I traveled to Israel for the first time in December 2015 and stayed about 2 weeks there to visit my best friend. Thanks to her, I had the chance visit several cities and catch a glimpse of the Israel’s diversity. I hope to go back in 2019 to explore more sights and live new adventures, but first let me share with you some travel inspiration as well as the reasons why Israel is the best place for holidays off the beaten tracks.
6 Reasons to visit Israel
Tel Aviv – the cosmopolitan heart of Israel
Did you know that Tel Aviv as we know it nowadays, was actually created only a 100 years ago ? It was originally a small suburb of the Arab city Jaffa. Currently, Tel Aviv host about 382 000 residents and attracts more and more people including me. There’s a mix of cultures in Israel but it’s in Tel Aviv that you’ll feel the most the cosmopolitan vibe. What I particularly loved about this city was the fascinating arab heritage, but also being able to discover one of the oldest cities across the Middle East as well as rejoice in the bustling atmosphere of the capital.
Of course, your trip to Tel Aviv wouldn’t be complete without a walk to the beautiful beach side. During my trip, I fell in love with the city’s attractive sea views and the coastal cafés where you can relax and leisurely drink tasty coffee and exotic cocktails.
Talking about cocktails, you should know that Tel Aviv is also a great place to party. Known as the party capital of the Middle East, be ready to stay up until dawn. Try to picture this: Mediterranean climate, seaside location, decadent atmosphere, biggest nightclubs… What else could we wish for ? I remember trying salsa in a place called Havana Club, but even though I was pretty ridiculous, I had an amazing time ! I’m sure you’ll have a blast too, but if you want me to give you some good addresses, leave a comment down below.
Nazareth – the biggest Arab city in Israel
One of the highlights of my trip was celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in the Holy Land. Something dear to my heart and symbolic since I come from a Christian background.
I remember standing on the hill of Hakeramim street, watching the fireworks and welcoming 2016 when I realized that places like Nazareth are the ones that leave a mark in your brain. Nazareth doesn’t have a lot of attractions for tourists but you have to go there for its soul and history. My best tip to enjoy Nazareth is to walk around the narrow streets of the city, get a glimpse of ancient Galilean life and discover the iconic christian sites. But if you go there in December, then make sure to go to the Christmas market on the Mary’s well square and enjoy a drink of sahlab to warm you up!
The Dead Sea – a natural treasure in danger
The dead sea left me speechless. Not only for it’s natural beauty but also because I learnt that it’s one of the regions most affected by climate change. It’s a sad reality, but the Dead Sea is getting dryer and dryer over time, disappearing each year of about 1 meter. I realized how blessed I was to see this amazing place, even though I couldn’t take a swim because I was there in December. Too bad for me ! But maybe future generations won’t even have this possibility, which is quite alarming…
The best hummus in Israel – Hummus Said
No one really knows where hummus originally comes from. Lebanon, Palestine, Syria… The most important is that you can find it anywhere in Israel. You’ll find plenty of hummus dedicated restaurants which are perfect for lunch or a quick bite. But if you are a true hummus lover like me, you need to try la crème de la crème. What I mean by that is simply the best hummus in the country : Hummus Said in the city of Acre. It’s a humble little restaurant where you can try different types of homemade hummus. I would advise to stick to the traditional version served with salad, pitta bread and pickles. And surpriiise, it only costs 5$ ! You’ll never want to leave this place !
From Jerusalem to Bethlehem
If you go to Israel, Jerusalem must be on your list. Considered a holy city for 3 religions, you will wander among many sacred sites. I was particularly impressed by the stunning tomb of Jesus, located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For those who don’t know, the old city of Jerusalem is divided in several quarters; christian, muslim, jewish and armenian. That’s where you’ll find the famous religious sites as well as a unique atmosphere in each quarter. When you wander the streets of Jerusalem, you’ll notice an incredible diversity among people, however a pacific cohabitation… I’m not sure about that. I have to admit that I could feel some tensions at times.
Margaux’s tip: be respectful with everyone and don’t stare too long at people, it could be wrongly interpreted.
Once you have visited the iconic religious sites of Jerusalem, I recommend going directly to Bethlehem which is only 20 minutes away. There, you’ll find the Church of Nativity, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. It was built above the cave where Jesus was born (aka the grotto of Nativity). Already pretty impressive, but that’s not all ! You can kneel down under an altar and touch the silver star on the floor carved with the latin inscription ‘Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary’. What a magical moment, I think I still don’t realize I was there !
To recover from your emotions, you can head to the best falafel restaurant of the city. It’s called Afteem and it’s right next to the Church of Nativity. I wish I could go back right nooow !
Hanging gardens in Haifa
Haifa is a pretty little town on the seaside. There’s about one hour drive to go there from Tel Aviv. Of course, you can enjoy a swim in the sea, but the main attraction in Haifa is located on Mount Carmel where you can find the Hanging Gardens, aka The Terraces of the Bahá’í. Have you heard of Bahá’í before? It’s actually a faith (lesser known) in Israel. This religion holds as its holy site the Hanging Gardens where you will find 19 splendid terrasses overlooking the city and the Mediterranean sea. These gardens and the golden dome are often said to be one of the world’s wonders. The view is spectacular and you can get amazing shots for Instagram. If you want to visit the gardens, they are open from 9:00 to 17:00 seven days a week. For the inner gardens located near the shrine, try to go early as they close at noon. Another alternative is to join walking tours which are organized all day long and it’s completely free.
What I do not like in Israel
- Airport security: The Ben Gurion airport is considered one of the world’s safest airport and doesn’t joke about security. I’ve experienced it ! I remember after showing my boarding pass, I was oriented to a special security line where I waited 20 minutes. After going through the screening I had to sit down and wait once again. An agent asked me to point at my bags and pulled out everything from my carry-on. After he was done, a lady came to perform a full body check. In total, I spent 1 hour at security. My advice is to arrive 3 hours before departure in order to avoid missing your flight.
- Israeli-Palestinian conflict : I think I’ve never seen as many rifles and pistols in my life. In the streets, in the bus, in the touristic areas… It’s a common thing to see Israeli soldiers carry their weapons at transport terminals and cafés. Because of the social and political situation, remember to always keep an eye open. But that’s also worth for your daily life and wherever you travel to.
Some of you might be anxious of going to Israel because of what we hear on TV. But honestly, you’ll be fine ! I’ve always felt safe in the country and there are so many things worth seeing. It would be a shame to miss the Middle East most renown parties in Tel Aviv or the magical religious sites of Jerusalem, don’t you think ? If you have any questions, I’ll be glad to give you more info !