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15 Things to Do in Israel, No Matter Your Religion

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With thousands of years of history, a unique blend of cultures, and significant religious sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam – Israel is undeniably a fascinating place to explore. From which sites to see to where to shop and what to eat, here are 15 things to do in Israel, no matter your religion.

Things to Do in Israel No Matter Your Religion

1. Shop the shuks.

Spices, vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and candies of all shapes create a mosaic of color at shuks (or souks) in Israel. The savory aroma of grilled meats and fried falafels at these marketplaces will entice you to grab a seat at a food stall. Purchase Judaica like menorahs and mezuzahs at the covered Jewish Market, Mahane Yehuda, in Jerusalem. Brightly colored textiles and hand-carved wooden handicrafts like chess sets can be found at Arab Markets.

Shopping the shuks, or souks, in Israel

Shopping the shuks, or souks, in Israel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Put a note in the Western Wall.

The feeling at the Western Wall is one of peace and love, with Christians, Jews and people of all faiths coming together in one place to pray. No matter your faith, you can write a message or prayer to place in the wall. Following Jewish orthodox tradition, men and women pray separately here, with a section solely for male visitors. Learn more about why this wall is considered sacred and why Israelis prefer the term Western Wall to Wailing Wall here.

Women praying and placing notes in the Western Wall

Women praying and placing notes in the Western Wall (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is renowned as the location of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the most significant Christian site in all of Jerusalem and thousands of pilgrims visit the church every year to pay homage to their savior. The church is shared by three sects of Christianity: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox. Each of the faiths has its own chapels with its own symbols, traditions, artwork and ceremonies. Some areas of the church are also used by Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Christians. To kiss or touch the stone on which Jesus was nailed to the cross, Christians wait in line at the Altar of the Crucifixion (shown below).

The Altar of the Crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Altar of the Crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – you can see the feet of a visitor touching the stone on which Jesus crucified (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4.Take a photo of Dome on the Rock.

Dome on the Rock, a Muslim shrine on Temple Mount, stands on the rock where the Abraham would have sacrificed his son, according to Jewish, Christian and Islamic writings. Muslims believe the rock is the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It once was the location of the first Jewish temple, Solomon’s Temple. Later the temple was turned into a Christian church by the crusaders. Today, entrance to the site's mosques and museum is limited to Muslims. But anyone can, and should, snap a photo of the gleaming gold dome.

Dome of the Rock at Temple Mount in Jerusalem ~ 15 Things You Must Do in Israel, No Matter Your Religion, TravelMamas.com

Dome of the Rock at Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Dig in to the gorgeous fresh salads.

When my in-laws visited Israel years ago, they returned raving about Israel's delicious food, and the country's salads in particular. I could not understand all of the fuss about salads…until I tasted them myself. Every sit-down restaurant I visited offered plenty of fresh salads on their menus, with varieties far beyond the typical green salads I'm used to eating in the U.S. Expect enticing flavor combinations like cubed fresh butternut squash served with currants, pumpkin seeds, and goat cheese, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The flavor combinations and striking colors will turn any meat eater into a vegetable enthusiast.

Gorgeous salads at the breakfast buffet at Mitzpe Hayamim, a spa hotel with its own organic farm in Rosh Pinna, Israel

Gorgeous salads at the breakfast buffet at Mitzpe Hayamim, a spa hotel with its own organic farm in Rosh Pinna, Israel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Float in the Dead Sea.

The high salt content in the Dead Sea prohibits most life from surviving in this land-locked lake. Bordered by Jordan on the east and Israel on the west, visitors to both countries can bob about in the salty, buoyant water. Bring a buddy and lean back in the water for your photo op. Then go rinse off right away. The highly salinated water will sting your skin if you swim for too long. This is definitely one of those bucket list items that you'll want to share with photos on your Facebook page.

Floating in the Dead Sea in Israel

That's me floating in the Dead Sea in Israel – no raft needed! (Photo credit: Norma Meyer)

7. Eat a falafel.

Falafel lovers rejoice for Israel is home to some of the world's tastiest offerings. This Middle Eastern sandwich consists of balls of chickpea flour and spices that are deep fried and tucked into pitas with vegetables and tahini or tzatziki sauce. I have never found a falafel this tasty stateside!

Falafel lunch from Falafel with a Complex in the Carmel Shuk in Tel Aviv

My gluten-free falafel from Falafel with a Complex in the Carmel Shuk in Tel Aviv (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Tour Masada.

Never heard of Masada? Neither had I! That's because the story of this ancient mountaintop fortress was not included in the bible. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Masada was built under the rule of King Herod in Roman style in the years just preceding Jesus' birth. The view of the Negev Desert from the top of Masada is astounding. It looks just like the landscape I had pictured when learning bible stories as a child.

This fortress became the refuge of the last survivors of the Jewish revolt when the kingdom of Israel was overtaken by the Roman Empire in 73 A.D. Rather than being taken as slaves, the Jewish resistance took their own lives. Thus, Masada remains a symbol of the human struggle for independence.

I could not capture the vastness of this site and the surrounding Negev Desert with one photo, so I have posted below a very brief video that I took during my visit, which shows the 360-degree view from the top of Masada.

9. Explore Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv was the first city built in modern Israel, founded in 1909. Tel Aviv means “Old New” -an apt name. Renowned for its nightlife, thriving dining scene and modern vibe, Tel Aviv is also home to one of the oldest civilizations, Jaffa. Once an important port town, Jaffa is 5,000 years old, making it one of the oldest still inhabited areas in the world. Jaffa was the launching point of the biblical story about Jonah and the whale.

A scene from Jaffa - the ancient portion of Tel Aviv

A scene from Jaffa – the ancient portion of Tel Aviv (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Get a spa treatment.

Israelis tend to live in the moment, which is why, according to my tour guide, they have a penchant for spas. Get a Dead Sea mud treatment and float in an indoor pool filled with water from the Dead Sea at Synergy Spa at the Ein Gedi Hotel. (The water must be somewhat diluted because it was less harsh on the skin than the natural body of water.) For spa treatments served alongside organic, farm fresh food grown on site, visit Mitzpe Hayamim, a spa hotel in Rosh Pinna. For a more traditional, luxury experience choose the Ritz-Carlton Herzilya Spa, located along a picturesque marina in the affluent area of Herzliya Pituach.

Spa goers floating in water from the Dead Sea at Synergy Spa at Ein Gedi ~ 15 Things You Must Do in Israel

Spa goers floating in water from the Dead Sea at Synergy Spa in Ein Gedi, Israel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. Sip fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice.

Have you heard that it was really a pomegranate that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, not an apple? Pomegranates as large as a baby's head abound in Israel. For a thirst-quenching and tart drink, stop by a juice stand in one of the shuks or along the streets of Tel Aviv for a freshly squeezed glass of pomegranate juice. No wonder Eve was so drawn to this luscious fruit!

Drink fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice ~ 15 Things to Do in Israel, No Matter Your Religion

Pomegranates squeezed fresh for thirsty customers in Tel Aviv (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

12. Ride a camel.

My tour group made an impromptu stop on our way to Jerusalem from the Dead Sea at a gas station where Arab bedouins were selling camel rides. The purpose was for a fun quick pic atop a dromedary's back, but more extensive camel rides are available in Israel as well. Riders of all ages can choose from Nagev Camel Ranch (tours from 1-4 hours in duration) and Camel Ranch Eilat (1.5-hour treks).

Riding a camel in Israel is something I won't soon forget ~ 15 Things to Do in Israel

Riding a camel in Israel is something I won't soon forget (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

13. Drink mint tea.

Mint tea in Israel is typically made with fresh mint leaves, making it a pretty and refreshing pick-me-up. This beverage is an Arabic tradition, so consider ordering your cuppa in the Arab Souk in Jerusalem.

Tea with fresh mint leaves in the Arab Souk in Jerusalem

Tea with fresh mint leaves in the Arab Souk in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

14. Experience nightlife in Israel.

When picturing Israel, bible stories may come to life in your mind's eye. But today there is a thriving nightlife in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and beyond. Take a break from all of that historical and religious site-seeing to visit a local pub or disco. My compadres and I asked locals for a recommendation of where to get a drink in Jerusalem and we were directed to a fabulous find – Gatsby – a hidden “speakeasy” of sorts with a menu of old fashioned cocktails and a swanky vibe. Don't drink alcohol? Choose a shisha bar instead, where you can toke tobacco from a hookah pipe in flavors like strawberry, mint or lemon.

A hidden "speakeasy" bar in Jerusalem

Gatsby – a hidden “speakeasy” bar in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

15. Enjoy the sea.

A beach vacation might not spring to mind when planning your visit to Israel, but don't forget that Israel borders the ocean. With nearly 20 beaches along the Mediterranean Sea, you are sure to find one that suits your needs. Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv is popular with tourists due to its proximity to hotels and resorts. Meanwhile, Nordau Beach caters to the deeply religious with different days for male and female beach goers. For shopping and restaurants along the water, visit lovely and lively Herzliya Marina in the upscale neighborhood of Herzlia Pituach just outside of Tel Aviv.

Israel also borders the Gulf of Aqaba, a gulf of the Red Sea. The pink and red coral that line the shores give the Red Sea its name, and make snorkeling and scuba diving popular activities.

View of the Mediterranean Sea from the Ritz-Carlton Herzilya

View of the Mediterranean Sea from the Ritz-Carlton Herzilya (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Whether visiting Israel for religious reasons or pleasure, you are sure to have fun and learn so much about this intriguing area of the world, its history and influence on our society.

Which of these 15 things to do in Israel appeals to you most? Do you have any other must-do sites or activities to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Thank you to Go Israel for hosting my visit. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Eric Stone says:

    Your very good article though incorrectly
    states that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.
    I just visited and you should know the capital
    is Jerusalem.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Eric – You are correct. I have changed the text to reflect this. It is confusing because Tel Aviv is home to the U.S. embassy and many other countries’ embassies.

  2. Jesse Richheimer @ Green Global Travel says:

    My trip to Israel two summers ago was the most enlightening experience of my life. I went all over Israel for 3 weeks and learned more about myself in that time frame than ever before. The history of Jerusalem, the beaches and nightlife in Tel Aviv, and the amazing food all over this small country is and always will be unforgettable. I will definitely be going back to Israel very very soon.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Sounds like you had a truly incredible time in Israel, Jesse. I’m not surprised!

  3. Jody Robbins, The Saucy Travel Mama says:

    You had me at fresh salads. I’m intrigued by Israel on so many levels, but now I’m especially curious about their cuisine. Could this possibly be the one country you travel to where you can totally indulge, but don’t come home five pounds heavier?

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Jody – Oh believe me, there were plenty of “naughty” things to eat in Israel, too! Every restaurant we visited served rich mushroom risotto (not sure why!), fresh pastas, steaks and other filling foods. Those salads are what I still crave, though!

  4. Israel such an interesting country with a huge history and an uncertain future

  5. Susan Martin says:

    Gorgeous photography! Thanks for sharing this perspective.

  6. Beth Henry says:

    Those salads look so scrumptious! And fresh pomegranate juice sounds yummy! I had never heard of Masada either. What a neat bit of history! This post definitely adds to the desire I already had to visit Israel!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Beth – Masada was the biggest surprise for me on my trip to Israel. And those salads…yum!

  7. Nichola - Globalmouse says:

    Wow what an interesting place to visit. I would love to float in the Dead Sea and the food looks amazing!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I was definitely surprised by how delicious all of the food was in Israel! And the Dead Sea was a fun bucket list item, too!

  8. Shannon @ Life Other Than says:

    Great article! The falafel pic is making me hungry and now I’m craving pomegranate juice.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Mmm…falafel and pomegranate juice sounds like a great combo! Thank you for your comment, Shannon!

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