GUIDE / Travel Guide to Israel
Jen, marketing assistant here! Whether you're a culture-vulture, want to search for clearest waters and lie on the quietest most instagrammable beach, or go on a food and wine tour in one of the most finest food regions, it's that time of year where everyone jets off to get their wanderlust fix and this year I decided to go to Israel. It was a random choice, a choice made by my partner really, but was definitely keen to explore such an intriguing country. We split our time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv which were opposites in many ways but you almost wouldn’t appreciate one without seeing the other. Neither should be missed. If you're ever thinking about going, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Here are some recommendations for you:
The walled Old City is a melting pot of religions and is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Every day you see a surge of pilgrims that flock to the city to worship at the sites that are the foundations of their faith. All around you you’ll hear the Shofar (Jewish ram's horn), Islamic calls to prayer from the mosques and Church bells ringing out which together creates the melody and beat that city runs to.
Old City, Jerusalem
Getting to each area of interest - of which there are many - within the Old City you’ll have to navigate through the souqs (markets). The small stands in the markets offer everything from incense to candles, cotton coin-purses to hand-painted plates, fresh coffee to falafels. Take your time strolling through the little alleyways as there is plenty to see. And don’t forget to look up - you’ll see the odd parrot or cockatoo as well.
Outside of the walled city on the south side you’ll find Yemin Moshe, a beautiful and quiet district with a stunning view point and, randomly, a windmill. It was the first neighbourhood built outside of the city walls. Its old houses are adorned with the most beautiful window boxes and brightly coloured bougainvillea. On the north-east side you must visit Mahane Yehunda Market - a food market the treats all the senses. Coloured spices, crumbling nougat, cashews and peanuts, pastries and cakes, fruits of all varieties (many I had never seen before) and much more.
Yemin Moshe houses and food stalls at Mahane Yehuda Market
The history of Jerusalem runs deep with wars, sieges and power-battles dating back thousands of years. You can still see the remnants of its past and it is still very much present in modern Jerusalem today. Whether you’re religious or not, you can’t help but lose yourself in the beauty of the ancient architecture, the history of the city and the diversity that this city has to offer. A visit here is not to be missed.
We took a day trip from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea which was brilliant. Choosing to visit Israel - a desert country - in July was clearly a moment of madness from our part. The temperatures at the Dead Sea reached mid 40s. However, floating in the Dead Sea was simply bizarre! There is 7 times more salt in this lake than in sea-water which gave your body a gravitational pull to the surface - whether you wanted it or not! The texture and consistency of the water was slippery and oily which also played a part in making the whole experience incredibly unfamiliar yet totally unforgettable. The Dead Sea is shared with Jordan and so out into the distance you have the joy of looking at the Jordanian mountains. A day trip, or even half a day here is all you need. Just don’t go in the height of summer.
YAD VASHEM AND EIN KEREM
Just 15 minutes drive west of the Old City you’ll find Yad Vashem memorial which has been built into the side of a mountain. A beautiful and striking building housing different galleries which traces the story of the Holocaust chronologically. Each gallery uses personal testimonials through videos, artefacts, letters and art installations. The Hall of Names is the last gallery you’ll go to. The room is a library of books, each containing the names of the victims who lost their lives, and photographs presented on the ceiling. There is also a hole in the floor which symbolises the unknown victims whose names will never be recorded because they, their family, all their friends and everyone who had known them was killed, leaving no one to testify. A visit here shouldn’t be missed. A few hours could easily fly by whilst walking around here so give yourself time.
Yad Vashem and hillside in Ein Kerem
Afterwards, we headed to the bottom of the mountain into Ein Kerem which is a pretty little village. Although small in size, there is plenty to see with a few historical sites and art galleries to visit. I’d suggest first stopping at Karma for a spot of lunch before exploring. If you’re cultured out, you can take a stroll up the hill sides for some amazing views at the top.
Tel Aviv couldn’t be more opposite to Jerusalem. The tourist board call it the Non-stop City, and it’s pretty accurate (of course, apart from the nationally observed Shabbat where everything stops on Friday sundown until Saturday night). It is bustling, modern, vibrant and cosmopolitan. The promenade where people rollerblade along and outside-gyms on the beaches resembles Miami. The cafes on the corner have a Parisian chic feel, and the Vegan eateries have a Berlin hipster vibe. The restaurants that line the streets turn into bars each evening and people spill into the streets. There is grafitti to admire and coloured art installations which will give a feast for your eyes.
Colours and art in Tel Aviv
Sat along the mediterranean coast, there are many sandy beaches to visit - the Hilton was a fave of ours. The city is small enough and shaped so that wherever you are, it doesn’t take long to get to see the sea.
Start your day by visiting one of the juice stands, whether it’s positioned in the middle of a tree-lined boulevard or it’s a hole in a wall, the people of TLV know how to make a fresh juice. Places to visit include Rothschild Boulevard where you’ll find the Unesco-listed Bauhaus buildings. A trip to the quiet Neve Tzedek quarter is a must, where you have to visit Anita, the best Ice Cream parlour in the city - said by many locals.
Juice stand and Bauhaus architecture
A walk along the promenade towards the ancient town of Jaffa needs to be on your list of things to to. This ancient Arab town has a fascinating heritage. A visit to the flea market is compulsory. Set along a grid of streets you'll find boutiques, jewellery stalls, painters, artist and buskers. Hidden down little alleyways you'll find the homewares market. If it wasn't for luggage allowance restrictions, I could have purchased many an item here - especially the pink armchair! For lunch, head over to Onza where you can eat in their trendy restaurant or grab a table outside. Here they provide some incredible Turkish/Israeli fusion foods.
The foods in Tel Aviv were great. You can easily find simple stands selling houmous and falafel for a quick bite for on the go, or bistros giving a menu of Ottolenghi style salads mixed with dishes inspired by its neighbouring countries.
Old Jaffa Port and Flea Market
We were there for a total of 10 days, and truthfully it wasn't enough! That being said, I'm not sure if another 10 days would have been enough either. There was so much to see and do that it might go down as the best holiday I've ever had.