How to get the most out of a five-day trip to Israel
July 12, 2013 5:30 PM   Subscribe

5 days in Israel: what should we see and do?

My boyfriend and I are headed to Israel in a couple weeks. We are both notoriously bad at planning, and haven't done much yet to come up with an itinerary. We've only got 5 full days there (I'm arriving midday on a Monday and leaving at the crack of dawn on Sunday; he will be there a little longer but will be working on the days I'm not there), so we'd like to not spend too much time in transit between destinations, and some of the things I'd ideally do on a longer trip (e.g. day trip to Petra) are out. My general thought is to focus on some combination of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, maybe some points north along the coast, but other suggestions are welcome.

We've both been to Israel before, but for me it's been about 15 years (went with family as a teenager) and for him it's been a bit less, but his most recent trip was for work. My memory of what I did last time is a little hazy, and I'm up for repeating things I did before, but I think this time around I'd like a little more outdoorsy stuff (cool hikes, nice beaches etc.) and a little less of the historical/religious sites. Things I know I did last time around:

Haifa - Bahai Gardens (this was cool and my boyfriend has never been, so I'd want to do it again), not sure what else
Tel Aviv - zero memory of what exactly we did
Jerusalem - Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Via Dolorosa, Yad Vashem
Dead Sea
Negev - rode a camel
Sea of Galilee
Bethlehem - Church of the Nativity

Like I said, I'm up for some repeats since it's been so long and I'm traveling as an adult this time, but I'd also love to do things I missed on the first go around. Also would be interested for any general Israel travel tips people might have (what to pack, safety, best means of transportation between towns, etc.).

Additional notes: boyfriend is Jewish (and somewhat observant), I am not. His Hebrew is decent, mine is pretty limited, but I seem to remember that one can get around with English just fine for the most part.
posted by naoko to Travel & Transportation around Israel (6 answers total)
Akko...right near Haifa...shabbat shalom.
posted by skbw at 5:36 PM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: I don't think you can go to Israel and not go to the Western Wall, so I'd see if your boyfriend feels the same way and plan on taking a day or two in Jerusalem.

Tsfat is beautiful and has a lot of history. I'd also think about going back to Tel Aviv and spending some time on the beaches or partaking in the night life - things you probably didn't get to do much of when you were on your family trip. The Ba'hai gardens are amazing and definitely worth checking out.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:56 PM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: Tel Aviv has turned into a food destination, apparently, but I don't know the hot spots. You can also eat in Jaffa and walk to Tel Aviv along the waterfront, a beautiful nighttime walk.

Caesarea is a great day trip if you care about Roman archaological sites. There are various hikes around the Carmel mountain area.

Jerusalem - consider getting a guide for a walking tour of the old city. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are multilingual guides hanging around for hire for the church (definitely worth it); they may also be able to hook you up for the rest of the old city, if you don't arrange something in advance.

Masada is a must see and combines nicely with a visit to the Dead Sea at En Gedi spa, but know that the waters have receded astonishingly -- you might want to check in advance about where the water's edge is if you want to have a dip. One of the SPNI field schools I mentioned below is located here, might make a great place to say for nature-exposure.

Hikes... there's a great hike at Banias, not sure how full the waterfall will be in the summer... you can combine that day with Castle Nimrod. When I was last there, we ended the day with a drive up to the Golan battlefields and the border overlooking Syria, which is very very much worth doing, hell of a thing to see, but I don't know if that's accessible right now.

You might want to stay a night or two at an SPNI Field School... they have nighttime nature excursions sometimes, cool stuff like that.

Another interesting nature spot is Soreq cave if you are interested in geology. Also, more for historical than geological significance, the caves at Beit Guvrin are really interesting.

Have an amazing trip!!
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:02 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Acre - old city
posted by lathrop at 9:20 PM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: Tel Aviv is a huge food spot, best restaurants ever. Kikar Rabin (Rabin square) has some good affordable restaurants. Sunday-Thursday many restaurants have business lunches which are a pretty good deal.

Some tips - don't go to Jerusalem on Friday or on Sabbath, the place basically shuts down. Tel Aviv is probably the best place to be in Sabbath, esp. if you want to check out the club scene. Or rent a car (no public transport to speak of on the weekend) and get out, but keep in mind that most Israelis will be out as well if it's not crazy hot.

If you're driving down to Masade, Ein Gedi is awesome and not too far from there. Also crowded on weekends. And of course, the dead sea. Don't have specific recommendations for that, but unless you splurge the hotels there kinda suck. It's probably going to be very hot in the dead sea/Masada/Ein Gedi though right now.

Haifa is not very exciting, but the beaches just south of the city are very nice and empty in comparison to the beaches in Tel Aviv/Herzelia.

If you end up going to the Sea of Galilee, a spot I really like is the Kohav HaYarden.

If you guys have specific interests or want more specific recommendations, feel free to mail me.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 4:29 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! For the record, here's the itinerary we ended up with:

Day 1 - Jerusalem - wandered around the Old City, saw the Western Wall (of course) and the City of David (I am super proud that I shut off my claustrophobia long enough to do Hezekiah's Tunnel - lots of fun)
Day 2 - Haifa and northern coast - lunch in the Germany Colony area of Haifa and then saw a bit of the Ba'hai Gardens - I didn't realize how much would be inaccessible after noon - a significant chunk of the terraces, not just the shrine itself - but we liked what we saw! We drive up the coast to Rosh Hanikra and did the grottoes - very cool.
Day 3 - Morning and evening in Tzfat (incredible - we had settled on making this part of the itinerary largely because it kept coming up in MeFi recommendations in this and other threads, and I am so glad we did. Really amazing, and the B&B we stayed at nearby was fun as well) and afternoon in Tel Dan Nature Reserve - we were hoping for more wildlife sightings but it was certainly scenic and lovely.
Day 4 - Tel Aviv - Old Jaffa, Carmel Market
Day 5 - Tel Aviv - beach day

It was such a short trip that we only got to do a handful of the wonderful things you recommended, and we spent rather a lot of time just driving around on scenic roads and hanging out in sidewalk cafes eating falafel and people-watching, but we had a fantastic time and are already thinking about what we will do on our next visit!
posted by naoko at 4:25 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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