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Top 10 Sights in Israel

An essential checklist

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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.

1. Tel Aviv-Yafo

Photo: Anthony Grant

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)

Photo: Gilad Benari

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. 

3. Masada

Photo: Anthony Grant

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

Photo courtesy Doron Saar

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

Photo: Anthony Grant

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.

6. Israel Museum

Photo: Anthony Grant
Located in Jerusalem, this is the largest cultural complex in Israel and counts the Dead Sea Scrolls, the world's oldest known biblical manuscripts, among its many treasures. The Billy Rose sculpture garden contains works by the likes of Picasso and Rodin. The Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem is also a part of the Israel Museum.

7. Caesarea National Park

Photo: Anthony Grant
Halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, Caesarea is among Israel's brightest archaeological gems. It was built some 2,000 years ago by Herod the Great, who dedicated the port to Caesar Augustus. Ruins from the Roman and Crusader periods are framed by stunning sea views, and the restored ancient amphitheater is now used for concerts in the summertime.

8. The Galilee

Photo: Anthony Grant
The Galilee is inextricably linked with the life of Jesus Christ, in particular the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), and two of Judaism's four holy cities, Tiberias and Safed, are located in this lush northern region. The expression "a land flowing with milk and honey" is very apt for the region, which abounds not only in historic sites but agricultural plenty and lots of great lodging options, too.

9. Eilat

Photo courtesy Israel Ministry of Tourism
Eilat, on the Red Sea, is Israel's seaside resort par excellence. If visits to the holy sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere leave you with a weighty sense of history, blow it all off here, where suntanning, watersports and swimming with dolphins is de rigueur.

10. Baha'i Gardens, Haifa

Reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community
The "hanging gardens of Haifa" fan along a broad staircase of 19 terraces that extend up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The central terrace houses the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab, a central figure of the Baha'i faith. These magnificent gardens are on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
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