You can drive from west to east in about 90 minutes or from north to south in about nine hours. Bordered by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, Egypt to to the southwest and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel abounds with places to see and things to do. Time is your only limitation. To experience a somewhat detailed overview of the country, 10 days to two weeks is preferable. For those who have been to Israel before, there are places you may wish to spend more time.
Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, you are ready to immerse yourself in a new culture with an ancient history. A myriad of peoples have inhabited the land from the earliest times. The distance from Ben Gurion International Airport, the country’s main airport, to major cities is relatively short. From TLV to Tel Aviv, it’s eight miles, or about a 1/2-hour drive. From TLV to Jerusalem is 25 miles, approximately a 40-minute drive, or up to an hour and 10 minutes by shuttle bus.
There are many ways to see Israel. Situating yourself in Tel Aviv, you can begin your forays from this modern metropolis with a range of hotels, nightlife and history. When you arrive in Tel Aviv, the Mediterranean glitters as the warm air soaks into your skin. Tel Aviv is an entry into a special journey for anyone curious about the Middle East and Israel as a unique destination.
Situate yourself, if possible, in one of the many hotels along the Mediterranean. There is much to do and see. Among the city’s highlights are strolling along Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv. Named for Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv and built during the 1920s, Dizengoff Street is lively day or night.
From an architectural point of view, Tel Aviv fascinates. Originally founded in 1909, and developed under the British Mandate, it grew and changed. During the rise of Nazi Germany, Jewish architects who fled to Israel constructed what has become known as the “White City,” for the Bauhaus/International Style buildings they designed. More than 4,000 such structures were constructed between the early 1930s until the 1950s. In 2003, Tel Aviv’s “White City,” was named a United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organzation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
For your first night in Israel, an evening in the seaside city of Herzliya creates the mood for the trip. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, it’s just a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv.
The setting excites the first-time visitor but will delight anyone, anytime. We spent our first evening in the Promised Land at the Dan Accadia Hotel (www.danhotels.com) watching local dancers perform as we dined by the Mediterranean. The hotel is adjacent to the Herzliya Marina where restaurants, bars and boutiques abound. With 117 rooms and suites, the hotel has landscaped gardens that enclose two swimming pools, one which is heated, both with wooden sundecks. A spa, health club and six tennis courts, floodlit for night play, are among the amenities. Choose sailing, diving and other sea sports as well
Named for Theodor Herzl, Herzliya was founded in 1924 as a semi-cooperative farming community. At the time the State of Israel was founded in 1948, Herzliya had grown to a town of 5,300. The city is expected to grow considerably by 2030 as new homes, industrial developments and hotels are built.
Farther up the coast, approximately 30 miles from Tel Aviv, are the remains of this ancient port. Built by King Herod between 22 and 10/9 B.C.E., the town was laid out in the standard Roman grid plan including the public structures of a Roman City: a theater, an amphitheater and a hippodrome, a chariot-racing stadium.
The ancient amphitheater, which can seat as many as 4,000 spectators or more continues to be a venue for live performances. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority named the area a national park in 1968. The archaeological site can be reached as part of a day tour for approximately $100 per person.
Home toTiberias and Safed, the Galilee is worth a visit for its beauty and history. Fed mostly by the Jordan River and partly by underground springs, The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias, is a freshwater lake situated 705 to 868 feet below sea level. It’s beauty is striking.
If you have limited time, visit the Tiberias Hot Springs where you can immerse yourself in indoor/outdoor thermal pools rich in minerals. The waters burst forth from 17 springs deep within the earth below.
Spend at least a couple of hours in Safed (www.safed.co.il), the center of Jewish mysticism. Jews have continued to live within the city for at least 2,000 years. Here you will find both ancient and modern synagogues and art galleries within ancient stone buildings. Hidden courtyards, pink bougainvillea, grape vines and pomegranate trees dot the landscape. An option for accomodations in this region and throughout Israel is Riminim Hotels (www.rimonimhotels.com).
Things to know
The geography is diverse. Coastline, mountains, a huge salt water inland sea, a smaller fresh water lake and the Jordan River flowing north to south ultimately emptying into the Dead Sea, that famous salt-water lake. Israel’s weather varies from temperate to tropical. It’s “rainy” winter extends from November to May with the remaining six months a dry summer. January is typically the coolest month with August the warmest. Yet, temperature ranges vary in different regions of the country so check the weather a few days before your departure so you can pack the right clothes! If you’re traveling in the spring or summer, you’re likely to find agreeable temperatures.
For more information, visit Israel Ministry of Tourism, www.goisrael.com
Israel is best known as a faith-based and heritage destination, and this is the bedrock of its appeal, to be sure. However, the culture of modern Israel and the country’s natural attributes are expanding its tourism market. Foodies love Israel for its complex, creative cuisine, combining influences from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
To compliment great food, Israel is an up-and-coming producer of high quality wine (forget Manischewitz!) Five vine-growing regions stretch the length of the country through a range of micro-climates and types of soil, producing an ever-increasing variety of world-class wines.
Arguably, Israel’s greatest natural wonder is of the feathery sort. Every year, in the spring and fall, over 500 million birds, some 500 species, layover in Israel as they migrate between Europe or Asia and Africa. This spectacular phenomenon has been called, “The 8th Wonder of the World.” Migrating birds are seen all over the country, but some of their favorite spots are in the Hula Valley, on the Mediterranean coast at Mt. Carmel and around Eilat. Two birding festivals are held annually, in Eilat in the spring and in the Hula Valley in the fall. Israel offers exceptional birdwatching off-season too, with at least 80 species there at any given time. www.yallatours.com