Israel off the beaten track

With borders set to reopen next year, there’s never been a better time to explore a new side to the country


With Israel closed to tourists for most of this year, planning a holiday there in 2021 is topping plenty of travel wishlists. And between the first vaccines being rolled out, the rapid coronavirus test centre at Ben Gurion airport and Israel’s other plans to restart the country’s tourism, there are good reasons to be optimistic.

Eilat and the Dead Sea have already reopened to domestic tourists, with people able to visit these “green islands” following a negative Covid-19 test, and may also be the first areas to welcome back overseas travellers if the trial works well.

Flights with El Al, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, easyJet and Wizz Air are also either running or scheduled to return to Israel next year too.

But while a trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is always tempting, many people are looking beyond the cities for 2021, according to the tourist board.

“Israel has a lot to offer. We have great weather most of the year and the amount of things you can do outdoors is endless — the Negev, the green North, Masada – and not just if you’re sporty and active,” says Sharon Bershadsky, director of the Israel Government Tourist Office. “You meet smaller communities, minorities, you contribute to their economy. Everyone is thinking about sustainability.”

So we’ve rounded up some of the best experiences to try on your next trip to Israel, including ways to get outdoors and some of the newest and most unusual ideas around.

Take the world’s steepest cable car

In Israel’s north west, you can ride on the steepest cable car in the world, down to the beautiful Rosh HaNikra grottoes.

Travelling from the cliffs 70m above sea level, the red and yellow cars descend for two minutes at an angle of 60 degrees, as you marvel at the breath-taking views out over the turquoise sea.

It’s the only place in the country where the sea meets the mountains, and at the base, you can explore the caves, worn away in the rock by crashing waves over millennia.

There’s also a film about the area at the visitor centre while trails lead past the geological formations, along with the chance to view them from the sea or join special lantern tours which take place after dark.

Be an archaeologist for the day

There are centuries of history to be explored on a trip to Israel — and you can add to the discoveries with a hands-on experience yourself.

At Beit Guvrin National Park, the ancestral home of King Herod, and a Unesco world heritage site around an hour from Jerusalem, the Dig-for-a-Day experience combines excavating, examining pottery and exploring the extensive archaeological cave system site.

The vast underground labyrinths have been systematically uncovered over the past four decades, with some of the discoveries unearthed here now on display in museums.

Or in the Old City of Akko (Acre), visit the Crusader City which lies beneath the current streets. Built during the 12th century and destroyed in 1291 when the city was conquered, the current ancient streets were built on its ruins.

It’s now possible to join tours to see the massive Crusader halls, passages, tunnels and chambers which have been painstakingly excavated and restored — and maps suggest that only four per cent of the Crusader City has been unearthed so far.

Discover the salt caves of Mount Sodom

On the south side of the Dead Sea lies one of Israel’s most unusual natural attractions — a network of more than 180 salt caves hidden under Mount Sodom.

And adventure company Wild-Trails runs regular tours to take you inside the mountain, letting you explore the top cave in the subterranean network.

Suitable for age 12+, the adventure begins with a hike along one of the mountain’s most beautiful trails, looking down to the Dead Sea and across to the Jordan mountains, before rappelling down an 84m shaft to squeeze and scramble your way into the cave, with its salt crystal formations.

Explore under the stars

The Ramon Crater is one of the country’s most dramatic desert features, created some 250 million years ago by water, when the land was covered by the ocean. And while the lunar landscape you can experience there today is hardly a secret, it’s also a fantastic place to explore by night.

Try a night-time jeep safari through the Negev Desert (, where the clear skies are ideal for star-gazing.

For those who want to see the heavens up close, some tours will show you the best places to view the Milky Way and the planets using a telescope, while revealing how some constellations are linked to biblical events and Jewish history.

Others focus on the wildlife of the desert at night, looking for creatures from desert fox and ibex to porcupine and gerbils, not to mention the occasional leopard, before eating around a bonfire and gazing up at the night sky.

You can also camp in the heart of the desert at sites like Khan Be’erot (, not far from the crater. With limited lighting and no power at the site, it’s perfect to marvel at the blanket of stars after dark.

Walk one of Israel’s four seas

Discover the trails, walks and viewpoints around Israel’s four seas — along with plenty of chances to take a dip in the many springs and pools — from the Mediterranean in the west to the Dead Sea in the East, the Red Sea in the south and the Sea of Galilee in the green north.

The last is a sea in name only but it’s no less fascinating to explore; the lowest freshwater lake on earth is home to waterfalls as well as the ancient Kfar Nahum Synagogue, with views to the Mount of Beatitudes as well as the snow-topped Mount Hermon.

Or tick off each one on a road trip throughout Israel, stopping to relax in the Dead Sea, swim with dolphins in Eilat and explore the coast from Tel Aviv up to the ruins of Caesarea, where you’ll find a Roman aqueduct next to the beach, before continuing on to Haifa, and exploring the green North.

Wellness with a difference

If you’re looking for wellness retreats in Israel, you can find everything from luxury spa hotels to simple communes in the desert — but for somewhere to escape the crowds and discover the peace of nature, staying in a zimmer is one of the best ways to experience another side of the country.

The chalet-style accommodation, usually in the grounds of a family home, is most common in northern Israel (as well as the Negev) and is ideal as a base to discover this less-visited region.

Head to Hamat Gader, where the gushing springs of 42°C thermal water are renowned for their therapeutic benefits — something known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but overlooked by many visitors today.

Near the Sea of Galilee, the springs are also close to a string of nature reserves stretching around the lake.

Or in Akko, the Ghattas Turkish Baths are housed in an Ottoman building which dates back centuries. Restored and repaired, the historic building now offers more modern treatments as well as a traditional hammam.


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