Have you ticked Israel off your travel bucket list yet? If you are doing a last-minute planning for a family vacation, or planning for the trip early next year even, you might want to add Israel on the list. Israel has one of the world’s highest life expectancy at 82 years old. You probably already know but this is also where the voicemail and Waze were invented. If you are a coffee lover, you will enjoy your stay even more, but do not expect to see any Starbucks stores anywhere.
Where is Israel
So, where is Israel exactly? If you are Catholic, you may have grown up hearing about this country. Israel is a Western Asian country located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. Its neighboring countries include Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. You might be wondering if is it safe to travel to Israel, and the answer is yes; although it does not mean of course that you keep your guard down especially in public places.
Security in all airports are tight, which is a good thing, but there have not been any reports of major terrorism attacks in the country over the recent years. There are still petty crimes like pickpockets, but in general Israel is safe to travel to. You might be arriving in Israel’s biggest airport, Ben Gurion Airport.
This international airport is 35 minutes from Jerusalem and 30 minutes from Tel Aviv. Even though Ben Gurion Airport is located near the town of Lod, it is commonly referred to as Tel Aviv Airport by tourists. Since Jerusalem is the country’s capital, most of the tourists make it a point to come here. If you are driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it takes about an hour and 20 minutes, but if you are looking for other ways on how to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem without renting a car, public transportation here is efficient, too.
How Far is Egypt from Israel
It is possible that your Israel vacation comes after visiting other neighbor countries such as Egypt. One hour and 30 would be the flight duration from Cairo to Tel Aviv. If you are looking for a cheaper alternative and do not mind a long commute, joining a tour bus would be the best option to get to Israel from Egypt.
To help you optimize your time and activities for a more enjoyable vacation, here are the best things to do in Israel with family:
1) Jerusalem Old City
Jerusalem is the biggest and the capital city of Israel. This Israel city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 because of several religious sites of key religious importance that are built in the area. You can find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque for Muslims, and the Temple Mount and Western Wall for Jews.
Joining a walking tour around the old city is one of the popular things to do in Jerusalem. You will see sites mentioned in the holy bible. The walled city is around 220 acres and holds millions of stories that centers around three major religions in the world. It would be a very informative afternoon for you and the entire family to even spend just a few hours here.
2) Hanging Gardens of Haifa
Aside from Christians, Muslims, and Jews, Israel is also the heart of Baha’i Faith. Although this is not a very widely known in some countries, Baha’i Faith is strong and thriving in Israel. The Hanging Gardens of Haifa, also known as The Terraces of the Baha’i Faith, is one of the best places to visit in Israel. This garden terraces surround the Shrine of Bab which is a holy place of the Baha’i Faith. The construction of the site started in 1987 and this was opened to the public in 2001. Due to its religious relevance and architecture, the Hanging Gardens of Haifa has
been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has received thousands of tourists annually including those who are not members of the Baha’i Faith. The gardens are massive and beautiful and definitely part of the must-sees in Israel. The tours start at 11:30 AM except on Wednesdays. Also, make sure to be dressed appropriately since this is a holy place. You will see a lot of staff with different nationalities because the Bahai World Center has a program that allows its members from any countries to come and serve for a couple of months. You might even have a tour guide from your home country.
3) Masada National Park
One of the popular things to do in Israel is to visit Masada National Park in the Judaean Desert. This national park is a historic place because of the siege of Masada which was one of the final events in the First Jewish-Roman War. The history of the place and the ruins left of what was once a lively city are the reasons why Masada National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. The easiest way to get to the plateau atop Masada is via cable car. You will be looking out to the Dead Sea and the Judaean Desert once on the plateau.
You can wander by yourself since audio guides and maps are provided upon entry. The beauty of the ruins is something that you should not miss on your Israel vacation. Among the ruins are King Herod’s Palace that has three rock terraces and was built in the first century BCE, as well as a Roman-style bathhouse.
Before going to the top of the national park though, it is highly recommended to visit the Masada Museum at the bottom first. The museum holds over 500 artifacts that were unearthed by the archaeologists among the ruins. The museum tour is informative and educational and will make you appreciate the ruins on the plateau more.
4) Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve
One of the top things to do in Israel would be to spend a day in Hai-Bar Yotvata Nature Reserve and do some fun outdoorsy activities. This is a 3000-acre breeding center which is responsible for breeding endangered and locally extinct animals mentioned in the Holy Bible. The hope is that once breeding is successful and thriving, these animals will be reintroduced to the Negev Desert.
Currently, the nature reserve is home to Arabian and Scimitar Oryx, addax, Asian wild ass, caracal, dorcas gazelle, and so much more. This is a great place in Israel for kids since they would get to interact with some of these desert animals in real life. Make sure to always have your camera ready for those cute interactions.
5) Tel Aviv Museum of Art
During your Israel holiday, make time to visit Tel Aviv and check out the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. This is the country’s largest art museum. The museum was opened in 1932 and a new additional wing was built in 2011. The art displays include works of both international and Israeli artists such as Picasso, Cezanne, Chagall, Dali, and Kadinsky. The museum has a large collection of exhibits of impressionism and post-impressionism art.
The outside facade of the museum, which is said to resemble that of an elongated Rubik’s Cube, is also impressive. Aside from the art exhibits which heavily showcase social and political message, the museum also holds concerts and film festivals. It is open daily except on Sundays. Art appreciation tour in Tel Aviv Museum of Art is definitely one of the things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel.
6) Hilton Beach
Another thing to do in Tel Aviv, Israel is to go to the beach. There are a lot of beaches to enjoy in Tel Aviv and one of the top crowd favorites is Hilton Beach. Tel Aviv is one of the world’s top surfing spots, so it is not unusual to see surfers here all year long. The weather in Israel in October is pretty hot and dry. You will see an influx of tourists in Tel Aviv beaches between the months of June to October. During wintertime though which is December to February, the weather in Israel is mild and wet. One of the best things to do in Israel with family is enroll to surfing lessons.
There are surf schools lining up the beaches. If you and your kids already know how to surf, you can just rent the boards from the surf shacks in the area. It does not matter what time of the year you will have your Israel holiday; you would still be able to surf since the country has a Mediterranean weather. Of course, you will not have to worry about accommodations and restaurants since Hilton Hotel is right within the area. After riding the waves, the whole family can simply walk and rest in the 5-star hotel with its semi-Olympic sized swimming pool.
7) Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
An ideal place in Israel for kids is Ein Jedi Nature Park. This nature park is located in the Dead Sea region and is close proximity to Jerusalem. For outdoorsy families, this is an ideal place for hiking and having a picnic. There are nine hiking trails in Ein Jedi Nature Reserve and the most popular trail head through Wadi David. If you would like to take the more challenging route, local guides in the park are available.
Make sure to pack extra clothes since the hike leads up to David’s Waterfalls which is a great place to swim in and cool down. If you can set off early, that would be ideal since it could get really warm from late morning until early afternoon during summertime. The guides may also take you to springs and hidden pools. Even if you are not up for a swim, still go anyway since the landscape and structure of this reserve is not something you can easily see anywhere else. You can also spot animals roaming around the reserve such as ibexes which the kids may find delightful.
8) Jaffa Flea Market
Shopping is one of the exciting things about traveling in new places. Checking out local shops and buying great finds that are not available anywhere else is one of the top things to do in Israel. While there are a lot of places where you can shop in any Israel city, one of the must-visits is Shuk Hapishpishim or the Jaffa Flea Market. This flea market is over seventy years old and holds a great importance to the community. One of the great finds here are different kinds of gem stones and jewelry.
Israel currency is New Shekel. Not all shops accept credit cards, so better prepare some cash before coming here. There are also ATM machines in the area. You will find almost everything- from coffee grounds to carpets with intricate designs to brass lamps. Once the sun goes down, don’t leave just yet since the whole flea market will turn into a night life central. It’s a great place to sit down and have some local food and drinks. You can also see a lot of foreigners, tourists, and expats here. It’s a place to enjoy a drink, music, and meet new people, as well as interact with locals.
9) Levinsky Spice Market
If you love to cook and a spice enthusiast, one of the things to do in Tel Aviv, Israel is to visit Levinsky Spice Market in Florentin neighborhood. The first stalls in the market opened in 1950s. This is a spice haven where you can find
baskets and crates brimming with nutmegs, pistachios, dates, curry, cinnamon, sumac, and so much more. You can also buy spices in small individual packets which is best for gifts to friends at home. Within the spice market area, there are also great places to eat and drink.
10) Basilica of the Annunciation
Located in the Israel city of Nazareth, the Basilica of the Annunciation is believed to be the site of Mary’s home. This belief makes the basilica as one of the popular places to visit in Israel. Christians also believe that this is where the Annunciation took place, thus the name. Even if you are not a believer, the grandness of the
architecture alone would make you want to visit. The Upper Basilica is shaped like an inverted lily. The basilica was constructed in 1960s with a mid-20th century design. In the lower church, you can find the Grotto of the Annunciation as well as remnants of churches from the Byzantine and Crusader eras.
11) Dead Sea
Part of the best things to do in Israel with family in any Israel travel guide is to visit the Dead Sea. Also called as Salt Sea, the Dead Sea can be accessed from either Jordan or Israel. Going swimming in the Dead Sea is something you and your kids should not miss while you are here. Even non-swimmers can effortlessly swim here because of the salinity and density of the water. Expect that there are crowded areas though especially during summertime and school breaks since even the locals frequently come here.
You might want to come here before sunrise or before sunset. Aside from being able to float effortlessly, seeing that golden desert sun come up and go down is a breathtaking scene is something you should not miss during your Israel vacation. There are a lot of resorts nearby, so if you can easily find accommodations if you would like to stay for a few days. Swimming in the Dead Sea might feel a little touristy for some, but it definitely is one of the top things to do in Israel.
12) Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve
Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve is one of the must-sees in Israel. Upon approaching the reserve, you would understand why it is being described as the country’s very own Grand Canyon. Put your hiking boots on, wear your hat, and lather up some sunscreen because you will be out and about under the hot Israel sun during your visit.
Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve is a great place for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and even cliff rappelling. The area is rather picturesque with its multicolored sandstone, volcanic rock, and fossils. Let the guide take you to the hanging lookout where you can have the best view from the top.
13) Rosh HaNikra Grottoes
Next item on our best things to do in Israel with family list is the Rosh HaNikra Grottoes. This famous geological formation is located between the border of Israel and Lebanon. It is famous for its white chalk cliff face which opens up into grottos that are simply breathtaking. To date, the grottos are easily accessible because of the 400-meter long tunnel which was dug in 1968 between grottoes. You will have to ride the world’s steepest cable car with a 60-degree gradient to get to the grottoes from the cliffs above.
Even with fear of heights, you need not worry since the trip lasts for only about a minute. Depending on how strong the waves on that day, the inside of the tunnel to the grottoes might be slippery and wet, so make sure to wear appropriate shoes and do not let the kids run. Once you have your fill of the beauty of the turquoise waters and the white cliffs, you might want to spend time in the snack bar up top. From there you can also see the camouflaged border gate on the Israel-Lebanon border. You might even see tourists taking photos of the sign pointing to Beirut.
14) Eliat Coral Beach Nature Reserve
The Coral Beach Nature Reserve is a diving site and one of the best places to see in Israel especially to those families who love water activities. There is a whole new colorful marine garden beneath the sea in this reserve that makes the tourist keep coming back for more. They have wading pools where little kids can swim to their heart’s content without the parents having to worry. You can also take walks on the bridges over the reef and watch schools of fish’s swim by.
But of course, the best activities here involve getting into the water. Scuba diving and snorkeling guided tours are offered here. The reefs of the Gulf of Eilat are the only coral reefs in the whole of Israel which is why the place could be a bit crowded sometimes. Make sure to call ahead and book reservations for your accommodation and water activities. There are also a lot of parks nearby where you can do side trips if you want to take a break from the Ocean. The Hay-Bar Yotvata Nature Park, Avdat National Park, and Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve are all within driving distance.
15) Park HaYarkon
If you are in Tel Aviv and would just want to have a chill day, head over to Park HaYarkon. This place is a treat to the kids since they can run around freely in here. You can sit under the shade of the trees, bring snacks, and just read a book. This is a full-on city park with areas where you can jog, cycle, skate, and play frisbee. There is also a sport center within the park that offers wall climbing and trampoline.
If ever you want to get the energy out of your kids so they can sleep through the night, let them play at the trampoline park for hours. You might want to pack the kids’ swimsuits before coming here since the Meymadion Water Park is also here. The kids will have a blast going on the water slides and other rides in the park. There are snack bars and cafes within the park, too, so you won’t have to worry about feeding the little ones. Spending an afternoon in Park HaYarkon is one of the cool things to do in Israel for kids.