Top 7 unforgettable experiences in Israel for first-timers

By: Katie DZ

Full title: Top 7 unforgettable experiences in Israel for first-timers or Fail-safe ways to impress friends and family with the country you now call home

  1. Jerusalem. It goes without saying that any first time visitor to Israel should visit this most awe inspiring city. Not only is Jerusalem geographically impressive, historically extraordinary and religiously remarkable it is also a bustling, noisy city of everyday people in an urban melting pot. Start with a view from the Hebrew University over the whole city then wind down by the Garden of Gethsemane to do a tour of the old city; the religious sites cannot fail to impress. Don’t forget to take an empty stomach to feast on the street food as you wander, from fresh bagels and zartar to hummus, kube, knafe (traditional Arab cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup), lahmabajeen (meat on pitta) and tamarind lemonade. Watch as your guest’s senses become bloated, as their minds try to absorb the languages, cultures, religions and sheer enormity of the importance of the city to so many. Take some time to visit outside of the old city walls; to the Machne Yehuda Market to taste halva and listen to the shouts of the market traders, to walk through the ruins of David’s City and wonder at the ancient ruins, to sit in the shade of the Montefiore windmill and take in the sights. Leave to the sound of church bells and calls to prayer ringing in their ears via a short hop to Ein Kerem or with a glimpse of the road down to the desert to tease their expectations for what’s to come.

    Jerusalem - the 3 religion's fight for space
    Jerusalem - the 3 religion's fight for space

  2. The Dead Sea. No matter how stinky and stingy the water of the Dead Sea might be to some, no first time trip to Israel is complete without the compulsory photo reading a book whilst floating on the Dead Sea. Make your visitors strip off and cover them in mud (cameras at the ready), remind them to shower vigorously afterwards and then sit in silence on a cliff top whilst they take in the view. Arrive in the morning and spend the day in the desert so that the true beauty of the changing light on the barren land is fully appreciated. For the historically minded a visit to the majestic Masada fort is fascinating and even for those not so inclined, take them anyway. The view from the top is more than worth the climb or the cable car ride and the story cannot fail to move. Finish the day with traditional coffee in a Bedouin style tent on the shores of the sea, for extra ambience enhancement for your guests, take your guitar (and someone who can play it) to strum as the sun goes down.

  3. Tel Aviv sea front and Jaffa. A walk or bike ride from one end of the tayelet (promenade) to the other will take your visitors from the modern cafes and restaurants in the Tel Aviv port, passing the sun worshippers, kite surfers and boogie boarders on the long white beach to the tranquil historic beauty of Jaffa port. A good guide book to explain the significance historically and emotionally of the port is key, plus a comfy pair of shoes to climb the stairs into Jaffa itself. Once in the buzz of the town, food is once again crucial to the experience so put diets aside and make your visitors tuck into malabi, hummus and shakshuka, pausing for mint tea in the flea market to people watch and pick up an unusual bargain (odd shoe anyone?). If their feet can stand it, make the short walk passed the old train station into the oldest part of Tel Aviv, Neve Tsedek where the tiny run down cottages rub shoulders with designer jewellers and gourmet ice cream parlours and eat dinner in one of the atmospheric restaurants.

    Jafa Port - the calm after and before the noise of Tel Aviv and Jaffa
    Jafa Port - the calm after and before the noise of Tel Aviv and Jaffa

  4. North to the Sea of Galilee. The drive from the populated centre of Israel up into the hills of the Galilee should be savoured with regular stops for your visitors to appreciate the abundance of scenery changes on the way. Take the coast road for maximum effect, alongside the turquoise of the sea, the mountain pine forests and city of Haifa and the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra. As you drive inland make sure to point out the Keshet caves, the lonely impressive Montfort, tell the stories of the kibbutzim and their history and make a stop in the ancient and mystical town of Sefad high above the lake’s shore. Pause to take in the history and spirituality of the town, marvel at the views; east to the Golan, north to the Hermon and Lebanon, west to Mount Meron and south to Tiberias and the lake itself. Drive down to Rosh Pina to amaze with the choice of culinary experiences and then head to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) itself. I’ll bet they don’t know it’s a lake.

    Monfort - hidden in the cliff face, doesn't fail to impress
    Monfort - hidden in the cliff face, doesn't fail to impress

  5. The Sea of Galilee. Depending on the age and interests of your visitor, the lake and its surroundings to stun all tastes. The religious sites and churches on the banks marking the locations of Bible stories from Old and New Testaments, Roman ruins, Jewish holy sites, Byzantine mosaics and a 1st Century fishing boat, to name but a few of the historic and religious gems in the area. For the thrill seekers; white water rafting on the Jordan River (in season of course), windsurfing or jet skiing on the lake and for the nature lovers a walk around or up from the lake promises a wealth of birdlife, wildlife, and evidence of ancient life. The views are majestic and don’t forget to keep one eye on the sky to catch a glimpse of impressive preying birds swooping and hovering. End your day with a dip in the lake, in summer the water is warm and the muddy bottom slips between your toes. Don’t forget to take along your shesh besh (backgammon) board, your gas burner and finjan (pot) to make the coffee as you watch the sunset.

    Green and lucious - not what most think of Israel
    Green and lucious - not what most think of Israel

  6. The Negev. So you took them to the Dead Sea and they had a glimpse at the desert. Now you need to head further into the Negev and show them the Israel they had probably imagined. Camels, donkeys and long stretches of road with nothing but rocks and sand, eagles overhead and Bedouin tents in the distance. The Negev has a stark beauty that cannot fail to impress, especially visitors from the Northern hemisphere. Pack your binoculars and the ubiquitous coffee making equipment for unscheduled shady stops to listen to the silence and wonder at the dry enveloping heat. Your goal is to get to the town of Mitzpe Ramon where your visitors get their first glimpse of the impressive crater, stock up on all the knowledge there that they need to fully grasp the enormity, geographical wonder and history of the massive natural crater. Remember to make friends with the nosy ibexes that wander around the hot town’s streets. Take them for a walk in the crater’s floor to pick up ammonite fossils and get a glimpse of the geological curiosities which crowd the area. Don’t forget to show your insider knowledge by leaving via the small crater and your descent by the Scorpion’s Ascent, a steep and winding road down to the main desert highway. As night falls, pull over to watch and listen to the desert come to life as the temperature drops. For the more adventurous, pull out your sleeping bag and sleep under the stars but only if you can handle it, nothing worse than your host panicking when there’s a rustle in the sand.

    Friendly (greedy) ibex in Mitzpe Ramon
    Friendly (greedy) ibex in Mitzpe Ramon

  7. Tel Aviv by night. Any self-respecting local knows that the nightlife in Tel Aviv only starts after 11pm so pre-warn your visitors to take an afternoon nap and prepare to be out ‘til dawn. Book a dinner at one of the many notable culinary establishments Tel Aviv has to offer, think Middle Eastern, your visitors want a taste of the local fair not a bowl of spaghetti. When setting out to the restaurant take a walk down Rothschild or Nachlat Binyamin streets to get a taste of Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus past. Stop for a quick cocktail in one of the multitude of bars. Once full and astounded by the quality of their dinner you can start to head to the bars spilling out onto the streets. If they are still able, at 1am head downtown to one of the clubs where the music is loud, the drinks are shots and the dancing is sweaty. A sleep on the beach as the sun comes up followed by a quick dip should sort out the ringing in their ears and clear their heads for the day ahead.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKatie DZ is a British expat living in Israel. Blog description: I live a long way from my old home in the UK, trying a new life in Israel with my husband and three young children. It's still a work in practice. I teeter on the edge of extreme homesickness and extreme gratitude for the sunshine.
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Contest Comments » There are 22 comments

Rhian @melbs wrote 11 years ago:

A great read, very well written and engaging. The reality sounds very different to what I imagined Isreal to be. Looks like a great place to visit.

Paul Boross wrote 11 years ago:

Beautiful descriptions of a wonderful place. You could not wish for a better guide.

Mum wrote 11 years ago:

This is a very good for anyone visiting Israel for the first or like us a frequent visitor. We have been visiting for the past 8 years and have been lucky enough to have visited and marvelled at thes sights. We are particularly fond of Jaffa and also know of an exceptionally good coffee shop and bakery plus a restaurant in Neve Tsedek!

Eilon wrote 11 years ago:

Thank you for these lovely recommendations. Made me really miss Israel and appreciate its beauty.

W FitzGerald wrote 11 years ago:

Such a comprehensive and enthusiastic list. Has all the stylistic qualities of the greatest Travel guides. Really makes me want to visit!

Liat Noyman wrote 11 years ago:

Amazing!! I CAN'T wait for my next visitors.

Kristy Lees wrote 11 years ago:

So true i visited Israel and did all of the above. Israel is nothing like i imagined it was, it was beautiful and amazing, and i loved every minute of my stay there xx

Lucy P wrote 11 years ago:

Sounds amazing-really makes me want to visit. Maybe I'll try my hand at that white water rafting... Excellent tips from a clearly knowledgable source. Thanks!

Jennie Denton wrote 11 years ago:

Fantastic and accurate acount of the amazing sites there are to behold in Israel. Beautiful photos to support the written descriptions - a useful tool for anyone visiting or thinking of visiting such a diverse country!

Judy Rickatson wrote 11 years ago:

The perfect primer for any first time visitor; this is a really useful resource. I have never visited Israel, but now I want to go!

Sam Redfern-Perry wrote 11 years ago:

I wish you had been my guide when I visited 25 years ago. Your writing helped me re-experience it vicariously.

Melanie Dorrian wrote 11 years ago:

Without question a fantastic review! A country that gets so much negative press is given a positive and intriguing picture of the reality of this beautiful country. After reading this I for sure would love to visit! ... & watch out Judith Charmers !!

Arnon wrote 11 years ago:

A Great comprehensive review on "what to do for my first time in Israel" What's in store for the second trip?

Robin Denton wrote 11 years ago:

An enticing guide; some areas not ticked off yet for us though! Perhaps you should be doing guided tours too!

JKFitz wrote 11 years ago:

Picture perfect prose; Israel sounds enticing but this little mini guide book makes me feel like I've already experienced it.

John Egan wrote 11 years ago:

A magnificent insight to an obviously beautiful and historic country. The presentation has been carried out by a talented wordsmith.

Rachel P wrote 11 years ago:

I have visited Israel and experienced some, but not all, of the unforgettable experiences detailed above. Reading this excellent list has made me hungry (literally when talking about the food options!) to go back for more. Great suggestions and ideas - thank you.

Dong wrote 11 years ago:

I definitely will translate this article into Chinese and show it to my Chinese friends. I have been in israel for 8 years and read many travel recommendations about this country, but most of them are from a fresh traveller's view, you know, superficial. this one is with good insights and the writing is so fluent. this is definitely the best article i have ever got on this subject.

Jen Jones wrote 11 years ago:

Beautiful descriptions set alongside stunning images! Makes me want to jump on a plane and experience Israel.

Lisa wrote 11 years ago:

Great! Thanx for the info.

Nicole wrote 11 years ago:

What a fantastic list - well done!

Annabel wrote 11 years ago:

This made my day!!! Freezing in Germany instead of enjoying spring time in lovely Israel - you've triggered the right spots that will make me check my calendar and book a flight asap to get back to the wonderland that is Israel. Thank you for reminding me and making me feel the sun, heat, noise and life I quite often miss. Hope to see you soon! Neshikot!

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