Don't Just Visit Israel, Really Experience It!

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Visitors to Israel see the top attractions like the Western Wall, Holy Sepulchre Church and the Sea of Galilee; but how many visitors actually have a unique experience in Israel? There are many ways you can take part in religious rituals; archaeological digs; conservation projects and other unique activities in Israel. Step off the beaten track and explore the stunning desert landscape; the underground urban culture; minority communities; local cuisine or rural villages. Here are a few ideas of Israeli tours for you to choose from:

Experience Jerusalem's Old City

All tourists in Israel visit the Old City of Jerusalem but few manage to get a feel for the place and the day-to-day life that goes on in this ancient setting. Within the walls of the Old City live thriving communities of Christians, Muslims, Armenians and Jews. At the Western Wall you can join Jews from around the world in prayer. Spend time in the Muslim Quarter bazaar and stop to eat with locals in one of the restaurants. Christians can have a moving experience attending a service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If you are a Jewish visitor, you might consider visiting one of the Old City Yeshivas where you can study Torah. If you want to spend time with locals in Jerusalem but don't know how to connect up, then check out the Facebook group – Get Local Jerusalem. If you are looking for unique accommodation in Jerusalem, then look no further than the guesthouses and hotels in the Old City. If you are more like a "traditional tour" person, you could join one of Jerusalem tours with a local tour operator.

Western Wall - photo credit: Dmitry Mishin

Get Baptized in Israel

Christian travelers to Israel can arrange to be baptized in the Jordan River. There are two major baptismal sites in Israel – one near Jericho at Qasr al-Yahud and one near the Sea of Galilee at Yardenit. There are a number of Christian tours in Israel, which include a stop at Yardenit where you can be baptized.

Midburn Festival and Other Nature Raves

Israel's young and young at heart head for the Negev Desert each year in May-June for the Midburn Festival that lasts 6 days. The festival is the second largest regional Burning Man festival and the only one in the Middle East. The theme of the festival is creativity, music, art and personal expression. The event includes creative workshops, market stalls, yoga, spiritual experience workshops and music. Colorful characters, including families visit MidBurn for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In Israel the most outrageous parties take place outside in the desert, forests and on the beach. Nature raves have psychedelic trance music, that plays through the night and often even for several days.

Experience Israel's Food Culture

Israel's diverse culinary traditions from around the world were brought here by immigrants from Europe, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Russia and other countries. The melting pot of culinary traditions in Israel is a wonderful way to learn about the country's unique cultural mix. Visit Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem or Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. Maybe even take a market tour or a food tour. Why not try a cooking workshop like Galileat where you can learn about and prepare traditional Galilee food? With "WeEat" you can join locals for a home-cooked meal.

Carmel Market in Tel Aviv - photo credit: Dmitry Mishin

Celebrate Shabbat in Israel

If you are in Israel during Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night) then attend a synagogue service to really experience Israeli Jewish life. There is a good chance you'll be invited to join one of the congregations for a Shabbat meal. Through groups like Betzavta, EatWithJerusalem, Get Shabbat or Shabbat of a Lifetime you can arrange to share Shabbat with a local family. To really experience Shabbat try switching off completely, not using any electrical devices for 24 hours including your Smartphone! Think of it as a digital detox. This is a truly unique and rejuvenating experience especially if you observe Shabbat in one of the more religious communities like Jerusalem or Safed.

Experience one of Israel's National and Religious Holidays

If your vacation coincides with one of Israel's national or religious holidays you can join locals in their traditional celebrations. For the most outrageous costume parties at Tel Aviv clubs visit during Purim. Purim is also a great holiday for families with colorful street parades and locals dressing-up in fancy dress. If you visit during Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day) you can attend the street parties held in each city with live musical performances, market stalls and pop-up eateries. On Yom Kippur everything, including traffic, shuts down; during Hanukah you can enjoy endless donuts in every possible shape and form and during Sukkot you'll see make-shift huts with palm frond-roofs at every Jewish home.

Dead Sea Spa and other Israeli Hot Springs

Israel has several natural hot springs including Ga'ash; Hamat Gader in the Golan; Hamei Yoav near Ashkelon and Hamei Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At each of these natural hot springs you can bathe in the hot spring pools and have spa treatments including massages. When you visit the Dead Sea don't just float in the water, visit one of the many spa resort hotels along the water's edge where you can enjoy a spa treatment using Dead Sea products. You can easily join a Dead Sea tour from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and combine the relaxing experience with other close attractions.

Dead Sea - photo credit: Dmitry Mishin

Experience the Desert and Spend the Night in a Bedouin Camp

Whether you're traveling alone or with family you can escape the tourist hub and spend time in the desert. Experience the Bedouin culture by spending the night in a Bedouin tent. The experience comes with authentic Bedouin food; camel rides and a night under the stars. There are several places where you can experience Bedouin hospitality including Kfar Hanokdim and Chan Hashayarot. To learn more about Bedouin culture, you can visit the Museum of Bedouin Culture at the Joe Alon Center in the northern Negev. Other desert experiences include desert jeep excursions; hiking in the desert and the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve on the edge of the Dead Sea.

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