Sometimes the best way to begin a visit to a city you’ve never been to before is to get on a sightseeing bus, preferably the top level of a double decker, and zip through everything in one fell swoop. Once you have sense of the lay of the land, you can then decide which sites you’d like to spend more time exploring later on.
- Israel with Kids / Boating on the Yarkon River
- Israel with Kids / The Israeli Museum at the Yitzhak Rabin Center
- Israel with Kids / Coca-Cola Visitors’ Center
- Israel with Kids / Mahuti visitors' center
- Israel with Kids/ Ein Gedi
- Israel with Kids / Ice-skating in Tel Aviv
While no such thing as the “Israel-in-two-hours” sightseeing tour exists just yet, the Mini Israel park near Latrun, which provides scaled-down replicas of all the country’s main attractions, is as close as you’ll get to the equivalent. And unlike those bus tours where you are stuck in your seat, you can do this one entirely on foot.
At Mini Israel, you’ll find tiny versions of 380 sites described in its brochure as “pivotal to Israel’s identity and history.” These include classics like Masada and the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as some modern-day attractions like the Ramat Gan safari (replete with roving toy animals) and Ben-Gurion International Airport (with mini planes cruising down the mini tarmac).
What’s best, however, is that your kids are guaranteed to love it. This was our second trip to the pint-sized park, and our kids were no less blown away this time around.
What is it about Mini Israel that children tend to find so irresistible? And why do some of the tiny replicas of the country’s most important sites seem to get them more excited than the actual, full-sized versions?
I'm inclined to chalk it up to the cute factor. Historic buildings, it seems, are like kittens and puppies: The smaller they are, the more children are intrigued by them.
For us, a good indication that the kids are enjoying a place is when they whip out their cellphones and start snapping pictures. At Mini Israel, they were snapping away non-stop, pausing just enough to exclaim at each new discovery, “This is sooooo cute!” or “Omigod, just look at this. It is soooo adorable!”
And it really is. Down to the miniature bonsai trees that dot the landscapes, the tiny figurines praying at the Western Wall (which can be activated to sway in unison by pressing a button), the teensy-weensy bottles of Coca-Cola gliding along the ramps inside the storied beverage factory, and the Gaudi-style “crazy building” on Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Street, scaled down to a bare fraction of its true size but with all its funkiness intact. At many of the sites, background sounds – for example, cows mooing at a kibbutz and the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer in the Old City of Jerusalem – further amplify the experience.
In its scaled-down version, Jerusalem is indeed a sight to behold, unquestionably the highlight of any trip to the Mini Israel park. Stripped of some of its less appealing features (the almost inevitable bumper-to-bumper traffic, for example), the replica of our nation’s capital is absolutely spectacular. It stands slightly elevated above everything else in the park, its historic and archeological monuments no less grand in their itsy-bitsy versions.
You can take it all in less than two hours, which means it’s doable on a weekday after school, which is certainly a plus if you want to beat the weekend crowds. Our recommendation is to time your visit with sunset so that you can view the three famous icons of the Tel Aviv skyline – the rectangular, circular and triangular Azrieli towers – lit up in all their geometric grandeur. If you take a two-minute stroll to the Negev, you can also witness the Bedouin lighting a bonfire in their encampment after dark.
At some point, make sure to walk up to the top of the building at the entrance where you’ll catch a bird’s eye view of the entire park (notice that it’s in the shape of the Star of David). Yet another great photo op for your smartphone-wielding kids.
Telephone for information: 1-700-559-559
Hours: Saturday-Thursday 10:00-18:00 and Fridays 10:00-14:00 and Saturdays 10:00-18:00 (In July-August, it’s open Saturday-Thursday 17:00-22:00 and same hours Friday)
Cost: NIS 79 for adults, NIS 59 for children ages 5-18, and NIS 24 for children ages 2-4.
Getting there: It's about a 30-minute drive from both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There is no public transportation.
Parking: free on premises.
Refreshments are sold on premises.