A caveat: On your first trip (tiyul) around Israel, you are going to have some very big eyes. Everyone you know is going to suggest a favorite place, every story you read is going to mention an incredible sunset overlooking a certain sea/mountain/city. My advice – take it easy on yourself. The Hebrew expression is “tafasta merubeh, lo tafasta,” meaning “you grabbed too much, you’ll end up grabbing nothing.” No one wants to sit in a car for more hours than they have to, or unpack and repack a suitcase every day. That’s true at home, and it’s still true when you’re on vacation. So when you pore through my list of attractive sites – divided up by region – I suggest you try not to cover the entire country as if it were a checklist.
What follows is a very impartial list of sites that I’ve selected from among the million or so available in Israel. Hopefully, they will give the reader an idea of what is out there. All of my itineraries are tailored to the personal interests and priorities of my clients, so I would never think to offer a generic itinerary.
In Jerusalem, I would say my favorite spot is the City of David.
Up in the Golan Heights, I am a big fan of Mount Bental. You look into Syria from the summit of a dormant volcano, after having burrowed through an IDF bunker carved into the hilltop. This is a fantastic perch to look out on Emek Habacha, the Valley of Tears, where Israeli soldiers held on against all odds to win a critical battle of 1973’s Yom Kippur War, at great human sacrifice. And if the winds of current political turmoil are blowing that day, you can hear and sometimes even see the missiles and mortars and machine-gun fire of the Syrian civil war that is raging just a couple of kilometers away. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a day spent in the Golan is beyond words.
People ask what is my favorite site to guide. Not to sound trite, but I am still in love with Masada, even after having been there a zillion times. Masada is exquisite geography, dramatic history, awesome architecture, but that’s just where the story I like to tell starts. And the story evolves over time, because Masada is the opposite of a dusty history irrelevant to its 21st century surroundings. Intrigued?
Herod the Great’s “hanging palace” at Masada, circa 20 BCE
As for my favorite place in Israel, I’d have to say the Judean Desert. Raw and inhospitable, the desert in summertime is too unforgivingly hot and dry for a human to hike through it carrying enough water to survive. We are not camels, which are perfectly adapted to the desert. The Judean Desert is all about living on the edge. When I do hike here – the best time of year is the very end of the winter, just after the flash-flood-generating rains have ended – I feel one with the processes of creation. For more on this subject, see this recent article of mine that about touring the desert and Southern Israel.