Image: CBC News
Israel is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Syria and Lebanon to the North, Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the South. The Palestinian Territories are made up of what is known as ‘the West Bank’ which borders with Jordan and the Gaza Strip, on the Mediterranean coast.
Here are all the places you read about in the Bible. Tightly packed in a varied landscape, with deserts and mountains, beaches and canyons, cities and farms, all crowded into a space the size of New Jersey. As they are so small, it is such a great place to travel because you can reach all this amazing scenery in a very short space of time!
These countries are home to the three mono-theistic religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism and no-where are these more present than in the country’s religious capital and largest city, Jerusalem. A trip here needs to take in the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock sits with the remnant of the Second Temple’s Western Wall, the most holy sites for the Jewish people. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon. To take in the city it’s recommended to take a view from the Mount of Olives or walk on the Old City’s Ramparts to take in the four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.
Ramallah in the West Bank is a modern thriving city with a bourgeoning arts scene. Travel into the West Bank is relatively easy but it’s worth checking for up to date news on political tensions (and therefore safety) the morning of your travel (you can commute in from East Jerusalem). It is also recommended you register for your country’s Consulate or Embassy before you go.
The Dead Sea: at 417m below sea level is the lowest point on earth and is on the border of the Judean Desert. One of the reasons it is so famous is that you can float on it due to the high levels of salt which also prevents anything living in it, hence being called The Dead Sea. The salt and the black mud the sea bed produces provides the skin with nourishing minerals.
Nazareth: In the New Testament, the city is described as the childhood home of Jesus, and as such is a center of Christian pilgrimage as it was here that Jesus began his ministry. Originally known as the Roman city of Cana, today it is an Arab Muslim town and is a good starting point for ‘The Jesus Trail’ and discovering the Galilee.
The Galilee: is a mountainous region in Israel’s north, and thanks to the abundant water and the fertile soil in the valleys, this region has been relatively densely populated since Ancient Times. It’s also now a very popular place for hikers as there are an abundance of evergreen forests, beautiful valleys and natural groves. In the right season you can even go white water rafting in the Jordan River!
Tsfat: near the Sea of Galilee is one of the four holy cities in Israel and the home to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Its quaint old streets now house a thriving artists’ community as well as beautiful small ancient synagogues. If you love art and a mystical atmosphere this is the place to head for! If you are feeling adventurous (and as it is a conservative city - male), you can try to bathe in the freezing waters of the Ari Mikveh near the old cemetery, which is believed to bring good luck.
Akko: One of this region’s important cities in ancient times. Various cultures made their home here, the Crusaders captured it and the Ottomans lived here for many centuries and even Napoleon tried to lay his hands it. Today the waves from the Mediterranean Sea crash against the great walls of Acre’s old city. The walls, fortresses and strongholds of the city bear the marks of many nations that left impressive buildings behind them, beautifying Acre to this day and making it a fascinating place to visit as it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tel Aviv: is Israel’s economic, cultural and secular capital. A city which never stops it is the new Mediterranean cool with streets brimming with trendy boutiques, fashion stores, nightclubs, gourmet restaurants and cafes. Tel Aviv’s 14km stretch of beach is also full of beautiful people. Tel Aviv began its history in Jaffa in 1909 when sixty-six Jewish families who resided there established the first neighbourhood of what would later become the city of Tel Aviv where hundreds of Jewish immigrants from all over the world would arrive by boat. Tel Aviv is also known as ‘The White City’ and has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO due to it having the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings in the world.
The Negev: constitutes 62% of the country’s landmass and is in the South of Israel, bordering with the Judean desert. Prime Minister Ben Gurion not only lived in a modest house in the middle of the desert (often meeting Heads of State here) but he also recognised the importance of the desert. He realised that for the country to survive it had to learn how to live in and cultivate the desert. The Negev was once also the heart of the Nabotean Empire and even today you can follow the famed Spice Route through the ancient cities of Avdat, Mamshit and Shivta. The Negev is also home to some amazing natural attractions such as the Zin Valley and the Ramon Crater which at about 40km long; 10 km wide and 300 m deep it is the biggest in the world.