Getting Oriented

The wealth of beautiful landscapes, historical treasures, and biblical sites within an easy drive of Jerusalem makes a number of good day trips. To the west lie the Judean Hills, covered with vineyards and farms. To the south is Bethlehem, an age-old pilgrimage site for Christians. To the east is the Judean Desert, graced with fertile oases like Jericho and Ein Gedi. Descending from Jerusalem's peaks, you quickly arrive at the Dead Sea—the lowest point on the face of Earth. Ein Bokek, near the Dead Sea's southern end, is a good place to float in its warm, salty water.

  • Masada and the Dead Sea. Herod the Great's desert retreat would be an extraordinary archaeological site even if it had never made it into the history books. But Masada is also famous for being where hundreds of Jews committed suicide rather than surrender to Rome. Hike (or take the cable car) to the top of the plateau for sunrise over the Dead Sea. Afterward, take a relaxing dip in this saltiest of all lakes. Combine a visit with a trip to Ein Gedi or Ein Bokek, both near the Dead Sea, for unforgettable desert adventures.
  • West of Jerusalem. The picturesque Judean Hills are dotted with natural springs and forested nature reserves, as well as outstanding wineries, boutique breweries, rustic restaurants, and farms making great goat cheese. Pack a picnic and take the winding road to visit Soreq Cave and Beit Guvrin National Park.
  • Bethlehem. A few miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank, visit the birthplace of Jesus, today marked by the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square, and try some tasty Palestinian cuisine.

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Fodor's Essential Israel: with the West Bank and Petra

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