Whether you fly into Tel Aviv or Ovda, which is the gateway airport for Eilat, you’ll find that a fantastic country awaits you. Israel has everything from the heights of historic Jerusalem to the depths of the Dead Sea, a buzzing nightlife scene, stunning architecture and world-class beaches. While it may not be a destination you’ve considered before, Israel certainly has enough to keep you interested for seven days or even more.
Day 1 – Get your bearings in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is an exciting city to find yourself in and you’ll want to get your bearings on the first day of your visit. Think about it as being split into three key areas, with the very centre of Tel Aviv being found between Dizengoff Square and the Yeminite Quarter. Here you will find plenty of shops and the real hustle and bustle of the city. To the south is a zone populated with café bars and restaurants that leads to Old Jaffa, while in the north is the former port, making the most of its location on the Mediterranean.
It is here that is a great place to start your exploration. Tel Aviv’s fantastic coastline features a promenade made up of multiple sections. Strolling along it at any time of the day will allow you to see plenty of interesting sights at your own pace. From the tourist office on Herbert Street you can start out to get to know a little more about what the city has to offer. Head north along the promenade until you reach Dizengoff Street, which leads down to the square of the same name.
While this square has been at the heart of Tel Aviv since its construction in the 1930s, it has gone through several regenerations. Since the 1970s the circular plaza at the meeting of six streets has had a split level design, allowing traffic to flow beneath and letting pedestrians walk on the elevated area. There is a second-hand market that is held twice a week on the lower level, but above, the fountain and seating can be visited all year round.
In the streets surrounding Dizengoff Square there are lots of places to grab lunch. Cafe Moulain on Bugrashov Street features a bakery with all its breads and pastries made in-house, making it perfect for a sandwich. Nearby Ha’Pizza is always popular and a perfect spot for watching the world go by from an outside table. For something more substantial, Bayit Thailandi serves up authentic Thai food with a dizzying selection of dishes on offer. If you happen to be passing this way on a Thursday or Friday, the Dizengoff Center has a food fair featuring hundreds of stalls and covering all manner of cuisine.
With a full stomach, continue your exploration of Tel Aviv throughout the afternoon along wide, tree-lined avenues heading towards the Dizengoff Centre mall, King George Street and eventually onto Magen David Square. This bustling plaza is great for people watching before you make your way up Sheinkin Street, window shopping in the designer shops as you go. By the evening you will be ready to relax in a terrace café overlooking the surrounding area.
Day 2 – Explore Old Jaffa
Tel Aviv actually sprang up from Jaffa, a port town that can trace its origins back to biblical times. Now joined to the newer city and reachable from the ever-useful promenade, Jaffa is a wonderful place to spend time understanding the intermingling of cultures – from Jews and Christians to Muslims – that have made it the fascinating place it is today. Add to this the strong arts and crafts traditions in the area and it’s possible you’ll never want to leave.
Visit St Peter’s Church, which is hard to miss, partly due to the incongruous red stone it has been built out of, as well as its incredibly tall steeple. For more than 100 years, this landmark has been a symbol to those out at sea that the Holy Land is near. Take advantage of its location on a hill and look out at the stunning panoramic views of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Inside, check out the vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and altar painting depicting Peter being visited by an angel.
To learn more about Jaffa and its incredible history, head to the Visitors’ Centre, which is far more than just a place doling out leaflets and information. It is a multi-sensory experience that offers insight into archaeological sites and the evolution of Old Jaffa over more than five millennia. Open between 9am and 8pm in the summer months and until 5pm in the winter, be aware it closes earlier on Fridays at 5pm from March to November and at 3pm between December and February.
The afternoon is a great time to explore the Jaffa Flea Market, which stays open until the early evening on the six days a week it trades – Sunday to Friday. It’s located next to the ancient clock tower and everyone will be able to point you in the right direction. Before you start rooting through the antiques and other items, refuel with lunch at Café Puaa. This restaurant right in the heart of the market has been furnished with well-selected items from the stalls surrounding it. Tuck into an all-day Israeli breakfast to give you the energy for some bargain searching afterwards.
Since Jaffa is a port city it is only natural to seek out seafood by the time the evening comes and it doesn’t get much better than The Old Man and The Sea. Overlooking the harbour, you can practically see your supper in its natural habitat. While the seafood is the star of the show, the fresh salads come a close second. For a proper blow-out, opt for the restaurant’s signature deal. For 90 shekels (£16.60) you’ll get 18 different salads; baked pita breads straight from the oven; a main course consisting on fish, seafood or meat; a traditional awame sweet for dessert; a jug of lemonade; and a cup of tea or coffee.
Day 3 – Discover the White City
There was a style of architecture considered the height of fashion after the First World War, which used geometric shapes and tall pillars to create stark designs. This was Bauhaus and Tel Aviv was at the forefront of the style revolution. Around 1,000 of the buildings that were created in the city during the period are still standing to this day. They can be found around the areas of the Rothschild, Bialik, and Dizengoff streets and are collectively known as the White City. Now recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site, you can seek them out yourself or go on a guided tour to find out more about their history and the guiding principles of the design trend.
Since you will be in a similar area to the first day, you can stop by one of the lunch options that you haven’t already tried. Otherwise, those who were suitably impressed with their initial experience may wish to return to the same café or restaurant. There are plenty of options surrounding these streets, so you certainly won’t go hungry.
Having seen a good overview of Bauhaus architecture in the morning, it’s time to hone in on one specific building in the afternoon. Independence Hall isn’t the most striking example of the trend, but it played a very important part in history. It was here that David Ben Gurion, whose name you may recognise from the airport, signed the Declaration of Independence in 1948 and created the State of Israel. Having been restored to look exactly as it did on that historic day, it is well worth a visit and there are exhibitions about independence and the history of Tel Aviv across its floors.
You can’t leave Tel Aviv without experiencing its famous nightlife. This means different things to each person who visits, but there’s plenty to choose from. The city has a thriving gay scene, plenty of fantastic bars and clubs, but also quiet spots for a relaxed drink. If you do intend to take full advantage of the nightlife, be aware that things kick off late, so if you arrive at a club before 1am, either it won’t be open yet or you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.
Day 4 – Soak in Jerusalem’s history
Jerusalem is among the most fascinating places in Israel, if not the whole world, and has a large concentration of sights that are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Begin your visit to this most holy of cities with an ascent of the Mount of Olives. Slightly to the east of the Old City, it offers panoramic views of Jerusalem, as well as a selection of historic churches and the ancient Jewish Cemetery. While there are many mentions of this area in the New Testament, you do not have to be religious to understand its significance to those with faith. At the hill’s base you will find the Gardens of Gethsemane and more churches belonging to various denominations.
Despite Jerusalem being something of a living museum in itself, it is worth visiting some of the city’s institutions to better understand what you are seeing. Among the best is the Tower of David Museum, which has the benefit of being housed within the ancient citadel near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. Trace 4,000 years of history from the Canaanites to the modern day through the museum’s exhibits and step into the courtyard, where there are archaeological ruins that are no less than 2,700 years old.
Among the many amazing things about Israel is the ability to get great fast food on the go that not only tastes delicious, but is stacked full of healthy ingredients too. So when it comes to lunchtime while exploring the Old City it’s a good idea to grab such a meal on the go. After all, Jerusalem’s fantastic climate means sitting outside certainly isn’t a problem. After leaving the Tower of David, step inside the Jaffa Gate and take the first left where you will find Tala Hummus and Falafel, which serves up some of the best Middle Eastern food you’ll ever have tasted.
The afternoon should be spent wandering around the Old City, taking in the sights and sounds of the streets and the markets. Before long you will undoubtedly find yourself in the Christian Quarter, which surrounds the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This important place of worship encompasses the traditional sites of both the crucifixion and the resurrection, so it is not surprising that the area around it became important for Christians. You can identify the different faiths that occupy their own sections in the vicinity from cultural customs and styles of dress. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox all live here.
Continuing on your way you will be able to see the change when you get to the Jewish Quarter, which is instantly recognisable due to its old Sephardic synagogues. Be sure to stop by the Burnt House, which was once a dwelling occupied by the Katros family, but was burnt down when the Romans took Jerusalem. Under the level of the street, a set of rooms, complete with furniture, vessels and coins survived. It has been excavated by archaeologists and is a fascinating place to visit.
By the evening you should have made it to the Western Wall, the most sacred site in Judaism, as it is the only surviving part of an important temple that once stood there. Take it all in while remembering to be respectful of those placing prayer notes between the stones. A significant part of the wall is below the Old City, so be sure to join a tour that takes you through the tunnels to see these sections, as well as the large arches that help to support the buildings of Jerusalem and have done for thousands of years.
Day 5 – Uncover the other side of Jerusalem
Many of the locations visited the day before are the places that most people think of when visiting Jerusalem, but there’s an entirely different side of it to explore as well. The New City is a fascinating place to wander around and has a selection of sites that shed light on the area’s more recent history. For a sombre yet thought provoking experience, head to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and its accompanying museum. With a focus on how large-scale events affected the individual, it provides a unique insight into this terrible chapter in world history.
Spend some time walking around the New City and contrast it with the elements you saw the day before. This part of Jerusalem has a number of more modern neighbourhoods alongside areas that have existed for centuries. If your visit happens to fall on a Thursday or Sunday, be sure to head to the Israeli Parliament building, known as the Knesset. Between the hours of 8.30am and 2pm there are free guided tours available, with several of them conducted in English. Be sure to bring your passport as proof of identity in order to be let in.
Take note of the Supreme Court building as you pass by and make your way to the Israel Museum, where you will spend some time in the afternoon. The onsite café, Mansfeld, is a good place to refuel. Although the menu is not extensive, there is enough to choose from for a midday bite and the coffee is of consistently good quality. Dining here will leave you perfectly placed to continue your cultural tour later on in the day.
The highlight of any trip to the museum has to be seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls. This world famous document contains the oldest copy of the Hebrew bible ever to have been discovered, as well as descriptions of what life was like for the Dead Sea Sect, who lived in the Second Temple Period of history. A 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem during the same period is also on display, giving additional context to the incredible archaeological find.
Pass the rest of the afternoon in the Nahalat Shiv’a neighbourhood, where you will find a wide pedestrian street with interesting shops and a thriving café culture. Be sure to put Tmol Shilshom on your itinerary, as this bookshop and café has become something of a Jerusalem landmark. You’ll find it in a picturesque little courtyard off Yoel Salomon Street and it is a favourite for Jewish writers from both inside Israel and outside, so look out for some famous names or any readings scheduled for during your visit.
Day 6 – Head to Eilat’s beaches
After all that culture, sightseeing and exploring, it’s time to return to the sea and Eilat has plenty to keep you entertained no matter how you like to spend your time on the coast. Situated on the Red Sea and benefiting from the wonderful climate that comes with its southerly location, Eilat’s beaches are world-class. Choose Mosh’s Beach for a really relaxed atmosphere or Princess Beach for unspoilt beauty. The whole of Eilat acts as a resort for the many beaches along its stretch, so you’ll never be far away from the amenities you need.
To cool off after a morning of soaking up the rays on one of the stunning beaches, head to the Paulina Ice Creamery. This fantastic shop can be found on King Solomon Promenade and has new flavours every day. If you’re trying to be healthy you can opt for frozen yoghurt, but you are on holiday after all, so trying the pistachio, Belgian chocolate or Tahitian vanilla ice cream flavours can be forgiven!
While enjoying the sandy shores in Eilat is a great way to pass a morning, the real wonder in this part of the world is what lurks below the waves. Here you will find a stunning coral reef and accompanying nature reserve. Anyone who likes to dive will find there is plenty to see when they don their scuba gear, but the sight of the fish and other marine creatures are not just reserved for those proficient in diving. The Underwater Observatory allows visitors to see some of the stunning life that lives in the Red Sea without getting as much as a toe wet.
After a day on the coast there is only really one type of cuisine you should be eating and that’s seafood. Since it’s the last night of your holiday then it is worth going out with a splash and heading to what is widely considered the best seafood restaurant in Eilat – The Last Refuge. With views out of the Red Sea, you’ll dine on fish, lobster, mussels or an entire seafood platter if you wish. It’s a fitting final indulgence on your penultimate day.
Day 7 – Escape the city in Eilat’s hills
On the last day of your holiday you may be looking for something a little bit different and the Eilat Mountains are conveniently close to the city. Whether you decide to explore them on foot, by camel or even 4×4, they are a great antidote to the freneticism of the rest of your trip. You’ll come across some beautiful scenery and hidden areas of archaeological significance, which will bring your holiday in Israel to an end perfectly.