The country of Israel is full of unexpected beauty at every turn. Who knew?! Not I, but that’s what traveling and exploring is for. We swam (read: floated) in the Dead Sea. We walked where Jesus walked (unfortunately not on water, think more shoreline). We hiked to the ruins of King Herod’s fortress, today an UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a dreamy itinerary – adventurers and explorers take note!
Is Israel Safe?
I have so much to say about Israel’s beauty and adventure, but as they say, safety first! Yes, Israel is very safe. I know what you’re thinking. It shares a border with Syria. We didn’t go near that portion of the country. I walked by myself. I walked with other women. I felt safe the entire time, and I’d return in a heartbeat! Don’t let the media brainwash you too much.
Tel Aviv is situated on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and lives up to its reputation of having beautiful beaches and a crazy nightlife. Step aside, NYC. Tel Aviv is truly a city that never sleeps. In Israel there’s a saying that goes something like this: “You go to Haifa to work, Jerusalem to learn, and Tel Aviv to play.” Truth. Finally, you should learn how to cheers in Hebrew: “Le Haim!”
Tagged as the country’s commercial, cultural and financial center, Tel Aviv is a bustling city with ports, museums and markets galore. The city has a street vibe that’s the perfect blend of cool/trendy fashionista and laid-back beach bum, with a healthy splash of lively, chaotic middle-eastern charm.
What to do: People watch. Seriously, the people (men, I’m really talking to y’all) are all beautiful! Tour Old Jaffa and get lost inside its walls. You’ll see a lot of blue doorways here (similar in Turkey and Greece) to ward off the evil eye. See the port, the flea market and the Ilana Gur Museum. Relax on the beach and play a game of Matkot (beach tennis). Take out some shekels (Israeli currency) as you’ll want to hit up the Carmel and Levinsky markets full of antiques and amazing treasures. Don’t shop til you drop, though. The nightlife in Tel Aviv is a must.
Where to eat: Herbert Samuel Restaurant, HaAchim, The Blue Rooster
What to eat: Shakshuka – a fried egg in tomato sauce with onions, served in a frying pan. Burekas – salty pastry with cheese filling. Kadaif – classic dessert of shredded phyllo dough, dusted with sugar and walnuts. Don’t forget the dates, the hummus and the pita bread! Mmmm falafels! For more on food, check out my friend’s amazingly delicious food blog: KevinandAmanda. Disclaimer: Amanda will make you hungry within mere seconds!
Where to stay: The David Intercontinental Hotel is on the beach and within walking distance to Old Jaffa and Carmel market. With a view like this, I don’t know why you’d stay elsewhere.
Day Trips & Sights throughout Israel
Israel has so much history that it was near impossible to keep all the facts straight. I’m no Wikipedia article, but I do listen and learn at times. Caesarea is located along the shores of the Mediterranean where King Herod built his palace. This is where Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus to be crucified.
Even after all these years, visitors can easily see where chariot races and gladiator fights went down in the hippodrome during ancient Roman times.
One of my favorite sights was in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Here, we see where parks and rec meets concrete jungle meets battleship! You can get this glimpse from Mount Carmel:
And this glimpse of the Hanging Gardens from down below:
Markets, bazars, and galleries galore! This is where you go to get lost like a local in the Crusader seaport. Don’t forget your shekels as you can’t pay with credit cards at many stands here. The food, coffee and homemade ice cream from Endomela were worth the trip.
Sea of Galilee & Tiberias
Jesus walked on water here, but I needed this boat to experience the Sea of Galilee. It’s the main source of drinking water in Israel – fun fact of the day! Be sure to try out The Decks restaurant full of local and international foods alike. The Rimonim Galei Kinneret Hotel is a nice place to lie your head at night before waking up for this beautiful sunrise:
Mount of Beatitudes
I attended Catholic school for 10 years throughout elementary school and junior high, and nothing brought me back to that place quite like reading “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” on a plaque while visiting the Mount of Beatitudes.
Hey Mrs. Keifer, (9th Grade Religion teacher) look at me now! It should also be noted that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was delivered here, where he fed 5,000 people, took the loaves and broke the bread, gave them to his disciples and said… I will spare you the rest. That was the good Catholic coming out in me.
This ancient fortification and palace of King Herod is known as the last stronghold of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 73 C.E. Now there’s a test at the end of this blog post, so study up.
Visiting Masada was a highlight of the trip, but my brain almost exploded from the amount of history that lives here. The mountaintop fortress has a view of the Dead Sea and a heat index that will make you wish you were wearing next to nothing. You’ll inevitably want to end up doing as the Romans did…going naked.
There are two ways to get up here: via many, many steps or via cable car. If you’re hungry, eat at one of the delicious stands before ascending, and make sure to get your photo with this guy.
The Dead Sea
Few experiences rival floating in the Dead Sea. Due to this fact alone, I’ll be writing a separate post on how exactly to visit the attraction, but know this: if you think your GoPro will capture your entire Dead Sea experience, you’re dead wrong. Weird things happen at 424 meters below sea level, the lowest place on the face of the earth.