Israel has unbelievable much to offer for its relatively small size. From the holy city of Jerusalem to the party city Tel Aviv. From dry deserts to Roman ruins, to coral reef and white beaches. Not to mention its cuisine: We cannot get enough of hummus and falafel. Because Israel is not exactly the cheapest country for travelling, we’ve packed the best stuff in just four days. Find out more below!
This itinerary for Israel starts in Eilat, but you can also choose Jerusalem or Tel Aviv as starting points.
Day 1 – Eastern Israel: Dead sea and Masada
Rent a car in Eilat and leave Eilat right away, driving towards Jerusalem. It is not difficult to come into a vacation vibe, crossing through the dry desert, passing tons of palm trees, date plantations, and beautiful mountain sceneries.
You will pass the Dead Sea on the way, where you definitely should make a stopover. Being unable to dive, or even swim, in this lake, is an unforgettable and unique experience: You are only able to float on top of the water, and not in the water. There are free public beaches, but also somewhere you must pay a little like Kalia Beach, with natural (and healthy?) mud, Biankini Beach and Neve Midbar Beach. Good free swim spots are Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek. Just see what fits your schedule, as floating on the lowest point on earth is a very welcome change to the driving.
You will also pass by Masada, an ancient fortification on the top of a rock plateau. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 people, the Sicarii rebels, and their families hiding there. If you have time, go here for sunrise or sunset.
You will arrive in Jerusalem in the evening. Go to bed on time – as the next day will be busy!
Day 2 – Jerusalem in one day
The Holy City of Jerusalem has a lot to offer. But it is possible to see its highlights in just one day. You will need to get up early to make it to the finish on time!
Start at the Temple Mount, important for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Temple Mount has remarkable opening hours: 7:30-10: 30 AM and 12:30-1:30 PM. Line up at 7 AM to avoid long lines and to make it in at 7:30 sharp. Then you will experience an almost empty Temple Mount. Great for taking pictures! The highlight of the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock with its golden roof.
Pay a visit to the Western Wall on your way to the Temple Mount. This is the holiest Jewish place as it’s a remain of the foundations of the second Jewish temple build by the Roman client king Herod the Great. The temple and the rest of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after the first Jewish Revolt. You have a good overview of the two gender separated prayer areas from the walkway to the mount itself.
Church of Saint Anne
Close to the Temple Mount North-exit, lies the Church of Saint Anne, a Roman Catholic church that is not on every Jerusalem-itinerary, but we advise you to go. It is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem and it has been said that it is the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Its courtyard creates a tranquillity that contrasts the bustling streets of the Muslim Quarter. There is also a large excavation area of the Pools of Bethesda.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Next, walk the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: The site where Jesus was crucified and Jesus’ empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. This holiness makes this church a major Christian pilgrimage destination. Fun fact: Control over the church is shared between several Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic and some others). The key is guarded by a Muslim family, as only they were trusted by all the Christian denominations.
Tower of David
We follow the Via Dolorosa back to the Tower of David, near the Jaffa Gate entrance in the West. You can visit the tower if you’re not too hungry yet. Just outside the old city are some cafés where you can have a lunch with falafel and hummus.
After lunch, take a bus to the Israel Museum. Don’t underestimate the time that you want to spend in Israel’s national museum, as it huge and it has a lot to offer. From a modern sculpture garden to an archaeology wing, fine arts, Jewish art, exhibitions, and, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Alternatively, you can visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, in the western part of the city. The museum offers an extensive exhibition of the different stages and aspects of the Holocaust.
After all this culture, it is nice to end the day by walking the Olive Mountain and watching the sunset behind the holy city. You can see the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy: A closed gate, that, according to Jewish belief, only will be reopened when the Anointed One (Messiah) will come.
Day 3 – Ancient Northern Israel: Acre, Caesarea and Tel Aviv
It’s time to leave Jerusalem, and drive up North, to Acre.
The main sights in Acre are all situated in its compact old Town behind the old city walls. These walls are the perfect point to start your tour of the city. They bring you back in time and give you an overview of the city. Make your way towards the Crusader citadel, here you can explore the remains of the heart of the Crusader Kingdom. Take the underground Templar tunnels, like the last crusaders did when they were chased out of the Holy land by the Mamaluks in 1291.
Explore the old port and its remaining fortified towers. When you climb the southwestern bastion you can see the foundations of the old crusader castle now submerged under the Mediterranean sea. When we were there the Caravanserai Khan al-Umdan was closed due to being in disrepair. But its worth to try and get a peek at this old inn.
Get back on the road as we drive down south and go even further back in time to the Roman city of Caesarea. It was built by their client-king Herod the Great in the last decades BCE. Later it served as the Roman and Byzantine capital of Judea and Palestine.
First head to the aqueduct on the beach just north of the city. This aqueduct used to provide water for the city, now it crumbles away and is used as a picknick spot for the beachgoers.
Most of the Roman remains and excavations can be found in the Caesarea National Park. Here you can find the remains of the Roman harbour, the huge hippodrome, a Roman theatre and houses and temples.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps. Which is great if you want to maximize your time like us. The one thing you must see in this city is its excellent museum of art. It has a superb collection of modern and contemporary art and of Israeli Art. Tuesday and Thursday the museum is open until 21h.
Tel Aviv is filled with great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. So unwind a bit, but try to get up early the next day to beat the morning rush-hour.
If you have more time to spend here, go to the beach, get on a bike and cycle along the coastline to the old historic town of Jaffa.
Day 4 – Hot southern Israel: Avdat, Mitzpe Ramon Negev desert, snorkelling
Today is already our last day, so we have a lot of driving to go back south to Eilat.
Ein Avdat National Park
Our first stop will be in the Negev desert, in Ein Avdat National Park. If you head to the northern entrance of the park, you can descend into the Canyon and go for a nice hike here. If you just want to take in the sights and go for a short walk, take the western entrance for great views of the canyon.
Just a couple of minutes south of the western entrance lies the ancient hillside Nabataean city of Avdat. It was a major city on the Incense route, only passed in importance by Petra. The city was founded by the Nabataean in the 3rd century BCE and later inhabited by Romans and Byzantines. The city lies on top of a hill with marvellous views of the surrounding Negev desert. Just north of the city lies the archaeological remains of a Roman legionary camp.
A little bit further south lies the small town of Mitzpe Ramon. From the visitor’s centre, you have an awesome view of the Ramon Crater. Although the Ramon crater isn’t really a crater but the worlds largest Makhtesh, a desert valley surrounded by steep walls. This is also an ideal site to spot some Nubian ibex.
Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city on the Red Sea and an ideal place to go snorkelling. Temperatures are pleasant throughout the winter and hot during the summer and the sun shines almost all days of the year. The main attraction are the coral reefs.
Israel – three airport options
We had return flights to the budget airport of Ovda, Eilat. You could also fly to Eilat directly or Ben Gurion International airport, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
When to go to Israel?
The best time to visit Israel is March-May and September – November: Not too hot, but nice weather to go out and about. Just watch out for the Jewish holidays Passover (April) and Rosh Hashana (September / October), as many families will go on trips; it will be busy, and hotels will be expensive.
We travelled at the beginning of February, to have a nice vitamin-D boost while it was dark and cold back home. We had great weather: ~25 degrees Celsius and sunny. However, we learned that we were quite lucky with the weather, as it also can be cold and wet in February. But it’s also quieter at the major sites.