The land that is now modern Israel has been the meeting place of religions, empires and cultures since time began. Indeed, it’s hard to find a destination with a richer history.
From the ancient city of Jerusalem and the old ports of Jaffa and Acre through to the country’s excellent modern museums, there are so many incredible tourist attractions in Israel that it’s hard to know where to start.
So if you’re seeking inspiration our selection of the top ten sights in Israel will set you on your way. We’ve included some of the most famous attractions in the country as well as a few fantastic places you may not know. And if that doesn’t sate your appetite for visitor attractions in Israel then our expanded list of Israeli sites gives you loads more to discover.
What are the best tourism sites in Israel?
With its breathtaking views over Israel’s desert and the Dead Sea, the fortress of Masada is one of the most impressive tourist attractions in Israel. Built in 150BC, Masada is most famous as the site of the Roman siege of Jewish Zealots, which took place in 66AD and resulted in the eventual mass suicide of the defenders. Rumour has it that to avoid being enslaved by the Romans, ten men killed over 960 Jews who were residing in the fortress before killing themselves. They also burned everything in the process. Fortunately for posterity, the remains of much of the fortress survived this destruction. Now a popular tourist stop, the best way to view Masada is to rise early, when it’s still dark and the air is cool, and hike to the top. There you will be treated to a sunrise to remember. If heading to Masada later, the cable car is probably your best bet 🙂
Hail Caesar, or at least Caesarea – the city that Herod the Great dedicated to Caesar Augustus more than 2,000 years ago. An incredible ancient city boasting extensive and well-preserved ruins, Caesarea is rightly seen to be one of the very best tourist attractions of Israel. With its pastiche of Roman, Byzantine and Crusader architecture and its prime position on the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa, Caesarea is simply stunning. Its most impressive structure is the large ancient theatre which overlooks the ocean. Other sites, such as the imposing Caesarea Aqueduct, are also well worth visiting.
Yad Vashem is one of Israel’s most sombre places, but also one of its most important. It is the largest and most comprehensive museum on the Holocaust in the world. Using an abundance of primary sources, Yad Vashem chronicles how the murder of six million Jews and at least five million other ethnic minorities came about as a result of the rise of Nazi Germany. On top of a central museum, the site of Yad Vashem contains memorials to those who perished. A room of candles to commemorate the death of one million Jewish children is amongst the most emotive.
With its huge gold circular roof, the Dome of the Rock is the most majestic building in the Old City of Jerusalem. Listed as the third most holy site in the Muslim world after shrines in Mecca and Medina, it is infused with history. The Dome of Rock is considered to be the oldest existing Islamic structure, having been completed in 691AD during the Umayyad Dynasty. Despite being open for prayers, the Dome of the Rock is not actually a mosque but rather a shrine.
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is the holiest site in the Jewish faith. Hordes of worshippers flock to the Wall in the centre of Jerusalem daily, many of whom place prayers in the Wall’s gaps. Sitting in the location of the First Temple of Jerusalem, the Western Wall is the only remaining section of the Jewish Second Temple, built in 516BC. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, after which it acquired its name ‘Wailing Wall’ to denote the mourning of this destruction. Due to its history and sanctity, the Western Wall is one of the busiest and most important of Israel’s visitor attractions.
The walled city of Acre is as historically rich as it is visually stunning. With its winding alleys, crumbling courtyards and views of the Mediterranean, Acre can rightly claim its place among the top ten visitor attractions in Israel. For thousands of years various cultures, religions and civilisations have made their home in Acre; some of the better-documented events of the city’s history saw the Crusaders capture it; the Ottomans live in it and even Napoleon Bonaparte himself trying to lay his hands on this ancient port. As a result of its colourful past, Acre has much to offer. Visitors will enjoy simply getting lost in the ancient city, but it’s also worth hunting out the Turkish baths and Templar tunnel.
Ranking among the oldest churches in the world, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre boasts an ornate beauty and rich history that is extremely hard to match. It is built on the believed site of the crucifixion, tomb and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which makes it ones of the most important buildings in Christianity. The Church has also been the sight of several embittered battles between different Christian denominations. To this end, visitors will find themselves steeped in Christian history and closer to understanding the different forces that have come to shape both Jerusalem and the Church itself. One of the most important tourist attractions of Israel for anyone with an interest in history and religion.
While most of Israel’s tourist attractions will blow people’s minds in terms of their sheer age, the country’s more recent history is equally thought-provoking. Independence Hall in Tel Aviv is indeed a must see for anyone wanting to find out about this aspect of the country’s history. It was here that the modern State of Israel was founded on 14th May 1948. Then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the Declaration of Independence here and visitors can enter the hall and see where this famous speech was delivered. A short film and several other documents will shed light on this pivotal moment in history.
Located in the beautiful Jordan Valley – and with views across it – the ancient city of Beit She’an is probably one of Israel’s best kept secrets. Teeming with history and extraordinarily picturesque, it’s probably one of the most underrated tourist attractions in Israel. Dating back to around the fifth millennium BC, Beit She’an has been a settlement for many different cultures, including the ancient Egyptians and the Romans. The colonnaded main street is one of its more impressive ruins, as are the ancient theatre, Byzantine bathhouse and Crusader castle. The valley also contains some of Israel’s best springs, providing the perfect break from sightseeing, if you can bear to tear yourself away from such incredible ruins.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is where it is believed that Jesus Christ was born. Today a silver star still marks the spot at the site itself. Like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it is one of the holiest places in Christendom and a popular site of pilgrimage. But the Church of the Nativity is not just symbolically important. The original structure dates back to 326AD and while it has changed over the centuries, the Church is still a calm, beautiful sanctuary. Together with the town of Bethlehem, it’s one of the top visitor attractions of Israel.