We hear very few people say that they are spending their holidays in Israel (and that should not be the case !!) besides those who are visiting family and friends or those on a pilgrimage to tread on the holy land. But in my case after a short stay a couple of years ago for work, I really wanted to go back there and take my time to explore. First thing first let’s kill the elephant in the room (can it apply to a website ?!?) ; yes it is safe, as it can be in any large cities in the 21st century and no you don’t have to be religious to go there but be respectful, patient and have some interests in geopolitics and religions’ history.
If you are travelling from Europe, 7-8 days is the perfect duration to see different cities in Israel while taking some time to chill too (after all those days are holidays!). If you have more time I would definitely add a stop in Eilat and the red sea or why not going to Jordan (double check border control policies though for this one). Best season to visit is end of spring and autumn!
Tel Aviv: 3 days The Dead Sea: 1 day Jerusalem: 4 days (including half a day in Bethlehem)
I have read somewhere that Tel Aviv is becoming the Miami of the mediterranean sea, well I could not agree more! This city is buzzing, with an amazing night life, so many bars and restaurants that it would take you more than a lifetime to try them all, but also lush parks and obviously a 14km long pristine clean beach with facilities (a dog beach, lockers, showers, lounge chairs…) that I am sure would make Miami jealous.
Where to stay: Most of the hotels in Tel Aviv are along the beach promenade, I don't think you can go wrong with any of those! My favourite part of the city is Jaffa (full of restaurants and shops) so I would recommend you to find one as close as possible. If you want to indulge The Setai is for you ! How to commute: by electric scooters !! First thing to do when you arrive there, install the app and get going! We went for the Lime ones, very good coverage and easy to use.
My favourite neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv
I am sure you got it by now that Tel Aviv is more about the vibe than ticking off museums and places to visit. For example I would highly recommend you spend as much time as possible on the beach and not in museums as you will have plenty of time to do that in Jerusalem !
That said here is the list of my favourite neighbourhoods and why.
Jaffa: the old town with its tiny alleys out of an Aladdin movie, its terraces to enjoy a cocktail alfresco with live music and all the amazing vintage shops! Neve tzedek: the french quarter! lovely restaurants (an amazing ice cream parlour), great night life Florentin: street art, micro brewery and jazz concerts. Carmel Market:give me all the food! Yarkon park: an amazing park to do by scooters, bikes or kayaks! The Marina: for the view, shopping and good food. White City: a Bauhaus tour is a must do (you can do a self-guided one). Grab a copy of the most iconic bauhaus buildings in one of the tourist info centers. Rothschild Boulevard: green, bustling and amazing architecture.
If like me you really need your dose of museums in any city, and if you do only one it will have to be the Tel Aviv Musem of art . Not only you will be wowed by its architecture but I am sure you will find something for you inside too.
The Dead Sea
Being extra careful we followed all the recommendations not to drive by yourselves in Palestine and took the long way to go to the dead sea. At a slow pace, it took us approx 2hours and 30 minutes from Tel Aviv. For some reasons, I had very low expectations for the dead sea but it ended being one of my favourite parts of the holidays. I could describe this place as impressive as the Great Canyon in the USA with water colour as blue/green as in the Maldives. Warning, it is extremely hot in the dead sea area (we went at the end of May and had 45 degrees C!!)
Where to stay: I would recommend to stay at least one night so that you can catch the first light of the day on the dead sea and also the sunset on Massada. We stayed at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz and I would not recommend it, despite the expensive price the service and the facilities are very poor. What to do: Massada fort and pretty much just floating around. You can also take your selfy at the lowest point on earth but just so you know you will have to pay for a tractor train (yes!) ticket to reach the point (we did not go). You should have time for a short hike at the Ein Gedi David's waterfall, if you are a fan of animals like me it is a must do!
Surrounded by walls and featuring the most famous wall in the world, it is a beautiful city! One of the oldest in the world, there is a lot to see in Jerusalem. I would highly recommend to buy a guide book to make sure you understand the geopolitical environment and understand what you are visiting too!
Where to stay: I only have one recommendation for you guys, find an hotel near the tram line (it will save you at the end of a long day when coming back from the restaurant) and one with a swimming pool (the city is extremely hot!! And it is a great thing to do in the afternoon when all the places are closed.) If you can indulge, the American Colony will become one of your most memorable hotels. How to commute: Tram! and on foot. Taxi for Bethleem.
The Western Wall
It is extremely difficult to sum up Jerusalem in a list of must dos, it really depends on your centers of interests. I will still give it a go with a couple of sights that stroke me the most; the Olives mount, the different places of worship on your way up and the view from the top, the old city with the souks, the bustle at the western wall on a thursday (bar mitzvah day), the Tomb of the virgin mary, Yad Vashem (the world Holocaust remembrance center – don’t go on a friday it is packed !!!) and the Israel museum, the Tower Of David, the different gates, Jaffa street and Mahane Yehuda Market.
The Israel Museum
What about Bethlehem ? we went only for a couple of hours and I think it is more than enough. What you really want to see will be the Church of Nativity (arrive early to get a chance to go down the grotto, we could not enter as there were back to back masses from 9 until 11am), the Milk grotto, the separation wall and The Walled Off Hotel .
Bethlehem – Separation Wall and the Walled Off Hotel
You must probably wonder why I have never mentionned not even a single time anything about food ! it is because I need more than a chapter on this as it was amazing ! I will write one or two dedicated articles with my list of restaurants/bars in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Are you planning to go there soon ? Let me know in the comments below!