What has not already been said about the holiest city in the world, the eternal city first built thousands of years ago, whose history can be heard in the whispering of the wind along the walls, where every stone tells a wondrous story of a city that has drawn millions of faithful pilgrims for thousands of years. Such is Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the only city in the world that has 70 names of love and yearning, the city that in old maps appears at the center of the world and is still adored like a young bride.
Jerusalem is a city of overwhelming emotions, a city that promises a religious and spiritual experience, excitement and pleasure, interesting tours and entertaining adventures. Here, alongside Jerusalem’s fascinating historic and archeological sites, there are amazingly modern tourist attractions for all lovers of culture, the arts, theater and music, architecture and gastronomic delights.
Tourism in Jerusalem
With its religious and historic sites, cultural attractions, and picturesque mountain setting, Jerusalem is Israel’s foremost tourist destination, drawing one-and-a-half million visitors a year, or roughly 70 percent of all persons who visit Israel. In the same year, Jerusalem’s hotels employed 6,151 workers and welcomed 970,000 guests. The city has 65 hotels, with a combined total of 8,046 rooms. About 38 percent of travelers to Jerusalem come from the Americas, and 43 percent come from Europe.
The most colorful shopping experience to be found in Jerusalem, however, is afforded by the crowded, bustling market stalls (or Shuk) of the Old City, where haggling with merchants is the rule and can reduce the initial asking price of an item by over one-half. A large selection of souvenirs is available for visitors of all religions, including many items that incorporate olive wood, silver, and turquoise. Ceramics are another of the many specialty items available in the market stalls.
As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.
For over half a century, Yad Vashem has been committed to four pillars of remembrance:
Jerusalem is also Israel’s most popular site for international conferences, hosting about 50 percent of all such events.
Tel Aviv – Jaffa
Tel Aviv, often called “the city that never stops,” is a lively, active city with entertainment, culture and art, festivals, and amazing night life. It was the first modern Jewish city built in Israel, and is the country’s economic and cultural center.
Situated on a 14-kilometer-long strip on the Mediterranean seacoast, Tel Aviv extends beyond the Yarkon River to the north and the Ayalon River to the east. Hundreds of thousands of workers, visitors, tourists, and partygoers move about the city each day until the early hours of the morning, seeking out the city’s nightclubs, restaurants, and centers of entertainment.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s center for culture and entertainment. The city has more than 20 museums, the most important of which are the Land of Israel (HaAretz) Museum and the Tel Aviv Art Museum. Other Tel Aviv museums include the Museum of the Diaspora, the Israel Defense Forces History Museum, the Etzel Museum, the Haganah Museum, the Palmach Museum, The Lehi Museum, and the Nachum Guttman Museum.
The city hosts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera Company, as well as most of the national dance and theater companies.
Tel Aviv is also the national center for night life and entertainment and is filled with night clubs featuring music of all types, dancing, restaurants, pubs, coffee houses, discotheques, movie theaters, auditoriums, and concert halls.
The beachfront of Tel Aviv has bathing beaches and a romantic waterfront promenade.
Israel’s third largest city and one of its prettiest, Haifa has a lot to offer visitors. It has the country’s largest port, a particularly active beach and is the home of the World Centre of the Bahai Faith. Surrounded by abundant nature sites, the city contains an interesting mix of modern neighborhoods and older districts; churches and mosques; mountain and sea.
Haifa is a multi-faceted city with several unique characteristics making it an attractive place to visit. Its proximity to the sea and its active port contribute to its prominence. The bustling port area draws merchants, shoppers and tourists. The beautiful beaches are popular for sports and recreation, and are filled with people during summer weekends. In addition, because of their excellent surfing conditions, the beaches serve many of Israel’s top sailing enthusiasts and host sailing competitions and other sporting events.
With residents from the three largest religions as well as from various minority faiths, Haifa is also a symbol of outstanding co-existence and tolerance. Nine percent of the population consists of Arabs (Moslems and Christians) who reside mostly in three neighborhoods: Khalisa, Abas and the famous Wadi Nisnas whose charming alleyways have turned it into a tourist spot. The annual Holiday of Holidays marking the city’s special lifestyle is held there.
The Christian presence in Haifa, with its many churches, also contributes to the city’s image. A Maronite church is located next to Kikar Paris (Paris Square); adjacent to that is the Carmelite church dedicated to the Prophet Elijah; and not far from there is Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Parish Church. The Sacre Coeur Catholic school on Allenby Street has a well-tended garden and building, in front of which are impressive statues of Saint Mary. Atop the Carmel, holy to Christians, is the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. In the monastery’s Baroque-style church is a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah, and in the monastery is a small museum dedicated to his life. On site is also a hostel which serves the many pilgrims who visit the city.
Over the years, the city of Eilat has become the ultimate resort city with Eilat hotels and beaches packed with thousands of Israeli vacationers and tourists from around the world, who come to relax in the country’s southernmost spot.
In the winter it mainly attracts tourists from Europe who prefer vacations in a warmer and more pleasant climate while Israelis flock to the city in the summer. The secret of this little city’s charm is its special location in the northern end of the Bay of Eilat. The combination of a hot climate, a tropical sea and a breath-taking background of wild, bare granite mountains has turned it into a tourist gem all the year round.
Eilat’s location made it strategically significant during the many historical periods in which it served as a port – starting in the days of King Solomon (who built a large fleet of ships which he sent to Ophir), through the Nabataeans, the Romans, the Arabs, and the Crusaders, all of whom ruled the Land of Israel.
The modern city of Eilat was established in 1950. In the early 1950s, a quay was built in the new city, and subsequently a port which became the basis for the new city’s economy. Towards the end of the 1960s, the tourism industry started developing in the city, and today Eilat is a paradise for tourists, travelers and vacationers.
The bay is one of the major attractions, thanks to the beautiful beaches, the developed water sports and some of the best diving spots in the world. In the south of the city is the Coral Reserve, with splendid tropical fish among the reefs. Within the precincts of the reserve is the Underwater Observatory, with a marine museum that displays collections of fascinating sea animals. Not far from the observatory is the Dolphin Reef with its resident school of dolphins.
Ranges of hills with high peaks, one river, many streams, dozens of brooks, primal landscapes, evergreen forests, dense natural groves, valleys, lakes, few residents and many hikers and tourists are what make the Galilee so special.
The Galilee is a mountainous region in Israel’s north, and is divided into two main parts - the Upper Galilee to the north and the Lower Galilee to the south. The highest peak in the Upper Galilee is Mt. Meron, which rises 1,208 meters above sea level, while the highest point in the Lower Galilee is the summit of Mt. Kamon, at 602 meters above sea level.
Thanks to the abundant water and the fertile soil in the Galilee’s valleys, this region has been relatively densely populated since ancient times and today has the largest variety of ethnic communities in Israel.
There are Druze villages (Beit Jan, Peki’in) and Circassian (Reikhaniya, Kfar Kama) who preserve their ancient traditions; there are Arab villages with Muslim majorities (Kafr Yasif) or Christian majorities (Fasuta), or some with an equal balance (Ma’alot Tarkhisha).
The Galilee is one of Israel’s main tourism centers, with dozens of different types of sites. For example, there are national antiquities parks (including Bar’am, Tsipori (Zippori), Beit She’arim, Monfort and Kohav Hayarden); moshava farming communities from the early days of the modern settlement of Israel, which tell the story of Zionism (Metula, Yesud Ha-Ma’ala, Rosh Pina); beautiful nature reserves (Hula Lake, Mt. Meron, Bar’am Forest, Nahal Kziv and many more); Jewish holy sites, such as the graves of the sages and ancient synagogues (in Safed (Tsfat) and Tiberias); and Christian holy sites that are visited by many pilgrims during their tour of the Holy Land (Nazareth, Kfar Nahum (Capernaum), the Jordan River and Lake Kineret).
The large concentration of sites, the natural beauty and the breathtaking landscapes are what make the Galilee so unique. It has even been nicknamed the Israeli Tuscany or Provence. Either way, the Galilee is a fascinating area that offers dozens of touring and entertainment options.
Christian Sites in the Galilee
There are many of the most important sites of Christianity located in the North of Israel - from Nazareth the childhood home of Jesus and to many of the sites in the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) region.
Several formative events in the New Testament take place around the Sea of Galilee. According to the New Testament Jesus moved to this region as a young man after leaving his home town of Nazareth. On its shores he recruited his first disciples. The New Testament tells that as he performed various miracles, his fame spread and multitudes of people came to hear him preach and be in his company.
Visiting the following pilgrimage sites in the Galilee and Sea of Galilee regions is a highlight of any Christian tour of Israel:
Kursi – The Miracle of the Swine
Yardenit Baptismal Site
2,000 Year Old Fishing Boat at Ginosar – The Jesus Boat
Mount of the Beatitudes – The Sermon on the Mount
Tabgha – The Church of the Multiplication of the Fish and the Loaves
Capernaum – Jesus and Peter's Town
Nazareth – City of the Annunciation