This is not your regular guide about taking a tour of Jerusalem, or how beautiful the underwater scuba diving is in Eilat. It’s about my personal gems that I want to share with you, my friends who never went – yet. And the best parts are the last ones, so in falling order….
8. Nachal Orvim waterfall and river in the Golan Heights. A beautiful and quiet site, at least during working days. And a great opportunity to have a clean, nice swim in the river or close to the waterfall. Please mind slippery rocks on your way down to the water.
7. Hamat Gader natural hot springs in the Yarmuk valley of the Golan Heights. While this place might not be a secret for any Israeli, it might be hard to find for some first-time visitors. As I love to swim this will perhaps be a bit repetitive – but trust me it’s worth it. And the road leading there is filled with history – in Arabic it’s called al-hamma al-souyria, meaning the Syrian Hammam. On the road leading up from Tiberias you will see traces of recent and ancient history – the Syrian border, the minefields, the crusader leftovers and more. But returning to the actual spot – trust me it is like a Hammam. It’s hot, it can turn cold. It bubbles, it smells a bit but it’s filled with wonderful minerals that will make your skin almost glow. There are a few food shops on sight, but you are allowed to bring with you whatever you want, which most people seem to do.
6. The Baha’i garden of Haifa. While there are others, this is the most famous one for a reason. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. A breathinghole and super well maintained, just stand at the bottom and admire it. Those of you who dare to trek all the way up I recommend to bring water. As always in Israel. Water water water. Once you made it all the way up (or just drove to the top), you are awarded with an amazing view of Haifa, Akko and Nazareth.
5. The beach behind Leonardo Hotel in Haifa. Crystal clear water, plenty of space and an ice cream shop. And yes there is a bar with GoldStar. What more do you need? Although beaches located more central in Israel such as in Netanya or Tel Aviv, this one is much cleaner with calmer water and it’s not littered with hidden cigarette butts in the sand.
4. Hook up with a local and do barbecue. Without any doubt I can vouch for that all Israelis do BBQ 24/7. That’s just the way of life. If there is fire there is BBQ. So how do you hook up with a local? Try couchsurfing, or just socializing with anyone on the beach or at the bar. Or hell even the Supermarket works. Israelis love to talk, we talk too much and we are ever so inviting to anyone. Below is a prime example of how to do BBQ if you live in an apartment block and are a bit innovative.
3. Enter Jerusalem through the Damascus gate. It really doesn’t matter where Jerusalem starts or ends. But if you’re heading there and your goal is to walk Via Dolorosa, see the holiest church of Christianity, visit the Western wall or the Al-Aqsa-compound you should enter there according to me. Why? Because the gate is history itself. It’s called the Damascus gate for a reason. While it has been the scene of terror attacks and can feel a bit tense reading about it on the news, let me assure you it’s completely tranquilo.
If you want to know more about Jerusalem, inspiring sights or other things I thoroughly recommend you to find Sarah Tuttle-Singer on Facebook. She lives in Jerusalem and seems to find all these spots we others never do. She also has an inspiring blog here on Times of Israel.
2. Travel to the Dead Sea, but through the Negev desert. While it’s not exactly a shortcut – more of the complete opposite, you will be stunned by it’s beauty, heat and take note of the Bedouin tribes living there. How they survive and have survived as nomads for milleniums I have no idea, I would die after 10 minutes. So just make sure to have a good car with a good A/C and you will be rewarded with this…
1. Embrace and love Tel Aviv. There are countless sweet-spots in this ever so vibrant city. A complete opposite of Jerusalem in so many ways. Not in a bad way. Not in a good way. It just shows the huge diversity of Israel and that you will always find something suiting your personal preferences – on this tiny strip of land. If you are up for really high quality drinks and an atmosphere that sends you back to the 30’s, I really recommend Hotel Berdichevsky. You will need to reserve in advance, a funny thing – they walk around with a 30’s baby-stroller with small shots in oyster shells. Just that makes me drop my jaws and love it. What I usually do is then just heading to another bar – while some go clubbing. But almost any bar is a sweet-stop for actually engaging with locals. So go alone, challenge yourself and in the end of the night you have a new best friend.
And the food scene is insane – you can have deep fried sushi rolls, bacon and scrambled eggs 24/7 or indulge in a posh restaurant where I met Bar Rafaeli. Yes that’s right. In the end they closed the restaurant, so there were only me and my friend and Ms. Rafaeli’s gang sitting inside smoking cigarettes and loudly discussing life. Like nothing ever happened. At the end the staff came out and we all hung out with a few bottles of Arak and some dubious amateur drink mixing.
WINNER! There is so much more I want to tell you about this fascinating country of contrasts. But let me finish by letting you embrace the Galilee. Go to Nazareth – ask anyone of the best Baklawa shop and they will all say the same. I will not hint the name here – but it’s a general consensus who makes the best Baklawa in the world. Right there. And the best part is you can bring it home on your flight. Go to Tiberias. Go to Kaukab. Go to Akko. Go to all these places with unique culture, heritage and people. Learn something you had no idea of before. Indulge and embrace.
Indulge and embrace – that’s the way to do Israel. Tel Aviv ya habibi Tel Aviv…