Israel is a country of contrasts: From the historic flair of Jerusalem to the bustling cosmopolitan vibe of Tel Aviv, from the barren Judaean Desert to the lush green harbour city of Haifa.
And – perhaps most importantly – the contrast between the violence-filled country we see on TV and the incredibly exciting and culturally rich place it is.
Whilst Israel with its long history, and exciting present would allow for a long time of exploring we had just over a week to explore the Middle Eastern country. Whilst travelling is always about finding places for yourself, we'd like to share some highlights from our trip.
Our trip started where most tourists' journeys start: At Ben Gurion International Airport, just outside of Tel Aviv. After choosing a mini bus from the fleet of taxis outside of the airport we were off to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem. Few (if any) cities can boast to hold such religious, cultural and historical importance. Scarred by occasional outbreaks of violence, the city mainly makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. We were keen to see more of the city.
The next morning we were shocked. Having landed the evening before we were surprised by how hot Jerusalem actually was. Don't get me wrong: We knew that travelling to Israel in July would see us experience some high temperatures. And yet we hadn't expected it to feel as hot as it did.
Exploring the old city with its churches, synagogues and – of course – the famous Dome of the Rock or Temple Mount had a surreal feeling to it. Walking through the ancient biblical streets (carrying what felt like 476 litres of water with us) and seeing Jerusalem as the melting pot of cultures it really is is something you cannot experience anywhere else in the world.
Out of its countless historic and religious sites (including the famous Western Wall, or Wailing Wall) one of our favourites was on Mount Olive. Make sure to head there in the morning for some great photos of old Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
Jerusalem is also home to the “Yad Vashem” - The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. The centre is worth a visit even for those who already have a deep understanding of the Holocaust. The centre acts both as a memorial ground and a museum educating people from all around the world of the horrors of the Shoah.
Having explored Jerusalem's sites we decided to go on a day tour to the Judaean Desert. We chose the "Masada, Ein Gedi and Dead Sea"-Tour with tour-company “Abraham Tours”. Our day-trip started in the morning, taking us to Ein Gedi national park by bus where we could hike to some waterfalls. We continued to the Masada, an ancient fort (building began 37 BC) and UNESCO World Heritage Site on cliffs in the desert. Normally it's possible to hike up but temperatures of well above 40 degrees forced us to take the cable car. The fort is well worth a visit, not only for the spectacular views of the desert and the Dead Sea but also due to the historical significance of the Masada, the place, where in the first century, fearing being enslaved by the Roman Army, 960 Jewish fighters and their families committed suicide.
After spending the entire day in the desert (in July!) we deserved a cool-down – and continued to the Dead Sea. Stopping at a beach we rubbed ourselves in the (apparently) healthy and healing mud and floated on the ocean (it really works). The salt level in the water means you float with no effort and are simply carried on the water. Having finally had a chance to cool down and fascinated by the Dead Sea we were driven back to Jerusalem.
After some days in the historic city we took us a bus to Tel Aviv. We tried to leave town on Saturday evening, on the holy Sabbath - not a good idea. Although we did manage to catch us a bus we would highly recommend you don't travel to or from the city on the Sabbath. In fact, with all shops closed and most people at home with their families you may find that you'll want to spend your Saturdays somewhere else, such as Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is the exact opposite of Jerusalem. Modern, buzzing and with its distinct Mediterranean flair. Israel's largest city feels more real-life than Jerusalem, it feels like the young-2018-Israel. And so, perhaps unsurprisingly, Tel Aviv is known worldwide for its parties and clubs.
We felt obliged to check this out and found ourselves at Kuli Alma, a hybrid of a bar and a night club with parts of it indoors other outdoors, and a food van and clothes store inside the basement premises. It's as crazy as it sounds and is a great place to spend your evening and nights.
One of our highlights in Tel Aviv was the cuisine. The city hosts a wonderful combination of Israeli and international food. Whilst we obviously enjoyed well-known Israeli dishes (such as Shakshuka, Falafel and Hummus) we also have one tip we'd like to share with you: Tapeo Herzliya
Located just outside of Tel Aviv Tapeo serves tasty Spanish tapas. The food is great (especially with some ice-cold Sangria) and served in a really nice setting with the restaurant's design being inspired by Miró. Apart from Spanish tapas Tapeo serves South American Ceviche. The restaurant will also be the perfect address for you if you're vegan or vegetarian with plenty of options on the menu.
Although Tapeo is located outside of the city, it's easy to get to by bus and definitely worth the extra mile. If you find yourselves in Tel Aviv and fancy something different to the (admittedly amazing) Israeli food, look no further than Tapeo!
We enjoyed every second of our trip to Israel and would highly recommend visiting the country! If you're looking for a lot of sun and incredible heat then go in July as we did, everyone looking for a milder and more bearable climate should probably dodge the summer, though!