As a Jewish state, Israel is automatically special to a group of people who experienced the worst imaginable horrors known to man, the Holocaust. Israel was bestowed to the Jews in 1948 following World War II, and immediately became home for many of those who sought refuge and peace.
Yet, while the "Chosen People" are drawn to "The Holy Land", Jews are just one of three monotheistic religions represented, with Christians and Muslims also having deep ties to the region. These days, even atheists and popular U.S. TV travel hosts are welcome.
There are nearly 8 million permanent residents of Israel, with another 3 or 4 million visiting every year. If you want to be one of those visiting, it is key to plan carefully, always being mindful that tensions in the country could erupt. Make sure to visit the State Department website regularly for updates (and see bottom of page.)
That said, be bold and adventurous. Just a smidge of the top travel spots in Israel include:
- The Dome of The Rock (see photo): This 7th century shrine is said to be where Mohammend ascended into Heaven. The Byzantine design is a marvel, using an octagonal shape to buttress its round gold dome. A shimmering vision rising from Jerusalem, its marble columns and colored glass windows combine to make a masterpiece of Islamic architecture.
- The Arab Market, in the City of Old Jersusalem, or "souk" is where one can buy anything from an "I-Got-Stoned-in-Jerusalem" t-shirt to something more respectful, such as a crucifix or kaffiyeh (an Arab headdress for men). Colorful and vibrant, the market is brimming with unique flavors and smells of hookahs, as well as home to some good bargains.
- Israeli beaches, such as Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv, is a tourist draw year-round. It's a no-hassle way to sample the Mediterranean while also staying in American comfort at the Sheraton across the way at 115 Hayarkon Street. Other beaches to bask at the hip Dolphinarium, also in Tel Aviv, or along the mineral-rich Dead Sea, the Ein Gedi.
- Azrieli Observatory on the 49th floor of the country's tallest building touts a"3-D movie with a preview of Tel Aviv" according to Hertz car rental's website.
Getting to and around Israel
You'll want to fly into Ben Gurion Airport, about 20 minutes outside Tel Aviv. Flights from LA to Ben Gurion will run you about $1600 to $1800 if you travel this summer and book ahead. The flight is approximately 17 hours, typically with a layover in the Northeast, such as in Philadelphia.
From there, take a taxi. Here's a partial list courtesy of Deadseaguide.com:
- King avid Taxis – 08 6333338
- Sivan Taxis – 08 6330444
- Eilat Taxis – 08 6316999
If you're like me and like to fly solo, you can also rent a car, get picked up, walk or rent a town car. The best car rental places at the airport include Hertz and Eurocar. Ask for more information upon arrival.
Recommended lodging around the Dead Sea, including the smokefree Prima Spa Club which touts a synagogue onsite, can be found here.
While the U.S. State Department touts that security in Tel Aviv is comparable to other major global cities, since February there has been a warning against travel to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Tourists are strongly urged not to go to the Gaza Strip and to "exercise caution" if visiting the West Bank. Please click here for more information.
Note: A map to the Arab Market in Jerusalem and which also includes all the quintessential tourist sites in the city is here.