Describing the state of Israel in a few words is really something impossible, so is its weight in our culture, but one thing is certain that a trip to Israel is something that you will not forget. I spent a week last year traveling in Israel between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea and the images of those places continue to tickle my memory, which were so beautiful.
Its needless to say that the things to do there would be a million. Just browse any tour guide for travelling it. Today I want to recommend my personal 10 things which cannot be missed on a trip to Israel, the ones that I keep in my heart.
(My) list of things not to miss on a trip to Israel
Stroll the streets of the Arab quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in the early morning
It is the memory which is the closest. Early morning we walked to visit the famous esplanade of the mosque, and to do that we crossed the Arab quarters as traders began to open the shutters of their shops of keffiyeh, souvenirs and food. The lights seemed to turn everything that it touched into gold.
Discover the Austrian pilgrim's hostel in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem
Tracing the Way of the Cross, just the original one, you will come across an anonymous door within which hides The Hospice of the Holy Family, the hostel that was born from the need to accommodate the Austrian pilgrims in the early '900, who wanted to visit the Holy Land, and today a real guest house is open to all. Besides accommodation, it has a beautiful Viennese café and a large internal garden, where you can sip a cup of tea listening to the singing of the muezzin that spreads throughout the neighborhood.
Knowing the history of the state of Israel with the light show inside the Tower of David
Imagine over your head the moon and all the stars and you sit on millennial stones inside the tower of David the garden while on the walls is projected a light show that traces the history of Israel to this day. It is something magical. At the sound of the word Jerusalem, before my eyes materialize the images of the narrow streets of the ancient city, the curls of Orthodox Jewish children already busy in prayer, the good-natured South American Franciscan looking busy to tell all the secrets of the Holy Sepulchre and the gleams of the golden dome of the mosque. Jerusalem is all that and much more.
After the sun goes down the city changes its face. Churches and minarets close their heavy and ancient gates, down the shutters of the souk, disappear beards of Orthodox Jews, the busloads of tourists from all over the world go back to their hotels. The old city empties and sleep a peaceful sleep wait for a new day.
But this does not happen in the rest of the newest part of the city, where instead take local life from the different souls give the opportunity to spend the night listening to music, eating ethnic or discovering the Israeli craft beers.
What to do in Jerusalem in the evening
Coming out from the walls of the old city through the jaffa gate, go down through Mamilla Avenue, a street made up of the latest fashion shops and refined spaces where every step is accompanied by the presence at the sides of splendid sculptures, an open-air gallery. Meat dishes are not to be missed, as well as the selection of Israeli wines, which are really exquisite. After Mamilla Avenue within walking distance starts Jaffa Street the real beating heart of the Jerusalem nightlife.
Here you are spoiled for choice with illuminated signs views that illuminate the surrounding streets. The street musicians expand the air with the acoustic notes of guitars, violin and voices that sing like there's no tomorrow. The atmosphere is exciting and we cannot escape being euphoric with the desire to dance. The night is long and the desire to discover it is so much.
The area where we found the greatest concentration is that in the triangle drawn by Jaffa St, St Hillel and Ben Sira St. And in the latter, Ben Sira, in the small pedestrian section, where we found a face to face the most beautiful. Sira is tiny, perhaps the dancefloor smaller the planet is filled with people so that the DJ console is almost spread to the window pane.
And the proof that the place is the right is there are no limits. Across the street from a bar, from punk flavor (the toilet is plastered with stickers and posters as they could) where you can enjoy one of the many craft beers produced in Israel at the bar or in one of its small rooms. The staff is so friendly that gave us some games to entertain our little one.
The beauty of the night in Jerusalem is to literally get lost in its premises, through its streets to discover what holds the secret of his ways. For those who want a really charming evening in the David's Tower it takes place a truly amazing sight. The ancient walls is projected a light show that narrates, in less than an hour, the history of the State of Israel through the events that have characterized its centuries past. Highly recommended for all ages. Jerusalem delights and amazes both day and night.
Grocery shopping (or simply walk) to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem
A must for all our journeys is that of the market. More than anything else, this is where you meet the real life and the habits and customs of the inhabitants. The Mahane Yehuda is the Jewish market where, between the Orthodox with long beards and hats blacks, one is kidnapped by the scents and colors of various foods on display on the stands.
Israeli cuisine was an unforgettable experience. Guess why? If you think about this place is so varied and versatile with a high mix of cultures, religions and nationalities, it is easy to guess. The first Jews who emigrated from all over the world in the centuries have enriched the kitchens of Israel until it became a truly varied culinary experience.
Moreover, the presence of Arabs enriches Israeli cuisine with dishes that I personally love, such as hummus and felafel. Finally, Israel is also a western country influenced by trends of globalization and changes.
10 things to eat in Israel
Hummus : puree of cooked chickpeas and sesame paste to eat accompanied with pita and seasoned with olive oil and spices. It eats mostly as a starter.
Pita : traditional bread of Israel and looks like a kind of flat bread very soft and is great for making the shoe with sauces that will introduce you to the table at the beginning of each lunch or dinner.
Falafel : balls of fried chickpeas to eat with pita.
Tahina : sesame seed cream worked with oil and obviously to taste with pita timeless.
Schawarma : lamb or turkey cooked on a spit and served with vegetables and sauces wrapped in pita is in fact the most famous dish of Israeli cuisine.
Bureka : sofa puff pastry inside which is a chopped spinach, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese or meat.
Chraima : baked fish accompanied by sauces.
Shakshuka : puree of tomatoes, peppers, onions and boiled eggs in pan.
Sabich : pita stuffed with boiled eggs, hummus, tahini, eggplant and salad.
Halvah parfait: the most famous sweet of Israeli cuisine made from sesame paste.
Where to taste the Israeli cuisine
During our trip in Israel we have been lucky enough to test the Israeli cuisine on several occasions and we can say that the restaurants stood out the most.
The best street food markets are in Israel. About street food, do not miss the markets of Israel and do not forget to taste the pomegranate juice. The two best markets to visit are Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. Go there early in the morning when the tourists have not yet arrived.
Admire with the nose the architecture of Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is a city of two souls, an ultra modern of skyscrapers, while the other with old houses, some of those in the eccentric Bauhaus style. See how to alternate between what is truly unique.
Getting lost in the multitude of the Jaffa flea market items
In the streets of the "sister" of ancient Tel Aviv or Jaffa with its 4000 years behind him, a fascinating flea market is where hosted resist the temptation to buy practically everything is quite a feat!
Discover the Jaffa nightlife
If you love small romantic local, live music from engaging, cocktails and beer Jaffa after dark is the place for you. If, during your trip to Israel, staying in Tel Aviv even better because back home you will have the opportunity to walk along the beautiful promenade that connects the two cities in the moonlight.
Admire the Dead Sea from the top of Masada fortress
One hundred kilometers south-east of Jerusalem are the ruins of this fortress. Its dramatic story makes the view overlooking the Dead Sea to Jordan even more fascinating. Floating in the Dead Sea has always been something that I wanted to do in life. I wanted to try it by myself, on my skin, what it meant to dive into the water. That's why when they asked me what I could not miss in our trip to Israel I did not hesitate a moment and it had to be absolutely a stage on the Dead Sea.
Why do you float in the Dead Sea?
Swimming in the Dead Sea has been one of the strangest experiences of my life. As soon as I dipped my body it felt like a force from below brought me in a horizontal position. I assure you it was impossible to swim. Everything has an explanation and is based on Archimedes' principle. The Dead Sea water is so salty that there are 365 grams per liter of salt against the usual 35 of an ocean. Its salinity is due to two reasons of the strong evaporation caused by the hot and arid climate and continuous influx of thousands of years of water rich in salts of the Jordan.
Where is the Dead Sea?
In reality, the Dead Sea is not a sea but a thermal lake that is located on the border between the state of Israel and Jordan, about four hundred meters below sea level. It can be accessed from both states and from any the side you can see the other shore.
Why is it called Dead Sea?
Because of the high rate of salt in the Dead Sea, there cannot form of life, so here's the reason for the name. In its waters there are only microorganisms and a species of shrimp.
Tips for visiting the Dead Sea in Israel
The Dead Sea has a western beach, including the Israeli border, dotted with organized beaches with access to water. The next morning I woke up at dawn to see the sun rise directly over the Dead Sea and it was a wonderful experience. I got in a hurry and with the costume, I went down to the beach to float in solitude.
If you also have decided to have an experience, these are my tips:
- If you get the opportunity to be in a hotel near the Dead Sea, you can wake up early and arrive first to the sea. The preferred hotel choice are those that gives direct access to the beach and have their own spa;
- If you travel with your children, when bathing with them pay attention. It is strongly recommended not to drink this water that tastes disgusting and obviously not good;
- The water is so salty that if you have wounds, you will definitely see the stars. I therefore advise against shaving before entering the water;
- Bring a good sunscreen and cover your head;
- Rent a bike and take a nice ride along the sea.
What to see in Israel near the Dead Sea
Alongside the spectacular scenery of nature, there are other historic places, extremely important to Israel in the past, including the fortress of Masada and the ancient desert oasis of Ein Gedi. In addition to floating on the waters, the Dead Sea offers much more.
A botanical park to relive the verses of the Bible
The Neot Kedumim Park is a very special place halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which is a botanical park formed with the vegetation described in the Scriptures. The landscape and the striking words of the guide make your visit a truly touching experience.
Shabbat is a day of rest in the Jewish religion, which takes place every Saturday. The world seems to stand still for 24 hours and the hectic pace of modern daily life gives way to the joy for the rest, entirely dedicated to the care of family affection. It is something special to be experienced.
5 reasons to travel to Israel with children
1. Israel is a destination that can satisfy everyone and is ideal for those who love the sea, the adventure or history. On the same day we swam in the Dead Sea, visited the Masada fortress in the desert and walked to one of the most glamorous streets of Jerusalem.
2. The kitchen of Israel is very diverse. From the humus (mashed chickpeas, sesame paste) to shawarma (meat of sheep or turkey) passing through the delicious falafel (chickpea balls) will drive him kids crazy.
3. Israel has one of the most advanced health systems in the world.
4. Israel is accessible from any part of the world.
5. On the Israeli coast you can enjoy a temperate climate all year round though the best times to travel with children in Israel are the spring and fall, when temperatures are cooler.
What to see on the road in Israel with children
The fortress of Masada is an Unesco World Heritage site that has become a symbol of resistance and preservation of national and religious identity of the Jewish world. To get there you can climb on foot or go by cable car. Whatever you choose our advice is to arrive in the early hours of the day to avoid high temperatures. The story of Masada is compelling for kids and it is very nice to be able to lose in the history on this site.
The special feature of the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem is that it was born from the idea of wanting to create a zoo to house all the animals mentioned in the Bible. It is impossible to visit it on foot, given the size of over 25 hectares and so use the little train that runs frequently. Each year, the Biblical Zoo welcomes many children and school groups from both Jewish and Arab institutions. To one of the extremes of the reserve is the Noah's Ark Visitor Centre, which is an art gallery with an interactive computer station and an auditorium.
Look, touch and reasoning is the diktat on which the Bloomfield Science Museum was built. This museum dedicated to science is just a few steps from the Hebrew University of Sciences. All that is in it was made with the intent to bring joy to children and adults with how we perceive the world, the nature, and the space around us, what is hidden inside the objects we use daily in our life.
The Bloomfield is an interactive place where the visitor himself is the protagonist of the museum whatever the age. There are numerous projects each year involving kindergartens and schools promoting the testing of thinking with your hands and supporting the creativity and desire to work in groups.
The Mini Israel park displays miniature models of the main tourist attractions of the country with scenes of everyday life of small human models, a dynamic and fun way to learn more about the country. The thousands of figures that populate the scene were carved by local artists. Activity has also been shown to add the sound, for example by the Mishkenot Sha'ananim model, you can listen to the recorded voice of the Master Isaac Stern conducting a violin performance.
The Israeli Children's Museum in Holon is a real museum for children to discover the world of imagination. The smallest active installations become part, can touch, interact and shape what and how they want. Each year are proposed several themes that we've experienced was related to art.
Is a trip to Israel dangerous?
The feeling when we had just set foot in Israel was a great sense of security that has dispelled all our doubts. A trip to Israel with the family is an important opportunity for all to know why travel not only broadens the mind, but also gives it shape.