Israel, officially the State of Israel , is a country in Western Asia, situated at the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the east and southwest, respectively, and Egypt and the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to the south. It contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel’s financial center is Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem is the country’s most populous city and its designated capital, although Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognized internationally.
Home to some of the world’s most famous historic sites, Israel and the Palestinian Territories are often thought of as simply a pilgrimage destination. After all, this is where some of the main events for those of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths is said to have happened. But for travelers not seeking out religious highlights in the churches, synagogues, and mosques, there are plenty of other attractions. The Dead Sea is a bizarre natural wonder where you can’t sink. The Galilee region’s natural beauty ticks all the boxes for those who want to hike in nature. And the Negev desert’s raw and rocky landscapes are ripe for adventure seekers looking for some dusty action.
The ancient Old City is encircled by imposing stone walls that date to the Ottoman period and contain within it such holy sites as the Western Wall – the most visited site in Israel and one holy to Jews, The Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The most contested city on earth is also one of the most beautiful. The scope of its history is staggering, and its vital place in the traditions of all three monotheistic faiths has led to it being fought over continually through the centuries.
This is the heart of the Holy Land; where the Jews raised the First Temple to keep the Ark of the Covenant safe, where Jesus was crucified and rose again, and where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven to receive God’s word. For believers, a visit to Jerusalem is a pilgrimage to one of the most sacred sites in the world. The number of sights here can be baffling for first time visitors, but luckily most of the top tourist attractions are secreted within the lanes of the compact Old City district. With so much to see, the best way to tackle a trip here is to decide on a few key attractions that are must-dos and break your sightseeing down into sections of the city. Don’t try to do too much and wear yourself out. It would take a lifetime to see everything that Jerusalem offers.
Tel Aviv or Tel Aviv-Yafo is the second most populous city in Israel, after Jerusalem, with a population of 414,600. It is located on the Mediterranean coast in central-west Israel, within Gush Dan, Israel’s largest metropolitan area, containing 42% of Israel’s population. It is also the largest and most populous in Gush Dan, which is collectively home to 3,464,100 residents.The city is governed by the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality, headed by Ron Huldai. Residents of Tel Aviv are referred to as Tel Avivim.Tel Aviv is home to many foreign embassies.
Tel Aviv is Israel‘s commercial heart and cultural center. It has a world famous night life, great beaches, incredible restaurants and more. Tel Aviv is also one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. It is often referred as the one sane place in the entire middle east. Unlike Tel Aviv that is just over 100 years old, the old city of Jaffa, right next to Tel Aviv traces its roots to biblical times and possibly even before.
Jaffa also called Japho is the southern, oldest part of Tel Aviv-Jaffa (since 1950), an ancient port city in Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical stories of Solomon, Jonah, and Saint Peter.
A picturesque vision of honey-colored stone, Jaffa is a chilled-out little harbor town with an illustrious past as a major port. Made for aimless wandering and home to an excellent flea market, Jaffa provides an old-world style respite from the modern thrum of Tel Aviv next door. The muddle of lanes leading down to the sea, where once the great ships of the ancient Mediterranean empires docked, are now a haven for café-hopping and lazy afternoon sightseeing. All who visit soon succumb to its charms.
Bahai Gardens in Haifa
Jerusalem is all history. Tel Aviv is about modern dining and café culture. And Haifa just does its own thing. This lovely northern city’s main highlight is the Baha’i Gardens which tumble down the hillside towards the sea in a series of immaculate green terraces.
The Baha’i gardens in Haifa must be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world and can be seen from almost anywhere in the area. They are a memorial to the founders of the Baha’i Faith. Also known at the “hanging gardens”, they span along a broad staircase of 19 terraces that extend up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The central terrace houses the gold-domed Shrine. The gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
They’re a must-do for all travelers here, but Haifa’s big attraction for many visitors is that it’s the perfect base to explore the north. Akko, Mount Carmel, and Caesarea are right on the doorstep, and even Nazareth and Megiddo could be easily done as a day trip from here. Hands down the most easygoing city in the country, Haifa should be part of everyone’s itinerary.
Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel with a mixed population of Christian and Muslim Arabs. This city of churches is a place of pilgrimage for the world’s Christians, who believe it to be the site of the Annunciation – when the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary.
It’s also thought to be where Jesus spent his adolescence and, in the nearby village of Cana, he’s believed to have performed the first of his miracles. The city’s main sightseeing attraction is the Church of the Annunciation, which every pilgrim and tourist makes a beeline for on arrival. Afterwards, take a wander through the old city market district. This lively, noisy, bustling place makes a fine contrast after visiting all the grand churches.
Forever linked to the Bible, Nazareth is one of the main pilgrimage destinations in the country. The holy sites here are some of the most important in the world for those of the Christian faith. This is where the Annunciation took place, and where Jesus Christ was brought up, and the center of town is home to important churches that celebrate this history.
Don’t miss the Basilica of the Annunciation and exploring the vibrant bazaar area, which adds some modern bustle to the twisty, old city lanes.
The Dead Sea
It’s the sea where you can’t sink. The geological wonder of the Dead Sea is one of the must-do activities in the Middle East. At more than 400 meters below sea level this Great Rift Valley inland lake has an incredibly high salt content due to evaporation being the only water outlet.
This is what causes the bizarre buoyancy of the water. Taking a float (you can’t sink) in the water is the major highlight here, but the surrounding escarpment is also full of excellent hiking opportunities and some really interesting historical remains, including the dramatic Jewish fort of Masada.
The UNESCO world heritage site of Masada plays a major role in Jewish history and is one of the most fascinating highlights of a visit to the Dead Sea region. It was here that the Zealots took their last stand against the Romans and committed suicide rather than allow Rome to take them as prisoners. Come here to explore the incredible ruins atop the lofty mountain and see the breathtaking panoramas across the Dead Sea. If you can, do sunrise here. The early morning wake up is worth it for the views from the summit.