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Israel is well known for a history that spans over 5,000 years and is showcased in its religious and archaeological sites, from the ancient Roman structures throughout Jerusalem to the ancient fortress of Masada in the southern part of the country.
For a place with such depth and history, the past decade has been the most significant as Israel has matured into a prime destination for culture, nightlife, unparalleled beaches, and world-class cuisine.
The small Mediterranean country is currently in the midst of a bourgeoning cultural renaissance, boasting record-breaking growth in the hotel and hospitality industry, garnering worldwide praise for its melding of international cultures and cuisines, and rapidly climbing “top 10” lists of destinations to visit.
Auto rental is easy and efficient in Israel, and visitors will find getting around is easy and accessible with English signage and the aid of a navigation system such as Google Maps or Waze. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have light rails and bus systems that are affordable. Just this last year, a new light rail train that connects Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in about 30 minutes made its debut as one of the most exciting transportation developments in the country.
Israel is a destination that can be visited year-round, which has a varied topography with lush, fertile valleys in the north (home to many of the country’s wineries) and vast desert in the southern Negev region. The White City of Tel Aviv is a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts over 50 world-class museums, and the city at large serves as the country’s cosmopolitan center.
Israel also hosted the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest where 43 countries and hundreds of thousands of fans converged on the shores of Tel Aviv for this epic worldwide event—further catapulting Israel as one of the most exciting international destinations. Madonna even performed at the Eurovision grand finale to a sold-out audience.
Tel Aviv is well known as one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly cities in the world. Every June, the city welcomes hundreds of thousands of international visitors and revelers for Tel Aviv Gay Pride, an epic and unsurpassed daytime street party along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Year-round, the city boasts an atmosphere of tolerance, acceptance, unity and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the most revered cities in the world, Jerusalem has ‘reinvented’ itself to be a mecca for foodies, history buffs, and culture seekers. The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish. There are numerous holy sites throughout these quarters, which are also filled with small shops, colorful markets, and eateries brimming with Middle Eastern delicacies, including fresh falafel, shawarma and sweets.
About an hour north of Tel Aviv is the port city of Haifa, which extends from the Mediterranean up the north slope of Mount Carmel. The highlight of the city is the immaculately landscaped terraces of the Bahá'í Gardens. A visit to Haifa can be easily done as a day trip from Tel Aviv. At the base of the gardens is the German Colony, where you’ll find galleries, shops, restaurants and many 19th-century buildings.
Shuk HaCarmel, or Carmel Market, is one of the most well-known outdoor markets in Tel Aviv. Here, you’ll find endless rows of everything from produce, butcheries, and Instagram-worthy local food stalls to trinkets and T-shirts. Be sure to visit Shlomo and Doron Hummseriya for the best variations of the quintessential Mediterranean dishes, and be sure to stop for dessert at Hamalabia to sample a rosewater-tinged custard-like taste of heaven.
The nearly nine-mile-long Tel Aviv promenade is one of the city’s most popular destinations. Walking along a wooden boardwalk, you see how Tel Avivians are full of life. With the Mediterranean Sea as your backdrop, the port known as the Namal is a popular place to stroll, jog or bike. The Shuk HaNamal is an indoor market teeming with fresh produce, tiny eateries and shops. On Fridays and Saturdays, you’ll find additional artisans stands here with fresh Mediterranean honey, olive oils, and more. The waterfront walkway also offers endless climbing structures and games for families, and Fridays and Saturdays are packed with outdoor shows and activities.
If you’re looking for a distinctive souvenir, don’t miss Tel Aviv’s most notable artist market, Nachlat Binyamin Arts and Crafts fair, where every Tuesday and Friday more than 220 local artisans showcase their handmade works.
Make like the locals and spend your day browsing one of the most romantic neighborhoods in Tel Aviv. Winding streets are lined with fashionable boutiques and colorful buildings with an artsy vibe, revealing Tel Aviv’s architectural beauty. HaTachana is Tel Aviv’s old railway station that has been repurposed into a world-class complex with shops, eateries and local art that still manages to maintain its old-fashioned charm.
Levinsky Market is a collection of food shops that reveal the charm of old-school Tel Aviv, still untouched by modern development. Levinsky has become a trendy neighborhood in recent years, drawing the city’s young creative types to lounge about one of the cafes for hours on a Friday ahead of the Sabbath—one of the country’s favorite pastimes.
Close by is Florentin, another unique neighborhood frequented by locals and tourists. Filled with bars, laid-back eateries and unique art galleries, it has a quaint atmosphere reminiscent of a small European village.
The ancient port of Jaffa boasts 3,000 years of history and is also part of Israel’s eminent cultural resurgence. Located on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, the Old City of Jaffa showcases Israel’s ancient-versus-modern dichotomy as new businesses take shape while maintaining the city’s historical foundations.
The ancient structures of Jaffa—Ottoman-era whitewashed ancient stones with arched entryways –are reminiscent of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Jaffa’s cobblestoned alleys and streets are home to art galleries, quaint restaurants, and boutique clothiers. Over the past several years, new and trendy chef-driven restaurants have claimed residence alongside family-owned hummus and falafel stands that have served the same fare since the country’s inception in 1948.
Over the past couple years, Jaffa has transformed to a luxury destination with hoteliers creating modern luxury outposts built on Jaffa’s ancient foundations. Three new hotels have recently opened, including The Jaffa, once a former hospice for malaria victims; The Drisco, reviving an older luxury hotel that shuttered in the 1940s; and The Setai, a revitalized seafront structure that once housed an Ottoman-Turkish prison.
Mahane Yehuda Market, known as “the Shuk” in Jerusalem, is the likely the most popular outdoor market in Jerusalem. With over 200 vendors daily selling a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and pastries, its no wonder why. This market also has a varied mix of ethnic eateries that represent the country’s melting pot of ethnicities: Greek, Yemenite, Moroccan, Georgian, Romanian, Iraqi, Iranian, and more.
The produce stalls are decorated with a generous assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices.
At night, the produce stalls close and the bars and restaurants light up, creating an unparalleled nightlife experience with live music, libations and plenty of revelry.
The Israel Museum, covering more than 20 acres, is the country’s largest cultural institution and houses one of the world’s leading art and archaeology artifacts: the legendary Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of 972 texts that are believed to have been written between 150 and 70 B.C. The scrolls are displayed in the Shrine of the Book, which is housed in a white, domelike structure in the museum. In addition to ancient artifacts, the museum boasts a large collection of contemporary art and features roving exhibits.
Masada is an ancient fortress built on the edge of a cliff in the valley of the Dead Sea. Originally a palace of King Herod, hundreds of years later this was also the site of the last Jewish rebels who resisted the Romans. For years, the Jews maintained this stronghold until the Romans built a massive ramp to attack it. The remains are impressive, the story unbelievable and the views are some of the best in the country.
The Dead Sea is a one-of-a-kind experience and a must on any visit to Israel. With a salt concentration of 34%, your body floats completely in the water without effort. It’s actually difficult to swim and the sensation you get being in the Dead Sea is so strange and unexplainable. There are a number of resorts located along the Dead Sea to stay overnight or you can make a day trip when staying in either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
A new tourism project in 2019 will feature world-class luxury hotels with up to 5,000 rooms, state-of-the-art spa and health facilities, leisure facilities, a visitor and information center, a multi-purpose conference center, a commercial and entertainment center, and a modish promenade connecting the hotels and the various attractions/facilities.
Israel is easily the most LGBTQ+ friendly destination in the Middle East. The country has extremely progressive laws and protections for LGBTQ+ people such as anti-discrimination and gender identity protection, so visitors are unlikely to experience any issues, particularly in Tel Aviv, which is known as a haven for its LGBTQ+ residents. Like any destination, you must use your best judgement when it comes to public displays of affection. It’s possible that some people in smaller towns or large religions centers such as Jerusalem may express more conservative views, but safety is generally not a concern.
The Tel Aviv Gay Center is a community center located in the heart of Tel Aviv. The Center serves as the epicenter of gay life for local and visiting LGBTQ+ individuals to seek resources and stay connected with the community. Facilities include a community theater, social and activity groups for senior members of the community, and a daycare and preschool for children of LGBTQ+ families.
For beach lovers, there are miles and miles of powdery sand beaches situated along the Mediterranean Sea, yet one stands out as the unofficial gay beach of the city: Hilton Beach (the beach in front of Tel Aviv’s Hilton Hotel) features a seaside café with a full-service menu and endless hours of people-watching.
Also known as “the city that never sleeps” there are a plethora of gay and lesbian bars located throughout Tel Aviv. True to Mediterranean form, the action starts only after 11:00 pm and remains constant till the wee hours of the morning.
In June, over half a million visitors attend the annual Tel Aviv Gay Pride. The epic parade and ancillary events have been lauded as among the best Pride celebrations in the world.
This guide was provided by the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT) is Israel’s national tourism agency responsible for planning and implementing marketing and promotional initiatives to position Israel as a preferred travel destination. IMOT aims to increase tourism traffic to contribute to Israel’s economy, and to enhance and diversify the visiting experience. IMOT works to promote Israel’s impressive assortment of historical, cultural, culinary and religious attractions, each the perfect blend of tradition and modernity. IMOT offices in North America are located in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Toronto.
For details on upcoming events and attractions in Israel, visit IMOT’s website at israel.travel. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to receive the latest updates.
Featured image photo credit: @outstandingtravel
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