Before Covid-19 took over our lives in 2020, Israel had a record number of visitors – nearly 4 million – from all over the world. That is quite the achievement for a country whose total population is only about 9 million, and it stretches a mere 114 miles in width, and 263 miles north to south. What attracts people from all walks of life from different countries to this magical place?
For starters, the diverse landscape. Once mostly a swamp and desert, Israeli settlers worked under extreme conditions to turn the swamps into farmable land and make the desert bloom. Highlands, deserts, mountains, coastlines, valleys, national parks, the one and only Dead Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and Lake Tiberias in Galilee are all places one must-see when visiting this ancient country.
Jerusalem, the capital city, is a melting pot of numerous cultures and religions. In Israel, tourism is the most popular type of self-employed job that the country heavily relies on due to its vast incomes. The more than three-thousand-year-old City of David under the Old Town of today is under continuous excavation, where new findings are discovered regularly.
Jerusalem was ruled by so many nations, one can easily lose count. Starting with the Canaanites, then the Israelites, the Muslims, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the British, and finally Israel again. Maybe no other city in the world has a richer, more adverse, and more controversial history than this. Its Old Town is divided into four quarters, the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian quarters.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share their places of worship, and ancient religious sights here connected to Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad. You can find everything you need and more in the bazaar, and the winding, narrow streets take you through a lively, colorful scene. Walking on the white, limestone streets of the old city, being surrounded by unique historic and religious buildings that can only be found here makes this a truly remarkable experience.
When you fly to Israel, you most likely will land in Tel Aviv, a modern, bustling city along the Mediterranean next to one of the most ancient ports, Jaffa. Museums, markets, beaches, parks, bars with a vivid party scene, amazing restaurants, and cafes are all part of this hip city.
The Northern Region
No matter which direction you start out in, you will find amazing sights in the country. When traveling to the north, you can visit some of the earliest kibbutzim in the country. If you are interested in history and want to see a well-preserved Roman city with colonnades, a theatre, a gymnasium, and much more, Beit Shean is a must. Nearby Nazareth is a favorite pilgrimage site for Christians, now the largest city in the north.
Continuing to the north, Galilee is famous for its delicious dates, its thriving agriculture, and Lake Galilee, also known as Tiberias, named after the Roman emperor, just like the lakeshore city with the same name. The ancient hot springs of Tiberias were said to have healing powers. There are several first-century towns and archaeological finds found in this area, such as Korazin, Tabgha, and Capernaum.
While in the northern region, I recommend visiting Megiddo, an ancient Canaanite city-state, and a passage along an important trade route, the Via Maris, across from the valley of Jezreel. I wouldn’t do justice to the north without mentioning the beautiful, ancient city of Caesarea Maritima, an architectural bravado of King Herod on the shores of the Mediterranean, named in honor of the great Caesar Augustus.
We can see a Roman hippodrome, a still operational theater, the remnants of the once majestic port, an aqueduct, and many more in this gorgeous, seaside town.
The Southern Region
When traveling towards the south driving through the rocky Negev desert, you will see Bedouin tents along the road. You could even spend the night in the desert in one of the tents, and experience their famous hospitality. When you arrive at the Dead sea, the lowest point on earth, at 1280 feet under sea level. The astonishingly high salt and mineral content make it impossible for any sea life to exist in the sea, and people are strongly advised to not even try to swim here. However, there is the alternative of simply floating on the water!
Ein Gedi is an unmissable, hidden oasis in this desert land, with two beautiful waterfalls, unique fauna and flora, and a fascinating view of the Dead-sea. Further south, the majestic fort of King Herod, Masada, is another must-see. The adventurous may walk up the 1424 feet high fortress on the snake path, however, there is a more comfortable option of a cable car available as well.
The insane genius of Herod created an unbelievable military camp complete with an elaborate water system, cisterns, multiple food storages, a roman bath with mosaics and murals, columbarium, and a three-story palace on the northern side of this massive rock. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. around a thousand zealots with their families moved here and defended Masada.
The Romans eventually had to build a ramp on the western side to breach the fort. The view from here is spectacular and is an absolute must-see.
Further to the south, you reach the Red sea with the popular seaside town, Eilat. Here you can go snorkeling or diving and see some unbelievable sea life and the Moses Rock, a giant coral reef, with a coral table below.
There is so much more to see in this small, but versatile country. Wherever you go, either history or nature will amaze you. However, the most striking memory that stayed with me was the uninhibited freedom, boldness, and joy of the people, their love of life, and devotion to their beloved country. Take advantage of hiring one of the many, highly trained and knowledgeable Israeli tour guides, they will make your trip a truly memorable one.