzedek and the area became run down. Only since the 60s the municipality has invested in restoration and preservation of the historic buildings. The area has been restored to its former glory and attracted chic boutiques, trendy cafes and art galleries. The cobbled streets and historic buildings have gained a new lease on life and have been completely gentrified. The window boxes drip with brightly colored flowers, trees bring greenery into the streets and the architecture alone is breathtaking. Each house features some unique element of Bauhaus or Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture.Neve Tzedek is famed for its exquisite architecture, cultural legacy and village-within-a-city feel. The neighborhood lives up to its name, being a peaceful oasis in the busy metropolis. The neighborhood is perfect for exploring on foot and you can often see groups taking walking tours through Neve Tzedek.In the first half of the 1900s the neighborhood was home to writers and artists including Brenner; Nobel Prize winner Agnon and artist Nachum Gutman. Today artists, writers, public figures and performers are still attracted to the neighborhood. Actress Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman and Batman V Superman) has a home here.See and Do in Neve TzedekAlthough you will enjoy just wandering the streets of Neve Tzedek there are several highlights. The Rokach House at 36 Simon Rokach Street was one of the first houses built in the neighborhood by Shimon Rokach whose son Israel Rokach went on to be Tel Aviv’s second mayor. The Suzzanne Dallal Center on Yahieli Street is the city’s official dance center and the site of a tree-shaded piazza where there is a cafe. The dance center is housed in a former school building constructed in 1908 in the Bauhaus style. Chlouche House at 32 Shlush Street was the first house built in Neve Tzedek in 1886 by Aharon Chlouche today it is an art gallery. Visitors can go up to the roof top terrace for brilliant views. The Nachum Gutman Museum is located in the artist’s former home in Neve Tzedek and Samy D is a ceramic studio worth visiting. For designer stores, boutiques and art galleries wander down Shabazi Street. Shabazi is the neighborhood’s main street but be sure to explore the smaller lanes which branch off.Once you have had your full of architecture, culture and shopping relax in one of the many Neve Tzedek restaurants or cafes. The eateries have the most beautiful settings in tranquil courtyards, historical buildings or with sidewalk seating.
Beit Guvrin National Park
Also known just as Guvrin Park or “land of a thousand caves” this is a hidden gem and a must-see site for those looking for something unusual in Israel. Guvrin is located 13km from Kiryat Gat and has recently been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Beit Guvrin National Park covers about 1,250 acres in the Judean Lowlands.Beit Guvrin caveThe hills in this area are made mostly of chalk covered by hard rock (nari). Many cultures over the centuries have dug away at these rocks creating openings beneath the ground to use for a number of purposes. Once they got through the hard layer of rock it was simply a matter of hollowing out the chalk to create caves. Over the years a labyrinth of subterranean caves grew into a complex network. The park encompasses the ancient settlements of Maresha and Beit Guvrin. The First Temple Era (586BC) town of Maresha (mentioned in Joshua 15:44) stood on this site which was then settled by Edomites followed by Sidonians and then Greeks. Maresha became a Hellenistic city and at the time many of the caves were created. The Jewish Hasmonean King John Hycanus I conquered the city in 113BC and by 40BC Maresha had been destroyed by the Parthian invaders.Beit Guvrin became the primary settlement in the area, as we learn from the writings of Roman historian Josephus Flavius. The city continued to thrive as a Roman ruled Jewish city until the destruction of the Second Temple (70AD) and the Bar-Kochva Revolt (132-35AD). Under the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus the city became Eleutheropolis and was declared a “city of freemen” and became a municipality. The Byzantine period saw Christian churches built in Beit Guvrin and under the following Muslim rule most of the caves were created. During the Crusader period the Byzantine St. Anne’s Church was rebuilt (1136AD). Each of these civilizations has left their mark. The site can be visited at any time of the year although in the spring you can see the blossoming wild flowers. Expect to spend about 1.5-2 hours here. The park is open April to September 08:00-17:00 and October to March 08:00-16:00. Entrance is 29ILS for adults and 15ILS for kids. The trail and picnic areas are wheelchair accessible. For more details check-out the Israel Nature and Parks Authority website.Highlights of a visit to Beit Guvrin National ParkFirstly the beautiful open countryside of the Judean Lowlands offer an opportunity to get out into open air and do some hiking or biking. In addition you have the amazing archaeological findings which include a Byzantine church, subterranean cisterns, mosaics and public baths.Columbarium – This breathtaking underground room from 200BC spans 30 meters. On the walls are almost 2,000 niches which were used to house the pigeons which were used for food, sending messages and their droppings were used for fertilizer.Maze Cave – 30 interconnecting caves which visitors can walk through.Greek Sidonian Burial Caves – Dating back to the 3rd century BC the caves were Hellenistic family tombs and are decorated with wall paintings of mythological creatures, hunting scenes and cultural elements.The Bell Caves – There are about 800 bell-shaped caves beneath the surface in Guvrin Park although many more have yet to be uncovered. They date back to the 4th to 9th century. The extracted chalk would have been used for building and road making. The most spectacular is 5 meters high with a large opening in the ceiling which lets light pour in, this hole would have been used to extract the chalk. Today the Bell Cave is used for special events and classical musical performances.Roman Amphitheatre – One of only four Roman amphitheatres in Israel, it could once seat 3,500 spectators.St. Anne’s Church – the Byzantine Era church was rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 1100s. An elegant semi-circular stone dome remains.
Jerusalem Marathon, March 2018
The annual Jerusalem Marathon is one of the Israel top events. The upcoming Jerusalem Marathon will be held on 9 March 2018. This is one of the most beautiful urban running courses in the country as it passes by many iconic and historic landmarks.The unique course is set against a backdrop of thousand-year old structures and offers both urban landscapes and forest-covered hilltop views. The spring weather in Jerusalem in March is perfect for running. Runners come from across the world to participate. Up until 2011 Jerusalem had only held half-marathons but today the full marathon course meets international standards of excellence and attracts approximately 30,000 runners from over 50 countries around the world. Past Jerusalem Marathon winners have come from Ethiopia and Kenya.Jerusalem Marathon Courses 2018Participants in the Jerusalem Marathon 2018 will get a tour of the city. The route takes runners through the oldest parts of the city, along urban routes, through parks and past lush forests. The marathon course starts at the Israeli parliament building, the Knesset. The course takes participants through Mount Scopus where they can see the Hebrew University and Haas Promenade. Runners will get to see the Old City as the route enters the Jaffa Gate and continues through the Armenian Quarter then out of Zion Gate. The route takes runners past the majestic David’s Tower. The marathon course takes runners to the Jerusalem Forest and on to the finish line in Sacher Park. The route is particularly challenging due to Jerusalem’s hilly terrain.Jerusalem Marathon Courses 2018In addition to the full marathon of 42.2 km there will be a half marathon (21.1 km); a 5K competitive race; 5K community race; 800 meter community race; 10K race and family race of 1,7km. All of the courses set off from near the Knesset and Israel Museum on the corner of Derech Ruppin and Eliezer Kaplan Street except for the family race which takes place in Sacher Park, near the finish line.Jerusalem Marathon CoursesIn addition to the full marathon of 42.2 km therewill be a half marathon (21.1 km); a 5K competitive race; 5K community race; 800 meter community race; 10K race and family race of 1,7 km. All of the courses set off from near the Knesset and Israel Museum on the corner of Derech Ruppin and Eliezer Kaplan Street except for the family race which takes place in Sacher Park, near the finish line.Special Jerusalem Marathon 2018 EventsIn addition to the race itself the event will be celebrated with special happenings for the whole community. There will be a Sport & Health Expo held on 6th-8th March open for free to participants and their families. On offer will be commercial stalls selling sport-related items as well as entertainment and food. In addition there will be training sessions, lectures, sports demonstrations and competitions. The runners’ kits will be distributed at the expo. Participants will be invited to a traditional pasta dinner the night before the race.On the day of the marathon there will be a festive atmosphere along the course. Spectators will be able to take part in events and activities as well as enjoying musical performances on stages set up along the route of the marathon. At the finish line in Sacher Park there will be a sports fair and festival with activities including exercise classes, drum circles, Zumba and kickboxing classes. Visitor and participants can also enjoy entertainment and food stalls in the park. There is a traditional pre-marathon run in the Botanical Gardens as well as night runs during marathon week.
The Amazing Landscapes of the Judean Desert
The Judean Desert lies in between the Judean Mountains and the Dead Sea in Southeastern Israel and is sometimes referred to as the Judean Wilderness. The desert is about 85km long and 25km wide stretching from just below Jerusalem at about 1,000m above sea level past the Dead Sea at about 421m below sea level. The desert holds a wealth of incredible natural wonders; diverse, dramatic landscapes, a rich history and ancient landmarks. The Judean Desert landscape has dry river beds (wadis); canyons; rocky mountains and barren plains as well as many waterfalls and streams that create stunning green oasis. Much of the Judean Desert is in the Palestinian territories of Judea and along the western shore of the Dead Sea.Judean Desert Jeep SafarisAs driving off-road into the desert by yourself is not advisable the best way to discover the Judean Desert is to take a desert jeep safari. You can join a Judean Desert Jeep Tour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem so that you don’t even have to find your own way to the desert. The tour starts when you are picked-up in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and drive south descending below sea level to the Dead Sea region. At this point, you change to an off-road vehicle and enter the desert. The safari takes you by jeep across rocky hills, through dry river beds (wadis) and stops at various points of interest like the Murbaat Caves and Cliffs of Dragot. Jeep safari tours into the Judean Desert are led by experts who can tell you all about the desert flora and fauna. Tours return to the Dead Sea where you can cool off before making the return journey to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.Hiking, Sports and Activities in the Judean DesertThe Judean Desert is a popular destination for hiking, extreme sports and bird watching. All these activities should only be undertaken with a guide. Popular activities in the Judean Desert include snapping, climbing, off-road jeeping and bird watching. The weather has a huge impact on visitors to the Judean Desert – both the extreme heat of summer and flash floods in the winter.Highlights of the Judean DesertSt. George’s Monastery – This beautiful Greek Orthodox monastery in Wadi Qelt clings to vertical cliffs and is reached by a pedestrian bridge across the valley. Originally built in the Byzantine era and rebuilt in the 12th century the site is associated with Elijah and other Biblical protagonists.Wadi Qelt – Kelt Oasis or Nahal Prat lies between Jericho and Mitzpe Yeriho. Here you can see unique flora and fauna, the stunning St. George’s Monastery and the ancient Wadi Qelt Synagogue.Qumran – Qumran lies on the shore of the Dead Sea and is the closest community to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. Visitors can see the caves and also the excavation site of ancient remains dating back to the Hellenistic Period (134-104BC) when a community of Essenes Jews lived here isolated from the rest of society and devoted themselves to Biblical study.Caves of Murbaat – These historic caves have interesting square entrances and once held ancient treasures left by Jews who hid here during the Bar Kochva Revolt against the Romans in 132AD. Today the caves are still of interest but the findings are now on display in the Israel Museum.Cliffs of Dragot – Situated on the northern shore of the Dead Sea Metsuke Dragot or the Dragot Cliffs offer a breathtaking view across Murabat Wadi and the Dead Sea. An eco-friendly community is located on the cliffs and offers accommodation and hospitality for visitors.Ein Gedi – Ein Gedi is a kibbutz (with a hotel) as well as a natural desert oasis on the edge of the Dead Sea. Here you can follow paths to picturesque waterfalls and alongside streams flanked by lush vegetation.Arad – Arad is a modern city lying between the Negev and Judean Deserts. Arad attractions include a market and Tel Arad, an archaeological site where ancient Arad once stood.Jericho – A Biblical city considered to be one of the oldest in the world.Tours to Jericho stop at Biblical sites like Zacchaeus sycamore tree and at the archeological site of ancient Jericho.Ma’ale Adumim – This quiet Israeli West Bank city is home to hidden lush natural springs and the ruins of the Byzantine Monastery of Martyrius.Masada – This massive mesa, or rock outcrop has a flat plateau summit where you can tour the remains of Herod’s ancient fortress. There is a cable car that takes visitors to the top and the ruins are well preserved. There is also a visitor’s center and food court at the base of Masada. As this is a hard location to reach many travelers opt to take an organized tour to Masada that includes a stop at the Dead Sea.The Dead Sea – The number one attraction in the region is the sea at the lowest point on Earth. There are beaches along the shore of the hyper-saline Dead Sea (some free and others with an entrance fee) where you can soak up the sun and float in the mineral-rich water which has proven health and beauty benefits.
Wadi Kelt and Monastery of St. George
The Monastery of St. George is situated on the side of a rough, almost vertical cliff overlooking Wadi Qelt in the Judean Desert. The Wadi or gorge stretches from the outskirts of Jerusalem southeast to Jericho just north of the Dead Sea.Wadi QeltThe Wadi is thought to be the Valley of the Shadow of Death referred to in Psalm 23. The Wadi runs parallel to the ancient Roman road that once led to Jericho. It was along this road that Jesus set the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). Today it is possible to follow a 3 hour long hike route through the Wadi and then ascend to the Monastery of St George.St George Orthodox MonasteryThe monastery’s full name is the Monastery of Saint George and John Jacob of Choziba. As early as the 4th-5th century monks seeking solitude and a place to contemplate God inhabited the caves in this area. During that period there were about 70 monasteries and monastic communities in the region. They chose this location because it is remote and because it is close to a cave associated with Elijah (Kings I 17:5-6). In 420 AD St George’s began as a “lavra” a community of hermits living in caves around a church and communal area. The monks would meditate in their caves and come together for prayer and communal meals. The cliff-hanging monastery complex was founded in 480 by Egyptian monk John Thebes (c.440-c.520). Led by Thebes the monastery became an important religious retreat but in 614 Persians attacked the monastery, slaughtering 14 monks and seriously damaging the structures. During the 6th century a Cyprian monk came to live in the monastery and the monastery bears his name – St George of Koziba.The monastery stood abandoned until being restored in 1179 by the Crusaders and again in 1234 under Frederick II. By 1878 the monastery was once again fully functional and home to a community of monks. A Greek monk called Kalinikos restored the complex over the course of 23 years competing it in 1901. Among the treasures of the monastery are relics of John of Thebes, St George of Choziba and Kalinikos plus several monks and saints associated with the monastery as well as the remains of the monks killed by the Persians in 614.Visiting St. George’s MonasterySaint George’s is an active monastery and home to a number of Eastern Orthodox monks who welcome pilgrims and tourists. The monastery’s remote location is reached via a pedestrian bridge spanning Wadi Qelt from the main car park. The walk up to the monastery is a steep 1km route. On the return journey you can opt for a donkey ride back to the car park. As a religious site visitors are required to dress modestly (no shorts for men and women must wear long skirts rather than pants as well as modest tops that cover the shoulders).Visitors can see the complex’s two churches that hold mosaics, icons and paintings; courtyards; a garden of Cyprus and olive trees and a balcony offering brilliant views. The complex buildings are topped with bright blue domes and there is a bell tower that was added in 1952. Above the monastery further up on the cliff is a cave-church within the grotto believed to have been where Elijah was fed by ravens. A tunnel takes you from the cave-church to the top of the mountain where you can see across the Wadi to an ancient Roman aqueduct.