Discover the fun-for-family attractions in Eilat, Jerusalem and other lesser-known destinations in the South of Israel.
Be forewarned that a family trip to the south of Israel usually ends up in “ruins,” and tourists are thrilled about it! But, visiting an ancient dig is just part of what Israel has to offer as a vacation destination. There’s fun, sun, adventure, religious spirituality and history to discover.
Getting to Israel is easy. Direct flights from major cities in the United States and Canada are offered by Air Canada, and Israel’s own airline, El Al, to Ben-Gurion Airport, a half hour drive from Jerusalem.
ATTENTION: The U.S. State Department has issued multiple travel warnings concerning Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, due to Palestinian-Israeli violence. For the most up-to-date travel advisories, visit The US Department of State online. For FTF’s Special Report on terrorism concerns, read World Affairs and Travel Planners.
Relaxing in Eliat with Kids
Novices to jet lag may want to start their vacation with a little rest and relaxation, before embarking on their journey of the Holy Land. In this case, travelers should catch the commuter flight to a paradise called Eilat. Eilat is a resort city on the northern tip of the Red Sea bordering Jordan and Egypt. Surrounded by desert mountains, the lush terrain, sandy white beaches and crystal clear coral filled sea have beckoned tourists since the time of King Solomon.
Once mom and dad catch up on their sleep, there are lots of activities around Eilat for kids of all ages. A visit to the Dolphin Reef Eilat (+972 8 6300100) offers visitors a chance to observe dolphins and marine life in their natural habitat. The Dolphin Reef offers a private scuba dive especially designed for those with little or no diving experience. Seasoned divers can partake in snorkeling alongside the dolphins, while little ones can frolic on the private beach.
A favorite stop in Eilat is The Underwater Observatory at Coral World. A highlight for most is a voyage along the bottom of the Red Sea in “The Yellow Submarine”, when you re-emerge from the depths of the water each participant receives a yellow “Dive Certificate” ready for framing.
Other activities include scuba diving, parasailing, yachting, cruising on a glass bottom boat, bird watching and of course, shopping, because Eilat is a tax free zone.
Daytrips in Southern Israel
Day and overnight side trips can be arranged through your hotel. When the regional political turmoil subsides, excursions to Egypt’s pyramids and scuba diving areas, and Jordan’s ancient city of Petra are popular. In fact, Eilat’s “Sister City” is the busy tourist town of Aqaba across the sea in Jordan.
Other visits should include an evening of Israeli Folklore in a Kibbutz – a cooperative settlement and a hike through Timna Park, a natural reserve featuring fascinating geological and archeological sites including the Mushroom, Solomon’s Pillars, the Arches and the oldest cooper mines in the world, which date back to prehistoric times. The city offers accommodations at all price levels; many of the resort hotels have wonderful children’s programs.
One of Israel’s best-kept secrets is the Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert. A company called Desert Shade offers to lead you into the desert. The company’s guided packages run from one day to five days. The one-day program includes a bumpy jeep ride through the crater and an even bumpier ride on a camel for anyone older than 3. Special arrangements can be made to camp over in a traditional Bedouin tent and indulge in an authentic feast, that these desert wanderers call Hafla.
Tourists can learn all about the Ramon Crater at the Visitors Center. Before leaving the area, check out the Alpaca Farm to pet and feed the South American alpacas and llamas. Little ones under 60 lbs. can ride a llama with an adult walking alongside for support.
A trip to Israel isn’t complete until you float atop the Dead Sea. Situated halfway between Jerusalem and Eilat, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth– 400 m. below sea level.
A Wealth of Religious History
Older children can learn important Christian, Jewish and Moslem religious history in the “Golden City of Jerusalem“. On the way north to Jerusalem through the Judean Wilderness, is Masada, where the Jews revolted against the Romans in 66 CE. Hiking up the mountain is a 3-hour challenge in the heat; most visitors prefer taking the cable car up to the ruins.
There are numerous religious historical sites to see in Old Jerusalem including the Western Wall sacred to Jews, the Moslems’ El Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock and the Christian’s Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre by way of the Via Dolorosa.
Take time to stop and barter for a souvenir at the Arab Market. Bring plenty of American dollars; the deals are better in foreign currency.
Outside the walls of the old city, landmarks include the Garden Tomb run by Protestant Christians and the Mount of Olives for a bird’s eye view of the city. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, now under the Palestinian Authority is only ¾ of an hour drive from Jerusalem, but for security reasons, the wait at the boarder crossing can be taxing.
The New City of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel also known as “The Old City”, is complemented by its New City. Attractions in modern Jerusalem include the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are exhibited, and the Yad Vashem, a poignant tribute to victims of the Holocaust, including the Children’s Memorial and a walkway lined with trees named after heroes, such as Oskar Schindler, who saved Jewish lives in Europe during World War II.
Children will enjoy a visit to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (+972 2 6750111), the special Youth Wing at the Israel Museum, and the Train Theatre’s daily productions. There’s one special theatre where audiences are asked to solve an over 2000-year-old murder puzzle — and its at Jerusalem’s famous Tower of David
Aristobulus III, brother of Judea’s Queen Mariamne, the last male of the Hasmonean dynasty and a 17-year-old high priest, was found drowned in 36 BCE in the swimming pool of King Herod’s winter palace in Jericho. Do you think you can help figure out who killed him? If you do, you and your family would love the “whodunit” nighttime drama, “The Great King Herod Murder Mystery,” performed in the city’s 2,700-year-old citadel, the present location of the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem (+972 2 6265333).
The audience is led in four groups through ancient galleries, stairwells, and courtyards by the actors dressed in authentic costumes of the period. Tourists need not remain passive, they not only get to hear the four suspects’ protestations of innocence and their theories on the true identity of the killer, they are also free to engage in banter with the suspects and possibly even catch them in the middle of a false alibi.
Eilat is a wonderful base with kids, especially in the hot, hot summers. The Dan Eilat Hotel ( 972/8-6362222; located at Hotel Area, North Beach, Eilat, 88101) is one of the beach’s nicest, with contemporary decor, a high level of service and an informality that families like. From their gold sand beach, take in the view of the rich blue Mediterranean, coarse brown desert and expansive backdrop of arid, jagged mountains.
The Dan Panorama Eilat Hotel (972/8-6389999) is a bit less expensive, due to its location downtown, about a 5 minutes walk from the beach. It’s actually better for the party set, and like its beachfront sister, boasts a Danyland children’s program. This Dan Hotels offering is designed to keep kids busy while parents relax, enjoy the new spa or sightsee. Danyland programs take place daily, all year round, and are carefully planned by a well trained team who, according to the company, “focus on giving kids the time of their lives.” Throw in some water slides, a shallow kiddie pool, video games arcade, Disco for kids, and counselor-led pool games and competitions and what’s not to enjoy?
The celebrated King David – Jerusalem Hotel (972/2-6208888; 23 King David Street, Jerusalem 94101, Israel) is one of the city’s most luxurious, and its world class style and service truly merit its membership in the selective Leading Hotels of the World group. A stay here is a memorable experience, and from the cityside windows, the view of Jerusalem’s Old City is timeless and — particularly during the golden light of sunset — awe-inspiring.
If you’re wondering when to go, keep in mind that Jerusalem stands 800 m. above sea level, so the weather is temperate in spring and fall, hot and dry in summer, and cool in winter with rain, sometimes turning to snow. The Israeli Government Tourist Office (888/77-ISRAEL) can help you with any other details in planning your sojourn to the Promised Land.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.