Israel is a vibrant feast for the senses, a melting pot of cultures that brings together the old and new. Whether you long for adventure, want to discover the food scene or explore historical sites, there’s plenty of things to do. Here’s our round up of the best experiences to add to your Israeli itinerary.
Take a foodie tour of Carmel Market
Foodies will love Carmel Market, where you arrive feeling like a tourist and leave a local. This bustling market is a fun way to experience the eclectic flavours and influences on the Tel Aviv food scene. Book a tour with Be Tel Aviv whose guides have the inside track on the best stalls and must try dishes. The market is full of charismatic characters that are bursting with energy and passion for their culinary gems. Try a Grandma Ruthi’s Mallawah at Magolgalauch, a tasty combination of mashed egg, tomatoes and spices housed in soft baked roll. Hummus lovers must make a stop at Shlomo and Doron for a twist on the traditional dip. After working up a thirst zipping around the market, finish the tour with a craft beer at Beer Bazaar, a street bar that offers around 100 different Israeli craft beers from local microbreweries. Remember to arrive hungry as there are so many delicious tastes and tipples on this tour.
Visit the Old City of Jerusalem
Both breath-taking and iconic, the Old City of Jerusalem is well worth a visit. Ensconced by 16th century walls built by the Ottomans, it consists of four distinct and unique quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian.
Enter through the Damascus Gate and be transported back through time on a fascinating historical journey. Start by meandering the narrow alleyways of the Muslim Quarter where incense, coffee and spices drift through the air. Unless you know where to go you could end up going round in circles and missing all the key sites, so I recommend getting a guide. Shai from Know the Land knows his way around and what he doesn’t know about the history of Jerusalem, isn’t worth knowing. The best day to visit is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath as it is less busy, but note all the shops and restaurants in the Jewish Quarter will be closed. Explore the Old City to a backdrop of church bells, the call of the muezzin and the chatter of local vendors selling their wares. Thread your way through the souk and grab freshly baked bread covered in zaatar, make sure you try Knafeh, a traditional Middle Eastern sweet dish made from pastry, cheese, pistachio and a sugar-based syrup called attar.
Non-religious visitors will still be moved by the stories and the thousands of years of history right before your eyes. The extraordinary Western Wall is still a sacred place of pilgrimage where worshippers recite scriptures, lay their hands on the 2000-year-old stone and slip personal prayers on paper into the cracks in the wall.
In the Christian Quarter you can visit the holy site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by many Christians to be built over Calvary, where Jesus was nailed to the cross, died and rose from the dead. This spectacular, ornate church is one of the most holy and special sites in Christianity. Plan ahead as there is so much to see.
Explore the local wineries
When you think wine regions, Israel is probably not front of mind, yet its home to some magnificent wine producers. With a long history of wine production, dating back to the time of the Bible their wines are up there with some of the best in the world. The Judean wine region has been recognised as a prime location for growing quality grapes and the result is collection of punchy wines that that are receiving international acclaim. Wine lovers staying in Tel Aviv and the surrounding area can sample some of the finest tipples in the region.
Clos de Gat, situated in the foothills of the Judean Mountains is one of the most prestigious and few chateau (estate) wineries in Israel. Set amongst the rolling hills and valley’s you can take a tour of the beautiful grounds and hear more about the wine making process before heading to their al fresco tasting room to try a selection of their finest new world wines. They produce eight different labels and 30% is exported to the UK and France. Choose from two different wine tasting flights, each with a good, varied selection of reds, whites and rosé. The Chanson Blanc is an exceptional, crisp, fresh explosion of citrus aromas and exotic fruits, a perfect choice for the warm Israeli climate.
The wines at Tzora Vineyards are made using grapes grown in their own vineyard in the Judean Hills. One of the first boutique wineries, they focus on making terroir-driven wines from individually micro-vinified plots. They produce five different varieties and their flagship wine, ‘Misty Hills’, is produced from a unique plot on the vineyard that is Northern facing and has rich soil. You can arrange to visit the vineyard and experience the wine on the grounds it’s produced, or the visitor centre is open to the public with wine tasting flights available upon request.
Embark on a hiking expedition across the Eilat Mountains to Israel’s Red Canyon
Active adventurers can journey to Eilat’s Red Canyon, a series of red sandstone walls hidden within the Eilat mountains that have been carved by wind and water through the ages and admire this geological wonder. The Red Canyon formation has grown to fame because of the nature in which the light makes the sandstone glow a dark reddish colour. With trails covering all abilities, and the longest trail taking just 75 minutes to complete, the Red Canyon is extremely accessible. Whether visitors choose to hike or bike the trails, they offer some of the most stunning views of the Israeli desert and on a clear day you can catch a glimpse of Jordan and Egypt.
Journey down the Jordan River on a white water raft
The Jordan River, flowing through northern Israel into the Sea of Galilee, is a real hotspot for white water rafting in the Middle East. Largely untouched, this vibrant waterway boasts a variety of lush vegetation and wildlife and is the perfect way to see an undiscovered part of this beautiful country. With no prior experience necessary, participants will be escorted by white water rafting veterans, on a 3-6 hour excursion of the river.
Learn to cook with a local
For a truly unique Israeli cookery experience book an afternoon at Maase-Yadayim. This fun culinary workshop is located in the village of Moshav Aviezer in the Ella Valley at the family home of Adi Yogev. Having travelled and lived all over the world, Adi has been on a culinary journey, learning to cook with families in the Bedouins of Morocco to mastering the dishes her mother would make. She’s transformed their family garden on a hillside overlooking the mountains of Jerusalem into a pretty outdoor kitchen and dining space. Using fresh local ingredients and with the help of her husband and kids, she cooks everything on an open firewood oven in the garden.
Adi teaches you how to recreate a range of Middle Eastern mezze dishes like Fatayer. This little pastry parcel is stuffed with spinach, herbs and local spices and is packed full of flavour. You quickly feel at home here, the wine flows in the sunshine while Adi shares her global culinary skills and stories from her travels while her kids pop in and out helping with the odd job here and there. Afterwards you get to feast on your delicious dishes and relax in the garden.
You can discover more Israeli experiences at Visit Israel