- Airport – Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV)
- Language – Hebrew
- Population – 8.1 million
- Currency – Israeli Shekel (ILS)
- GDP – $296 billion (35th Overall)
One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and offers visitors a fantastic cultural experience. Rich in ancient history, Jerusalem not only looks and feels the part, but you will find yourself captivated by the old stone buildings and the beautiful architecture as well. The city is the cornerstone of the world’s three major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Everything you see will bring you thousands of years into the past.
If you are traveling from the U.S. I recommend bringing a laptop loaded up with some great shows and movies, as well as a book or two. Unless you sleep like a pro on planes, you’ll want to keep busy for your 11+ hour flight to Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel. Make sure you bring a passport that has been valid at least six months prior to your departure.
When packing you’ll want to bring comfortable walking shoes, and if you have a pair of rugged hiking shoes or boots that’s even better. You’ll want comfortable lightweight clothing such as shorts, T-shirts, and a light jacket or sweatshirt. Sunscreen and a hat is a must if you’re going during the summer time. And you should bring a bathing suit if you plan on visiting the Dead Sea.
Note: if you plan on visiting any of the holy or religious sites it’s important to bring a modest outfit to wear. For women, that means covering your shoulders and knees, and men need to cover their shoulders.
The Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most meaningful places to visit in Jerusalem. The Old City is home to many of the world’s most important and iconic religious and historical sites such as The Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount.
It’s recommended that you take a tour of the Old City, where you will be guided through the stone streets and alleyways. You will be able to go inside these ancient buildings including locations of historical events such as the room where the Last Supper took place. Prepare yourself to be blown away by the architecture.
One very popular location for tourists is the Western Wall, one of the holiest structures in the world for its connection to the Temple Mount. Walk up to the wall and place your hand on it. The experience is often described as feeling the history of the world and many people see it as an enlightening experience.
If you like shopping, eating or experiencing culture then the place for you is Mahane Yehuda Market. The market is everything you’ve imagined when you think of an outdoor market experience. Whether you’re searching for fresh produce, baked goods, meats, spices, wines or clothing, you can find it all.
Navigating the market is an adventure itself. It feels like a maze as you weave through small alleyways and corridors, always finding new shops and products. The colors surrounding you are vibrant and diverse, and the market is teeming with activity and traffic. Visiting the market is a great way to experience the culture and the people of Jerusalem first-hand.
If you were wondering what kinds of food to try during your visit, don’t forget about Shawarma or Falafel. These two regional foods are delicious, and street vendors and restaurants alike will be offering many combinations and pairings for both.
Shawarma usually consists of a pita or wrap stuffed with shredded vegetables and your choice of lamb, chicken, or beef. Falafel is deep fried chickpeas usually paired with a dipping sauce. You will find many people putting Falafel in their Shawarma so it’s best to experiment with different combinations from various vendors.
Hidden within the Mahane Yehuda Market, or “The Shuk”, is one of Jerusalem’s best restaurants. Machneyuda is an upscale restaurant whose head chef, Asaf Granit, grew up in Jerusalem and pays respects to his homeland with exciting cuisine and a frequently changing menu. On this ever-changing menu, you will find items such as chamshuka (a fusion of chopped meat and hummus), polenta ragout, oxtail with Jerusalem artichoke, Amberjack tartar with a wasabi vinaigrette, and many other exciting offerings. Machneyuda is one of the best restaurants in Israel and should not be missed!
When you are finished exploring the center of Jerusalem, it’s wise to travel to the outskirts where you will find great activities such as climbing Masada, relaxing in the desert oasis Ein Gedi or lounging in the Dead Sea. Masada is an ancient fortification atop a plateau on the edge of the Judaean Desert. Originally the palace was home to Herod the Great but it’s more famously known for the location where a group of Jews took refuge after fleeing Jerusalem to escape the Romans.
When you reach the top admire the fantastic view, where you can see the rubble of old Roman encampments, the Dead Sea, and desert for miles. If you are lucky enough you can climb it before dawn, where you will be able to watch the sunrise from the top. Take a tour of the ruins of the palace and explore the different rooms.
After you make it down the mountain float around in the salty Dead Sea and if you’re brave, rub the mud over your body to treat your skin to its healthy nutrients. When you’re ready to cool off, head over to Ein Gedi and relax in the clear pools of water surrounded by vibrant greens and waterfalls.
You should also consider going for a camel ride during your trip. One option is to do so while exploring the Negev Desert.
In contrast to Jerusalem, the ancient, historical and holy city, Tel Aviv is a modern city and a vacation hot spot. There is never a dull moment, whether it’s spending a day at the beach, shopping, eating or experiencing the vast nightlife, Tel Aviv has rightfully earned its great reputation.
Like for Jerusalem, you’ll want to pack comfortable clothing, nothing too tight, and lighter colors are better which will help you stay cooler. Bathing suits are a must as the beaches are fabulous and you’ll want to be prepared. It is also a good idea to bring a light jacket or sweatshirt for when you go out for the night. Sunscreen and a hat are important especially if you plan on spending long periods outside.
Without a doubt one place you must hit while in Tel Aviv has to be the beach. There’s always something going on, whether it’s games like volleyball, music playing, or just having fun in the water.
After you finish spending the day at the beach, get ready to have fun exploring the nightlife of Tel Aviv. If you like to be low-key there are many bars and restaurants to choose from where you will have access to fantastic food and drinks. However, if you like to party, then you’re in luck because there are plenty of nightclubs and dance clubs all around.
Tel Aviv also has a large number of Museums to choose from including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, or the Eretz Israel Museum.
Tel Aviv has a lot to offer when it comes to food. You can find restaurants that serve anything from Israeli staples like falafel to international cuisine. Depending on how much time you have, what kind of mood you are in, or what time of day it is, know you will always be able to find somewhere good.
Located in the heart of Tel Aviv, La Shuk specializes in the traditional food of Jaffa in the 1960s and 1970s. The ingredients are fresh, and the atmosphere is excellent. La Shuk has an open kitchen which allows its guests to watch the preparation of the Middle Eastern cuisine. Some of their most famous dishes include kubaniyeh, hraymi with Shoshka peppers, and spicy tomatoes with labaneh. Additionally, La Shuk bakes their own laffa bread in-house, and it can be ordered with a variety of toppings. Known for great service, and even better food this restaurant is a must if you are in Tel Aviv.