Israel is home to some of the world's most famous religious attractions and is often thought of, solely as a pilgrimage destination. However, there is so much more to see and do that does not involve visiting Synagogues, Churches and Mosques. The Dead Sea is a bizarre natural wonder, the Galilee regions natural beauty and the Negev Desert with its raw and rocky landscapes as well as the thriving cities like Tel Aviv and Eilat make Israel special.
Jerusalem has one of the world's most recognisable skylines with the Dome of the Rock shimmering above the honey coloured stone of the Old City. This ancient city holds deep religious significance for all those of the monotheistic faiths and the labyrinthine alleyways in the old district are packed with religious sites and history. Here you can walk in Jesus’ footsteps on the Via Dolorosa’, pray at the Western Wall, see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus is buried and tour the Tower of David, a medieval Citadel. Other important sites include the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount and a raft of historical Museums.
Bethlehem is a major Christian pilgrimage city, home to the Church of the Nativity and built over the site where Jesus Christ is said to have been born. The stately Church complex with its historical significance and busy Bazaar Market make this a place to visit on the West Bank. The surrounding countryside is peppered with Byzantine Monasteries and sites related to events relayed in the New Testament.
The Dead Sea is a mineral rich and overly salty sea where no one can sink. It is the lowest point on earth at 400 metres below sea level and one of the world's natural wonders. Wedged in by the cliffs of the Great Rift Valley, this strange body of water has been welcoming visitors for centuries. For thousands of years, the salt and minerals from its water have been used in cosmetics. Dead Sea water and mud have medically proven benefits, putting severe skin diseases and joint problems into long term remission.
Known as the party city, Tel Aviv is Israel’s second largest city, financial hub and home to the National Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra. Its Mediterranean beaches are some of the world’s best and Tel Aviv has some excellent museums including the Beth Hatefutsoth. The city has a vibrant nightlife, great local markets, fantastic food and amazing architecture.
The picturesque laid back harbour town of Jaffa with an illustrious past is a major port. Jaffa provides an old world charm with an excellent flea market, cafés, galleries and craft shops compared to its modern neighbour of Tel Aviv. The weekends are especially busy for outdoor dining and shopping.
Haifa is a gorgeous city and its main highlight is the Baha'i Gardens, which tumble down the hillside towards the sea in a series of immaculate green terraces. Haifa is also a great base for visitors to explore the north of the country. Akko, Mount Carmel and Caesarea are right on the doorstep and even Nazareth and Megiddo could be easily reached on a day trip.
Nazareth is the largest city in Galilee and forever linked to the story of Jesus in the Bible. Nazareth is a main pilgrimage destination and 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. Nazareth has picturesque old twisting lanes and a colourful and busy Bazaar. A visit to the Basilica of the Annunciation in the Old City is a must, as this is the largest Catholic Church in the Middle East.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater Lake and the second lowest lake in the world, after the saltwater Dead Sea. It is full of attractions with stunning countryside and lots of history. A visit to the Churches of Tabgha, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and carried out much of his preaching or a soak in the hot pools near Tiberias, this beautiful region is a highlight of any trip. People come from across the world to be baptised at the spot that the lake flows into the Jordan River.
The mountaintop fortress of Masada overlooks dramatic scenery of the Dead Sea region. This is where King Herod's once mighty Palace stood and where the Zealots took their last stand against the Roman Legions. The twisting Snake Path is the perfect way of reaching the top if you like a hike with excellent panoramas along the way. Otherwise, there is a cable car to the top to see the views.
Beit She'an is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its excellent preservation. Here, you can get a real feel for the life of a Roman and Byzantine town with colonnaded streets, a well restored theatre and extensive bathhouse remains. Take a stroll through the once powerful streets and explore the extensive ruins or sit in the theatre where the Roman city's cultural life was played out.
Caesarea is one of the most enjoyable towns to visit both ancient and new. Founded by Herod the Great in honour of Caesar Augustus, who gave him the city. In 1952, it became the only city in Israel to be governed by a private corporation. Antiquities Park is where you’ll find ruins from Herod’s extensive building campaign. The new Caesarea is modern and upscale where you can sunbathe on the golden beaches or play golf.
The Negev Region is an visitors dream packed with ancient ruins to rugged desert scenery, natural beauty and UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Shivta, Avdat, and Mampsis. Be'er Sheva is famous in the Old Testament as the city of the Patriarchs, However today, Be'er Sheva is now the ‘Capital of the Negev’ and one of the largest cities in Israel. The main tourist attractions are the Thursday Bedouin Market, the Museum of Negev Art and Abraham’s Well dating back to the Ottoman period.
Eilat lies on the Red Sea with magnificent beaches contributing to it being a major resort city. Eilat has some of the world’s best diving due to the beautiful coral reefs that are located here and an astonishing array of sea life. Eilat’s other main sites include Timna Valley Park, King City, a high tech Bible based theme park and Bird watching. Close to Eilat the rugged desert scenery is at its best at Timna Park. Situated in one of the most beautiful corners of the Negev Desert, where the landscapes will enchant its visitors with towering cliffs and surreal shaped boulders set between multi coloured sand. Timna Park is also home to the world’s oldest copper mine and the area is full of ancient mine shafts and rock inscriptions. The sandstone columns known as Solomon’s Pillars are basically frozen in time from volcanic magma emerging from the cliffs and are arguably the most impressive natural highlight.