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Archaeology

For an earlier generation, archaeology was something of an Israeli national pastime; but it’s still exciting to walk, Bible in hand, in the footsteps of the ancients. Thousands of years of civilization are often directly underfoot and remain remarkably intact. The region’s dry air has helped preserve entire ancient cities, many of which are easily accessible from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Here are a few of the top archaeology sites.

Caesarea, Haifa and the Northern Coast. The remains of this Mediterranean port city, an ancient capital of the region, include a Roman-era theater, a hippodrome, a sunken harbor, and Crusader ruins.

City of David, Jerusalem. The birthplace of the city, dripping with mystery, is a maze of excavated passageways deep underground. Here you’ll find King Hezekiah's 2,700-year-old water tunnel.

Jerusalem Archaeological Park, Jerusalem. This area encompasses the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley, and the Hinnom Valley. The air-conditioned Davidson Center holds interesting artifacts.

Masada, Around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. This winter retreat of King Herod also served as a formidable defensive bulwark against invaders. It’s the site of a siege by Roman troops that ended in mass suicide.

Tel Dan Nature Reserve, Upper Galilee and the Golan. This huge biblical-era city is home to the world’s oldest known gated archway, built by Bronze Age inhabitants.

Tel Megiddo, Lower Galilee. The remains of more than 25 levels of civilization are being excavated in the Jezreel Valley, along with an ancient water system.

The Great Outdoors

Israel’s bounty includes its impressive nature reserves, home to an astonishing array of wildlife. The country is a major stop on bird migration routes from Europe to Africa: an estimated 500 million “frequent flyers” rest awhile in the autumn and spring. The vast desert of the Negev has its own subtle beauty. Respect its power: never hike desert trails alone, avoid intensely hot days, wear a hat and other protective clothing, and drink copiously. Here are some of the best places to explore the wild side of Israel.

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. This desert oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea is perhaps Israel’s best, in part because of its nature reserve, which can be explored on multiple trails. It’s home to ibex (wild goats) and hyrax (small furry creatures).

Hermon Stream (Banias) Nature Reserve, Upper Galilee and the Golan. Israel’s most impressive waterfall is fed from the spring at the foot of Mount Hermon, which flows powerfully through a canyon before cascading over the rocks. An easy trail leads to great views of waterfalls and cataracts.

Makhtesh Ramon, Eilat and the Negev. One of three massive craters in the Negev, this is the most popular for its intriguing geological formations, unusual fossils, panoramic views, and desert wildlife. Together with the surrounding area, it forms the Ramon Nature Reserve, the largest in Israel.

Tel Dan Nature Reserve, Upper Galilee and the Golan. Full of biblical-era ruins, Tel Dan has three trails running through about 120 protected acres dotted with laurel trees.

Sacred Spaces

Faith has many voices in the Holy Land, and sanctity wears many different robes. For the uninitiated, it can be a bewildering multisensory experience. Some pilgrims find the hubbub at many sites disconcerting, but keep in mind that most places were not pristine in their day either.

Jerusalem remains the epicenter and a focal point for the three major religions of the region. Find religious enlightenment, or a good deal of biblical history, at these favorite sites.

Baha'i Shrine and Gardens, Haifa and the Northern Coast. The gold-domed landmark on the slopes of Mount Carmel covers the tomb of the Bab, the forerunner of the Baha'i religion. Its gardens provide a serene environment for this gentle faith.

Basilica of the Annunciation, Around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The Angel Gabriel is believed to have delivered Mary the news that she would give birth to Jesus in this cave in Nazareth, now part of a Roman Catholic church.

Capernaum National Park, Lower Galilee. Jesus’s home during the years of his ministry is the location of many biblical stories, from the conversion of fishermen Peter, Andrew, James, and John into Apostles to the synagogue where Jesus gave the sermon about the bread of life.

Jerusalem. Here you’ll find sacred sites for three major religions, including the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for Christians; the tomb of King David and the Western Wall for Jews; and, for Muslims, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven.

Museums

With so much rich history underfoot, Israel stocks its many impressive museums with a quality of artifacts rarely matched in the world. In fact, the country has more museums per capita than anywhere else in the world. More than 200 cover art, science, history, design, architecture, and technology. Many take innovative approaches using multimedia exhibits. Begin with these favorites.

Herzl Museum, Jerusalem. This museum near Mount Herzl National Memorial Park re-creates the life and times of the founder of the Zionist movement.

Holocaust History Museum, Jerusalem. At the must-see Yad Vashem, this museum provides a powerful and thought-provoking documentation of a dark period.

Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Regarded as the country’s leading cultural institution, this museum is perhaps best known for its archaeology collection, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem. This undervisited museum has an impressive collection and an unrelated but stunning display of period timepieces.

Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv. One of the leading art institutions in the country, the museum is especially attractive for aficionados of modern art and architecture, with both Israeli and international work.

Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, Haifa and the Northern Coast. The only museum dedicated to Japanese art in the Middle East, this favorite sits atop Mount Carmel.

Underwater Observatory and Marine Park, Eilat and the Negev. The exceptional coral reef in Eilat provides the setting for this popular place, where creatures from the deep surround you.

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