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Help me plan my trip to Israel

Pauline

Forums Admin
We are planning a trip to Israel next year and I would love to get some advice. I would like to see some of the main religious sites. We will spend a week in Jerusalem. I would like to see Petra, since we are in the area. I was also thinking of adding on a couple of nights in Cairo to see the Pyramids but that might not work (I can't find flights from Israel to Eygpt). I would also like to see some of the natural sites.

I was thinking of going in late March, before Passover and Easter in April, but am not sure this would be the best time to go.

My current plan is:

Fly into Tel Aviv airport and get a car service/taxi to Jerusalem.
A week in Jerusalem in a vacation rental. Day trip by bus or taxi to Bethlahem (Palastinian Territories). Day trip by bus to Tel Aviv.
Bus to resort on the Dead Sea, stay 2 nights. After looking more into this, I am not sure how interested I am in this. But Ein Gedi nature reserve looks interesting, as does Masada (hilltop fortress of King Herod).
Bus to Eilat on the Red Sea, stay 2 nights. Steve would like to see the Red Sea and maybe we could go swimming? But would we like it there?
Border crossing and bus to Petra (Jordan), stay 1 or 2 nights.
Bus back to Eilat, fly Eilat to Tel Aviv then home.

We will miss many sights, I know. Are there any places that would be better than those I chose?

All advice welcome!
 

Amy

100+ Posts
Weather in March should be good, and you'll likely hit wildflower season.

The Dead Sea area is a must-do to at least briefly experience it (some beaches are nicer than others!), Ein Gedi and Masada are wonderful. If you're going to walk the Snake Trail, do it as early as possible. Also of interest is Qumran. You can do these on a long day trip from Jerusalem, I'd suggest doing it with one of the great guides you can hire. (I can ask around to get you some names).

Tel Aviv is fun as a contrast to Jerusalem, and although there's a lot to see it may not interest you as much as other things would. Haifa is beautiful, one of my favorite places. The ruins at Caesaria are stunning. And the Galilee is gorgeous and has great hiking. Speaking of hiking, I asked a friend who recommended this outfit: http://www.walkinisrael.com/index.php

Eilat is exceedingly built up, although the swimming is lovely, and you can go snorkling at the Coral Beach nature Reserve.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
I would like to see Masada but think we will take the gondola instead of the Snake Path (400 meter climb on that barren hillside)!

I think I might cut off the Red Sea and then into Jordan to see Petra part. I read somewhere that Eilat was like Las Vegas - not our cup of tea.

@Amy , send me the guide info. Have you ever rented a car? We could drive ourselves and stay a couple of nights at the Dead Sea and then maybe go north to Galilee instead of south.

About the food. We can cook for ourselves or go to vegan restaurants in Jerusalem, but will we be able to easily find vegan/vegetarian food in restaurants if we go to the Dead Sea and to the north?
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
Hi Pauline

As I said on your FB post, post this itinerary on the TA Israel forum and see what responses you get.
You won't believe how much information you will get.....
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
I have a guide book and lots of resources on the web. I was hoping to get advice from people that I know and who know me. I dislike that TA website, but I will read some threads. I have been reading some at Fodors and I will check out ST.
 

Kim

10+ Posts
I'm with Amy, you should definitely spend some time in the area of the Dead Sea. Our second trip, we stayed there for two nights rather than doing it as a day trip from Jerusalem and were glad we did (though the weather didn't cooperate as much as we would have liked - it was December). Hiking Ein Gedi and climbing the snake path were cool.


You don't have any time scheduled for the north in the Galilee though - I'd consider adding at least a night or two in that direction if you can. Also I would add Haifa to your itinerary - as a lover of gardens, I think the Baha'i Gardens are a must.



Another place in the north I would consider is Tsfat (sp) - amazing artisan workshops there for all sorts of things.

Check out my blog if you like to get some ideas. It covers both our trips in 2006 and 2009 (though 2009 is a better resource). If you like, I can check with the girls too, they both spent a month there with their youth group: Israel
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
I just read your blog for the 2009 trip Kim and Bethlehem is off my day trip list.

Current plan is:
6 nights in Jerusalem in a vacation rental.
2 nights at the Dead Sea
2 nights north near Galilee

Leaving Petra for another trip I think. It seems like the best way to get there is from Eilat.

I don't want to use guides if we don't have to. I think we can figure things out from guidebooks.

I need to do some reading to see if renting a car and driving ourselves is insane or possible. If insane, then maybe stay longer in Jerusalem and do day trips with a guide - one south, one north.

Also wondering if we would enjoy staying in Tel Aviv.
 

kcalnyc

10+ Posts
I think you have a good plan. I too suggest you post on the TA forum. There are some real local experts there that I have found to be extremely helpful.

6 nights in Jerusalem is good. You can easily go to Bethlehem from there. I suggest you get a guide to drive you over. I would not do the bus or walk across the border. I had a great guide named Sam. Here is his email - guide.holy@gmail
He knows everyone and can get you past the lines and into the chapel faster.

I liked the Massada and Dead Sea day trip I did so I do suggest you keep that in the plan.

I haven't been all the way to the Galilee but I have been to Haifa and the Carmel Forest. I really thought the Carmel Forest area was beautiful and I'm sure there are some good hikes there. The Baha'i gardens in Haifa are supposed to be gorgeous. I didn't go. I did go to Rosh Hanikra and thought it was interesting and the train tunnels were cool to walk through.

I've spent most of my time in Jerusalem and have done a couple day trips to Tel Aviv for dinner, via Get. It is a taxi app like Uber (which they didn't have as of June).

In Jerusalem I would definitely hire a guide to take you around the Old City. I found it to be very helpful in really understanding it all. And it really is a maze so that was helpful too. I keep meaning to go to the Dome of the Rock but have not yet done it. I am there for work every June, so I spend most of my time at the Israel Museum for our annual conference. Let me know if you are planning to go. I really enjoy wandering around Machneyuda market. It's fun to go Friday morning to see everyone shopping for Shabbat.

I loved, loved, loved Petra so I would try and include it. You never know if/when you will get back to the region. We stayed on the Jordanian side in Aqaba, not in Eilat. It was not as built up. We also stopped at Wadi Rum (between Petra and Aqaba), where Laurence of Arabia was filmed.

And Air Sinai goes direct from Tel Aviv to Cairo, fyi.

I'll think a bit and come back.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Okay - I went on the TA forums! Lots of great information. I read a lot of threads. One of the moderators has a 60-page booklet he wrote about traveling in Israel and he emails it to you for free and I have read that (he recommends renting a car to see northern Israel). I also read Kim's blogs for both her trips. And my guidebook.

I am going to skip Petra, even though I want to see it and know I would love it. We wanted to make this a shorter and easier trip because we want to see how we like Israel and do other trips if we decide we like it. Which means I shouldn't think of a side trip to Egypt.

UPDATED PLAN - all comments/suggestions welcome

5 - 7 nights in Jerusalem, in a vacation rental. Day trip to Tel Aviv. I am not sure about Bethlehem. Kim didn't like it.
Get a rental car and spend 1 - 2 nights on the Dead Sea. I am thinking about staying at the Ein Gedi Hotel (on a kibbutz). From there we can visit Masada and Qumran and the Dead Sea.
Drive north near the Sea of Galilee for 3 - 4 nights. I would like to find a vacation rental there so we can do our own cooking, but not sure if this will be possible. I still have to work out what we will see there. Amy recommended Caesaria and we will want to see that. Maybe a nice hike somewhere. I have been reading about the town of Safed (also called Tsfat, Kim mentioned it above) which looks interesting.

Our trip to France (Antibes) is coming up (2 1/2 weeks) and I have to get organized for that. I will continue reading about Israel and book everything in November when we are back home.
 

kcalnyc

10+ Posts
I like your new plan too. It's a good mix of city, country and access to quite a few sites.

If you aren't beach and/or city people I do think a day trip to Tel Aviv is enough. It is a big, newer city. If you are into architecture try and see the Bauhaus buildings when you are there. I've heard the bullet factory tour is fascinating but I've never been there. It's outside Tel Aviv.

I was raised catholic so I found Bethlehem interesting and I got to witness the Armenian and Greek priests tussle a bit over their time allotment in the chapel. As I said, I used Sam and he took me to the Church of the Nativity, Shepherd's Field and a smaller church and we walked around a bit. And as someone with an interest in history and politics I was interested in seeing the separation wall and the graffiti on it and the process of crossing back into Jerusalem.

Caeseria is fascinating and they have been finding more and more there recently. My friend worked on a dig there ages ago. I would definitely go there.

When you are in Jerusalem, I would recommend the tunnel tour at the Wall. I would also recommend going to the Wall near sundown on Friday. There tends to be a lot of singing and dancing and it feels nice to be there then. I typically walk in through the Jaffa gate and make my way there and either walk back or cab back to the hotel. We have the Dead Sea Scrolls (found at Qumran) at the Israel Museum. They are definitely worth seeing. And you can walk down to the Monastery of the Cross from the Museum. It's lovely.
 

Cameron

500+ Posts
Just saw this thread, and it brings back memories, so I hope you don't mind if I share those, rather than tips for you!

It's been many years (1983) since I was in Israel and Jordan. I did both in one trip, staying a week+ in each country, flying into Amman, Jordan on Royal Jordanian Airlines. I had to get a pass from the Jordanian Interior Department to cross the border, then return to Jordan. That pass took five days!

Jordan was intriguing. I had two Jordanian friends in Amman, whom I had trained as computer programmers when they were here at the university. They provided an inside look at the city and the culture. Both men had to enter into arranged marriages, and one was sneaking out (before being married) and dating a "modern" Jordanian woman who was well-educated and progressive. I was invited into homes, and into government offices when their boss heard I was in town. She wanted help with a computer programming issue with their census! Although I was on vacation, I helped them.

At the time, my first husband and I were Arabian horse breeders. We were invited by Her Royal Highness Princess Alia Al Hussein (sister of current king), to the royal stables and saw the 100 Arabian horses one-by-one. For many years thereafter, she always sent us a holiday card, even though she was in France at the time of our visit. It was very weird to have the phone number of the Royal Palace and call her to make the arrangements! Times have changed.

Jerash (Roman ruins) was a nice day-trip out of Amman. Amman has interesting markets and historic hills, ruins.

I went to Petra before it was well-traveled. There was only a government rest house in Petra, but it was adequate for my stay. I believe there are now hotels (I could ask my son as he retraced the trip with my first husband, his father, just a few years ago). They spent more time in the Israeli countryside and sites because my son is an archaeologist.

I also stayed in Aqaba, on the Red Sea. Many British expats working in the Middle East vacationed there back then.

I agree -- skip Bethlehem.

Jerusalem is a place that I wish everyone could see. Take your time there, for sure. I was fortunate to have been allowed inside the Dome of the Rock (leaving my purse and SLR camera unattended outside) while I went in. I didn't use a guide for that trip, but it was a different time, and it may be good to have the use of one these days.

At the time I was there, I had an invitation to a Kibbutz in the Golan Heights, but had to scrap it at the last minute due to unrest in the area. It was a difficult time (around the US Marine Barracks were blown up in Lebanon).

Do have fun, take photos and post! I'm looking forward to your report!
 

joe

500+ Posts
Here are a few tips for Pauline and others who might be planning a similar itinerary :

1) If you are considering a day trip to Tel Aviv, you might be tempted to add at least another one. The city is affectionately called here a "state within a state", because of its large population, and its easy-going and liberal character, quite different from other cities. Museums, performing arts, galleries, four quite good markets, interesting architecture in some spots (Bauhaus), the old city of Jaffa, the beach and seaside promenade, dining, shopping - a sort of levantine-western mosaic that can have an appealing vibe (of course without the majesty and rich history of Jerusalem). It's no Berlin nor Barcelona, and remember that this is the Mid-East - but it should be visited if you want to get a complete experience of the country.

2) In Jerusalem, two less-known sites if you like panoramas :
http://www.byu-jc.org/about-the-center (also offers concerts)
http://www.church-of-the-redeemer-jerusalem.info/tower/panorama#top (not if you can't climb steep steps...)

3) In the north, you might consider Nazareth (even at the expense of Zafed, which I think has lost some of its charm) - impressive Christian sites, a nice market in the old city, some good restaurants with typical cuisine.

4) The north shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) has picturesque and interesting Christian sites. You might also consider an itinerary that includes part of the "Jesus Trail" : jesustrail.com
A lesser-known site just up from the shores : http://www.domusgalilaeae.org/index.php/en/

5) Don't miss the botanical gardens if you're staying at Ein Gedi. Good idea of yours to see some desert.

6) Haifa for sure, if you need another city. The Bahai Temple and gardens, Wadi Nisnas for the small shops and market, and the Haifa Trail if you want some walking : haifatrail.com
 

berliej

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Hi Pauline
Air Sinai flies from Israel to Cairo...
Agree that you should go north instead of Eilat. The Galilee is beautiful at that time of the year. Our family always go to the Vered Hagalil Horse Ranch every year for a couple of days. Self contained bungalows with a stunning view of the Sea of Galilee, it includes breakfast and there is a restaurant should you be too lazy to cook. Very central place to tour the whole area. Please think about spending more than a day in Tel Aviv... there is so much more to it than just buildings and beach. Another place that is totally overlooked is Acre... you can stay over night in Haifa and there is a train or now even a ferry that goes from Haifa to Acre. Happy to answer any questions.... have a great self catering you can stay at in Haifa. You can visit Caesarea on the drive up. Also have a great air bnb place (know them personally) in Acre
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Posting again because I am back to thinking about this trip, but for spring 2018 now. We would fly from London to Tel Aviv and spend two+ weeks in Israel. I am no longer considering Egypt (Cairo) or Jordan (Petra) or the Red Sea area.

Fly into Tel Aviv airport and get a car service/taxi to Jerusalem.

5 - 7 nights in Jerusalem in a vacation rental. From Jerusalem: Day trip to Masada (hilltop fortress of King Herod), Qumran, and the Dead Sea. @Amy could you send me info about a recommended guide?

5 nights in the north. At end of Jerusalem stay, get a rental car. Drive north near the Sea of Galilee for 3 - 4 nights. Caesaria (Amy recommended)? Safed (also called Tsfat, Kim mentioned it above)?

3 nights Haifa. Drop car off there? Caesarea? Skip Haifa and spend more time near Galilee?

3 nights in Tel Aviv. Train from Haifa to Tel Aviv.

Fly home.

A question about restaurants. Are there a lot of vegetarian restaurants? Not just dairy restaurants, but more vegan or macrobiotic. If there are, we could stay in hotels for several parts of the trip.

Comments on itinerary? We want to see historic sites but neither of us is religious and I might want to avoid large groups of North American Christians visiting sites. But, speaking of religion, my background is Catholic and Steve's is Jewish. Neither of us has been to Israel. We are both interested in seeing some of the Old Testament religious sites (which contradicts my wanting to avoid places with large amounts of religious tourists I guess).
 

berliej

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Hiya
This new itinerary much better! If you want to see historic sites then on your way to the north you should definitely stop in at Caesarea, after walking around have a bit to eat at one of the restaurants in the old port or a picnic on the beach!
Don't skip Haifa... but consider maybe 2 nights there instead of 3. Go to Acre from Haifa.
If you like nature, that time of the year is peak bird migration season and you should definitely go to the Hula Lake .. an amazing experience. http://www.agamon-hula.co.il/?lang=en_US
Another place in the north not visited by many overseas visitors ://www.touristisrael.com/nimrod-fortress/6010/
There are some vegetarian restaurants but not many vegan or macrobiotic.
 

Amy

100+ Posts
Pauline, I asked my friend who lives in Tel Aviv, she said there are vegan restaurant there, but wasn't sure about finding them elsewhere. I'll ask around. This caught my eye recently and I bookmarked it. https://www.itraveljerusalem.com/article/great-vegan-and-vegetarian-restaurants-jerusalem/

And yes, you know how much I love Haifa, but considering your interests, I think you'll really enjoy the Galilee and might want an additional day there. I second the Hula Valley. Another place you might enjoy is a biblical botanic garden with short trails that explore ancient foods and their preparation. http://www.neot-kedumim.org.il/

My guide recommendations are several years old, so I'll ask some people. Did I already give you the name of the outfit that helps with guiding hikes?
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Our flights are booked - we are doing this trip! Two weeks in the middle of March, returning home several days before Passover/Easter. We arrive and leave on a Monday and I will keep in mind that things are closed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, so won't travel on Saturday. (Does the country really close down?)

And the Galilee is gorgeous and has great hiking. Speaking of hiking, I asked a friend who recommended this outfit: http://www.walkinisrael.com/index.php
You gave me that info @Amy . Thanks!

Happy to answer any questions.... have a great self catering you can stay at in Haifa. You can visit Caesarea on the drive up. Also have a great air bnb place (know them personally) in Acre
Can you post links for both? I am considering all options.

The current plan is 6 - 7 nights in Jerusalem staying in the apartments that @ItalophileNJ recommends - Colony Suites(vacation rentals in the German Colony section of Jerusalem). Many have kitchenettes - two burner portable stove top - but two have full kitchens. We will go for the full kitchen since we cook most meals in.

Possible plan for the second week - rent a car and spend 5 nights in the Galilee area. End with 2 nights in Tel Aviv (or visit Tel Aviv from Jerusalem) or Haifa. Our flight home is late afternoon so we could drive to the airport from the northern area.

I've been reading about some of the ancient sites. Akka (Acre) looks like something we will want to see (recommended by @berliej) and Caesarea Roman ruins (recommended by @Amy and @berliej ).

Steve has been brushing up on his Hebrew!

We've been so obsessed with Italy and France (and the UK and Switzerland) for all these years that it is very exciting to be going somewhere very different from them.
 

joe

500+ Posts
Our flights are booked - we are doing this trip! Two weeks in the middle of March, returning home several days before Passover/Easter. We arrive and leave on a Monday and I will keep in mind that things are closed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, so won't travel on Saturday. (Does the country really close down?)
Congratulations Pauline, hope you'll have a good time. Middle of March is quite a nice time of year - and indeed best not to be in the country during Passover!
Much does indeed generally close down on Saturdays, but it depends : all public transportation stops (except for privately-run "sherut" taxis/minibuses between cities), and all regular businesses close for the day. However, depending on the whereabouts, restaurants, cafes, and other leisure-associated businesses are open to some extent : in Tel Aviv many, in Jerusalem much less. In the countryside it also depends : businesses that want to cater to religious clients will stay closed - but that's not all of them. Of course, in the Arab towns everything is open, and this can compensate for the quiet in the Jewish towns.
In short - if you really want to go out on a Saturday (and you have a car), you'll find places that are open.

The German Colony is indeed a prime residential location, and a good pick for the stay in Jerusalem. Lots to see and do within reach.

BTW, Amirim is a vegetarian community (at least last time I checked) - might be a good pick for you, and is in a beautiful area.
 
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