Israel with Kids

Your choices for keeping the kids busy in Israel are both abundant and varied. 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) or websites for up-to-date information on special activities.

Eating Out

Restaurants are often happy to accommodate those seeking simple 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, Too)

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 Lake 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. (In the south, the Negev Desert and Eilat Mountains have comparable off-road experiences.) Explore the medieval Nimrod's Fortress on the slopes of Mount Hermon, or the remains of mightyBelvoir overlooking the Upper Jordan Valley.

Standouts in the south are the oases and walking trails of Ein Gedi Nature Reserve (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 on part of the city walls 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. The city's beaches and beachfront promenade are also good for walking and using up energy.

Museums

A dirty word among kids? Maybe so, but the following museums might change some minds.

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.

The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv 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. Nearby is the engaging Museum of the Jewish People, which tells the story of Jewish life outside Israel over the centuries.

Haifa’s National Museum of Science, Technology, and Space (MadaTech) and the National Maritime Museum are geared to young and curious minds—of any age.

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. Guided tours in English can be arranged. 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 are native to Israel, the small but delightful Haifa Zoo offers numerous options for time out with animals.

In the high Negev Desert, near Mitzpe Ramon, about 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 Ya'ar, in the Biriya Forest near Tzfat (Safed). There are numerous outfits that do camel-hump trails in the Negev (near Beersheva and Arad) and near Eilat.

In the Upper Hula Valley, Tel Dan Nature Reserve is both beautiful and home to unusual wildlife; trails let you access different areas. Bird-watching isn't a casual activity, but if you have budding birders in the family, Israel provides excellent opportunities because it is on major migration routes. The Hula Lake Nature Reserve provides excellent viewing in season.

In Eilat the Underwater Observatory and Marine Park, with a large aquarium complex, gives visitors of all ages an excellent opportunity to observe colorful, rare fish and more.

Beaches

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.

For such a tiny country, the range of different beach experiences is amazing, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea to the freshwater Sea of Galilee. Tel Aviv is right on the Mediterranean and has an enjoyable promenade and plenty of public beaches.

The Dead Sea, actually a hypersalty lake, draws people from all over the world to luxuriate in its waters, hot springs, and black medicinal mud. Kids (and adults) can float but not swim here. The southern shores—the lowest point on the surface of the planet—are filled with hotels that offer beach access.

And More . . .

The whole family enjoys 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.

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