Enter the small but diverse Middle Eastern country of Israel. Considered as part of the Holy Land, along with regions in Jordan, Egypt and the Palestian Territories, it also has historical ties with the four major monotheistic religions – Bahaism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the North, the Galilee, in particular the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) is a lush region where Tiberias and Safed – two of Judaism’s four holy cities – are found. This area is closely linked to the life of Jesus Christ. The Jewish Diaspora has resulted a strong influx of immigrants. All these contribute to Israel’s strong cultural legacy, shrouding it with mystery and allure that continues to fascinate travellers and pilgrims alike.
What to see & do
Tel Aviv is Israel’s commercial and commercial centre. This modern metropolis has retained some of the city’s old-world flavour. For instance, the Carmel Market in central Tel Aviv is a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells that provide an authentic glimpse into daily life there. Put your bargaining skills to the test with the vendors who hawk their wares from stalls selling clothes, food and spices. Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean seashore is also a big hit with tourists; catch a sunset from prime viewing spots at the likes of Gordon Beach and Hatzuk Beach. You could also explore the museums, theatres, galleries, concert halls, restaurants and nightclubs for a well-rounded city adventure.
The Old City of Jerusalem is a definite must-see on every visitor’s list. It is the official capital of Israel and a sacred land to Christianity, Judaism and Islam due to religious sites that include the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. Surrounded by robust stone walls from the Ottoman era, Jerusalem is a city you can easily spend a full day in. You can place a prayer between the stones of the Western Wall, meander among the narrow alleys in the Old City Bazaar or visit the site of Christ’s crucifixion. Yad Vashem, built in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, is another important place you can visit to learn more about Israel. It is home to many museums, monuments, libraries and exhibition halls that portray a moving historical account. For more exhibitions and artefacts, the Israel Museum is a treasure trove that includes the Dead Sea Scrolls – the oldest biblical manuscripts known to man – among its collections, which also extend to sculptures by Picasso and Rodin in the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden. Caesarea is another archeological gem, located near Tel Aviv. The ruins of this port are 2,000 years old, dating back to the Roman and Crusader periods.
Head down to the Dead Sea, aka the Lowest Point on Earth, for a unique experience. The mud of the Dead Sea is rich in minerals that have many cosmetic and medicinal properties. With its very high salt content, its warm waters are buoyant enough to keep you lying on your back while reading a newspaper! For those who want to snorkel or go scuba diving though, the seaside resort of Eilat is just a boat trip away. It beckons with a host of beautiful marine life and coral reefs under its cerulean waters. Have fun with watersports, swim with dolphins or simply work on your tan.
Visitors to desert in the Southern region won’t be disappointed with the sights there. The Ramon Crater is the largest crater in the world with a maximum depth of about 500 metres. This crater is almost heart-shaped and was formed by water and climatic erosion. Get a great view from the Mitzpeh Ramon Visitor Centre, where you can literally stand at the edge of this natural wonder. Also in the desert lies the fortress of Masada on an isolated rock plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. In a last tragic act of resistance against the Romans in 73 AD, one thousand Jewish Zealots committed mass suicide on this 1,300-ft peak, reachable by hiking on foot or by cable car.
Finally, the magical terraces of Baha’i in Haifa – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – are a must-see. One of the most beautiful gardens in the world, it’s a tribute to the founders of the Baha’i Faith that draws pilgrims from all over the world. See the central terrace house with the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab. Admire the hanging gardens of Haifa along a broad staircase of 19 terraces that extend up the northern side of Mount Carmel.
Israel’s main gateway by air is Ben-Gurion International Airport Tel-Aviv, serving both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. International flights and domestic airlines (which fly to a number of American and European destinations) land there. Israel also has another international airport for charter flights in Ovda. It serves Southern Israel, mainly Eilat. Find and compare cheap flights on Skyscanner! Make your bookings with airlines and online tour agencies at no extra charge.
Some Dos and Don’ts
• Do dress modestly when you enter the Baha’i Gardens.
• Don’t wade into the Dead Sea with any open wounds, as the high levels of salt will cause your wounds to smart.
Did you know…?
With 33% salinity, the Dead Sea is 8.6 times saltier than the Mediterranean. This makes it the world’s saltiest body of water.
Images by Flickr\Emmanuel Dyan
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