Israel is home to some of the holiest sites of the three major monotheistic religions, and millions of travelers head here on a pilgrimage of one kind or another, but there's so much else to do.
We hope you'll excuse the word choice if we say that you'll be in heaven, if shopping, outdoor adventures, or vibrant nightlife is your thing.
Spring is the perfect time to plan a trip. April and May are excellent times for traveling in Israel, before the steamy summer temperatures set in.
Israel for Shoppers
You'll find fabulous handicrafts in Israel, whether you're visiting art galleries, jewelry stores, clothing boutiques, or craft markets. Tel Aviv has a bit of everything. The Nahalat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall market is held every Tuesday and Friday, and has typically excellent quality, handmade items, from jewelry to children's toys to clothes. The Jaffa Flea Market is a bohemian shopper's dream destination, with racks and racks of clothes, furniture, and all sorts of other goodies. You just have to be willing to spend the time sorting through everything. For upmarket boutiques, head to the lovely Neveh Tzedek area, where you'll find Israeli designers like the jeweler Ayala Bar and the ceramicist Chomer Tov, and pretty shops with intriguing clothes and accessories.
The produce markets found all over Israel are full of sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that shouldn't be missed. While you might not be stocking your kitchen like the locals, an outdoor market is a great place to pick up a cheap lunch or to find souvenirs to bring back home (just make sure to buy stuff you can legally bring back). Highlights at any market will be the freshest of fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh-baked bread and pastries, and all sorts of savory Middle Eastern nibbles. Visit Jerusalem's bustling Machaneh Yehuda Market but note that on Friday mornings before the city shuts down for the Sabbath can be extremely hectic, or head to Tel Aviv's Carmel Market. Some markets are only open certain days of the week, so check before you visit.
Israel for Sporty Types
A small country with some of the most stunning and varied landscapes in the world, Israel is sure to raise any outdoor enthusiast's heartbeat. There are thrilling adventures to be had in the hills, in the desert, or at sea. If hiking is your thing, head north to the Galilee or the Golan, where it's not so hot. The Hermon River (Banias) Nature Reserve has several moderate trails that intersect with refreshing pools and waterfalls. The magnificent Tel Dan Nature Reserve, with a river and lots of trees, also has several hiking trails.
The Red Sea is one of the world's top destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling, so head south to Eilat if you want to see sea creatures. Certified divers will love Coral Beach Nature Reserve. And those wishing to see stunning underwater inhabitants without getting wet can visit the world-class Coral World Observatory and Aquarium.
Israel for Night Owls
If you like going out, Israel is one of the most exciting places to visit. Israelis know how to have a good time, and it's not unusual for them to stay out all night, especially in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In Tel Aviv, for instance, you might start the night in Neveh Tzedek at a sweet wine bar like Jajo, where candles illuminate the small space. Then move on to the Georgian (as in Russia) bistro-bar Nanutchka, where the staff might set the scene by dancing on the bar. The drinks are excellent but many people come for the food, too. For a grungier crowd, head underground, literally, to Radio EPGB (7 Shadal Street, 65781 Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel), off Rothchild Boulevard. There's a DJ or live music most nights, and the scene gets happening late night (or should we say early in the morning). When the weather's fine, head to the Tel Aviv Port for outdoor dining and drinks, as well as dance clubs that tend to really get going around 2 am.
Jerusalem can also be a late-night destination, and many head out for dinner in one of the city's many restaurants before making their way to a club for dancing and drinks. The Toy Club is one of the newest scene-setting venues known for DJs that keep the crowd pulsing till the wee hours. If a restaurant bar is more your scene, there are plenty of options all over town.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Israel Tourism/GoIsrael.com