5 Best Sights in Qumran National Park, Around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

Kalia Beach

Fodor's choice

Kalia Beach (the name derives from kalium, the Latin name for potassium, found in abundance here) is the place to go for a free mud bath. Slather your whole body with the mineral-rich black mud, and let it dry before showering or rinsing off in the Dead Sea. A bar built on a wooden deck overlooking the water plays music and serves a wide variety of beer, wine, and cocktails along with burgers, pizza, falafel, and ice cream. Plenty of beach chairs and sun shades make this a place where you can spend a whole morning or afternoon. Shops sell Dead Sea cosmetics, hats, and swimwear, along with locally made products like wine. There is also a juice bar. While the winding path down to the Dead Sea shore is well-kept and not too difficult to navigate, there are also regular free shuttles. Towels are available to rent or purchase; lockers are also available. Massage rooms and a spa have closed since the coronavirus. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

Qumran National Park

Fodor's choice

The sandy caves in the cliffs north of the Dead Sea yielded the most significant archaeological find ever made in Israel: the Dead Sea Scrolls. These biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian religious texts were found under extraordinary circumstances in 1947 when a young Bedouin goatherd stumbled upon a cave containing scrolls in earthen jars. Because the scrolls were made from animal hide, he first went to a shoemaker to turn them into sandals. The shoemaker alerted a local antiquities dealer, who brought them to the attention of Professor Eliezer Sukenik of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Six other major scrolls and hundreds of fragments have since been discovered in 11 of the caves, and some are on display in Jerusalem's Israel Museum.

Scholars believe that the Essenes, a Jewish separatist sect that set up a monastic community here in the late 2nd century BC, wrote the scrolls. During the Jewish revolt against Rome (AD 66–73), they apparently hid their precious scrolls in the caves before the site was destroyed in AD 68. Others contend the texts were brought from libraries in Jerusalem, possibly even the library of the Jewish Temple.

Most books of the Hebrew Bible were discovered here, many of them virtually identical to the texts still used in Jewish communities today. Sectarian texts were also found, including the constitution or "Community Rule," a description of an end-of-days battle ("The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness"), and the "Thanksgiving Scroll," containing hymns reminiscent of biblical psalms.

A short film at the visitor center introduces the mysterious sect that once lived here. Climb the tower for a good view, and note the elaborate system of channels and cisterns that gathered precious floodwater from the cliffs. Just below the tower is a long room some scholars have identified as the scriptorium. A plaster writing table and bronze and ceramic inkwells found here suggest that this may have been where the scrolls were written. You shouldn't need more than an hour to tour the basics of this site, but there are also hiking trails starting from here, including one that stops at the caves where some of the scrolls were discovered. There is also a large and clean cafeteria offering simple food (falafel, chicken schnitzel, salads) and large windows with panoramic views of the Dead Sea and surrounding desert. 

Biankini Beach

This large beach offers paying guests access to parking, private bathing, abundant Dead Sea mud, and shaded seating beside a half-Olympic freshwater pool as well as a wading pool. A mini market offers light groceries and beach accessories. There is also a kosher Moroccan restaurant on the premises along with fast food like fried chicken and hamburgers. You can spend the night in cabins, a villa, or at campsites. Upon request, a shuttle takes you down the long trek to the Dead Sea shore for 10 shekels. Amenities: food and drink; parking (free); showers; toilets. Best for: walking; swimming; sunset.

Off Rte. 90, 90665, Israel
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Fri. and Sat.: NIS 200. Sun.–Thurs.: NIS 100

Recommended Fodor's Video

Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve

Known for its freshwater springs, Einot Tzukim (also called Ein Fashkha) is a nature reserve with many species of trees and reeds not often found in the arid Judean Desert. You can swim in three shallow spring-fed pools, peek at the receding Dead Sea water, and visit an archaeological site that contains ruins of a perfume factory and a Roman-style manor house from the Second Temple period. A fourth deeper pool is open on weekends during spring and all week in July and August. There are free tours on Friday and Saturday at 11 am and 1 pm, but it's worth checking a day or two in advance whether English will be spoken. The tours are not offered during July and August, when the heat is extreme. A small stand sells ice cream, snacks, and cold drinks. Last entry is an hour before closure. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); showers; toilets. Best for: walking; swimming.

Neve Midbar Beach

Just south of Biankini Beach, this well-kept stretch offers a large swimming pool, a wading pool, and several food venues. A modern air-conditioned restaurant serves Middle Eastern fare, and a bar offers a large drink menu along with snacks and ice cream. Access the beach by a set of winding stairs or with the free shuttle. There's ample black mud and plenty of shade from beach umbrellas. The beach stays open all night for camping and sometimes weddings, although swimming is allowed during daylight hours only. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); showers; toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming.