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Travel to Israel: journey to the heart of religion

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
A small country with a full history, where three faiths come to meet in the middle of a golden, glowing city. There is more to see and learn that many other places in the world, due to the country's fascinating story and unbelievable scenery. It's a place to visit in order to change your perspective, you will be endlessly moved by everything you see and probably surprised at the knowledge you will acquire.

Travel guide

The world's holiest city

Israel's capital city is considered sacred by Christians, Jews and Muslims and is one of the world's foremost places of pilgrimage. There is a whole host of stunning religious landmarks, each so intricately designed and decorated. Wandering around Jerusalem and you will notice that it exudes a sense of a magic and a spiritual resonance from the golden stones that have stood for so many centuries, which is comforting and remarkable all at once. Particularly significant sites are Temple Mount, which is an elevated temple with the famous and iconic Dome of the rock which is revered by Jews and Muslims alike. It is the image one associates with not only Jerusalem, but Israel itself due to its completely original, golden shimmering dome that reflects light all across the city as it stands proud above the rest. The old city is a must see, it is crammed with ancient relics at every turn, from temples to authentic markets; you will be thrilled to wander the nooks and crannies that make up the oldest city in the world. The Western Wall is one of the famous sites in Israel, as Judaism's holiest scene. It is the only remaining remnant of the temple Herod built 2000 years ago as part of a renovation on the second temple. You will be overcome by emotion when you see how much a visit to the wall means to some people. Different religions will come to life for you as you see the most amazing Christian, Jewish and Muslim locations like the Garden of Gethsemane, King David's tomb, Mount of Olives, and so many more.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv, also known as the White City, is home to some of the most impressive and interesting buildings in the world; including the Bauhaus-era architecture that reverts back to when many Jewish Germans immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine during the rise of the Nazis. In 2003, the White City was given recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical and cultural value. Along with the historic port of Jaffa, which has a fascinating Arab heritage, you will be taken aback by how easily you fall into Tel Aviv's sophisticated way of life. Between the contemporary art museums and the blissful beaches, you will be imitating their cosmopolitan attitudes and will never want to leave. The ultramodern Tel Aviv museum of art is definitely worth visiting, if not for the stunning collection inside it, then to see the ?envelope' building designed by American architect Preston Scott Cohen. Besides the array of compelling museums, there are typical Israeli areas that give you an authentic portrayal of the Tel Avivi people. After squeezing through nooks and crannies you will reach Carmel market which makes an attractive change from the characterless air-conditioned shops you will find on every street. People are hustling and bustling, bartering over knock-off bags, and locals come to buy their fresh bread, olives, fruits and cheese.

The Red Sea

At the most southern point of Israel, the city of Eilat is a perfect holiday destination. After a few busy days in one of the cities seeing plenty of sights, the beautiful mountainous coastline is a perfect place to relax and appreciate some more beautiful sights of a different kind. Eilat and the Red Sea are famous the world over for excellent diving experiences, with such stunning clear blue sea (despite the name!) and an exciting variation of fish species. Israel's coast is different from any other shoreline with its dramatic, jagged rock formations leading into the sublime waters.

Relive history

As well as Jerusalem's impressive historic sites, there are many other areas in Israel that have magnificent stories behind them and add to the whole allure of the country. Masada, which was once King Herod's palace-fortress, is now open to visitation following excavation of the site many years ago. It is an impressive old citadel close to Nazareth, where you are wowed by the stunning view from the top. Whether you accept the challenge of a hike up to the top, or you take the cable car, the journey is very much worth it. Imagining the Jewish rebellion against the Romans makes Masada completely intriguing.

Our Editorial team's advice

If you are visiting Israel on a tight budget you never need to worry as there are plenty of religious hostels or cheaper Israeli guest houses. However, the hotels and resorts in Israel are exceptionally good quality and not that cheap - especially in Tel Aviv.

Obviously it is a difficult time politically in Israel and there has been lots of conflict in the past few years, so it is always important to bear that information in mind and think carefully about where you want to visit. It is an incredibly enriching place in terms of learning about the history, politics and religion, but always remember to keep your opinions to yourself the majority of the time because you do not want to upset or offend anyone, particularly considering it is a very sensitive environment. The British Embassy advises not to travel to Gaza. They also recommend only going into the West Bank with a trustworthy organised tour company if you want to visit cities like Bethlehem and Jericho. You will always need the appropriate immigration slip and your passport to get through Israeli checkpoints upon entry and exit. However, you should take care when travelling to the West Bank as protests and violent incidents can frequently occur without warning.

Respect the different culture: it is an extremely holy, sacred place to many people so therefore it is important to remember to bring the right clothing when visiting religious landmarks or when you are wandering around local areas. Keep covered up in churches, synagogues and mosques, and in the old areas of the city it is respectful to be appropriately dressed there too.

The weather is incredibly warm during the summer months, which do seem to start in April or May in Israel. However, it does depend on whereabouts you are visiting, since Israel is quite a long, thin country with quite different temperatures in the North compared with the South - which remains warm all year round. If you do not like the heat it is better to go in the period from November to May, because across the country during the summer months it does become swelteringly hot.

pros

  • +The amazing variety of Israel's landscapes: the subtle mix of beach tourism and rural tourism.
  • +An exceptional historical and cultural heritage; from biblical archeology to contemporary realities.

cons

  • -Political hazards and the tensions that ensue demand a certain amount of vigilance.

Traditions

In Israel the common language is Hebrew, so it is always impressive to learn a few useful phrases before you go to not only help you get by, but also to show you want to make an effort with their culture.

Israelis dress very casually, even politicians wear short-sleeve shirts without ties, so it's never very glamorous, apart from in Tel Aviv where the general attitude is modernistic and stylish. However, that does not mean that you can wear whatever you please. Dress is very important to the Jews, especially when entering an orthodox area or the synagogues, so be mindful to dress appropriately to the situation.

The most important of Jewish holidays is the Shabbat. One hour before sundown every Friday evening they begin their day of rest and observance of God's creation of the world, until sunset on Saturday. The Friday night meal is a huge feast to which all the family is meant to come and join together to celebrate their faith. Some Jews take this holiday very seriously, so they obey the rules that they cannot work at all, turn on and off electrical switches, cook meals, or travel in vehicles. Although you may think this could affect your trip in some ways, many Jews do not take the holiday as seriously as others, and as Israelis are extremely open-minded and tolerant of other religions, the Shabbat should not affect tourists. Most religious landmarks are open to visit, and not all shops are closed.

Food

Like the country itself, the food is a reflection of the combination of races and religions, each of which brings something different and unusual to the mix. Mezze platters are extremely popular, with humus, tehina (puréed sesame), aubergine salad, pita bread, grilled vegetables, refreshing salads and sugared pastries.

Falafel and Chawarma are extremely popular dishes in Israel, frequently sold on the side of the pavement or at markets, which is usually when they taste the best because it is authentic and homemade. All meats and sauces are lightly spiced with aromatic, exotic spices which add to the wafting atmosphere while you are wandering past stalls or restaurants.

Immigrants from Europe brought with them a whole range of foods that are still prominent in Israeli gastronomy. During the fifty years before 1948 immigrants from central Europe brought foods such as schnitzel and strudel, while Russian Jews brought borsht and herring. However, the greatest impact on Israeli cuisine came from the immigration of Turkish, Iraqi, Kurdish, Moroccan and Yemeni Jews who created a new cooking fashion that influenced the rest of the country. Sweet and savoury puff pastries, rice dishes, stuffed vegetables, couscous, yoghurt, and pickled vegetable dishes all have become very traditional dishes.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Israel . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Israel . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Israel .

Reviewed hotels

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Our journalists' reviews for you 51 hotels Israel . Take a look at our hotels, their facilities or their value-for-money score according to your departure dates so that we can find the best offer to suit you Israel . Book a hotel Israel it's never been so simple !

Souvenirs

You can buy artisanal crafts inspired by the Jewish tradition like mezuzahs (small silver, metal or wooden boxes containing a rolled parchment, on which two excerpts of Deuteronomy are written), which are hung on all the doors of an Israeli home apart from the bathroom. Other crafts include monorahs (jewels, silverware...), diamonds (Israel is one of the world's leading diamond cutting centres) and leather. The prices are attractive since the taxes are lower than in Europe. Moreover, if you pay in foreign currency, shops accredited by the Ministry of Tourism give you an immediate rebate of 5% and a tax refund for purchases of more than 36 pounds sterling (the VAT will be refunded at the airport once you present the receipt). You will find Palestinian copperware, spices, embroidery, etc. in the Arab souks of Jerusalem's Old Town. The shops are open Sunday to Thursday from 9:00am to 7:00pm, and Friday in the morning. Saturday is the Jewish day of rest (the Sabbath). On this day, all businesses are closed, except in the big cities and major tourist sites. Muslim and Christian shops have the same hours but close on Friday and Sunday, their weekly day of rest, respectively.

What to see

The coastal plain , The coast, Israel , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The coastal plain
The hills of the centre , The central regions , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The hills of the centre
The long fracture of the rift valley , Rift Valley, Israel , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The long fracture of the rift valley
Rocky mountains , Negev Desert, Israel , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Rocky mountains
Sports in nature , Timna Park, Israel. , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Sports in nature
The Meditarranean coast , Tel Aviv, Israel , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Mediterranean coast
Eilat , Eilat, Israel , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Eilat
The Dead Sea , The Dead Sea, Israel , Israel
The Dead Sea
The museums of Jerusalem , The Shrine of the Book, Jerusalem , Israel
The museums of Jerusalem
The museums of Tel-Aviv , The Eretz Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel , Israel
The museums of Tel-Aviv
Saint-John-of-Acre Heroism Museum , The St. Joan of Arc Heroism Museum , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Saint-John-of-Acre Heroism Museum
Bedouin culture , Bedouin tents, Israel , Israel
Bedouin culture
Le patrimoine Bauhaus , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Bauhaus heritage
Le marché aux puces de Jaffa , Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Jaffa Flea Market
Model of Jerusalem , Israel
Model of Jerusalem