Israel, located in the Middle East on the eastern bank of the Mediterranean Sea, is home to some of the oldest and most famous historic and religious tourist destinations in the world. As the site of numerous events that formed Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Israel is viewed by adherents of all three faiths as a holy place—especially Jerusalem, the country’s proclaimed capital. From the Western Wall to the Sea of Galilee to the Dome of the Rock, the area attracts millions of the faithful each year. If you’re considering a trip to Israel, make sure to purchase Israel travel insurance to protect yourself against the unpredictability of international travel.
The State of Israel was established in 1948. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state,” according to its constitutional laws, and as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It’s the only Jewish nation of modern times. Its population was about 8.5 million people as of July 2018; almost exactly 75% of them identify as Jewish. The country’s official languages are Hebrew and Arabic, and English is the most commonly spoken foreign language.
Israel has plenty more to offer than religious destinations, however. For such a small country, its diverse climate and geography lend themselves to a wide variety of activities. Tel Aviv is a popular beach resort city. The Dead Sea serves as both a swimming hotspot and a health resort. The countryside surrounding the Sea of Galilee is the perfect place to go for a long hike. Whatever you’re looking for in a vacation, odds are good you can find it in Israel.
The status of Jerusalem is something of a sensitive subject. Both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine claim it as the capital of their respective territories. The dispute centers on claims to East Jerusalem and the Old City of Jerusalem, especially access to holy sites. The issue is one of the longest-lasting and difficult points of the Israel–Palestine conflict. The purpose of this section is to be inclusive of all exciting and interesting travel attractions in the Jerusalem area. To include them here approaches the line of controversy; to leave them out entirely would be an oversight. Please be mindful that it’s a hot-button topic.
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is a surviving stretch of a retaining wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD. It’s one of the holiest sites in Judaism and a pilgrimage site for the Jewish people. The Wall marks one of the boundaries of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Other attractions in the Jewish Quarter include Jerusalem Archaeological Park; the Western Wall Tunnels, which lead under the city; and Hurva Square, a plaza packed with restaurants, boutiques, and plenty of outdoor seating.
For Christians, the site to see is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Tradition holds that the church stands at Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The grounds include the final stations of the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage, the route that Jesus walked on his way to his crucifixion. The Rock of Calvary, believed to be the site of Jesus’ death, is enclosed in glass and the most popular draw within the church.
The Muslim Quarter, stretching from Damascus Gate through the northeast portion of the Old City, is probably the liveliest district in Jerusalem. The Arab souk (market) contains countless stalls selling everything from spices to sheepskin coats to antiquities to leather goods. Walking through its bustling streets, you’re likely to see groups of children running and playing, as well as men smoking hookah in outdoor cafes. One popular tourist destination is Khan al-Sultan, an example of Mamluk architecture built in the 14th century. Rooftop access allows for sprawling views of the activity below.
Temple Mount, also known as Haram Al-Sharif, is one of the holiest sites on the planet for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Traditionally, it’s the site where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, where King Solomon built the First Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, and where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during the foundational years of Islam. The plaza includes the Dome of the Rock, the most iconic landmark of the Jerusalem skyline, underneath which lies the stone on which Abraham offered up Isaac. The mount also contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world.
Visitors could spend their entire vacation in the city of Jerusalem and still see only a fraction of what the city has to offer. Briefly, other points of interest include the Mount of Olives, home to the oldest continually used cemetery in the world and the site where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven after his resurrection; Mount Zion, the site of King David’s Tomb; and Yad Vashem, the major Holocaust memorial of Israel.
Tel Aviv is as modern of a metropolis as Jerusalem is a preservation of the past. It’s one of Israel’s most populous cities and houses government ministries, foreign embassies, and the headquarters of many of Israel’s largest corporations. It’s also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its collection of Bauhaus architecture (dating back to the 1920s and 1930s) in the White City portion of Tel Aviv. The city is also home to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which houses works by Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso; Dizengoff Circle, with its modern-art centerpiece of the Fire and Water Fountain; and the Yitzhak Rabin Center, focused on the history of 20th-century Israel.
Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it’s been noted by several publications (including National Geographic) as one of the best beach cities in the world. Beaches to check out include Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach, and Banana Beach. Similarly, about 20 miles north of the city proper lies Netanya, a seaside resort town featuring a 6-mile stretch of sand & surf and a laid-back downtown area with cafes and restaurants.
Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee
The Dead Sea, a salt lake located between Israel and Jordan, has the distinction of lying at the lowest point on earth, more than 1,400 feet below sea level. Its salinity levels are almost ten times that of the ocean, resulting in extreme buoyancy that makes swimming feel more like floating. The Israel side of the lake has plenty of beaches and health resorts along its shore. Kalia Beach, the furthest north, offers a bar, restaurant, pool, changing room facilities, and mud baths with therapeutic properties. Biankini Beach is a Moroccan-style oasis and holiday resort featuring restaurants and hotels. Neve Midbar Beach offers a bar, barbecue pits, a gift shop, and attracts a younger crowd.
The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth at an elevation of almost 700 feet below sea level. Historically known as the region where Jesus traveled and preached—and, in particular, delivered his Sermon on the Mount—the area attracts its fair share of Christian pilgrims. In 2011, Israel opened the Jesus Trail, a 40-mile hiking trail linking sites from the lives of Jesus and his disciples. The area also offers elements of natural beauty perfect for outdoor tourism and recreation, from soaking in the hot springs near Tiberias to the rolling green hills of Arbel National Park.
As one might expect, because Israel is primarily a Jewish region, Israeli cuisine consists of a mix of Jewish cuisine with flavors from the variety of cultures the Jewish people occupied before Israel’s founding in 1948. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes like falafel, hummus, and couscous are common. Chicken soup is a longtime foundation of Jewish cuisine, often served with matzah balls or dumplings. Lentil soup is a popular choice, as well. Other staples include fresh fish from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, challah bread, shawarma, and desserts like baklava or watermelon with feta cheese salad.
Travel Advisories and Travel Insurance
Before booking your trip to Israel, we highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance or travel health insurance. Travel insurance primarily provides coverage for prepaid, non-refundable expenses in situations like emergency medical care, trip interruption, lost luggage, emergency cash transfers, and rental car coverage. Travel medical insurance protects against financial loss from any illness or injuries that may occur while abroad. Standard benefits include coverage of trip interruption, emergency medical evacuation or repatriation, return of mortal remains, and ancillary benefits like ID theft assistance, terrorism, and natural disaster relief.
There are some additional points to consider. Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza can be a turbulent region politically, so be sure to check for any travel advisories issued by the U.S. State Department or other governing organizations before buying tickets, insurance, or before travelling. Many travel insurance plans exclude coverage for illnesses or injuries caused in conjunction with any acts of war, military acts, or terrorism. Be aware of a possible lack of insurance coverage if you knowingly enter an area that has a travel restriction in effect. Some plans may provide coverage, while others require a special provision at an increased rate. Be sure to read the fine print on your plan for details and call us if you need help.
Travel safe, and mazel tov!