Holy Land| 5 Day Quick Guide to the Best Places in Israel
Our five day quick guide to Isreal is the key to discovering the historical and natural wonders the one of the worlds most important tourist destination. From Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea our quick guide will give you some insight on how to spend your time in Israel. To write this, we visited Isreal over the course of five days and planned our trip from Tel Aviv to Israel’s most popular destinations. This itinerary highlights our visit and will hopefully help you plan yours.
Tel Aviv is a Mediterranean metropolis with sunny warm beaches year long, an international community that brings food and culture from the around the world, and a liberal night life that will excite even the most diehard partiers. Not to mention cheap direct flights from Europe that get you there in just a few hours. It’s in Tel Aviv that we decided to set as our base camp and traveled around the country from there so we could return to the sun and sand.
Before we left for Tel Aviv we talked to our Israeli friend Ori who told us, “you can just chill in Tel Aviv (go to the beach, eat well, and get drunk).” He was absolutely right, Tel Aviv is a safe modern metropolis that has it all, and if you stay in the city centre near Frishman and Bogtashov beaches you can walk everywhere; which is exactly what we did.
Tel Aviv Eats
Our highlights of Tel Aviv included the beach and the following restaurants (recommended by our friend Ori).
Hummus Abu Dubi, Tel Aviv – Order humus and test the hot peppers before you eat a whole one
King George St 81, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Shivtei Israel St 14, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Thai House Restaurant – Authentic Thai with a massive menu
Bograshov St 8, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
HaKosem (closed during passover) – Prepared by “the magician” food here is well worth the time to get there
Shlomo ha-Melekh St 1, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel
Tel Aviv Night Out
The most exciting thing about Tel Aviv was stumbling upon teder.fm. Walking back to our accommodations from Jaffa (a great place to visit just down the way from central Tel Aviv – we recommend walking along the promenade from the Frishman Beach area to get there) we noticed a few bouncers outside an inconspicuous door and decided to walk in to see what was up. What we could was one of the most unique parties we’d ever been to.
As stated on their site, “Teder.fm was born as an online radio station pop up broadcasting every summer from a bar somewhere in Tel Aviv. After six years of wandering we settled in the location we loved most – the Romano – continuing to broadcast all year long.” The Romano, is an apartment complex with shops and restuarants that’s converted to a bar/club with a pizza restaurant that serves wood oven za’s till the early morning. On a Thursday night (the biggest techno night of the year for Teder) things got going around 21:30 and ended around midnight.
Jerusalem, Bethlehem & the Dead Sea
At the heart of the monotheistic world is Jerusalem, arguably the most historically significant city on earth. Located within Jerusalem’s ancient walls Jews, Christians, and Muslims from around the world congregate to celebrate the core of their religious beliefs at their religions most holy sites. A visit to Jerusalem can easily be followed by Bethlehem, which is another important religious and cultural city. It’s also the easiest way to visit Palestine. If you’re familiar with the stories of the great monotheistic religions Bethlehem is also the place of Jesus’ birth, and in the distance is the valley where the three wise men saw a bright star that led them to him.
Finally, a trip to Israel would not be complete without a soak in the mineral rich Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on earth as well as nearly 10 times saltier than the worlds oceans. It’s so salty that you float when resting in the water and the water itself feels more like olive oil on your skin than water. You can also fill your hands with mineral rich mud from the sea floor to help exfoliate after those long touring days around the country.
Yes, if you’re strapped for time you can do it all in a day, but it certainly isn’t enough. With only a few days in Israel we made an executive decision to go on an organized tour, something we don’t do very often. As tours usually go it was a little disorganized, and a few culturally insensitive people made themselves very visible in the wee hours of the morning, but we boarded the bus with an open mind and in the end loved what we did.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, our group split from the rest of the bus and we crushed a three-hour tour of Jerusalem which was way too short! Although, when you’ve only got a few days, it is what it is. Personally, I would have preferred to spend a day wandering the streets and a day on a locally guided tour, but what we did was perfect for us because we had other things we wanted to see and not much time.
Our guide, a doctor in history and bible study, weaved stories and politically charged anecdotes of Jerusalem’s most popular historical sites. On the tour we visited the following:
The Byzantine Cardo
View of the Western Wall
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
For me, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepuchre was the highlight. Walking into the church that houses the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and the tomb he was placed in shortly after his death was intoxicating. I could have easily spent several hours just watching the people and taking in the chaotic architecture that spans centuries and a half dozen cultures. Inside I had the feeling of being in an ancient place that should be in a scene of Game of Thrones or some mythical story, with layers of people and history all mashed together into the most holy and exotic churches in the world.
From Jerusalem, we visited Bethlehem. Driving through the border checkpoint into Palestine from Israel is eye opening. Seeing the wall that incases the West Bank brings to life the grim reality of the conflict that people on both sides of the wall suffer from. In Bethlehem, there’s really only one place that people have time for on a whirlwind organized tour like ours, and that of course is Church of the Nativity, the location of Jesus’ birth.
Contrary to what you might have imagined from all those Christmas nativity scenes that decorate houses and storefronts during the holiday season, the birthplace of Jesus is a cave underneath Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican churches. It can take hours to visit the place of Jesus birth and most people don’t get the opportunity to touch it or spend much more than a minute or two in the crowded cave, but if you’re lucky and go at the right time of year you can just walk right in (we visited during Passover).
The Dead Sea
The final stop on our full day tour was the Dead Sea, which was one of places that we really wanted to visit during our time in Israel. Famous for its healing properties the richly salinized water makes people float and is also the body of water where Jesus was baptized (although on the Jordanian side).
On television shows the shores of the Dead Sea appear rugged and exotic and when you get to the shores there really aren’t many frills. However, the beaches we visited along the Dead Sea near Kalya, Israel were lively and filled with bars, restaurants, and people barbecuing. It’s not quite as exotic as the documentaries you’ve probably seen on TV, but the experience is worth the time to visit and a healthy soak will be well deserved after a long day of sight seeing.
Our final trip during our time in Israel was to the city of Haifa and the garden terraces of the Baha’i Faith. The garden terraces encompass the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel and represent the unity of humanity. Just take a look at the picture and decide if you’d like to take the hour long journey from Tel Aviv to get there. If you decide to make a day of it you can visit the gardens in the morning then head to the beach (right next to the train and bus station) for the afternoon.
To get there you can take the train to Haifa from Tel Aviv.
When you arrive at the main station find bus 115 which will take you to the Baha’i Gardens. If you want, you can get off at the top of the hill before the shrine (the bus stop where this picture was taken) then walk up to the main viewpoint. I’d highly recommend this (or else you have to walk back up to the lookout from the shrine, which takes around 30 minutes).
If you get off at the stop along the top of the hill, you can go up to the lookout in 6 minutes then go back to the bus stop and catch the 115 back down to the shrine (or walk to the shrine) before going back to the station on the 115.
Tip: there’s a great little restaurant on the right-hand corner of the road where you need turn left if you’re walking up to the lookout from the shrine. I’d highly recommend eating there!! (it was a great stop for us on the long walk up from the shrine to the lookout :P)
Israel Travel Tips
- You can by a transportation card for 5 shekels – if you put 60 shekels on the card you can go anywhere in Israel using public transportation (except Eilat) within that day.
- If you have the transportation card you can buy a half price same day return ticket from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
- If you want to go to Bethlehem on your own you can get a sherut (shared taxi) from outside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem
- If you’re pressed for time like we were you can check out Tourist Israel and book day trips which are affordable and easy, just be prepared and realistic about your expectations as, depending on the day trip, there can be a lot of driving which may not leave you with a ton of time to do what you want, oh and don’t forget food!!!
What did you do in Israel? Tell us about your experience using our quick guide and share your advice with our readers the the comment section below.