Israel Itinerary – The Best Places to Visit on a Trip to Israel

    Israel Itinerary – The Best Places to Visit on a Trip to Israel
    Last updated: December, 2019

    If you plan a trip to Israel and are looking to create an itinerary, this post will help you build the best one. Israel is such a fascinating country with so many unique places to visit, that it’s difficult to decide where to begin.

    About this itinerary

    I did a lot of research before our trip to Israel. Watched videos, read reviews and travel guides, but it’s not easy to find a good online itinerary for Israel. Most websites I checked underestimate the amount of time you need to visit the different places in Israel. In this post I’ll try to give you a better idea about how long you’ll need for each of these destinations.

    We toured Israel independently, driving ourselves around the country and stopping along the way at the different points of interest. There are many tour operators that offer guided tours throughout Israel. However, we believe that with a little preparation, you can visit all these sites on your own. So this itinerary is good for people who want to visit Israel independently.

    Tel Aviv, places to visit in Israel
    Tel Aviv

    How Many Days to Spend in Israel

    Deciding how many days to stay in Israel depends to a large extent on the purpose of your trip and your interests. If you are familiar with Israel’s fascinating history, you’ll probably want to visit all the archeological sites of biblical importance. In this case you’ll need a minimum of 14-16 days.

    This itinerary is good have 14 or more days in Israel. If you only have 7 to 10 days, you may still be able to see some of the sites we visited in 16 days, but you’ll have very little time at each destination. So here are the most important sites to include in your tour:

    Israel Itinerary – Best Places to Visit on a Trip to Israel

    Our journey started in Eilat, which is the southernmost city in Israel, close to the border with Jordan. We chose to start here because we also took a 5 day trip to Jordan before coming to Israel and crossed borders in Eilat. From Eilat we continued to the Negev Desert, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Akko, Haifa, and ended our trip in Tel Aviv.

    Map for our trip to Israel

    Day 1: Eilat & the Negev Desert

    Eilat is a busy port and a beautiful resort town at the Red Sea, located on the Gulf of Eilat. The city is mainly famous for its beautiful scuba diving spots. When you see how clear the water is you understand why Eilat is so popular among divers and snorkelers.

    Israel Itinerary - Eilat
    Eilat

    However, if you are not into water sports and beaches, you may not find Eilat very interesting. We’ve only spent a few hours here before heading to the Negev Desert.

    About 25 km north of Eilat we stopped to visit Timna Park, one of the biggest attractions in southern Israel. The Negev Desert is famous for its jagged landscape and red-colored rock formations, but also for its copper ore. Since Timna was the center of metal production in the ancient world, many historians believe that King Solomon’s Mines were actually here.

    Timna Park, one of the best places to visit in Israel
    Timna Park

    The park is quite impressive and has endless beautiful trails to enjoy. Unfortunately, when we visited Timna it was too hot for hiking. We only drove around and stopped at the different points of interest.

    Red rock formation in Timna Park, Israel
    Red rock formation in Timna Park

    For those acquainted with the Jewish history, Timna holds a very special surprise: a life-size replica of the biblical tabernacle, mentioned in the Old Testament. The tabernacle was the earthly dwelling place of Yahweh (God). During their 40 years of wandering through the desert, the Israelites carried the tabernacle with them.

    The Jewish Tabernacle in Timna Park
    The Tabernacle

    Day 2: West Bank (Bethlehem, Jericho & Qasr el Yahud Baptismal Site)

    For Christians, Bethlehem and Jericho rank very high on the list of places to visit in Israel. Both cities have very strong ties to the biblical history. However, many people are nervous about visiting them because they are located on the West Bank, which is a Palestinian territory.

    Places to visit in Israel: Church of the Nativity
    Church of the Nativity

    But no need to worry. Crossing over to the West Bank and back to Jerusalem is pretty safe. Bethlehem and Jericho are tourist-oriented towns and the Palestinian authorities go to great lengths to make them safe to visit. Just be sure you bring your passport with your Israeli-issued tourist visa to enter and exit the Palestinian areas.

    Israel itinerary - Jericho
    The old wall of Jericho

    After visiting Jericho, we stopped the Qasr el Yahud baptismal site, another special and sacred spot for Christianity. This is believed to be the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, some two thousand years ago. Therefore, pilgrims from all over the world come here to be baptized in the very same spot on the Jordan River.

    Qasr el Yahud Baptismal Site - best places to visit in Israel
    Qasr el Yahud baptismal site

    There are several companies that run tours to these locations with departures from different cities in Israel. Although many people travel to the West Bank independently, I think it’s wiser to take a tour or hire a cab to cross over. Many cab drivers in Jerusalem are Palestinians and know the ins-and-outs of the West Bank, so you’ll be in good hands.

    Day 3: the Judean Desert (Masada & the Dead Sea)

    On the third day of our itinerary we headed south towards the Judean Desert, where visited the famous fortress of Masada and soaked in the Dead Sea.

    the Fortress of Masada
    The Fortress of Masada

    Masada

    Of all the places we visited in Israel, the fortress of Masada impressed me the most. It wasn’t only its fantastic location, atop of large hill, but also its tragic story. The story of the Siege of Masada was told by Flavius Josephus in his writing “The Wars of the Jews.”

    In his chronicle Josephus states that 967 Jewish Zealots retreated at Masada, with nowhere to run from the Roman army. The siege lasted for 3 years, but finally the Romans managed to gain access to the fortress. When they realized the situation, the Jews decided to die rather than be taken hostages.

    Israel Itinerary - Masada
    Masada

    The Dead Sea

    After visiting the fortress, we headed down to the Dead Sea to cool off and float in the super salty water. I think no trip to Israel is complete without a visit to the Dead Sea. This gigantic lake that spreads over miles, lies 430 m below sea level, which is the Earth’s lowest elevation on land.

    floating in the Dead Sea
    Having fun at the Dead Sea

    The Dead Sea is just 30 km away from Masada National Park, so it’s an easy drive if you visit the fortress first. Coming from Masada, there is a nice beach area with showers, umbrellas, and a restaurant. We stopped here to smear ourselves with some mineral-rich mud and soak in the warm, salty water.

    Day 4 to 9: Jerusalem

    We decided to spend 6 days in Jerusalem, since many of the important places to visit in Israel are actually here. Most of the guides I’ve read recommend spending 2-3 days in Jerusalem, but I thinks that’s not enough time.

    View of the Mount of Olives
    Mount of Olives

    Although we had 6 days in Jerusalem, we still didn’t get to visit everything we would have liked to! In my opinion, 7 days would be the ideal amount of time for exploring the city. But regardless of how many days you’ll decide to spend here, there are several sites of great historical importance that you shouldn’t miss. You can read more about what we visited in 6 days by clicking on the link below.

    Read more about our complete Jerusalem itinerary: What to do in Jerusalem – a Complete Itinerary

    City of David
    City of David

    However, most visitors to Jerusalem can only spend two days there. If that’s your case, here is how can group the important sites:

    On the first day you can visit the Mount of Olives, which is just across to the Old City walls. Here you can visited the Chapel of the Ascension and the Jewish Cemetery, then walked downhill towards the Old City. Along the way you should visit the Dominus Flevit ChurchChurch of All NationsGarden of Gethsemane, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. You can end the day visiting the City of David, an amazing archeological site that contains the oldest part of Jerusalem.

    Places to visit in Israel: Dome of the Rock
    Dome of the Rock

    On the second day you can visit the sites located in the Old City. Those include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Temple Mount & Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, Via Dolorosa, the Tower of David Museum, and the Ramparts.

    Day 10 & 11: the Sea of Galilee

    We’ve spent days 10 and 11 of our itinerary visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee, which is the largest fresh water lake in Israel.

    We stayed in Tiberias, which is the perfect base to explore the region. Tiberias has a few tourist attractions worth visiting. One is the Yigal Alon Promenade from which you can admire Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

    Israel Itinerary: Tiberias
    Yigal Alon Promenade in Tiberias

    Tiberias is also home to a number of important Jewish tombs among which is the tomb of Maimonides, a great philosopher and physician who became Saladin’s personal physician.

    Tomb of Maimonides in Tiberias
    The tomb of Maimonides

    Around the Sea of Galilee there are several sites of great significance for Christians: the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, built on the rock where Jesus told Peter “feed my sheep;” the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes; the Church of the Beatitudes, built on the place where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.

    Church of the Multiplication
    Church of the Multiplication

    One site that I found pretty impressive was Capernaum, which is believed to be the fishing village where Jesus lived. It was also in Capernaum where he gathered the first of his disciples, Peter and Andrew.

    Places to see in Israel: Capernaum
    Capernaum

    Another interesting site is Kibbutz Ginosar, where you can see the remains of a boat from the 1st century AD. This boat could have been in use during the time of Jesus.

    Places to visit in Israel: Kibbutz Ginosar
    Boat from the 1st Century AD

    The Greek Orthodox Church of the 12 Apostles is a newer church (1925), well worth a visit. Its striking red domes can be seen from afar. If you have time to drop by, you’ll be rewarded with some beautiful frescos painted in very vivid colors.

    Israel itinerary: Church of the 12 Apostoles
    Church of the 12 Apostoles

    The basalt ruins of Kozarim are the remains of another town from the time of Jesus. 

    the ruins of Kozarim
    The ruins of Kozarim

    We’ve spent two nights in Tiberias, but we only needed one day for visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee.

    Day 12: Nazareth & Akko

    Nazareth

    Nazareth is Israel’s largest Arab city, but it’s also a place of great biblical importance, which is why we included it in our itinerary. One site that you shouldn’t miss in Nazareth is the Synagogue Church, which belongs to the Greek Catholic Melkite community. According to Christian tradition, this is the place where Jesus declared himself as the Messiah in front of the entire congregation. His sermon infuriated the religious leaders so much, that they wanted to throw him off a cliff, but de mysteriously disappeared.

    Synagogue Church
    Synagogue Church

    Another important Christian site is the Basilica of the Annunciation, which is said to rest on the exact place where Mary received her message from God. This is regarded as one of the most important modern churches in Israel and is definitely one of the places you should visit.

    Best places to visit in Israel: Church of the Annunciation
    Church of the Annunciation

    Very close to the Basilica of the Annunciation you can see St. Joseph’s Church, where it is believed Joseph’s carpentry shop was. The church has an underground cave that once served as a grain store.

    Church of St. Joseph in Israel
    Church of St. Joseph

    An interesting place to visit is the Nazareth Village. This is in an open-air museum where Biblical stories are reenacted with live animals and people dressed up in historical costumes. Unfortunately the village was closed on the day we were in Nazareth, so we couldn’t see it.

    Akko (Acre)

    Akko (also known as Acre) is a 4000 years old city that changed hands many times over the course of time. Acre had a tumultuous history that was influenced by the Romans, Ottomans, Crusaders, Byzantines, and British. You can still see the remains of the Crusader town, as well as the walls, mosques, and baths, from the Ottoman period.

    Aerial view of Akko
    Akko (Photo credit: Laszlo Galffy)

    If you have time, I would recommend spending an entire day in Acre. The old city is an interesting mix of archeology, open-air markets, and fishing port. One of Akko’s biggest attractions is the Hospitaller Fortress, where you can wander through enormous stone rooms with vaulted ceilings. 

    Hospitaller Fortress in Akko
    Hospitaller Fortress

    Day 13: Haifa & Caesarea

    Haifa and Caesarea can be easily visited on a day trip from Tel Aviv, as they are only an hour away from the city.

    Haifa

    For some reason Haifa is not always on the list of places to visit in Israel, although it enjoys a spectacular location, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. There are some nice spots in Haifa that are worth visiting. One is the Baha’i Gardens, a series of 19 terraced gardens located on the slopes of Carmel Mountain. From the top of the gardens you have a fabulous panoramic view of the entire port area.

    Places to visit in Israel: Baha'i Gardens
    Baha’i Gardens

    Other interesting sites we visited in Haifa were Elija’s Cave and Stela Maris Monastery, which was erected on Mount Carmel – the spot where the Prophet Elijah fought the prophets of Baal.

    Stella Maris Monastery

    Caesarea

    Caesarea National Park is one of Israel’s most impressive archeological sites, but it’s difficult to visit without a car. This grandiose port city was erected by Herod the Great in 21 B.C.

    Best places to visit in Israel: the ruins of Caesarea
    The archeological park at Caesarea

    There is so much to see in Caesarea! There is an amphitheater, some baths, a hippodrome by the sea, and a great port. Do not miss the limestone block in the theatre ruins on which the name of “Pontius Pilatus” is inscribed. This is the first archeological proof that he existed. 

    Roman aqueduct next to Caesarea
    Roman Aqueduct

    A little further north, outside the archeological park, you can visit the ruins of an ancient Roman aqueduct. The aqueduct sits right at the edge of a beautiful beach where you can stop to take a swim.

    Day 14 & 15: Tel Aviv & Jaffa

    We ended our trip to Israel in Tel Aviv, where we stopped for two days before returning to California. Tel Aviv is very different from all the other places you’ll visit in Israel. It’s liberal, wealthy and is all about lifestyle. This beachfront city is Israel’s largest metropolitan area, so you’ll find no shortage of entertainment.

    Jaffa
    Jaffa

    The best part of Tel Aviv in my opinion is the ancient port of Jaffa, out of which the modern city has actually grown. Although the port is no longer used by larger vessels, small fishing boats still go in and out every day. Jaffa looks a little run down, but we still enjoyed walking around the alleyways and exploring the markets and galleries.

    Day 16: Fly back home

    We didn’t have much time for sightseeing on our last day. We departed for the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv about 5 hours before our flight. Getting in and out of Israel is a hassle, so we wanted to make sure we won’t miss our flight. 16 days flew by so quick that we couldn’t believe it!

    When is the best time to visit Israel?

    Weather is an important factor to consider when planning your trip to Israel. The best time to visit Israel depends on the type of trip you are planning. If you you looking for a religious heritage-themed trip, like we did, you should consider going during the cooler months (November to March).

    We traveled to Israel in late October, hoping the weather would be cooler and more pleasant for walking. However, with very few exceptions, it was mostly hot and humid (28-35ºC). The good part about traveling in October was that days were still long, so we could spend a lot of time outside.

    Questions about this Israel Itinerary? Leave me a comment below. You can also pin this for later.

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