A land that’s bursting with diversity, Israel plays host to a cocktail of cultures, a sandstorm of landscapes and a labyrinth of archeological wonders that are sure to leave you awe-struck. So take some time to side-step the norm and uncover this amazing country’s hidden gems. Trust us it’s worth it.
The city at the centre of the world’s cultures, religions, and history. The Old City is no tourist secret, but walking through the narrow, walled streets really gives you a feel of the aching intimacy of everything in this spectacular city. High up in the hills, Jerusalem’s climate is cooler and fresher than its nearby beach city rivals, but the electricity and intensity of Jerusalem will soon make you forget this. The best way to get the most from Jerusalem is to hire a local guide (virtually every language is catered for) who can walk you through the Old City, up and down the steep paths, pointing out and illuminating the history that is all around. Watch as a troupe of nuns shuffle past Israeli soldiers, followed by a tourist group and then two rabbis sat on a wall discussing philosophy.
Make sure to stop by Ben Yehuda Street and Emek Refayim. Jerusalem’s answer to Covent Garden, Ben Yehuda is packed with street performers, impromptu public speeches and a bustling café, restaurant and shopping culture. Emek Refayim snakes through the German Colony with its small gardens, museums and restaurants. Hamoshava 54 on Emek Refayim serves delicious Israeli-style meat dishes and for something a little more ‘hands-on’ Burgers Bar is an Israeli institution, with its big and juicy fare making it an ever-popular haunt.
Where to start with the ‘City that never stops’? Where else but the Beach? Grab a deck chair, or, do like the locals do and spread your towel out on the sand and soak up that sun. As the city backs straight onto the beach, shops, restaurants, and bars are no more than a short dash over the sand away. Directly next to the beach is the wide and well kept ‘tayelet’ – promenade to you and me, which is perfect for afternoon strolls under the lines of palm trees and verandas. All the major hotel chains and boutique boltholes operate directly on the beach road or within a few minutes’ taxi ride. Away from the beach, get into some café culture on Shenkin Street. They take their coffee seriously here so try their subtle variations and see for yourself.
For nightlife, nothing compares to the ‘Namal’ area just a few minutes north of the main beach area. But while the Namal is the biggest clubbing area in Tel Aviv, Florentin and Rothschild and Neve Tzedek are the principal bar areas. Trendy bars like The Rosa, and Moaz, where the bar is designed to look like someone’s apartment, are two of our favourites. At Moaz, take your drinks into the living room, the kitchen, or the garden in this uniquely cool and intimate bar. Try the local beers; Maccabi and Goldstar are the most famous, and even the imported Tuborg is found virtually everywhere, as it has somehow placed itself as a firm favourite amongst Israeli beer drinkers.
The country that produced incredible chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and Max Brenner is always going to have a restaurant scene to rival, and in many cases, surpass a lot of Europe’s top destinations. Moon on Rehov Borgashov is, quite simply, the most amazing Sushi restaurant. The freshest fish, Japanese chefs and zinging flavours have made this a Tel Aviv hotspot for some time now.
It has only been recently that locals and savvy tourists have begun to flock to this trendy town. Only five minutes south of Tel Aviv, this area has had a lot of recent redevelopment, meaning plush apartments and sea view restaurants are not in short supply. But it is the area’s stunning architectural history and cultural beauty that make it so special. Restaurants and houses built in traditional Jerusalem stone style with Arab-influenced arches, tight medina-esque streets, vibrant street markets and the beautiful old town, with its cobbled streets, street sculptures and monuments to the town’s rich, and often bloody, history, dating back thousands and thousands of years.
The place to see and be seen, Herzliya is the ultra-chic, ultra-affluent and ultra-cool city. Home to the country’s high tech industry (this is where Microsoft design and develop Windows, Intel make their processors and Sony’s top brains gather), the beachside apartments here are breath-taking, both in terms of luxury and views. The beach is also a hotspot for Israeli celebrities, as is the nearby Marina, where the rich and famous dock their yachts before settling in to some luxury beachside shopping. Herzliya is also home to some of the country’s top restaurants. Bistro 56 serves melt in your mouth steak amongst other French classics like Goose Liver, as you sit out on the restaurant terrace, overlooking the marina. The hand-cut sweet potato chips here are also so good they probably deserve their own restaurant. Other Herzliya favourites include Papagaio, where they keep bringing you freshly grilled Brazilian-style meat until you tell them stop. Not for the faint-hearted (or faint-arteried). There’s also Mifgash Hasteak, which serves steaks with a twist of artistry, and Meat and Wine which serves similar high class food under moody lighting and intimate atmosphere.
The North – Caesarea, Tiberius, and Haifa
Caesarea is well worth a day out, with its ancient city and port built by Herod in the first century BC. The ruins hark back to the Roman rule here, with huge amphitheatres, colonnades and relics frequently dug up in the archaeological digs here.
Inland, Tiberius sits on the shores of ‘Lake Kineret’ – aka the Sea of Galilee. The Kineret is great for watersports and there are numerous cruise tours that operate from there. You can also rent your own cruise ship, soak up the sun on board and sail your own party boat around this picturesque lake.
Then head back out to the coast to take in the northern hub of Haifa. Israel’s main port nestles at the bottom of the Mount Carmel and the city’s star attraction is the spectacular Bahai Gardens. The colours, smells and views from these gardens are nothing short of breath-taking (half a million visitors a year agree) and the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, stands on the central terrace with views over the bay towards Acco.
From the far north to as far south as you can go, if you’re looking for a beach and watersports paradise, Eilat is it. Set on the shores of the beach bliss, northern tip of the Red Sea (in Hebrew, it is called ‘Yam Soof’, meaning the Reed Sea), there are as many five-star hotels here as there are sunny days. The weather is so reliably brilliant here, that even over Christmas, the temperatures still reach well into the mid-twenties. Snorkelling, diving, water skiing, banana boating, jet ski, paragliding, sailing (and more) is on offer here.