Home to some of the world’s most famous religious tourist attractions, Israel and the Palestinian territories are often thought of purely as pilgrimage sites. After all, some of the most important events for Jews, Muslims and Christians are said to have taken place here.
But for travelers who aren’t into the religious sights of churches, synagogues and mosques, there are plenty of other things to do. The Dead Sea is a strange natural wonder where you cannot drown.
The natural beauty of the Galilee region ticks all the boxes for those who want to walk in nature. And the rugged and rugged landscape of the Negev desert is perfect for adventure and one of the best places to visit if you’re looking for some dusty action and outdoor activities.
Sure, the religious sites here will always be the main draw card for a visit, but scratch below the surface and you’ll find a lot more. To help you plan your trip, check out our list of top tourist attractions in Israel and the Palestinian Territories that you won’t want to miss.
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Aching under the weight of history, Jerusalem has one of the most recognizable skylines in the world, with the golden helmet of the Dome of the Rock shining over the caramel-colored stone of the Old City.
This ancient city holds deep religious significance for people of all monotheistic faiths and the labyrinthine lanes of the old district are filled with religious sites and mind-blowing history.
Escape the crowds of pilgrims and stroll along the walls that still wrap around the old city. Explore the city’s fantastic museums and immerse yourself in the flamboyant streets fought by kings, crusaders and conquerors.
Jerusalem fascinates and confounds in equal measures.
Jerusalem is all history. Tel Aviv is all about modern dining and cafe culture. And Haifa just does his own thing.
The main attraction of this beautiful northern city is the Bahai Gardens, which cascade down the hillside towards the sea in a series of lush green terraces. It’s a must-do for all travelers here, but Haifa’s big draw for many visitors is that it’s the perfect base for exploring the north.
Akko, Mount Carmel and Caesarea are on the doorstep and even Nazareth and Megiddo are an easy day trip away.
The most accessible city in the country, Haifa should be part of everyone’s itinerary.
Forever linked to the story of Jesus in the Bible, Nazareth is one of the main pilgrimage sites in the country.
Its holy sites are among the most important in the world for Christians. This is where the Annunciation took place and where Jesus Christ was raised and the city center is home to important churches that celebrate this history.
The main tourist attraction in Nazareth is the Basilica of the Annunciation, but the city has many smaller attractions.
Away from the biblical connections, Nazareth’s busy market area, in the winding streets of the Old City, is a feature in itself, always bustling with commerce.
A picturesque sight of honey-colored stone, Jaffa is a cool little port city with a glorious past as a major port.
Made for aimless wandering and great flea markets, Jaffa offers an old-world-style respite from the modern thrum of neighboring Tel Aviv.
The jumble of lanes leading to the sea, where the great ships of ancient Mediterranean empires once docked, is now a haven for café-hopping and lazy afternoon sightseeing.
Jaffa has completely gentrified in recent years, with small art galleries, craft shops and restaurants moving in. On weekends, it’s a busy hub for outdoor dining and shopping.
5. Dead Sea
The lowest point on Earth and one of the world’s craziest natural wonders, the Dead Sea is a mineral-rich and highly saline sea where no one can drown.
Locked in by the cliffs of the Great Rift Valley , this strange body of water (where evaporation rates cause natural turnover resulting in high salt concentrations) has been scaring travelers for centuries.
For those who want to dive, a handful of “beach resort” areas along the Dead Sea coast offer cafes, bathrooms and the all-important freshwater showers.
Take a float – you can’t really sink – and you’ll be won over by the strangeness of the experience, just like generations of visitors before you.
A major Christian pilgrimage site, Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity , where Jesus Christ is said to have been born.
The West Bank’s number one attraction is the grand church complex of far-reaching historical significance and the bustling market atmosphere .
Although many travelers come here for just a day trip from Jerusalem, the city is a great place to explore the surrounding countryside, its Byzantine monasteries, and sites related to events in the New Testament.
7. Timna Park
With raw and rugged desert scenery, Timna Park, near the Red Sea resort of Eilat, is one of the most beautiful corners of the Negev.
The landscape here has an audio-visual quality that mesmerizes all who visit, with towering cliffs and over-sized boulders set in vast stretches of multi-colored sand.
Timna’s copper mining history (which stretches back to the ancient Egyptians) is also worth exploring; The area is full of ancient mine shafts and inscriptions that desert adventurers can discover.
8. Sea of Galilee
Packed with attractions, the coastline that wraps around the Sea of Galilee offers gorgeous countryside and bags of history.
Whether you ‘re here to visit the Church of Tabgha, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount and did much of his preaching, or you just want to soak in the hot pools near Tiberias and do some hiking, this is a beautiful region. A highlight of any trip.
Don’t miss a swim in the sea itself and a hill climb to see the views across the lake.
The Masada mountain fortress, overlooking the rugged landscape of the Dead Sea region, is home to incredible views and some fascinating history.
Here stood the once mighty palace of King Herod and where the Zealots made their last stand against the Roman army.
If you’re up for a hike, the winding snake path is the perfect way to reach the top, with great panoramas all the way. Otherwise, take the cable car and see the sights without breaking a sweat.
10. Mar Saba Monastery
The Mar Saba Monastery is an architectural marvel from the Byzantine era, perched inconspicuously on the cliff face as if it had sprouted organically out of the sheer rock.
Although female travelers are not allowed to enter the actual monastery, the sight is reason enough to visit, the metal domes glistening in the sunlight at the center of the rock.
An easy day trip from Bethlehem or Jerusalem , the Mar Saba Monastery is one of the Holy Land’s great historical sites.
11. Beat Sheen
In a country full of ruins, Beit Sheen stands out from the crowd for its excellent preservation. Here, you can get a real feel of Roman and Byzantine city life, with its colonnaded streets, well-restored theaters and vast bath ruins.
Stroll the once mighty streets, explore the vast ruins and sit in the theater where the cultural life of the Roman city played out.
This is a fantastic piece of the ancient world that any history buff should see.
Steeped in Crusader history, Akko (Acre to the Crusaders) has a charming harbor full of colorful, rickety fishing boats; a vibrant market full of spices, produce and interesting artisan products; And a truckload of history to boot.
The city walls , old moats ( carvansere ) and ruins of the fort speak of another era, when the city was the center of an empire.
One of the most enjoyable cities to explore (who doesn’t love a secret tunnel?), Ako is a great mix of historic sites and modern life.