Israel, or the Holy Land (also the Land of Milk and Honey) is one of the best-at least for me-Middle Eastern destinations. So naturally, it was included in my travel bucket list. I spent several months planning for a two-week trip, mostly because I wanted to squeeze in a lot of things to see and experience. There were plenty of options for travel, and if I really wanted a hassle-free holiday to Israel, I could have chosen to join a tour group. It was an attractive option-someone else would handle the itinerary and transport (and basically, almost everything), but to truly experience the Holy Land, I read that I should forego the convenience of a tour group and design my own travel itinerary.
Israel has thousands of years of colourful history, as evidenced in the wide range of landmarks and attractions older than Christendom itself. As a first-time traveller to the Land of Milk and Honey, I first planned to just explore the urban Tel Aviv and the world-renowned Jerusalem. While reading through accounts of travelling through Israel, I was inspired to rent a car and explore the outlying areas as well.
Aside from exploring as much as I could on my Holy Land holiday, I wanted to save money (another ambitious travel goal). I am one of those people who firmly believe in enjoying a vacation without paying for more than what is necessary. I used www.skyscanner.net to find the best deals for a flight from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv (I found the cheapest flights through Alitalia), and as I wanted to explore Israel as much as I could, I hired a car from www.truecarhire.com.
Upon arriving at Tel Aviv, I collected my car and decided to refresh a little. For those wondering, I chose Tel Aviv because it is an urban setting (that I would be most familiar with), but it’s also easy to get to from the UK.
Navigating in Israel is not a difficult challenge; it is a fairly small country ideal for a road trip. For preliminary research, I used this free and rather comprehensive guide to make a list of spots I wanted to see. I wanted to see the Dead Sea first, but I found that the most accessible destination from my Tel Aviv base was the Caesarea National Park.
Basically, this national park is home to the remains of a town built by Herod the Great. They have restored an impressive Roman amphitheatre, which, as I am told, is a popular site for modern concerts these days. The beaches are great, too, and I spent an afternoon enjoying the sights (including baths, mosaics, hippodrome ruins, and the supposed site of the Apostle Paul’s incarceration) and the history exhibit that traces the passage of time in the town. From Caesarea, Haifa is easily accessible. There are a good number of attractions to see in this city (one of the largest cities in the area), including the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens, which is perfect for anyone who has an interest in religious history and comparative religion.
Next I travelled to Akko (Acre). It seemed to be near, so I drove north from Caesarea. Thanks to its location, the seafood is known for being wonderful. One of the most recommended places to dine from my research, and one I that went to, is the Uri Buri restaurant in the Efendi Hotel. It serves mouth-watering seafood dishes complemented by delightful seaside views. After Akko, Safed-the highest city in the country-was the logical choice. Lots of touristy things to do in Safed, including visiting art galleries and quaint little shops, and after a couple of hours wandering around the city, I found out that Safed is a sort of a gateway to other historic sites (mostly important for their role in the history of Christendom), including Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. I made a stop in the Mount of Beatitudes before trying to get back to Jerusalem, which is an ideal starting point for a drive to the Dead Sea.
According to this blog, the best (and cheapest) way to experience the Dead Sea is not through the high-end spas, but through En Gedi Beach. This beach does not charge for entrance, and its spa is run by the En Gedi kibbutz (which I took to mean as I would not be bled dry by fees). The Dead Sea is truly a sight to behold, and being able to drive there was one of the highlights of my trip.
I spent a chunk of my Israel holiday trying to recreate Anthony Bourdain’s adventures, so I went back to Jerusalem to get a better feel (and taste) of local life. I paid a visit to the renowned restaurant Azura, and tried to walk off the indulgence on the alleys of the Old City. The Hummus is one hole-in-the-wall I visited during the last leg of my trip and was to die for; I have plenty of fond memories of it.
I plan to visit Israel again and maybe take someone with me on my road trip through the Holy Land. The only qualification is that this person enjoys hummus as much as I do.