Located in the Middle East, this place is a must-see for its historical significance, diverse cultures, exquisite cuisine and picturesque sights.
My Ima (a Hebrew term for mother) told me great stories about Israel. I have always dreamed of traveling to this country. Whether you’re traveling as a pilgrim or a tourist, it is one for the bucket list. Located in the Middle East, this place is a must-see for its historical significance, diverse cultures, exquisite cuisine and picturesque sights.
Where Old Meets New
Israel is a country rich in ancient history and well-preserved antiquities. And while our general knowledge about Israel seems to be more biblical in a sense, it is surprising to know that technology and modern architecture in this country are highly advanced. Think about walking through the beautiful and romantic cobblestone pavements of Safed while enjoying grocery shopping at Sarona Market.
Safed or Tzfat is one of the four holy cities of Israel in the Upper Galilee and is famous for its Artist Quarters. The town is filled with local art galleries where you can find all kinds of artworks from paintings, sculptures to the traditional loom-weaving of yarns. There’s also a center for Kabbalistic worship which has been deemed mystical.
Israel boasts one of the biggest indoor food markets in the heart of Tel- Aviv. This modern market makes food shopping less of a chore and more of like a relaxing hobby of picking up goods from the freshest selection of specialty breads, spices, fruits, cheeses, sweets to other delicacies.
The Holy City
Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel. It is known as the holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. The ruins of the Temple Mount can be found in the city. It was said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant built by King Solomon. The Wailing Wall can also be seen. It is considered as a sacred destination for Jews. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands as a Christian pilgrimage site where Jesus’s tomb is said to be located. The Dome of the Rock, widely recognized for its golden roof, is an Islamic shrine revered by Muslims. It is believed as the place where the ascension of Prophet Muhammad to heaven took place.
Jerusalem is also an architectural goldmine filled with sites such as the Mount of Olives, Tower of David, Yad Vashem, Gethsemane, Via Dolorosa and more.
The Wailing Wall
Commonly known as the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall is a 1,600 foot tall limestone wall extending all the way down to the underground tunnels of Jerusalem. It served as a restraining wall for the Second Temple in the olden times.
The term ‘wailing’ is used to describe the sound you hear when Jews are praying, weeping and pouring their hearts out as they have done so for centuries. No trip to Israel is complete without seeing this historical wall. People from across the world come to this place to pray. One tradition done by everyone visiting this place is writing a short prayer on a small piece of paper and inserting it in between the cracks of the wall. People say that the wall can send prayers directly to God. Even Pope Francis did this during his papal visit in 2014.
The Golden Gate
The eastern gate at the Temple Mount is known as the Golden Gate. It played a vital part in historical events related to the Christian faith. For the Jews, it is the Gate of Mercy as the Anointed One revealed himself in this place according to prophecy. Jews used to pray here for mercy to prepare for the end of times. Muslims call this same gate as the Gate of Repentance. The Golden Gate is currently closed to tourists but still worthy of a glimpse for some spiritual enlightenment.
Church of the Nativity
This church located is located in Bethlehem, West Bank. It was commissioned by Constantine the Great and rebuilt by Justinian I. The Basilica has heavy Roman influence. It has a combination of two churches and a grotto underneath which they say is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
A Place to Remember
The world center for Holocaust research will remind us of the past and teach us a lesson about humanity for the future. Yad Vashem is modern museum complex that remembers the victims of the Holocaust. Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the place houses a synagogue and a memorial site for holocaust survivors from the Nazi genocide. Visiting and paying tribute to this place is a must. Learning centers and art galleries are also found in the museum.
The Sea of Life
Cleopatra knew all too well the medicinal properties of the Dead Sea. It was her version of the Fountain of Youth. The Dead Sea, which is actually a salt lake bordering Israel and Jordan, is highly rich in minerals that help heal various ailments like psoriasis, arthritis, rheumatism, eczema, and acne. It is also the lowest point on earth and has ten percent more oxygen than anywhere else—talk about natural oxygen facials! So slather on some Dead Sea Mud, bathe in the Sea, and get youthful skin.
Exploring the Cosmopolitan
The nightlife in Tel-Aviv is very much alive. Tel-Aviv is the social epicenter culturally, economically and socially. Home to the world’s top parties, bars and clubs— this city will cater to your every need. Want to go clubbing? There’s Solo Club, Penguin Club and The Block. Beach parties? Go to Clara’s for the ultimate experience. Top DJs perform at this place. If you want a good place to chill and have good drinks at, go to Rothschild 12 or the Imperial cocktail bar for award-winning drinks.
Now if you want a laidback tour of Tel-Aviv then Jaffa is the go-to place. Take a stroll down in old Jaffa and enjoy the sunset at the port. The Old Jaffa port has many restaurants and bars to fill in your appetite.
Other Sites to See
The “White City” in Tel-Aviv consists of 4,000 buildings built in a unique form of Bauhaus style or international style built by German-Jewish architects. The Bauhaus style later on became one of the major influences in modern minimalistic-inspired architecture.
Another archaeological site is the Acre city. Known as the Old City of Akko, it is home to impressive fortresses and tunnels built by the Templar knights in the 12th century. A tour in this place will take you back to the time of the Crusaders. Considered the Pompeii of Israel, it is an ancient underground city that was recently discovered. Subterranean tours are already available for tourists and for those who want an Indiana Jones-type of adventure sans the danger.
If you’re a nature lover, the Bahai Gardens in Haifa should be your next stop. Best known for its breathtaking landscapes and architecture, the Centre for Bahai Faith is one you shouldn’t miss.
Kashrut or keeping Kosher is a way of preparing food according to the Jewish law. Food is one of the best ways to get a taste of the Jewish culture. Kosher is a gastronomic delight for the taste buds. They have savory dishes such as the matzah soup, beef brisket, schnitzel, cholent, goulash and many more. Parve desserts are so good you won’t believe its dairy-free! And don’t forget to dip your bread in hummus— in fact, dip everything in hummus! As butter is to the French, hummus is to the Israelis.
There are also a lot of non-kosher restaurants such as Boccaccio that serves Italian food with a Middle Eastern twist; Chakra for a fine dining experience; Menza, a culinary bistro of sorts; and Benedict’s for an enjoyable gourmet breakfast.
Modern Day Paradise
Israel is not just about old facades. Israel has luxurious and stunning hotels you should visit such as the Cramim Resort and Spa in Kiryat Anavim, or the Beresheet Hotel overlooking the desert and Ramon Crater. The Royal Beach Hotel is an elegant hotel in Eilat fit for dignitaries and the elite. The David Dead Sea Hotel Spa and Resort, as the name suggests, gives you a view of the Dead Sea.
Looking for unique places?
The Columbarium is a spa cave with a private garden and swimming pool. They also have the Akkotel and Efendi hotels both in in Acre city which are both stylish hotels with Turkish influences. You can also try sleeping Bedouin-style, and book a sukkoth in the desert at Kfar Hanokdim Desert Resort. Something modern? Elma Arts Complex and Luxury Hotel should give you the fix. Let’s not forget the boutique hotels which are the best-kept secrets of Tel-Aviv for the truly homey feel while on tour.
Though I have yet to reach the place, the stories of which my Ima told me about Israel has left me longing to see the Promised Land. After all, a pilgrimage to Israel is not just a journey, but a homecoming.