Things to Do in Israel
Consecrated in 1969, the Church of the Annunciation is the largest church in the Middle East and one of the most important religious sites in Nazareth. The Roman Catholic Basilica was built on the spot where, according to Christian belief, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. The modernist structure stands in stark contrast to other churches in Israel. The upper basilica serves as the parish church for the Roman Catholic community and features concrete pillars showing the Stations of the Cross, Italian ceramic reliefs and a series of wall panels donated by Catholic communities from around the world. This upper portion of the church also offers interior views of the church’s cupola. Below lies a sunken enclosure, called the Grotto of the Annunciation, where visitors can see remnants of older churches from the Byzantine and Crusader eras, as well as the believed site of Mary’s house.
An easy day trip from nearby Jerusalem, the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is located in the Judean Desert, close to the Dead Sea coast, and is one of Israel’s most popular hiking areas. Ein Gedi is a natural playground for outdoors enthusiasts, with several well-marked hiking trails traversing its wadis, waterfalls and desert oases, and linking landmark sights like the atmospheric Dodim’s Cave (‘Lovers’ Cave’) and the photogenic David Waterfall.
Covering 6,250 acres and fed by four natural springs - David, Arugot, Shulamit, and Ein Gedi - the park hosts a wealth of tropical flora and native wildlife, with endemic species including Nubian ibex, Syrian hyrax, Afghan fox and striped hyena, as well as a large population of migratory and resident birds. The reserve is also dotted with archeological sites, with key attractions including the Chalcolithic Temple of Ein Gedi and a village dating back to the 1st century AD.
About 2,000 years ago, Israel’s beautiful fishing port of Caesarea was a Roman capital, dedicated to Caesar Augustus. Today, it is one of the country’s most popular tourist sites, with archaeological ruins, beautiful beaches and an impressive Roman theater.
Caesarea was built by Herod the Great over 12 years, from 25-13 BC, and was one of the grandest cities in the area with a deep sea harbor, aqueduct, hippodrome and amphitheater, which is still utilized today. The site holds concerts and other performances, while the hippodrome, although still identifiable, is now a banana field. It is smaller than the Circus Maximus in Rome but still held 20,000 spectators for chariot races at one point. Caesarea’s harbor is an engineering marvel with both an inner and outer area. It was constructed using hydraulic concrete to create breakwaters. Caesarea Aqueduct Beach, on the other hand, is considered one of the best beaches in Israel.
Surrounded by ancient stone city walls, it is easy to get lost in the winding alleyways of Old Jerusalem — lost in another time, another place, another world. That is what is so special about the place: outside of being of utmost sacred significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims, the Old City maintains its historic feel and tangible spirituality. The Western Wall, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are all located within its walls. The Via Dolorosa, where Jesus is said to have walked to his crucifixion, can still be traced here. There is both a sense of chaos — with bustling souks and busy streets — as there is a deep sense of calm and peace.
Built by King David in 1004 B.C., the Old City of Jerusalem has one of the most fascinating histories in the world. Its walls were constructed in the 16th century by the Ottomans.
Perhaps the most significant landmark of the Jewish people and symbol of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) is the last remaining remnant of the Second Temple built by Herod the Great around 19 BCE.
Jewish pilgrims from all around the world visit the site and pray to the embodied spirit of the holy presence while mourning the fall of the temple by kissing the wall and putting notes into its crevices. The plaza in front of the wall is divided into 2 sections, one for men, the other for women and is the staging for various Jewish rituals.
This particular section of the wall is merely 187 feet (57 meters) however the entire wall stretches more than 1,600 ft (488 m), most of which in accessible and hidden within residential Jerusalem.
The Via Dolorosa is the path within the Old City of Jerusalem that Jesus is said to have took carrying the cross to his crucifixion. Known in Catholicism as the Stations of the Cross, the entire path is marked on the streets and major landmarks it passes through in order for pilgrims to retrace.
Although the path has changed several times over the course of history, today the main route is taken with 14 stations along the way, as it was done by early Byzantine pilgrims.
When you step off a cruise in Jerusalem, you can practically feel the sense of history and spirituality that embodies one of the world’s most historic cities. Ashdod, the Biblical home of giants, is today a giant of industry and the gateway to Jerusalem, a sacred site to three of the world’s great religions.
How to get to Ashdod
Since Jerusalem sits inland, passengers must disembark in Ashdod and make the hour-plus transfer into the city to see the main attractions. Even Ashdod itself isn’t within easy walking distance, so unless you’ve been to Israel before, your best option is to join a guided tour to the major sites.
One Day in Ashdod
Even though Jerusalem is quite far from Ashdod, its Old City is the reason cruise passengers come here, and you simply must visit some of these historic sites during your stay. Just within the walled city, you’ll find the Western Wall, the most sacred Jewish site in the city.
More Things to Do in Israel
The dramatic white cliffs of Rosh Hanikra are one of Israel’s most visited natural attractions, looming 210 feet over the Mediterranean coast and close to the border of Lebanon. Preserved as part of the Achziv Natural Reserve, the soft rock of Rosh Hanikra has been sculpted over millenniums by the action of the waves to form a warren of sea caves and limestone grottos ripe for exploring.
Set within the Christian Quarter of the old walled city of Jerusalem – which it itself the larger World Heritage Site -- this church is considered by many Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. A popular stop on the pilgrimage trail since the 4th century, the church itself is now the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Commissioned between 325-6 by Emperor Constantine I, and his mother, Saint Helena, the church was built on the former site of a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and war; initial excavations for this construction, according to Helena, revealed the Holy Sepulchre, or the tomb of Jesus. During a Muslim uprising in 1009, the church was razed to the ground, an act that provoked Europe to begin the Crusades. It was eventually rebuilt via collaboration between the Muslims and Byzantines, and additions were later made by Crusaders, Franciscan monks, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic elders.
Situated across a courtyard from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth is the small Church of St. Joseph. Built in 1914, the neo-Romanesque Franciscan church was constructed over the remains of an earlier church and above a series of stone chambers believed to be the workshops of Joseph the Carpenter. The entire church and the caves below are rather simple, particularly in comparison with the basilica next door, but well worth the detour.
Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, is also one of the most underrated. Where Jerusalem gets the lion’s share of attention as a religiously significant destination, Haifa flies under the radar with multiple faiths living in relative harmony -- most notably the headquarters of the Baha’i faith. As the country’s largest and busiest commercial port, Haifa can dock three ships at once.
Haifa Port is conveniently located right in Haifa’s city center, making for an easy walk from your ship to pretty much all the top attractions. Wear your walking shoes though, as Haifa is very hilly. If you’d rather not walk, taxis wait outside the terminal when ships are docked, or you can hail them around town. The closest international airport is Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv -- a 75-minute train ride from Haifa. From the passenger terminal, walk through the historic German Colony to the base of the Baha’i Gardens and World Center on the northern slope of Mount Carmel.
In Jesus’ day, the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives was an olive grove, and according to some botanists, some of the ancient olive trees still growing in the gardens likely predate Christianity itself. While the word “gethsemane” means “oil press,” the Garden of Gethsemane is much better known for its prominence in New Testament scripture as the site where Jesus was betrayed and arrested after the Last Supper.
In the center of the garden sits the Church of All Nations, a mosaic-covered church built in 1924 by architect Antonio Barluzzi. Within the church sits the Rock of Agony, believed by some to be the place where Jesus wept and prayed for the city of Jerusalem.
The Kidron Valley is known for its stunning views, as well as its historic and religious significance. It’s a destination for travelers seeking a Biblical touchstone, thanks to its starring role in the story of David in the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, in Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant and Catholic traditions. The valley is also home to hundreds of ancient tombs located near the village of Silwan. It is widely recognized as the main burial ground in the city during historic times. The most significant tombs in the Kidron Valley include the Pillar of Absalom, the Tomb of Benei Hezir and the Tomb of Zechariah. Travelers who explore these tombs on a visit to the valley will gain a deeper understanding of Jerusalem’s culture, history and religious traditions while taking in some truly incredible views.
The oldest continuously operating church in the world, the Church of the Nativity was commissioned in the year 327 by Emperor Constantine I and his mother, Saint Helena, built over the site considered by most Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus. Destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the 6th century, the church was used until 1131 as the coronation site for European Crusades-era kings, and has since been widely expanded.
The 4,000-foot complex now includes the main basilica, run by the Greek Orthodox Church; the Roman Catholic, Gothic Revival-style Church of St. Catherine; the Grotto, an underground shrine to the birth of Jesus; and a bas-relief sculpture of the Tree of Jesse, a symbol of Jesus’ genealogy, bequeathed to the church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Listed as a Heritage Site in 2012, this is first UNESCO site to be set in Palestine; its nomination sparked fierce opposition from both the United States and Israel.
The walled Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four major quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. The city’s Christian Quarter contains around 40 religious sites holy to Christianity, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at its heart. The church is venerated as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected and remains a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all over the world. For many it is regarded as the religion’s holiest site.
Pilgrims often follow the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion, stopping at shrines and small sites along the way. Many churches, monasteries, schools, and museums are dotted throughout. You’ll also find residences, souvenir shops, cafes, and other pieces of daily life from those presently residing in the area. There is also an iconic, colorful market patched between the stone walls and narrow streets.
This religious and spiritual destination is one of four historic quarters that make up the famed city of Jerusalem. Travelers seeking a touchstone to the past will find just what they’re after on a visit to this place that dates back to the Roman Empire.
Ancient ruins uncovered by archeologists from Hebrew University are in a handful of museums and parks in the Jewish Quarter, including a 2,200-year-old image of a Temple menorah and portions of the Israelite Tower. A stunning pool built by the Romans was discovered in 2010. Travelers will find this homage to another lifetime filled with terracotta roof tiles, mosaic floors and regal steps. In addition to archeological ruins, visitors can tour several of the other historic and religious sites that are scattered across the Jewish Quarter. The famous Western Wall, several synagogues, a handful of Yeshivas and an abandoned mosque offer insight into the culture and traditions of this diverse city.
Frequently referred to as 'Akko,' Acre is situated in the Western Galilee region of northern Israel. Populated with beautiful ancient buildings, Old Akko, a subset of Acre, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its cultural vibrancy makes it a prime place for visitors. Hosting festivals and markets year-round, the port of Acre is lively and beautiful.
Steeped in history, you can visit the ancient walls and fortresses of the city that tell the complicated story of the area.
Further afield are the Baha'i Gardens, which are meticulously designed and gorgeously preserved. The gardens surround the Bahji mansion northeast of Acre where the Bahaullah is buried (not to be confused with the Bahai gardens on the slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa).
Be sure to visit the astounding Knights' Halls, which are comprised of 6 different joined halls that have been recently excavated from the time of the Knights Hospitallers.
The Coral Beach Nature Reserve in Eilat is home to a unique coral reef with more than 100 types of coral and 650 species of fish, making it a popular spot for snorkelers. It is the only coral reef in Israel, and one of the most densely populated in the world. Running parallel to the beach, the reef is over a kilometer in length and can be accessed right from the beach via a pier. Once underwater, trails are marked by buoys, and spectacular underwater gardens created by unique and colorful coral are immediately revealed. Along the way, snorkelers will spot a variety of fascinating tropical fish, including the parrot fish, butterfly fish, nocturnal fish, and many more besides.
The incredible fortress of Masada, located in the astonishing Judean Desert near the Dead Sea, has been symbolic to the Israeli people since the Roman era, symbolizing bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of adversity. The plateau is surrounded by rocky cliffs on all sides, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
Upon arriving, you can either walk to the entrance or take a cable car lift. While the cable car is the fastest way to reach the site, you can walk up the two beautitful paths of either the "Snake Path" or the Roman Ramp.
When you have reached the top, explore Herod's palace complex with its amazing ancient bath houses and mosaics. There are also remnants of Roman encampments, synagogues, and homes. Combined with the breathtaking views of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea, Masada is an experience not to be missed.
As both the oldest and most famous Islamic shrine in the world, the Dome of the Rock is one of the most sought pilgrimage destinations in the world. Constructed on top of the site of the Second Jewish Temple around 690 CE, its historical and religious value is unprecedented.
The exterior detail of the dome is in the shape of a Byzantine martyrium, built for the purpose of housing holy relics. It is also jacketed in over 100,000 melted Dinar gold coins, covering the entire done and making it a gem of middle Byzantine art. The Dome of the Rock’s famous wooden dome has a diameter of about 60 feet (20 meters) and is mounted on a drum consisting of 16 piers and columns circularly placed beneath. The entire shrine has a 66.27 ft (20.20 m) diameter by 67.19 ft (20.48 m) in width.
Things to do near Israel
- Things to do in Tel Aviv
- Things to do in Jerusalem
- Things to do in Ashdod
- Things to do in Eilat
- Things to do in Haifa
- Things to do in Tiberias
- Things to do in Herzliya
- Things to do in Sde Boker
- Things to do in Palestinian Territories
- Things to do in Jordan
- Things to do in Bethlehem
- Things to do in Sweimah
- Things to do in West Bank
- Things to do in Red Sea
- Things to do in Turkish Riviera