What to do and what to see as you drive through a small Middle Eastern country with a rich history and culture that spans over millennia.
It may be a small nation (covering only 8,367 square-miles and just slightly larger than New Jersey), but despite its size, Israel has an abundance of places for for families to explore. It is a land with ancient history and culture and can provide any traveler, no matter what your religion and/or ethnicity, with a myriad of attractions and sites to see.
But where should a family start? It can be overwhelming as one of the greatest things about Israel is that families can experience a little bit of everything: great skiing, great beaches, Biblical and historical sites and museums, the world’s saltiest sea, dry desert hills and modern, interactive attractions all within a few hours’ drive.
It seems that the best way to approach a rich and beautiful nation such as Israel is to take it one area at a time, visiting a few select sites and seeing the rest of the countryside through the rear view mirror of your rent-a-car. Of course, visits to Israel’s biggest cities are no-brainers; your trip would be incomplete without stops in Jerusalem (a crossroads of religions and ancient history) and Tel-Aviv (the “NYC” of Israel complete with bustling shopping district and restaurants galore). Also, be sure to spend a day or two in the south by Eilat as well as in the northern regions, Haifa and Neve Ativ, and do not forget to make a pit stop by the Dead Sea in between.
Eretz Israel Museum
2 Khayim Levanon Street
Tel Aviv, Yafo, Ramat Aviv
A cluster of different museums bunched into one name and location, the Eretz Israel Museum can become an all-day affair for a family. The main building features a handful of permanent exhibits that contain ancient glass and ceramic artifacts. There is also a Folklore section with objects from Israel’s past that illuminates the traditions and ceremonies of the nation’s community and families. Other venues operating in conjunction with the museum are: Mosaic Square, the Olive Oil Plant, Sundial Square and Independence Hall. Also, visit the Tell Quasile Excavation site to see the remnants of the Philistines who lived in the area during the 12th Century B.C. And if the kids get too tired of all the art and history, take them to the Planetarium (also inside the museum) where they can watch “Voyage Through the Universe,” a 360-degree, out of this world simulated flight with moving floors and special effects.
D.N. Shimshon 997762
near the Latrun Interchange at Routes 1 and 3
(East of Tel Aviv in the Center of Israel)
Imagine Israel condensed into 13 acres. It may sound impossible, but at Mini Israel, one of the newer attractions in the Holy Land, with a 1:25 scale, there are miniature replicas of 350 major religious, historic, social and modern Israeli sites and 30,000 figurines. Designed in the shape of the Star of David, the park features six different sections that are broken up to help visitors get a better handle on the geography of the country, making the North and South end of the country (usually 200 plus miles apart) within quick walking distance. Families will love the miniature Roman architecture of the Caesarea that was originally built in 10 B.C.E. and the replicated tiny Old City of Jerusalem, especially the Western Wall, is another treat. Lastly, the location of Mini Israel is incredibly convenient for traveling families. It is a short drive East of Tel Aviv and very close to the Ben Gurion International Airport, making it great to explore upon arrival or right before your departure.
Thanks to Susan Davidson for her help and input on Mini Israel.
Ramat Gan Safari
Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv
Located inside of the Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan Zoological Center, this safari is a combination of a modern zoo and an African Park, making it the largest collection of animals in the entire Middle East. With over 1,600 animals from more than 225 species, the safari is spread over 250 acres and is highly involved with animal conservation efforts. Herds of African and Asian elephants as well as hippopotami, families of gorillas and orangutans, and even a pride of lions, are all bred on the grounds.
972 2 6443749
No matter what your religion or ethnicity, a family with teenagers should take the time to visit Yad Vashem, a memorial museum to those who lived through and perished during Nazi Germany. The main route of the museum tells a narrative to visitors as they chronologically see the evolving horrors of the Holocaust: beginning, middle and end. Galleries include the powerfully moving “Hall of Names” and “Pages of Testimony,” a vast collection of photos and names of only a fraction of the six million victims of the Holocaust. The Children’s Memorial is a brilliant and simple commemoration to the youth that was lost. The building, with a unique design that features prisms, void spaces and other architectural marvels, was conceptualized by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.
Thanks to Joane Gil for her help and input on Yad Vashem.
Route 99 Around Jerusalem
228 Yafo Street
Starts at Central Bus Station, Jerusalem
For a panoramic tour of the city, hop on or off the double decker tour bus on Route 99. Making 28 stops throughout Jerusalem, such as the City of David, Jaffa Gate, the Biblical Zoo, traditional Markets and the old City, the entire duration of tour is two hours. But since guests are free to jump on and off at the stops that interest them, the whole circuit tends to be longer. All riders are given a headset which features a digital explanation of all points of interest in eight different languages. Tickets can be purchased with the bus driver or at any hotel.
Time Elevator Jerusalem
37 Hillel Street
Jerusalem, Agron House
This multimedia attraction allows families to witness the 3,000-year history of Jerusalem with special effects, moving chairs and a multi sensory film. Chaim Topol, star of “Fiddler on the Roof,” is the lead character that takes guests on an interactive journey through time. Crashing ceilings and splashing waters allow patrons to experience history from the time of King Solomon and the City of David all the way through to the establishment of the state of Israel. This dramatic, thrilling, fun and educational ride is available in six languages, including English and Spanish. The Time Elevator gets crowded, so advanced reservations are recommended and note that this attraction is not appropriate for the tots, as children must be at least 5-years old to ride.
The Western Wall and the Kotel Tunnels
The Old City
The holiest Jewish site in all of Israel, the Western Wall is all that still stands of the Temple Mount or Mount Morian. Although a very holy site, this fourth and final wall is visited by millions of Jews and non-Jews a year as they pay their respects to one of the oldest pieces of architecture in the world and leave their prayers by placing a note on the Kotel. Also available are tours of the underground tunnels. Since the walkways are very tight and dark the experience is not recommended for younger children (or claustrophobics), but teenagers will love to walk through the same tunnels as King Herod did more than 2,000 years ago. The tour is an archeological journey through Jerusalem and Israeli history. It is recommended that you book your tours in advance before arriving in Israel and additionally make sure to specify your language preference for your tour. [Note: Women visiting the wall are required to cover their shoulders out of respect, so make sure to have a light sweater handy during your visit].
The Dead Sea
Just 15 miles east of Jerusalem is the Dead Sea. With 5,000 years of history, as well as the largest deposits of salt water in the world, the Dead Sea is a beautiful region and a must-see for families as there are plenty of attractions and festivals year-round to keep the kids busy. But the main attraction is a natural one, as families can relax in the waters that are nestled on the lowest shorelines in the world. It is also believed that the mud of the seas has special healing and cosmetic uses, making for a natural spa weekend. And the best part, kids will love the fact that the high levels of salt makes floating incredibly easy.
Masada & Ein Gedi
If you’ve had your fill of salt-water floating you can explore more of this unusual region by taking a day-trip to see the sites along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Masada, an ancient fortress constructed atop a mountain by King Herod-the-Great and used by the Jewish rebels as a refuge from the Roman army, is just a short car or tour bus ride away from the Dead Sea resorts. Start your trip early to avoid the full force of the desert sun and when you arrive you can choose to walk up the easy path, hike the more difficult Snake Path, or ride a cable car to the top to see the ruins. If the heat gets too strong you can come down the mountain, grab a bite at the information center, and take another short ride to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, a gorgeous desert oasis that provides a stunning reprieve from the arid desert scenery and supports an entire kibbutz (community). Take a walk to the spring, and on the way catch a glimpse of some native ibex and other wildlife. Then, reap the rewards of an early rise with a salt-free cool down in one of the refreshing waterfalls.
If you are looking for an authentic ancient Galilean experience visit Kfar Kedem in the Haifa region of Israel. Here your family can “touch the past” in this village that has preserved the ancient Roman-Byzantine culture of Galilee. At the Donkey Gate, children can participate in a donkey caravan into the surrounding hills, walking along the same path as people did nearly one thousand years ago. Or you can tend to the flock and become a shepherd for the day at the Shepherd Gate. Here families can also bake bread, make cheese and wear traditional Galilean clothing. You can even produce the finer things in life: at the Wine Gate, let the kids stomp on the fresh grapes and then mom and dad can sample the delicious wine, or at the Olive Gate, harvest olives to make what’s said to be the world’s finest extra virgin olive oil.
Bat Galim or Stella Maris Funicular Stations
For a spectacular view of the Haifa region, take a ride on the cable car that connects the northwest edge of the Carmel at Stella Maris to the end of the Bat Galmin promenade. The views of the blue sea in the distance can be seen on the way down the mountain, while on the way to the top, the scenery of Mount Carmel will take your breath away.
The Monkey Forest
A family of animal lovers will be enchanted with the Monkey Forest, a habitat where monkeys, sheep, deer and other animals roam free and interact with visitors. Here kids can feed the squirrel monkeys, pet lambs and even talk to parrots. Bring a packed lunch with you as the Monkey Forest has picnic tables on its grounds so that guests can enjoy their meal with the monkeys frolicking nearby.
Near Neve Ativ
With heights up more than 2,000 meters above sea level, Mount Hermon is Israel’s only ski location. This mountain features four chair lifts and dozens of trails for families to explore. The resort offers a ski school for adults and children to learn and guests can also go sledding, play in the snow or explore the area on cable cars. During the early summer, the snow melts away but there is still plenty to do at Mount Hermon. Beautiful flowers and rare birds populate the area and the extreme mountain sledding is open year round. On a winding track that goes down the mountainside, all family members 3-years-old and up can get their thrills as they zoom down the hills in the safety of a cart.
Eilat in the South
Eilat, Israel 88000
An amusement park of a different kind, King City has rides which honor the past. “Journey to the Past” is a 4-D movie experience with panoramic vision of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Kids will love the “Cave of Illusions and Wisdom.” Built in honor of King Solomon, the cave features over 70 fun and interactive optical illusion displays, mazes and other challenges. Or if you feel like cooling off in the Israeli heat, jump onto King Solomon Falls for a nice (and probably wet) boat ride. As you ride through seven different caves that follow the King’s life, your boat approaches a nice big drop into the water! Also at King City are Biblical caves which depict different images from the Bible, but if guests choose to not visit this section of the park they can always check out the hippopotami that spray water all over guests.
Eilat, South Beach
This beautiful beach provides a calm and relaxing atmosphere, with sand, water, sun and fun to families who want to catch some rays and take a break from sightseeing for a day. The water is sparkling and, best of all, contains a pod of beautiful dolphins living and swimming off the coast. Although there are no scheduled shows, there is a raft that can take your family out to visit the friendly sea creatures, and you can even take a dip with them if you would like. Back on the shore there are some fun local craft shops that will keep the kids entertained with unique knickknacks.
Of course, with a full tank of gas and a long holiday, a family can visit many other locations in these cities and regions, as well as throughout the rest of the Israel. If you’re traveling in the summer months, bear in mind that July and August are the hottest, driest months of the year. Lather the kids (and yourself) up with plenty of sunscreen whenever you plan to be outside and be sure to take frequent water breaks. For more information on what to see, where to stay and eat delicious Israeli cuisine, contact the Israel Ministry of Tourism 888/77-ISRAEL or 212/499-5660.
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