Must-do's for the Tourist Who's Been to Israel Before

You've climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, stuck a note in the Western Wall, stood in line at Jesus' burial place, and cried your heart out at Yad Vashem. Now what?

Israelis rest at the Dead Sea
Bathers at the Dead Sea: Been there, done that. Daniel Bar-On

As the winter travel season approaches, with Hanukkah barely a week away and Christmas up next, Haaretz has prepared a list of recommendations for travellers who have been there and done that.

For those of you who have already checked off everything on your “Top 10 list of things to do in Israel” and are looking for something new and different, here are another 10 you may have missed on your previous trips (or perhaps they weren’t even an option then). Some won’t take more than a few hours. Others will require a major road trip – in which case, to make it worth the schlep, we’ve added some suggestion for other attractions in the vicinity.

Certainly not exhaustive, nor in any particular order, here’s the list:

Kishle prison excavations: Even if digs aren’t your thing, this brand-new addition to the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City is pretty mind-blowing. Packed into one compact space, this indoor excavation site presents the entire history of Jerusalem from the First Temple Era (about 1000-586 B.C.E ) through the British Mandate period in the early 20th century, layer upon layer, as though it were a time tunnel. The Kishle, built by the Ottomans, served as a prison during Mandatory times, and you can still see graffiti scrawled on the walls by pre-state Jewish underground activists incarcerated here. Visits to the site are only through organized tours, so be sure to book one in advance. As of December 19, the museum is also offering tours in English.

Photo courtesy Tower of David Museum

After hours in Mahane Yehuda: You’ve undoubtedly strolled through Jerusalem’s bustling fresh-produce shuk (marketplace) during the daytime, but how about trying it at night? After the vendors pack up, the streets and alleys there take on new life at night, with crowds at all the cute little neighborhood cafes and pubs spilling into the streets. And don’t just roam the outskirts of the shuk. Definitely consider a stroll through the main, covered section. While it may be too late to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies, you may be surprised to discover that some of the mom-and-pop eateries in this part of the market are still open – and they offer fabulous fare, not to mention great value.

Photo by Ilan Assayag

The Israeli Museum at the Yitzhak Rabin Center: It’s almost certain that on one of your previous trips, you’ve visited the famous Israel Museum in Jerusalem and seen its incredible art and archaeology collections. But have you been to the Israeli Museum in Tel Aviv? If you want to explore the history of modern Israel – as opposed to ancient Israel – this is the place to go. The story of the country’s independence in the 20th century is told through the life of slain leader Yitzhak Rabin ־ the former chief-of-staff, defense minister and two-time prime minister – who was present during almost every significant moment in national history, until his death. Take a self-guided tour at your leisure, and make sure not to miss Rabin’s living room, the entire contents of which were transferred from his modest Tel Aviv apartment to this museum. It’s arranged exactly as it was on the last night of his life, on November 4, 1995, before he took a break from the soccer game he was watching on television to attend a peace rally at the Tel Aviv square that now bears his name.

Photo by Daniel Tchetchik

Jaffa flea market after dark: This revamped antique and second-hand market, which always draws crowds during the day, has become a new center of Tel Aviv nightlife. Not far from Jaffa’s more touristy Old City and teeming with outdoor eateries and craft shops, the flea market is arguably even livelier after hours than it is during the day. If you want to rub shoulders with hipster Tel Avivians, this is the place.

Photo by Eyal Toueg

 

Appolonia National Park: Located just north of Herzliya Pituah (making it a convenient stop if your base is Tel Aviv), the Appolonia National Park is the site of a Crusader-era fortress and other archaeological treasures. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it also offers some jaw-dropping views, to be taken in while strolling along flower-lined paths.

Photo by Ezra Levy

Nazareth sans Jesus: Most of the tourists who flock to Jesus’ hometown are drawn by its Christian holy sites. But Nazareth, which is Israel’s largest Arab city, has much to offer in addition to religion. A great place to start roaming is the Old City market, where you can chitchat with local vendors while sampling delicious street food. Within walking distance is an assortment of little specialty shops, where you can purchase spices, coffee, nuts and sweets – all in bulk. For the best advice on where to go and how to get there, simply follow your nose. In recent years, Nazareth has been drawing a new type of “pilgrim” as well: Israeli foodies. A trip to this city provides a great excuse to check out its hot restaurant scene.

Photo by Haggai Frid

Western Negev: After a very rough summer, slowly but surely, life is now returning to normal at the mainly agricultural communities along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, and this is an ideal time of the year to visit them. Start with a visit to the Salad Trail, a touch-and-taste farm at Moshav Talmei Yosef, where visitors are allowed to eat anything they pick as long as it’s on the premises. Reservations should be made in advance. It’s not long before Israel’s gorgeous wildflowers begin blooming, and the first place that happens is this part of the country. If you want to avoid the crowds, however, try to avoid weekend jaunts here. For those who want to get sense of what life is like in these outlying communities, go down to Kerem Shalom, a tiny kibbutz at the southernmost tip of this region that borders both Gaza and Egypt. At the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, you can watch trucks carrying goods from Israel into the Strip. Incidentally, it was right near here that Gilad Shalit, Israel’s most famous hostage, was captured by Hamas militants in 2006.

Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Gan-garoo: This unique petting and feeding zoo at Kibbutz Nir David specializes in all things kangaroo. In fact, even the vegetation has been imported from Down Under. On the assumption that your children have never touched a real live kangaroo, they’ll be amazed at how soft and fluffy these pouched creatures are.

Photo by Dvir Almog

 

Temperature permitting, you can take a dip in the gorgeous pools of the Gan Hashlosha National Park, popularly called Sachne, nearby in the Beit She’an Valley. They’re usually warm enough for swimming all year round, and if not, you can have a picnic lunch here and admire the view. If the kids haven’t conked out by now, hop on over to the nearby Beit She’an National Park to take in some incredible Roman-era ruins.

Photo by Moshe Gilad

Jisr al-Zarqa: You can’t get more off the beaten track than here. Israel’s poorest town, Jisr al-Zarqa also happens to be home to some of the country’s most beautiful, untouched beaches. Situated next to affluent Caesarea, this Arab town has been trying to reinvent itself as a place where travelers can experience authentic village life. A jointly owned Jewish-Arab guesthouse opened here last year, and the fish restaurant on the beach is probably one of the few places in the country where diners can watch the raw ingredients for their meal actually being harvested. If you’ve got time and want to pack in something extra for the day (assuming you’ve already toured the ruins of Caesarea on a previous visit), make a stop at the nearby Nahal Taninim Nature Reserve, the last of Israel’s clean coastal streams.

Photo by Ofer Vakhnin

 

Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology: It’s all about sustainability at this kibbutz in the southern Arava, founded by Reform movement activists. Visitors of all ages can participate in eco-art and mud-building workshops, while learning about organic agriculture and creative forms of recycling. During the migration season twice a year, this is also the place to take in some fabulous bird watching. While you’re in the Arava, consider taking a short drive south to the Timna Park. Just north of Eilat, it’s the site of the world’s first copper mine. And to cool down, stop off at Kibbutz Yotvata and treat yourself to some of the famous ice cream that can only be had at the site of this well-known dairy.

Photo by Alon Ron