Israel has so much going on – we’re talking the Dead Sea, Masada – an ancient fortress in the middle of the desert – and the Sea of Galilee. From Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to lesser-known but just as interesting cities like Haifa, here are the top things to do in Israel.
Note: It’s recommended that you hire a guide who is registered with the Israel Ministry of Tourism to show you around – plus, the history/politics of the country is so complex (and let’s face it, divisive) that you’ll likely need someone to answer your many, many questions. I can’t recommend my guide Shelly enough. She put up with approximately 1,000 questions a day from me about all sorts, and didn’t even bat an eyelid. A true hero!
What to do in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is know for being a party city, and one that’s incredibly LGBTQ+ friendly, too. Seriously, there are Pride flags everywhere. But if you’re up for a more chilled way to spend your time in the city, there’s loads more you can do.
Take a walk around Old Jaffa
Old Jaffa is basically Tel Aviv’s old town, and it’s adorable and incredible in equal measure. With winding streets and alleys, you can check out the clock tower and beautiful churches. Despite being rich with history, the area comes alive at night with wine bars, clubs and restaurants.
I was personally rather obsessed with the floor tiles, as for some reason Old Jaffa seems to be quite into astrology. I simply had no choice but to take a photo of my feet next to the Aquarius tiles.
Get in the Mediterranean sea
Gordon beach is right in the city centre, and easy to walk to from basically anywhere. As it’s the Mediterranean, the water is warm and clear. Sure, there are jellyfish EVERYWHERE, but I’ve been reassured you’re safe unless you get stung from underneath them.
Obvs, you can go for a dip of your own accord. But if you’re into something a little more organised, Lev Hayam Club can sort you out with wind surfing and kayaking. And even if you’re shit scared of the sea like me, a paddle board is a pretty good option. Trust me, I just floated around on that thing enjoying the views (and screaming at the jellyfish).
Eat locally caught fish
Tel Aviv has amazing access to seafood, naturally. And Manta Ray is one of the best restaurants for fresh fish. Try the the sea bass served with gnocchi, aubergine and cashews in cured lemon butter. I’m still dribbling thinking about it.
It’s on the beach, so has very chilled vibes in the day. But definitely go at night and look out over the sea – it’s beyond stunning.
Where to stay in Tel Aviv
BY14 is thought of as an “urban hotel” and the rooms have been inspired by the city and its “unique urban atmosphere”. It is super close to the beach, and has the coolest lobby. Not only because of the free (unlimited!) iced tea and cakes, but also because it’s set out like an open plan work space. Whether you’re working while staying there or not, it’s a great space to chill out in – or check some emails, if you’re unlucky.
The double rooms are spacious, air conditioned (thank f*ck) and have a really good sized bathroom with a rain shower – very much needed after swimming in the nearby sea.
Prices vary depending on the season, but tend to be in the range of £125 to £205 per night.
What to do in Jerusalem
See the Old City
Jerusalem’s Old City is a walled area within the city, and it’s within these walls that you’ll find the iconic historical sites so often associated with Jerusalem. These sites are Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Visit the Western Wall (or Kotel, or Wailing Wall), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine.
Get a view from Mount of Scopus
Jerusalem is one of the most breathtaking cities when seen from up high, and Mount of Scopus gives you an incredible panoramic view of the city – old and new. It’s well worth the climb.
Visit Mahan Yehuda market
This is what most people (rightly) think of, when they imagine the markets of Jerusalem. The Mahan Yehuda market is vibrant during the day, but at night the atmosphere is amazing. The stalls and shops shut and the bars open, crowds of people sitting in the covered streets drinking and singing along to club bangers.
Eat at Satya
At Satya I ate the best ice cream of my entire life, and it was made from tahini would you believe? The mains and starters were also super fresh and tasty – from homemade bread and dips, to mushroom risotto, Satya offers a great range of veggie and vegan options, too.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
If you’re feeling fancy, the David Citadel Jerusalem Hotel is one of the most spacious and airy hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
It looks out over the old city, but is really modern and clean. It’s a unique luxury experience, and breakfast is unbelievable (so much choice – make sure you’re starving when you go down there).
Plus, if you fancy trying some of Israel’s finest kosher wines, you need only to pop next door to Mamilla Hotel for a tasting session (and history of wine lesson).
Visit the Dead Sea and Masada
Driving around Israel is essential, because if you stayed put in either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv you’d miss out on the incredible natural wonders of the country. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Dead Sea, the salt lake that borders Jordan and Israel/the West Bank. But seriously, go float in it. It’s an incredible experience and one I would repeat over and over if I could. Just be sure to wear a plaster or Vaseline over any cuts – that salt can sting like a bitch. Also, wear shoes. Those salt crystals that line the sea floor are really spiky!
You can enter the Dead Sea from pretty much anywhere, but if you want the comfort of a shower and towels (and lovely Dead Sea mud to slather all over your body), book a slot at Premier Beach in Neve Zohar.
As for Masada – an ancient fortress in the Judean desert that King Herod built way back in 30 B.C. – you’d be a huge fool not to visit. You will have never seen a palace like it, seriously, King Herod knew how to live in luxury.
Getting up there requires a strong stomach as you’ll climb up to the top in a cable car (unless you want to walk, but it isn’t a quick sprint that’s for sure). Look out over the Dead Sea once you make it to the top.
What to do in Haifa
Walk though the Bahai Gardens
The Bahai Gardens and shrine are an U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Site and visible from across the city as it’s situated on Carmel Mountain. A huge place of interest for anyone of Bahai faith, it’s one of the most immaculate and preened gardens you’ll ever see.
Where to eat in Haifa
Eat outside at Douzan if you can. Not that the inside isn’t lovely, but outside you’ll be sitting under twinkling lights and colourful umbrellas. The restaurant is housed in an ancient Templari house built in 1870. Yep, it’s pretty special.
The food (and general vibe, TBH) is a blend of Eastern and Western. My only advice? Order every single starter. And definitely get the garlic bread.
Where to stay in Haifa
Bay Club is a boutique hotel in Haifa, and it’s adorable with art deco/Mediterranean vibes. It overlooks Haifa Bay, Zikaron Park, and Carmel Mountain and is a four star restored landmark.
A double room with breakfast and complimentary ‘Happy Hour’ (daily except Saturdays) is normally between £130 – £170 per night.