What should I do with 4 days in Israel?
January 16, 2012 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for the four days after my Birthright Trip finishes?

So I'm finally taking the plunge on a Birthright trip with Israel Outdoors, starting on Sunday. (Trip itinerary here for those interested)

I've elected to extend my trip for four days after the Birthright part is done, so I'll have four days to do whatever I want. I'm already planning to go to Petra (in Jordan) and I'm told Eilat is rather lovely. But I would love to hear any and all suggestions for other places to go to or things I should definitely do. Outdoorsy suggestions appreciated. Overly touristy things less so.

Additionally, any specific recommendations or tips for the birthright trip in general are also appreciated.
posted by Strudel to Travel & Transportation around Israel (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did Birthright with Israel Outdoors a couple years ago, and it was awesome. But it's highly regimented. My one regret was that I did it at a time when I had no extra vacation days, because I would have loved to explore Israel further. The very first thing I'd have done given more time would have been to actually explore Jerusalem. Israel Outdoors takes you on a limited walking tour of Old Jerusalem and a brief visit to the Wailing Wall and that's it. Your trip looks a little more Jerusalem-comprehensive than mine was, but they still won't take you to any controversial or non-Jewish centers.

Hmm, specific recommendations/tips - get to know your security guard, as he'll have non-scripted things to say. Try to spend your free time actually exploring and not boozing; this may sound obvious, but I'd say 90% of my fellow trip-goers missed out on a lot by partying too hard and then sleeping off the hangover in the bus while the rest of the group did hikes. Re: hikes, don't bring sneakers you love. Bring ones that won't hurt your feet but that you can sacrifice to the creek gods, as they really like springing the creek hike on you without warning and won't let you wear open-toed shoes. Even having been warned about this from a previous trip-goer, I still got caught out and it was the swansong for my Pumas. Oh, and the Dead Sea will burn your sensitive bits. Do it anyway, but forewarned is better, I think. Obviously, get a cellphone through the IO plan especially if you're staying on. As soon as you have yours, program a couple of other peoples' numbers into it so if you get separated you have someone to call. Decide on buying something cool in one of the markets, and barter back and forth with several different vendors before committing. It's an experience. And enjoy it!
posted by vegartanipla at 8:57 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Visit Bethlehem or Hebron and find out what sort of impact the Israeli occupation is having on the West Bank. Breaking the Silence runs tours if you can fit it into your limited availability.
posted by andoatnp at 9:00 PM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I already don't need to have that illusion shattered. Appreciate the suggestion, though. I'm more for seeing some natural beauty.
posted by Strudel at 9:01 PM on January 16, 2012

My favorite tourist thing to do that wasn't covered by Birthright was a trip with Green Olive Tours. I did the Bethlehem/Ramallah trip but next time I'm out there I'd love to do the Hebron or Negev ones. (I know Negev Bedouin activity is covered on your trip but I get the impression that the Green Olive experience is quite different.)

Birthright coverage of Tel Aviv is incredibly lame. If you want to check it out on your own, there's Neve Tzedek which is beautiful to walk around in and almost feels like some kind of idealized version of Paris in the Middle East, totally bizarre. There's also the beach, and the markets if you're there on the right day of the week.
posted by phoenixy at 9:10 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stay in Petra longer! Four days is hardly any time at all; I recommend getting the 3-day Petra pass and letting yourself have a real, lingering exploration. If you just go for one day, it'll be exhausting and expensive. There are all these parts of Petra that aren't over-run with tourists; try to find them! My friend & I climbed the mountain -- it's name is escaping me, but at the top was the Tomb of Harun (Aaron). It was moderately strenuous but definitely do-able; we didn't see any other tourists on the way, hung out with some shepherds, and got the summit (and Aaron's tomb!) to ourselves. That ruled.

If you're in Jordan, you could also spend a night in Wadi Rum, since you'll be close(ish) -- plenty of natural beauty there.

But the Birthright trip will have you moving at a pretty frenetic pace. I know from experience. It might be nice to just take some time to linger in a place, instead of trying to cram even more sights into the 4 bonus days you've got.
posted by staboo at 9:37 PM on January 16, 2012

I wouldn't take the extra time to get to Eilat. You're already getting some nice time in the Negev, and Eilat, while a pretty beach town, is not worth the travel time if you only have four days. You might enjoy more time in Tel Aviv or along the northern coast, or, as suggested above, exploring Jerusalem in more depth. There's a lot to see there.
posted by judith at 10:01 PM on January 16, 2012

If you're seriously planning on going to Jordan (hitting Eilat on the way to Petra, or vice versa) you've basically just spent your time right there. The day pass for Petra is about $130 USD (not including departure tax at the border) so you'll want to get in at least a full day, if not more (as @staboo mentioned). Your trip ends on a Wednesday night, and the bus from TLA to Eilat is 5hrs. Also keep in mind that a lot of the towns (and bus lines) basically shut down on Saturday, so sticking to Tel Aviv or Eilat over the weekend might give you more daytime-fun options.

So advice number one: if you can afford to take more time, you definitely should!

Advice number two: Be open to exploring and making plans on the fly. Whatever you decide now doesn't account for interesting people you'll meet, other people on the tour who you may want to travel with afterwards, and places you may want to revisit on your own.

More practical advice: Since you'll already be in Tel Aviv when the tour ends, there are a bunch of places up North not covered by the tour (at least, it looks that way...) Caesarea has amazing ruins... The Baha'i Gardens, TLA's Carmel Market, Beit She'an is incredible, you can visit a Druze village up North, and there are tons of hiking trails...

Of course, you could just stay by the beach in Tel Aviv and it wouldn't be a waste. :)

Have a great trip!
posted by ariela at 10:08 PM on January 16, 2012

I'd second sticking around and appreciating some more of Tel Aviv-Yafo and definitely heading north to check out Haifa, Mount Carmel, and the Baha'i Gardens.
posted by cardioid at 10:25 PM on January 16, 2012

If I could go back, I'd absolutely insist on having more time to spend in Tel Aviv. All we got was about two hours of wandering and shopping, and the Yitzhak Rabin memorial. I'd also scoot up to Haifa and try to tour the Ba'hai temple, which is breathtaking.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:46 PM on January 16, 2012

The old city tour of Jerusalem they give you is, as described, rubbish. I am neither Jewish nor religious, but I though the old city was fantastic. At a minimum, you really do have to go spend some time in the other quarters. Spend some time wandering the alleyways. It is incredibly atmospheric. Do not treat it as a tick box been there seen it done it affair.

Eilat was a bit of a dump in my view. For one thing, unless it has been moved, the airport is close to town. Of all the beach places in all the world it really doesn't rate. My advice would be to spend no time there and use whatever time you would have spent there doing something else - Petra, Tel Aviv, or Tiberias, which hasn't had a mention so far and is pretty.

Also: for the love of sweet Jesus and his earthly descendants, do not stick your head under water while in the Dead Sea and if you've got the trots and decide to go for a dip it'll sting like you've just applied neat chilli sauce.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:19 AM on January 17, 2012

I haven't been to Israel since the 1970s. But one of my personal Wonders of the World is Ein Gedi. It's an oasis of fresh water springs close to the Dead Sea. I don't know what the weather will be like in January (I was there in August --hot!). But if you do go to the Dead Sea go to Ein Gedi and make sure you hike to the top most pool. It's about a 45 minute walk from the pool before it. However, it's worth the walk.

That last pool is like being in Tahiti. Clear water pool which you can dive under and be in a little cave. Lush greenery that looks out on the Judean desert. A spectacular vision of contrasts.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:16 AM on January 17, 2012

Is the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel still around like they were ten years ago when I was there? They give marvelous, marvelous nature hikes and tours.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:40 AM on January 17, 2012

Also, if you have the time, dump the Eilat idea and go snorkeling in Sharm al Sheikh instead- though check out if it's safe for Americans to travel there right now.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:41 AM on January 17, 2012

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