Israel really is a fantastic place to visit. And is probably completely different to the picture you have already lodged in your mind. No thanks, of course, to media images of tanks rolling into Gaza, Palestinian kids throwing stones and angry Jewish settlers attacking Palestinian shepherds…
Trying to sum up the very best of Israel and the Holy Land in five points is not an easy task, but I’ve tried to make it short and sweet. After some years of living here as a tourist and citizen, I can assure you there’s so much more than the five points below. I can also guarantee you one thing on your visit to Israel: it’s going to be so different to what you expected, but so much for the better!
For those of you from colder climes, the long, hot summers here, with guaranteed sunshine for at least 6 months, are a big attraction. Winters here are not really winters, though try convincing the locals otherwise. I always liken the winter here to a British summer, but nobody believes me…
It does get nastily sticky in July and August, and it might be best not to visit Israel in these months if you are averse to some serious heat. But how can you beat a warm, sunny December day on Tel Aviv beach, a beer in your hand with the Mediterranean Sea quietly lapping at the shore just meters away…
Because of the wide range of ethnic groups that make up the population, there is an enormous range of great exotic food to choose from, whether home made or eat out. Forget about Chinese or fine French cuisine, we’re talking Yemenite, Iraqi, Persian, Moroccan, Druze, Bulgarian, Russian, or even Ethiopian; the choice is yours! There are also numerous cheap and tasty food stalls on almost every street that serve up the legendary falafel and shwarma, two staple foods that often hit the right spot, both taste-bud and wallet-wise.
For a real Israel experience start here: the Top 5 foods to taste in Israel. The real must-tries have to be the ones which can be found in almost every home and restaurant – hummus (here’s our beginners guide to hummus) and tehina – should also be tried. Another thing not to miss – an invite to a big Israeli family meal. The number of plates stuffed with various salads just might blow you away, or at least result in you loosening that belt buckle. And if you’re on a diet – don’t visit Israel during a Jewish holiday!
3. The Locals
Israelis have a surly worldwide reputation that goes before them, so yes, they can be extremely rude and arrogant, particularly when you first meet them and start interacting with them. I’ll never forget my first encounter with a feisty shop owner – no please or thank you but a definite slapping of my change on to the counter before me. It’s something that takes a little getting used to, but something that has changed for the better over the years (or maybe I’ve just grown immune!).
But, I can assure you that Israelis do grow on you…and before long you’ll be part of the gang, complete with hearty back-slaps, and even on the receiving end of some legendary hospitality, which can be very moving.
4. The Openness and Lack of Formality
There’s something quite inspiring about the ability of Israelis to express themselves and not feel an ounce of shame. It’s all hugs, kisses, screams and fights. And then the complete opposite 2 minutes later.
We Europeans and Americans might wince as our Israeli friend shouts up the stairwell to his friend 5 floors above. And then look away in embarrassment as the same two friends shout and scream at each other over which is the best way to a restaurant. And then marvel as friendship is reinstated after quick slaps on the shoulder, accompanied by a hearty hug. Those hugs between grown men (often with MI6s strapped to their backs) take a bit of warming to, but a hug is good, yes it is!
The lack of formality is a definite winner in my eyes. Just look at the local bank manager, in jeans and t-shirt. That’s the way to live! No more suits and ties, no more suits and ties!
5. Views and Landscapes
Some of the views and landscapes you’ll encounter in Israel are truly amazing, but what’s truly mind-blowing is that you can see all the following in a matter of days thanks to the compact size of Israel…just don’t forget your camera!
In the North, Israel is a lush green oasis (in the Spring at least), with the snow covered peaks of Mount Hermon overlooking vistas of valleys and fields and rivers and lakes. In the center of the country you have the modern high-rise buildings that make up Tel Aviv, contrasting with the wondrous ancient alleyways of the Old City in Jerusalem. In the South you have miles of desert, the beautiful Dead Sea and the vastness of the Mitzpeh Ramon crater. Right at Israel’s southern most peak there is Eilat, with its Red Sea oasis.
Wow,I think that’s five very solid reasons to go book your vacation in Israel right now…come on over, the water’s lush!