Israel – more than a tourist destination

Israel has evolved into a scintillating country of many facets that attracts tourists from all over the world. Many want to expand their knowledge of the region’s history, while others want to understand today’s social–political issues.

For many people all over the world, however, Israel is the Holy Land. Over the centuries it has therefore been a magnet for pilgrims, to whom it offers a wide range of travel opportunities. A trip to Israel can therefore take place for a variety of reasons that extend far beyond straightforward tourism.

A kaleidoscope of scenic impressions

This country may be relatively small, but its scenic diversity is enormous – from the breathtaking beauty of its hills and valleys, to the eerie stillness of the Negev desert, the peaceful borders of the Sea of Galilee and the ancient walls and pathways of Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Known as a place of Christian pilgrimage but also the largest freshwater lake in the country, the Sea of Galilee features the spectacular backdrop of the Galilee Mountains and the Golan foothills. It is possible to visit the holy sites in vessels constructed just like their ancient wooden counterparts. Visitors can cross the Sea of Galilee to Tabgha, where the Biblical loaves and fishes miracle took place, and to Capernaum, where Jesus is said to have lived and taught. From there, they can also visit the Mount of Beatitudes, the site of the Sermon on the Mount. The lake is also surrounded by attractive beaches, and a variety of water sports are on offer.

Don’t miss visiting the world’s most saline lake: at 431 metres below sea level, the Dead Seas also situated at the lowest natural point on the Earth’s surface. Its waters have a salt concentration of 34 percent, which is why many people who suffer from skin complaints travel to Israel to bathe in the Dead Sea. Yet the word “bathe” does not begin to describe the unreal feeling of weightlessness when floating in the water, which has a constant temperature of around 40 degrees.

Jerusalem - a melting pot of ethnicities and religious rites

“Next year in Jerusalem” is the wish that concludes every Seder, the feast that marks the start of the Jewish Passover holidays. The city of Jerusalem is a holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. The division of the old walled city into its Jewish, Muslim (Arab), Armenian and Christian quarters makes it all the more fascinating. Like beads on a chain, the historic and religious sites sit side by side. The Mount of Olives is the perfect place to take it all in, and to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere far away from the bustling streets.

Nestling on the Temple Mount is Jerusalem’s landmark, the breathtaking Dome of the Rock. With its mysterious octagonal base in shades of turquoise, the shimmering golden cupola gives Jerusalem its unique city silhouette. The construction work on the Dome first began some 1,300 years ago, and it is one of the holiest Islamic edifices.

Few of Israel’s many holy sites are holier than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified and buried. It is one of the most spiritual places imaginable. Endless processions of pilgrims solemnly wander through the aisles by candlelight to worship and pray.

For centuries, Jews have visited the Wailing Wall to pray and bemoan the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The large stones seem to have a kind of magnetic power, attracting believers’ hands and brows in their quest for a deep and direct connection with God. Many leave little pieces of paper behind containing written prayers.

The Bible as a guidebook

The Holy Land has been coveted and fought over for centuries. Jewish and later Christian pilgrims have been making their way on foot to the Holy City of Jerusalem for more than 2,500 years. This tradition was reinforced among Christian pilgrims during medieval times. This, where Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, was crucified in Jerusalem, is the birthplace of Christianity. Pilgrims from all over the world seek to retrace the events described in the New Testament by walking in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples.

Many visitors indeed decide to take the idea of “walking in the footsteps of Jesus” literally. And although their plans to go hiking in Israel may elicit a surprised “Here?” from the border officials, it is a rewarding experience. Pilgrims as well as lovers of nature visit from all over the world to hike through the valleys and forests, Jewish and Arab villages, desert oases, passing ancient churches and monasteries, encountering different people, sampling the local cuisine, and enjoying the silence of nature.

An Israeli trademark: life on a kibbutz

Around 270 of these residential communities continue to exist in Israel. They were founded at the beginning of the 20th century with the socialist vision of a better and fairer world in mind. Even though many things have changed since then, and more and more inhabitants have left the kibbutz to live in towns or cities, the sense of community remains. The inhabitants still try to live and practice unconditional equality. Visiting a kibbutz in Israel offers a unique insight into the foundations of the State of Israel, and the special social conditions which the kibbutz created.

Time to party: nightlife in Tel Aviv

For many visitors, their journey starts and ends at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. There is, of course, plenty to see and do in Israel’s capital! A little over a century ago, Tel Aviv consisted mainly of sand and dunes. Its beaches are still worth sunbathing on, but with its excellent nightlife, these days, Tel Aviv is also a magnet for party people. As a general rule, many bars only get busy around midnight, and some clubs only begin to fill up at around 2 am. For this reason, the bars in Tel Aviv frequently stay open until dawn.

Next door to Tel Aviv, the historic centre of Jaffa is also worth a visit. The ancient port town is around 4,000 years old, and many different ethnicities have left their traces here. It therefore comes as no surprise that Jaffa features almost as many historic references as Jerusalem. The blend of different ages, styles and elements creates its own charm and character. And as most journeys start and end here, why not stay in Jaffa for one more day – or night?

Did you know?

Israel means “God’s fighter” or “he wrestled with God”. The official name of the state is Medinat Jisra’el.

Israel is located on a land bridge between Asia and Africa, yet it borders three continents: Africa to the south, Asia to the east and Europe to the west. Therefore, geographically, it is part of the Middle East, while its location on the African tectonic plates means that in geological terms it is part of Africa.

In Israel, even the glue on the stamps is kosher.

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