Choose from 50 Fun Things to Do in Israel
Commissioned between 325-6 by Emperor Constantine I, and his mother, Saint Helena, the church was built on the former site of a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and war; initial excavations for this construction, according to Helena, revealed the Holy Sepulchre, or the tomb of Jesus.
During a Muslim uprising in 1009, the church was razed to the ground, an act that provoked Europe to begin the Crusades. It was eventually rebuilt via collaboration between the Muslims and Byzantines, and additions were later made by Crusaders, Franciscan monks, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic elders. Fire damaged the church’s dome and other features in 1808, and archeological excavations throughout the 1970s revealed that the church’s site had, even before the temple of Aphrodite, been a limestone quarry.
The main features of the church include a stairway that climbs to the Golgotha, or rumored site of Jesus’ crucifixion; a rotunda containing the Holy Sepulchre; and the Greek Orthodox catholicon, the church’s main altar.
The 4,000-foot complex now includes the main basilica, run by the Greek Orthodox Church; the Roman Catholic, Gothic Revival-style Church of St. Catherine; the Grotto, an underground shrine to the birth of Jesus; and a bas-relief sculpture of the Tree of Jesse, a symbol of Jesus’ genealogy, bequeathed to the church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
Listed as a Heritage Site in 2012, this is first UNESCO site to be set in Palestine; its nomination sparked fierce opposition from both the United States and Israel. Presently in a state of worrisome disrepair due to ongoing water damage, the church has been placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and approved by the Palestinian Authority for a multi-million dollar restoration.
In the meantime, the church is open to the public, and visitor information can be found here: http://www.bethlehem.custodia.org/
- There is an entrance fee to enter the reserve, and tickets include a map of the park’s hiking trails and attractions.
- Wear comfortable shoes, and bring sunscreen and plenty of water, especially if you plan on hiking; temperatures can reach 100°F (38°C) in the summer months.
- The uneven and often gravelly tracks mean that Ein Gedi is mostly inaccessible to wheelchair users.
- Visitor facilities include restrooms, a kiosk, and a gift shop at the reserve entrance.
- Shore excursions typically include port pickup and drop-off.
- Modest dress is required to visit many of the holy sites, so be sure to pack accordingly.
- Direct trains run from Ashdod to Tel Aviv, while buses connect the port with Jerusalem.
- Taxis are available from outside the cruise terminal.
Running parallel to the beach, the reef is over a kilometer in length and can be accessed right from the beach via a pier. Once underwater, trails are marked by buoys, and spectacular underwater gardens created by unique and colorful coral are immediately revealed. Along the way, snorkelers will spot a variety of fascinating tropical fish, including the parrot fish, butterfly fish, nocturnal fish, and many more besides.
Other top attractions of the Golan Heights region include the Hammat Gader hot springs, located on the Syrian and Jordanian border; the ancient Jewish town of Katzrin, where the extensive ruins include a synagogue dating back to the 6th century; Israel’s largest Byzantine monastery in Kursi; and the extinct volcano of Mount Bental, which offers magnificent views over the Golan plateau and the Syrian Quneitra Valley.
Frequently referred to as 'Akko,' Acre is situated in the Western Galilee region of northern Israel. Populated with beautiful ancient buildings, Old Akko, a subset of Acre, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its cultural vibrancy makes it a prime place for visitors. Hosting festivals and markets year-round, the port of Acre is lively and beautiful.
Steeped in history, you can visit the ancient walls and fortresses of the city that tell the complicated story of the area.
Further afield are the Baha'i Gardens, which are meticulously designed and gorgeously preserved. The gardens surround the Bahji mansion northeast of Acre where the Bahaullah is buried (not to be confused with the Bahai gardens on the slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa).
Be sure to visit the astounding Knights' Halls, which are comprised of 6 different joined halls that have been recently excavated from the time of the Knights Hospitallers.
The best way to access Acre is via bus, operated out of any major city in Israel. There are also inner-city buses that run frequently to many of the main destinations and tourist attractions.
- The Temple Mount is located within a 35-acre compound known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which is controlled by the Islamic Trust.
- The Dome of the Mount is a sacred, religious site, and non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the shrine.
- Guided tours to the Dome of the Rock can help visitors explore the area respectfully
- Visitors are expected to dress respectfully with covered legs and arms.
- There are many steps and hills to get to the area, so relative physical health (and good walking shoes) are important.
- Always carry your passport with you while traveling to the West Bank, as you’ll be asked to show it at Israeli checkpoints
- Be aware that you will be crossing borders from Israel into the Occupied Palestinian Territories; you’ll need to plan transportation ahead of time as Israeli taxis do not cross the border
- The Church of the Nativity is a religious site and visitors are expected to dress appropriately with covered arms and legs.
- The Dead Sea is a must-see for any first-time visitor to the region.
- Dead Sea tours can last upwards of 10 hours.
- Pack some water shoes to protect your feed from the rough salt at the bottom of the sea.
- Wear an old bathing suit, as the salty water and mineral-rich mud can discolor fabrics.
- Don’t shave for at least a day or two before your Dead Sea swim, as the salt can sting.