There aren’t too many cities in Israel. Depending on your definition for a city, I would say you can count “big” ones using the fingers on your one hand. This is why I decided to include “towns” in this page. Actually, with some of these, I’m not sure whether they should be called a town or a city.
I’ve included the more obvious ones, as well as a few which I think are well worth a stop, if you’re in the area and have half a day to spend. What I did leave out is towns where the main attraction is a single archeological or religious site, such as Nazareth, Caesarea, and Ashkelon etc. I will cover those in future articles.
(Pronounced Yerushalayim in Hebrew)
If you’re visiting the Holy Land, you will be visiting Jerusalem, almost for sure. There is so much to see and do there. The Old City itself, with the Via Dolorosa and the various churches that go back to the very early days of Christianity can be toured for days on end. Outside the walls of the Old City, you have museums, the Biblical zoo, shopping centers and a variety of places of interest. You can easily spend a week exploring Jerusalem, but you can get a taste of the Old City in a day.
Haifa is Israel’s third largest city, located at the top of the Carmel ridge, right above the Mediterranean Sea. Haifa is a mixed city, meaning there are Jews, Muslims and Christians, living together in comparative harmony, creating a riveting cultural mosaic. Among the main attractions you have the Baha’i Gardens, several museums (history, archeology and art), the harbor area, and my kids’ all time favorite: cable cars going up to the top of the Carmel and back.
Tel Aviv – Jaffa
(Pronounced Yaffo in Hebrew)
Tel Aviv is Israel’s second largest city, and pretty much the capital of the secular liberal population. It is the national hub for shopping, clubbing and secular culture. It has several good museums, one of them with particular appeal for tourists: Ha’aretz Museum (museum of the country) which has some interesting historical and archeological displays. Those with an interest in Judaism and the history of the Jewish people should visit Beit Hatefuzot museum. Adjacent to Tel Aviv, and part of the same municipality, is Jaffa. Jaffa’s old city is a picturesque maze of ancient streets currently holding artists galleries and shops. There is a small, yet interesting, museum there, depicting the rich history of Jaffa.
Known as the “Capital of the Negev Desert”, Be’er Sheva is a good place to visit for that postcard desert experience of Israel. Without venturing deep into the wilderness of the desert, you can get your Bedouin market souvenirs and camel photographs right here. There isn’t a whole lot of things to do in Be’er Sheva, but you can visit the place after which the town is named – the seventh well, at which Abraham stopped to water his livestock. There is a small museum at the very alleged spot, along with a nice movie telling the story of Abraham and Be’er Sheva.
For Israelis, Eilat is almost too far to be considered “in Israel”. In fact, it doesn’t only feel like “abroad”, it is also a VAT-free zone. Eilat is quite different from the rest of the country, situated several hours worth of driving to the south. Situated along the Red Sea, it is essentially a large holiday resort with some Red Sea bonuses. You can visit the underwater observatory, go on glass-bottom boat sailing, swim with dolphins and visit the local theme park. Shopping is also an option, with prices being slightly cheaper than in “mainland” Israel.
(prounouced Tzfatt in Hebrew)
A scenic little town nestled between the mountains of the Upper Galilee. The views are impressive, and the atmosphere is uniquely spiritual, as this is a centre of the Jewish Kabbala studies. There are several small museums and galleries, or you can just walk around the cobbled alleys of the Old City.
My hometown and where I grew up! But other than meeting my Mom, the one thing you should do in Netanya is take a walk on the beautiful promenade by the beach. Several miles long, the promenade stretches along the top of the cliffs, with a gorgeous view to the sea and great landscaping, dotted with playgrounds, all along the way. It’s a great place for sunsets and catching the famous Mediterranean breeze. There is also an elevator which you can take to get down to the beach and back up. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Netanya, really, but if you’re driving along the coast and need a place to stop, just head over to the beach there. Oh, and if you’re looking for a place to spend a day at the beach, Netanya is a great choice.
(Pronounced Akko in Hebrew)
Acre is a fairly interesting town of mixed population of Arabs and Jews. An ancient harbor town, it has a unique exotic Middle Eastern flare. The highlight of your visit there will be in the Old City where you can visit the Crusaders’ Citadel and the Knight’s Halls, then go through an underground tunnel that connects them to the Sea Wall (on top of which you can walk as well). Just walking the alleys and streets of Acre is a great way to pass the time and soak up atmosphere. Plenty of souvenir shops too, and don’t forget to try the local Hummus!