So what are the top 10 things to see and do when touring Israel? I mean I’m happy you decided to come and visit Israel. You are expected to have lots of fun. Now, I’m not sure if you are on a limited time frame, but as someone that is a private tour guide in Israel for quite a while already, here are my top 10 things to see and do when touring Israel.
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: Touring the Old City of Jerusalem!
For sure this is one of the top 10 things to see and do when touring Israel. In fact, not just in Israel but all over the world. Sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims make the Old City of Jerusalem one of the most intense places on earth. This walled one sq kilometer area is probably one of the most contested areas in the world. Come and visit and discover what is the big fuss!
I recommend not to miss the following sites when touring Old City Jerusalem: You can start with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Most archaeologists; Christian denominations; traditions point to as the location where Jesus was crucified, buried, and if you are a faithful Christian also resurrected.
Another must-see site in Old City Jerusalem will be the famous Western Wall (the Wailing Wall). Sacred for Jews from all over the world, located in the Jewish Quarter. With me as your private tour guide in Jerusalem I’ll explain to you among other cool things:
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: What Makes the Wailing Wall So Holy?
Just next to the Western Wall there is another important site I would recommend visiting and that is Temple Mt. On top, there are the holiest sites for Muslims in Jerusalem such as the Golden Dome and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jerusalem is the 3rd sacred city for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, the reason lays on top of Temple Mt.
Because of the dazzling beauty of the Golden Dome, some do get confused and think this is why Jerusalem is so holy for the Muslims, but that is not correct. The sanctity of Jerusalem (Al-Quds in Arabic which means the ‘holy one’) comes from the famous Al-Aqsa Mosque (the furthest mosque in English) which is next to the Golden Dome. I invite you to more about Traditions Relating to the Muslim Key Sites On Temple Mt.
If you are already in Jerusalem don’t miss the Machne Yehuda food market. Officially the largest market in Jerusalem is a traditional Middle Eastern style shuk, there you can find great spots for some delicious local Hummus! Read more about My Food Recommendations in Machne Yehuda Market. a visit to Machne Yehuda is a fascinating experience of sounds, sights, and smells.
Now moving on to a different region the Judea Desert: When touring what is officially what is one of the smallest deserts in the world I would recommend you visit a couple of things that are a must-see to my professional opinion as a private tour guide of Israel.
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: Masada National Park
This mountain that is in geology is called a Horst is seen from miles away. originally built by Herod the Great as a palace and a fortress is now the most frequently visited national park in Israel.
Masada is a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. One of the main reasons why this site was given this honor because of the Roman Siege system that was left behind. The Romans besieged Masada at the end of the 1st Jewish Revolt in the year 73/4 C.E. Now, even though the Romans conducted siege all over Europe they usually used what they could find around, mostly wood and sawdust, which can’t last very long.
Did You Know That During the 1990’s Excavations They Found a Roman Legionnaire Payslip?!
At Masada, the Romans, with no other option, used the local rock they could find around. Once they took over the mountain they left the siege system untouched. Just waiting to be discovered in the 1990’s excavations headed by archaeologist Jodi Magness from North Carolina Chapel Hill University. The Roman siege system at Masada is probably the best-preserved siege system all over the Roman Empire. Among other things you can see when you visit Masada is the Roman Ramp; the Roman siege camps, the runners’ paths, the siege wall, and more!
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: Ein Gedi National Park
Ein Gedi is a beautiful natural oasis in the Judean desert. Due to its freshwater springs, it attracts so much wildlife like Nubian Ibex, Wolfs, Rock Hyrax, different kinds of birds like the famous Tristram Sterling. All this wildlife is enjoying the rich Flora you can find in the Oasis due to the freshwater springs gushing in the area like Common Cane or the Common Reed; different types of Acacia trees and more.
Ein Gedi is mentioned in the Bible, in the Book of Samuel, it is told that David tried to escape from King Saul. The Biblical narrator continues narrating that David went deep into the Judean Desert hoping that Saul wouldn’t dare to go after him into the wilderness. Well, he was wrong! When I take my guests to a private tour of Ein Gedi I like playing for them in my audio Bible the relevant verse as it is told in the Book of Samuel.
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: Caesarea National Park
After visiting Masada seeing Herod’s winter palace and what a good life he had it’s only obvious you should visit Caesarea Maritima where Herod placed his summer palace. The advantage of placing his palace just next to the shoreline was that even though it can get very hot and humid in the summer if you are just next to the Med Sea the temperature drops by 10-15 c, and Herod knew that.
Herod built Caesarea as a Roman Pagan city. Unlike Jerusalem with its 2nd Temple that was Jewish and severe; Caesarea was all fun and games, with its Roman Theatre, Circus Maximus, indeed it was. But the main reason why Herod built Caesarea was to compete with the port of Alexandria.
In other words, Herod the Great was a king client appointed king by the Romans. By using him as a facade they could indirectly control this unimportant province called Judea. In the end, the Romans cared about 2 things: Money (taxes) and the supply of soldiers (for their military campaigns).
Herod was owing an annual amount he had to pay for the Romans as taxes. It is a fact that the land of Israel like today, is poor with natural resources. Taxation was and still is the main source of income for the state. As a result, Herod had to think up ways to increase his income. Now, I’m not sure if you know but your plane ticket, up to half of it is taxed to the local airport where you land.
By building a massive port in Caesarea, Herod could tax the ships that would want to set anchor in it, and this increase in his kingdom income was one of the main reasons why Herod the Great decided to build Caesarea Maritima.
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: Tel Megiddo National Park
Megiddo is a classical archaeological tel. Anyone that digs archaeology should come and visit Megiddo. When you’ll see how all the 25 different layers of civilization are just situated on top of one another, even if you are not an archaeology aficionado, you will get a kick out of it.
Megiddo was one of the strongest and most important cities in Canaan. Megiddo is mentioned many times in Egyptian royal inscriptions, they attest to the city’s importance as the center of Egyptian administration in Canaan and as a logistical base on the road north (the Via Maris).
Inscriptions in the temple of the god Amun at Karnak (in Upper Egypt) describe the first military campaign of Thutmose III in Canaan, at the beginning of the 15th century BCE. The Egyptian army crossed the hills of Manasseh and then advanced via Wadi Iron to the Jezreel Valley. The united army of the Canaanite kings, surprised by this military move, was soundly defeated; Megiddo was conquered after a seven-month siege.
INTERESTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MEGIDDO?
On Wednesday, April 21st, 1852, Edward Robinson, the father of Biblical Archaeology was exploring the Land of Israel. Eli Smith, his colleague, and he crossed the Jezreel Valley once more on their way to Beit Shean. This time they visited Tel Megiddo (in Arabic Tel el-Mutesllim) but continued to hold the opinion that ancient Megiddo is not situated here but a few miles away. This is what Robinson wrote in his diary while they are standing on the very top of the tel:
Tell el-Mutesllim was now just before us on the right; and turning off to it, we reached the top at 9 o’clock. This tell is quite regular in its form; with a flat summit, containing four or five acres, now covered with a fine crop of wheat[…]
The prospect from the tell is a noble one; embracing the whole of the glorious plain; than which there is not a richer upon earth.
It was now extensively covered with fields of grain; with many tracts of grass, like meadows; but still, a large portion of it was overrun with weeds. Jezreel was distinctly in view[…]
As we stood upon the noble tell, with the wide plain and Taanach thus before us, we could not but feel, that here had been the scene of the great battle of Deborah and Barak[…]
The tell would indeed present a splendid site for a city; but there is no trace, of any kind, to show that a city ever stood there.
(Biblical Researches in Palestine, Vol III, Page 115-117, my emphasis)
Top 10 Things to See and Do When Touring Israel: The Sea of Galilee Area
I would recommend you start with a magnificent viewpoint that overlooks the Sea of Galilee area from Arbel National Park. On a clear day, you will be able to see all the way to Mt. Hermon, which is the edge of the land bordering Syria.
After that, I would recommend you visiting the Ancient Galilean Boat. It was found in the 1980s. The boat is dated to the 1st century CE and till today it is a true marvel. You can find the boat at Kibbutz Ginosar in the Yigal Alon Museum.
Another stop I think it is a must-see if you are in the area is the town of Capernaum. This where according to the New Testament Jesus preached, taught, performed famous miracles like healing Peter’s mother-in-law from fever and curing a slave of a Roman Centurion. The Gospel according to Matthew actually identifies Capernaum as Jesus’ own town.
The site today is in a very good state and holds the best-preserved synagogue ever found in the Land of Israel from the Byzantine period. You can end your day by taking a long drive around the Sea of Galilee and end just enjoy the view on your way back.