The Complete Guide: Things To Do in The Winter in Israel
Surprisingly for many, winter in Israel can actually be a good time to visit the country. Sure, you won’t be able to sunbathe and swim in the Mediterranean, but there are endless other ways to fill your time- national parks, historical sites, the Old City of Jerusalem (crammed full of iconic holy places), food tours and sports activities for those looking for an ‘adventure holiday’.
When is Winter in Israel?
Winter in Israel can generally be described as the period between mid-November and the end of February, but the chilly temperatures vary quite widely depending on where you are in the country. If you’re visiting Tel Aviv or somewhere along the coast, the evenings won’t be as cold, and in the day there’s often sunshine and temperatures as high as 23°.
Winter in Israel is a season of blooming and growth
However, if you’re staying in Jerusalem, it can get rather cold and you’ll need to dress up warmly (think her, scarves and gloves, and a few layers of clothing!). In the depths of January and February, temperatures can plummet to almost freezing and the same goes for the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights, which are high in the mountains. Still, on the upside, it might even snow in these places…making for beautiful views and great Instagram shots!
So if you are coming to Israel in the winter, what should you expect in terms of ways to fill your time? Obviously, there’s a lot of excitement over the period leading up to Christmas in the Holy Land- when Jerusalem and Bethlehem are packed with Christian pilgrims- but what else should you check out?
Winter Tourist Attractions in Israel
Where to begin? For a small nation, Israel packs a punch in terms of its attractions. Note that while destinations in the USA and Europe tend to close some businesses or attractions during colder times due to weather or local interest, Israel remains open and offers a bewildering variety of attractions for every taste:
Historical and Religious Sites in the Holy Land
No visitor (whether first-time or returning) wants to miss Jerusalem - it’s the kind of place you could get lost in for weeks on end. The Old City, home to iconic religious sites such as the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, is a great place to wander- follow the Via Dolorosa along the stations of the cross (where Jesus made his last journey), shop in the bazaar for Israeli souvenirs then stop for some traditional food (hummus, shawarma, falafel, kebabs) in one of the four ancient city quarters.
A rainy day in Jerusalem
The ‘new city’ also has plenty to keep you occupied, even in the rain, in terms of culture. The world-famous Israel Museum boasts treasures such as the Shrine of the Book (which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls), a miniature model of the Second Temple model and reconstructed synagogues from Cochin, Curacao and Venice, not to mention a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden.
A visit to Yad Vashem, the monument to the six million murdered in the Holocaust, is also recommended if you want to learn more about the history of the Jews in Europe, and the catastrophic events that led up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. From there you can catch the light railway to the Mahane Yehuda market, which is always bustling and comes to life on Thursday nights, when there’s live music and plenty of students hanging out.
Yad Vashem Museum
You can also take a day trip to Bethlehem and Jericho from Jerusalem - it’s possible to travel independently but since it involves crossing over into the Palestinian Authority, we’d recommend booking with a tour operator. And for those that want history combined with some ‘chill time’ then a day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea has to be had- after exploring a Herodian castle in the Judean desert, you’ll be able to float at the lowest point on earth, and enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding area.
National Parks in Caesarea, the Galilee and the Golan
Israel’s north is simply stunning and in the winter months, the rain makes it even more lush and verdant. A great day trip to Caesarea, Rosh ha Nikra and Akko can be had, where you’ll travel up the coast and explore Herodian ruins, Crusader tunnels and limestone grottos- Akko is also home to a beautiful harbor and some excellent fish restaurants.
Northern Israel is also full of national parks, and many are in the Galilee and Golan Heights. As long as it's not pouring with rain, they’re easy to discover- full of hiking trails (ranging from easy to difficult), streams, rivers and incredible flora and fauna.
The Banias Waterfall
From the Banias nature reserve (with its incredible waterfall) and Gan Hashlosha (known for its warm thermal waters) to the Carmel area (with trails and suspension bridges) to Zippori (close to the biblical city of Nazareth) all you need is some sturdy shoes, a waterproof jacket and some water and snacks and you’re in for the perfect day out.
Food Tours, Vineyard Hopping. Adventure Expeditions and Family Outings
If you’re less of a culture vulture or ‘outdoorsy type’ and prefer sedentary activities, don’t worry! Israel’s a wonderful foodie destination and if take a food tour in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market your tastebuds will soon be tingling - spices, fruits, breads, cheeses, and all kinds of hummus are in wait for you.
Visit the famous Carmel Market
Wine lovers will be enthralled by the number of vineyards in Israel, the most well-known of which are in the Galilee and Golan but also a few emerging in the Negev desert. And if you’re down in the Negev, winter is an excellent time to do some trekking- you can explore the crater at Mitzpe Ramon (hike inside it or rappel down its sides), star-gaze at night, explore wadis and copper mines and enjoy stunning empty spaces.
There are also plenty of family-friendly activities in Israel, especially around Hanukkah and Christmas, and over Purim (one of the Jewish calendar's most riotous holidays, where both kids and adults dress up and make merriment for a day). Puppet shows, theater productions for children, the Jerusalem zoo and aquarium, the Ramat Gan Safari and Haifa’s Madatech (Israel’s National Museum of science, technology and Space) will all keep the little ones amused for hours.
Entertainment and Nightlife
Finally, winter activities don’t end in Israel when night falls and in Tel Aviv the ‘non-stop capital’ of the country, that’s when the city actually comes to life. Tel Aviv has some incredible restaurants, bars and nightclubs, where you can eat, drink and dance till the wee small hours.
The local cocktails are just awesome!
Tel Aviv’s nightclubs are infamous for their music and chilled vibe, and cocktail bars in the city are often open until dawn rises. Since the city is so safe to walk around, if you’re ever up for an early-morning walk on the promenade and beach, it’s more than likely you’ll see a few party-goers bleary-eyed, and heading home from a riotous night out.
In terms of how to get around Israel, you have a few options:
- Public transport - Israel’s buses and trains are both cheap and efficient, although they don’t run on the Jewish sabbath), For instance, the high-speed train traveling between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem takes 40 minutes and costs a mere $6 (24 NIS) one way.
- Car Rental - renting a car in Israel is easy and, surprisingly, quite cost-effective if you are more than two people. There are branches of companies both at the airport and in large cities, and everyone will speak English. Just bring your license and you’re good to go.
- Taking a Tour - if you’re looking to see as much of the country as possible in the time you have, with minimal hassle, then taking a day trip in Israel or an organized package (from a few days to a couple of weeks) is an excellent idea. You’ll have a Ministry of Tourism-appointed guide and comfortable transportation, and your days will be busy!
- Similarly, if you opt for an Israel tour package, not only will you have a guide and transport but all of your accommodation and some of your meals will be provided. Whether you’re a Christian pilgrim, a history buff, a foodie or someone who’s visiting Israel for the first time and wants the ‘highlights’, you really will get bang for your buck.
- If you’d like to find out more about the wide range of day trips, privately-guided excursions and tour packages that we offer, feel free to contact us by email or phone and, if you’re curious, look at our blog, where we take a deep dive into all things relating to Israel.