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Things to Do in Israel

Combine a beautiful natural landscape with holy sites for three of the world’s major religions and you have Israel. What some would call the heart of the Middle East has much to offer travelers. In Tel Aviv — the cosmopolitan hub on Israel’s Mediterranean coast — sightseeing tours highlight UNESCO-listed architecture and culinary hotspots, while the Dead Sea region boasts the oasis of Ein Gedi, ancient Masada, and of course, one of the world’s oldest natural spas. Nazareth, Jericho, Masada, and Bethlehem are popular day trips from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in the region’s religious history.
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Coral Beach Nature Reserve
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The Coral Beach Nature Reserve in Eilat is home to a unique coral reef with more than 100 types of coral and 650 species of fish, making it a popular spot for snorkelers. It is the only coral reef in Israel, and one of the most densely populated in the world.

Running parallel to the beach, the reef is over a kilometer in length and can be accessed right from the beach via a pier. Once underwater, trails are marked by buoys, and spectacular underwater gardens created by unique and colorful coral are immediately revealed. Along the way, snorkelers will spot a variety of fascinating tropical fish, including the parrot fish, butterfly fish, nocturnal fish, and many more besides.

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Church of the Annunciation (Basilica of the Annunciation)
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Consecrated in 1969, the Church of the Annunciation (also known as the Basilica of the Annunciation) is the largest church in the Middle East and one of the most important religious sites in Nazareth. The Roman Catholic Basilica was built on the spot where, according to Christian belief, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus.

The modernist structure stands in stark contrast to other churches in Israel. The upper basilica serves as the parish church for the Roman Catholic community and features concrete pillars showing the Stations of the Cross, Italian ceramic reliefs and a series of wall panels donated by Catholic communities from around the world. This upper portion of the church also offers interior views of the church’s cupola.

Below lies a sunken enclosure, called the Grotto of the Annunciation, where visitors can see remnants of older churches from the Byzantine and Crusader eras, as well as the believed site of Mary’s house.

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Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
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Hemmed in by the rocky peaks of the Judean Desert to the west and the salty shores of the Dead Sea to the east, the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is the largest and most beautiful oasis in Israel. A popular spot for hikers, it’s also famous for its biblical importance: This is the place where David hid from King Saul around 1000 BC.

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Caesarea
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About 2,000 years ago, Israel’s beautiful fishing port of Caesarea was a Roman capital, dedicated to Caesar Augustus. Today, it is one of the country’s most popular tourist sites, with archaeological ruins, beautiful beaches and an impressive Roman theater.

Caesarea was built by Herod the Great over 12 years, from 25-13 BC, and was one of the grandest cities in the area with a deep sea harbor, aqueduct, hippodrome and amphitheater, which is still utilized today. The site holds concerts and other performances, while the hippodrome, although still identifiable, is now a banana field. It is smaller than the Circus Maximus in Rome but still held 20,000 spectators for chariot races at one point.

Caesarea’s harbor is an engineering marvel with both an inner and outer area. It was constructed using hydraulic concrete to create breakwaters. Caesarea Aqueduct Beach, on the other hand, is considered one of the best beaches in Israel. As its name suggests, there is an ancient aqueduct marking its edge.

If you are interested in museums, Philanthropist Harry Recanti founded the city’s Ralli Museum, which includes galleries that focus on Latin American and Sephardic Jewish artwork. The city even boasts an underwater museum, where visitors can dive through ancient ruins.

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Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret)
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Set in north Israel, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) is the country’s biggest freshwater lake. Bordered by lush countryside and fed by the Jordan River, it’s there that you’ll find farming villages and bustling towns among ancient ruins and biblical sites where Jesus lived, ministered, and is said to have performed miracles.

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Rosh Hanikra
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Perched 210 feet (64 meters) over the Mediterranean Sea in northwestern Israel, the Rosh Hanikra kibbutz is part of the Achziv Natural Reserve. The area is known for its interesting geological formations—namely sea caves and limestone grottoes made over millennia by the sea washing over rocks and creating tunnels and caverns in the cliffside.

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Old City of Jerusalem
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The ancient winding streets of Jerusalem’s Old City house some of the world’s most sacred religious sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, including the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Via Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall. Plus, each of the district’s four quarters has a unique character well worth experiencing.

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Qumran Caves
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A series of natural and artificial caves found throughout the archaeological site of Qumran, the Qumran Caves are set in the Judaean Desert and were fortuitously revealed in 1947 by a local Bedouin boy while searching for a stray animal. Many archaeological digs have taken place since the discovery, with specialist Roland de Vaux conducting the principal excavations in the 1950s.

However, the real reason why the Qumran Caves are so famous is due to the fact that the oldest scriptures of the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were discovered here in 1956. The caves, named after the Arabic word meaning 'crescent moon,' are located on a plateau about a mile from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, near the Israeli settlement of Kalya. Studies have shown that the first settlement in the area dates back the eighth century BCE and remained active until the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC.

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Western Wall (Wailing Wall)
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An open-air synagogue where worshippers recite prayers, Israel’s historic Western Wall (Wailing Wall) is where travelers come to kiss pale gold stones the color of the Negev desert and to stuff paper prayers between the stones. The beating heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, this is a must-see sacred site in the Jewish Quarter.

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Dead Sea
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The Dead Sea, home to the lowest point in the world at 1,269 feet (383 meters) below sea level, also ranks as one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. This hyper-salinity that is so unique to the Dead Sea attracts visitors from all over the world who come to experience the unusual buoyancy, as well as access the nutrient-rich mud on its banks.

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More Things to Do in Israel

Kidron Valley

Kidron Valley

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The Kidron Valley is known for its stunning views, as well as its historic and religious significance. It’s a destination for travelers seeking a Biblical touchstone, thanks to its starring role in the story of David in the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, in Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant and Catholic traditions.

The valley is also home to hundreds of ancient tombs located near the village of Silwan. It is widely recognized as the main burial ground in the city during historic times. The most significant tombs in the Kidron Valley include the Pillar of Absalom, the Tomb of Benei Hezir and the Tomb of Zechariah. Travelers who explore these tombs on a visit to the valley will gain a deeper understanding of Jerusalem’s culture, history and religious traditions while taking in some truly incredible views.

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Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa)

Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa)

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The Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) is an ancient path in Jerusalem’s Old City, where it’s believed Jesus carried the cross to his crucifixion. Also known in Catholicism as the Stations of the Cross, it’s a pilgrimage that’s been followed going back to the fourth century. The route has changed over the years, and today there are 14 stations along the path, each marked with a plaque detailing what took place at that location.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City sits on what is thought to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Christianity’s holiest site, the church stands at the end of the Via Dolorosa—the route Jesus is believed to have taken on the way to his crucifixion.

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Masada

Masada

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The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Masada, an ancient fortress built by King Herod the Great, dates back to 37 BC. It’s location on a cliff overlooking the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea is a spectacular spot from which to watch the sunrise.

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Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

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According to the Christian faith, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his arrest. Today, the Church of All Nations guards this sacred site at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Franciscan friars stroll past gnarled olive trees alongside pilgrims from around the world.

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Church of St. Joseph

Church of St. Joseph

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Situated across a courtyard from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth is the small Church of St. Joseph. Built in 1914, the neo-Romanesque Franciscan church was constructed over the remains of an earlier church and above a series of stone chambers believed to be the workshops of Joseph the Carpenter. The entire church and the caves below are rather simple, particularly in comparison with the basilica next door, but well worth the detour.

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Jerusalem Jewish Quarter

Jerusalem Jewish Quarter

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This religious and spiritual destination is one of four historic quarters that make up the famed city of Jerusalem. Travelers seeking a touchstone to the past will find just what they’re after on a visit to this place that dates back to the Roman Empire.

Ancient ruins uncovered by archaeologists from Hebrew University are in a handful of museums and parks in the Jewish Quarter, including a 2,200-year-old image of a Temple menorah and portions of the Israelite Tower. A stunning pool built by the Romans was discovered in 2010. Travelers will find this homage to another lifetime filled with terracotta roof tiles, mosaic floors and regal steps.

In addition to archaeological ruins, visitors can tour several of the other historic and religious sites that are scattered across the Jewish Quarter. The famous Western Wall, several synagogues, a handful of Yeshivas and an abandoned mosque offer insight into the culture and traditions of this diverse city. The eclectic stalls and contagious energy of Cado market and Hurva Square offer travelers a taste of local life, too.

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Christian Quarter

Christian Quarter

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The walled Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four major quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. The city’s Christian Quarter contains around 40 religious sites holy to Christianity, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at its heart. The church is venerated as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected and remains a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world. For many it is regarded as the religion’s holiest site.

Pilgrims often follow the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion, stopping at shrines and small sites along the way. Many churches, monasteries, schools, and museums are dotted throughout. You’ll also find residences, souvenir shops, cafes, and other pieces of daily life from those presently residing in the area. There is also an iconic, colorful market patched between the stone walls and narrow streets.

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Golan Heights

Golan Heights

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The Golan Heights, a lush, rocky region on the Syria-Israel border, has been under Israeli occupation since 1967, and is a site of political and territorial conflict. It is also a popular tourist destination, thanks to its desirable wine region, Israel’s only ski resort, nature areas with abundant wildlife and outdoor activities, and more.

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Haifa Port Cruise Terminal

Haifa Port Cruise Terminal

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Israel’s city of Haifa boasts a history dating back more than 1,700 years and is home to the Baha’i Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, among other attractions. Most cruise travelers treat the Haifa Port Cruise Terminal—one of the largest and busiest in Israel—as a gateway to the religious sights of Galilee, from Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum and the River Jordan.

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Church of the Nativity (Basilica of the Nativity)

Church of the Nativity (Basilica of the Nativity)

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The Church of the Nativity encompasses a grotto where, according to Christain scripture, Jesus was born. Situated in Manger Square in Bethlehem, on the West Bank of the Palestinian territories, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed church is one of Christianity’s holiest places.

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Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony)

Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony)

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The Church of All Nations is a prominent Roman Catholic church perched on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is also known as the Basilica of Agony, with its walls' golden mosaics depicting the suffering of the world as assumed by Jesus. Tradition has it that Jesus kneeled on a rock here in the Garden on Gethsemane prior to his arrest by the Romans. The slab of rock is now encompassed by a circle of iron thorns.

Historically the site of a Byzantine church, it was converted to a basilica in the 4th century by Crusaders. The present stone structure has domes, walls, and pillars built in Byzantine style although built from 1919 to 1924. Its construction was fueled by donations of Catholic communities from all over the world. Symbols of each nation that donated were built into the glass of the church’s ceiling.

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Bethlehem

Bethlehem

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An ancient city in the West Bank in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Bethlehem is home to many significant religious sites, including the Church of The Nativity in Manger Square, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus.

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Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-Aqsa Mosque

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Within Old Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, lies the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina. The al-Aqsa Mosque, which translates to “the farthest mosque,” sits beside the Dome of the Rock, and it is believed that Muhammed ascended to heaven from this spot after being transported from Sacred Mosque in Mecca.

Over the centuries the silver-domed mosque has been destroyed in several different earthquakes and subsequently rebuilt. With four minarets, the present day structure is characteristic of early Islamic architecture. The interior contains 121 stained glass windows, its massive dome painted with 14th-century designs. The dome was recovered in lead in 1985 to replace the aluminum cover with its original cover. Though Israel maintains control of the space, it is overseen by the Waqf, a Jordanian and Palestinian authority of the Muslim holy sites in Israel.

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