In a country with a history that stretches back thousands of years, it can be tough knowing where to begin your visit: a glimpse of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum is an enlightening experience, but whiling away a morning at cafe in old (as in, very old) Jaffa might be more nourishing to some. A roundup of Israel's top tourist sights includes some of the major historical ones as well as city highlights.
Tel Aviv is to Israel what New York City is to the United States: its commercial heart and cultural center. The fact that it was founded in 1909 makes it ridiculously young in a part of the world where many cities began not just centuries, but millennia ago. In contrast to Tel Aviv's teeming modernity, the old city of Jaffa (Yafo) traces its roots to biblical times and possibly even before.
2. Jerusalem (Old City)
Jerusalem is Israel's official capital city and is sacred to three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The ancient Old City is encircled by imposing stone walls that date to the Ottoman period and contain within it such holy sites as the Western Wall - the most visited site in Israel and one holy to Jews - Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The desert fortress of Masada was the scene of the tragic last resistance of the Zealots, an ancient Jewish sect, to the Romans in 73 A.D. You can still see the ramparts that the Romans built as part of their siege of Masada, and many other evocative ruins as well. Reach the 1,300-foot peak by hiking up the Snake Path or by cable car.
4. The Dead Sea
At 1,360 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. Its water is about ten times saltier than the ocean's, giving it a buoyancy that makes it possible to float (and with water that salty, you wouldn't want to swim in it!). The mineral-rich waters can be very beneficial for those with skin problems.
5. Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is the largest Holocaust museum and memorial in the world. It was established in 1953, but the more recent Holocaust History Museum (part of the same complex), designed by architect Moshe Safdie, opened in 2005. There are numerous exhibition halls within its dramatic central triangular structure.