Israel with Kids
Fortunately, it's easy to keep the kids busy in Israel. Let them expend energy exploring Crusader castles or caves in nature reserves. For fun on the water, try rafting on the Jordan River—and there are the beaches, of course. Check the Friday papers' entertainment guides (they have a children's section) for up-to-date information.
Restaurants are often happy to accommodate those seeking supersimple fare, like pasta, or chicken schnitzel and fries. Fast food is easily accessible and doesn't have to be junk. Falafel or shawarma, kebabs, and cheese- or potato-filled pastries called bourekas are very common, and pizza parlors abound.
Nature (and Old Stuff)
Israel's nature reserves and national parks (www.parks.org.il) have plenty for the whole family to do. In the north, you can cycle around a part of the restored Hula Lake (at the site called Agmon Ha’Hula); laugh and learn at the fun 3-D movie about bird migrations at the Hula Nature Reserve; kayak or raft the placid waters of the Jordan River; and bounce around some awesome landscapes in a Jeep or a 4x4 dune buggy. (The Negev Desert and Eilat Mountains offer comparable off-road experiences.) Explore the medieval Nimrod's Castle on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, or Belvoir overlooking the Upper Jordan Valley.
Standouts in the south are the oases and walking trails of Ein Gedi (with a bonus of bathing under fresh waterfalls) and Ein Avdat. The wondrous Masada, Herod's mountaintop palace-fortress, is a real treat and can be reached by foot along the steep Snake Path (recommended for older kids), but there’s always the cable car.
Walking is a lively and easy activity to do anywhere. Top in Jerusalem is the Old Testament–period City of David, south of the Old City. It’s a maze of rock-hewn corridors, ending with a 30-minute wade in the spring water of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. (There’s a dry exit, too.) The Ramparts Walk offers views of the Old City’s residential quarters as well as of new Jerusalem outside the walls. Smaller kids can do part of it (with strict adult supervision).
In Tel Aviv, the Tel Aviv Port is great for coffee and a stroll—and even little kids can run around (with a bit of adult attention) while you enjoy iced drinks and the balmy weather.
A dirty word among kids? Maybe so, but the following museums might change some minds.
JERUSALEM. In West Jerusalem, the Israel Museum's Youth Wing has outdoor play areas as well as exhibitions, often interactive, and a "recycling room" where children can use their creative energy freely. Great rainy-day options include the Bloomfield Science Museum in Givat Ram.
TEL AVIV. The Eretz Israel Museum has a series of pavilions on its campus, each with a different theme: pottery, coins, glass, folklore, anthropology, and more. It also has a planetarium—complete with moon rocks.
The Observatory on the 49th floor of the Azrieli Towers isn't really a museum, but it offers a cute animated 3-D fantasy movie about Tel Aviv, and a stunning view of the entire metropolis.
HAIFA. The National Museum of Science and Technology (Technoda), the Railway Museum, and the National Maritime Museum are all geared to young and curious minds––of any age!
THE NEGEV. The Israel Air Force Museum, at the Hatzerim Air Force base (west of Beersheva), houses a huge collection of IAF airplanes and helicopters—from World War II Spitfires and Mustangs to contemporary F-16s and Cobras. Each exhibit has a story to tell. There is no English website, but guided tours in English can be arranged (08/990–6888 firstname.lastname@example.org). This could be a stop on the way to or from Eilat, or a doable day trip from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
At One with the Animals
In addition to the wonderful Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, with its emphasis on fauna that feature in the Bible or that are native to Israel, the Ramat Gan Safari (www.safari.co.il), near Tel Aviv, and the small but delightful Haifa Educational Zoo, offer numerous options for time out with animals.
The Jerusalem Bird Observatory (www.jbo.org.il), perched above the Knesset, offers "close encounters" with ringed birds, bird-watching tours, and other tidbits about bird life; night safaris are recommended.
On the grounds of Kibbutz Nir David, at the foot of Mt. Gilboa, is Gan Garoo Park, which specializes in native Australian wildlife—kangaroos and wallabies, cockatoos, and more.
In the high Negev desert, near Mitzpe Ramon, and as far as you can get from their native Andes mountains, gentle alpacas wait for you to hand-feed them. At the Alpaca Farm you can learn as well about the whole process of raising them and spinning their marvelously soft wool.
Horseback riding is an option pretty much throughout the country. In the Galilee, end a trail—of a few hours or a couple of days—with hot apple pie at Vered Hagalil or with a chunky steak at Bat Yaar, in the Biriya Forest near Tzfat (Safed). There are numerous outfits that do camel-hump trails in the Negev (near Beersheva and Arad) and down near Eilat.
You're never too far from a beach in Israel—but check for a lifeguard. This is a given at city beaches, but not at those off the beaten track.
Considering it's such a tiny country, the range of different beach experiences is amazing, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, to the Sea of Galilee and even the supersalty Dead Sea, where you can float but not swim.
And More . . .
The whole family will enjoy getting their hands dirty at the three-hour Dig for a Day (www.archesem.com)—a chance to dig, sift, and examine artifacts.
Off the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem highway at Latrun is Mini Israel —hundreds of exact replica models of the main sites around the country, historical, archaeological, and modern. It's great for an all-of-Israel orientation.
In Eilat, venture out to the biblical theme park, Kings City, which comes replete with Pharaohs' palaces and temples, Solomon's mines, mazes, and optical illusions.
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