12 Days Tour in Israel
Considering your journey, we recommend that you plan a light schedule for your first day in Israel. After arriving into Ben Gurion Airport, plan to drive straight to Tel Aviv and check into your hotel.
A delightful place to begin your tour is in the picturesque Old City in Jaffa, one of the oldest port cities and has been continuously inhabited dating back to the Phoenicians—the oft considered first of the sea faring communities in the Bronze Age.
Start at the visitors’ center in Kedumim Square, which is built around ruins from the time of Jesus. As the ancient port is rich in history and culture, the center’s interesting exhibition on the history of the ancient port city will help you decide what sights to visit. This is the very same port where Jonah embarked on his escape from destiny and into the belly of the whale. Here, King Solomon imported huge Lebanese cedars for the Temple construction. Also, Peter was staying in Jaffa, in the home Simon the Tanner, when he received his vision. The old city has delicious Middle Eastern cuisine and a beautiful boardwalk with a panoramic view the sun setting over the Mediterranean sea and then of Tel Aviv night lights. Depending on the time of day that you arrive, you may have time to tour the nearby, cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv, particularly the preserved buildings know as the White City, built during the 1930s. Included among these Bauhaus buildings is the Independence Hall where the famed moment took place when Ben Gurion declared Israel’s Independence on May 14, 1948, just before Shabbat. Sheinkin Street is a popular niche in the city for young people to socialize and is a great spot for people watching or browsing the open market.
On your third day, depart from Tel Aviv early in the morning to journey towards the Galilee. There are several interesting sites to visit along the way. As you drive north along the coast, through the Plain of Sharon, stop at another biblically significant port. Caesarea is the town where Paul baptized Cornelius the Centurion (a Roman soldier) and it is also the port that he set sail from to begin his itinerant ministry. The Caesarea National Park has the remains of a palace King Herod built during the 1st century and is where Pontius Pilate ruled and, later, where Paul was imprisoned by King Agrippa. In the archeological park, there are the Roman amphitheatre (still in use for national concerts), the hippodrome, Herod’s palace, and the ancient harbor as well as the ruins of a Crusader city. Nearby is the ancient Roman aqueduct that passes through a popular beach for contemporary Israelis.
Continue your journey through the Jezreel Valley (also known as the Battlefield of the Bible). This rich, agricultural valley is the breadbasket of both ancient and modern Israel. You will then be driving through the Ara Valley and can visit Tel Megiddo, the Armageddon of Revelations.
Your next observation point, as you make your way north, is Mount Tabor. Here you can see the entire valley and is the site of the prophetess Deborah and what is considered to be the site of Jesus’ transfiguration. Visit the Church of the Transfiguration and then continue on to the Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown.
The Nazareth Village is a full scale reconstruction of the town and life in the time of Jesus. In the old city’s church district is the Mensa Christi (Table of Christ) where Jesus prepared breakfast over coals, awaiting the return of his disciples whom he sent back for a second catch, this time to cast their nets on the right hand of the boat, giving the fishermen the miracle of an abundant catch. Perhaps the highlight of Nazareth is Joseph’s Carpenter Shop, the biblical cavern where you can envision Jesus working as a boy learning the carpenter’s trade from his earthly father Joseph. Finally, there is the Basilica of the Annunciation, a byzantine and then later rebuilt as a crusader church over the traditional remains of the home where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce her conception of Jesus.
Not far from Nazareth is the Khirbet Cana site, nestled in the midst of the Galilean mountains. This is the home of Nathanael but is more well known as the wedding site where Jesus turned the water into wine—his first miracle.
Just before you arrive at the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) and Tiberius, stop to take pictures of the panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel. As well as the view, the mountainside is among the beautiful settings where much of Jesus’ ministry happened.
By now, it will be late evening and you will want to check into your hotel before dinner. The Kibbutz Ginosar offers welcoming hospitality or there are several places in Tiberius if you prefer to go to the boardwalk for dinner and a stroll amongst the bazaar stalls and street performers.
Whether you stay overnight in Tiberius or at the guesthouse on Kibbutz Ginosar, we recommend you start your fourth day at the kibbutz. In the Yigal Allon Museum(Jesus Boat Museum) in the kibbutz is the preserved display of an ancient, wooden fishing boat, discovered buried along the muddy lakeshores and has been dated to the exact time of Jesus. It is entirely possible this was the very same boat that Jesus sailed in across the lake. It is an impressive display inspiring the imagination of Jesus calling Peter and his brother Andrew as well as James the son of Zebedee and his brother John to leave behind their catch and follow him, or perhaps as he is stilling the storm in the midst of the lake. From Nof Ginosar, you can sail across the lake in a boat replica to the shores of Kfar Nahum[Capernaum]. Here you will begin to walk in the footsteps of Jesus through his Galilean ministry, beginning at the archeological site of Peter’s home. It is here where Jesus lived during the majority of his ministry throughout the Galilee. In this synagogue, he read from the scroll of Isaiah and it was here where he healed the paralyzed man lowered from the roof of Peter’s house.
Capernaum is the first of three points of what is known as the “Evangelical Triangle” that encompasses the area where most of Jesus’ ministry took place. The second point is across the Jordan River, to the north of the lake, in Bethsaida. Here, there are the remains of a street and fisherman’s home from the time of Jesus as well as the biblical walled city of Geshur. Continue a short distance to the Byzantine monastery of Kursi, the traditional site where Jesus cast out the demons and sent them into a herd of swine. Head back west and you will come to the Chapel of the Primacy of Peter. This is where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. Further along the Tabha Capernaum Promenade is the hillside of Tabha (Seven Springs), where Jesus performed the Miracle of Loaves and Fish, as is presented here in a beautiful mosaic depiction. The third point on the triangle is the archeological town of Korazim. The New Testament cites this as one of the communities who rejected Jesus. During the Middle Ages Korazim was a thriving Talmudic community. As you make your way back to your hotel, reflect on the day from the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus taught on the blessings) and experience a breathtaking view of the sunset over the Sea of Galilee.
Begin your fifth day up on the Golan Heights. On your ascent to the heights, stop to view the Gamle fortress, known as the “Masada of the North.” Continue to the full scale, reconstructed Talmudic village of Katzrin to experience daily life during the time of Jesus. As you ascend onto Mount Bental, you will come to an observation point near the Syrian border giving you a clear view of the whole region, including “The Road to Damascus.” Returning on your descent, stop at Caesarea Philippi. Now called Banias, the oasis is a popular vacation spot but is also where Jesus gave a sermon on the Son of Man. Nearby is Tel Dan, what was known in the bible as the High Place of Jeroboam. On the south side of the city’s wall, there remains the impressive Israelite gate from the Iron Age. Near the Jordan River, the Dan spring is renown as one of the most beautiful places in the Golan.
Plan to leave your hotel on your sixth day and move on to Jerusalem. As you leave the Galilee area, visit the traditional baptism site at the Yardenit of the Jordan River at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. While there are many possible sites for Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, the Yardenit is a beautiful area of the Jordan River and it is popular for modern day pilgrims to be baptized there.
After your own baptism, perhaps, you can begin your journey up to Jerusalem—heading south. Drive through the Jordan Valley and stop at the ancient Israelite city of Beit She’an. It is here where the Philistines hung Saul and his sons after their defeat at the battle on Mount Gilboa. During the time of Jesus, this area became one of the ten cities of the Roman Decapolis, and there is an archeological site to view. As you leave the Jordan Valley, you will be able to view the Mountains of Ammon and of Moab in Jordan and then continue through the Judean Hills and on up to the Holy City.
Both the Old City and the New City of Jerusalem are full of interesting and historical sites to visit and you will need a few days to explore: at least two days in the Old City and one day to visit the museums in the New City
Begin at the Mount of Olives for an inspiring view of the walled Old City, Temple Mount, City of David, and a panoramic view over modern Jerusalem before touring the city. It is here where King David wept over his son Absalom’s rebellion and where Jesus met with his disciples and prayed, as on the night before his crucifixion. There are several churches to visit on the mount and progressing down the mountain, including Pater Noster with the “Our Father” prayer inscribed in numerous languages; Dominus Flevit Church [The Lord Wept] and the church on the traditional site of Ascension (where Jesus left his disciples and ascended into heaven). From the summit on the Mount of Olives, there is a path down the slope of the mountain, following the “Palm Sunday Road” to the Garden of Gethsemane, opposite the Temple Mount. In this garden, Jesus meditated and prayed in moments of solace from his trials, as he did the night before his crucifixion.
Nearby are David’s City National Park, the excavation of David’s Palace, and the adjacent Hezekiah’s Tunnels, a location that has been used throughout the history of Jerusalem as a means to smuggle in and out of the city, particularly during sieges. It echoes with the past and is traditional to sing as you make your way through the dark and wet, stony tunnel. The Tunnel emerges at the excavated Pool of Siloam, where ancient pilgrims washed and refreshed themselves from a long journey before continuing on to the Temple for worship.
On Mount Zion, you can visit both King David’s Tomb and the Cenacle [Room of the Last Supper] that is the traditional “Upper Room” where Jesus observed the Pesach [Passover] Seder (the ritual meal that reenacts the Exodus from Egypt). Over the past 2,000 years, Christians continue to gather here.
Also in the Jewish quarter, there are several archeological sites including the Southern Steps [or Hulda Steps] that lead up to the entrance to the Temple Court and Roman roads that housed market stalls at the base of the Temple complex from the Herodian period. As pilgrims in the time of Jesus sang the Psalms of Ascent, you can open you bibles and read Psalms 120 134.
Between the Kotel (Western Wall) and Mount Zion, there is the Archaeological Museum: an underground excavation of a housing complex, most likely that of a priestly family. There is a Western Wall Tunnel Tour under the Temple Mount that begins at the Warren’s Shaft and passes by the closest outer wall opposite the site of the Holy of Holies. Also, it is a tradition to write your prayer and place the folded paper into a crevice in the Kotel (the outer western wall of the Temple Mount).
Depending on your schedule, you could end the day now at the new Mammilla pedestrian mall, just outside Jaffa Gate, where you can eat dinner with a panoramic view of the Old City, illuminated by lights with a special beauty at night, accented by the nearby quaint Yemin Moshe neighborhood.
On your second day in Jerusalem, enter through the Lion’s Gate and make your way through the Old City following the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows), as you walk in the footsteps of Jesus as he carried his cross. There are the “Nine Stations of the Cross”:
1. Memorial of the trial and scourging of Jesus (John 19:1 3).
2. Church of Ecco Homo [Pontius Pilate’s “Behold the Man” speech] over the pavement in Pilot’s courtyard (John 19:5, 19:13).
3. Here is traditional place for the first of the “three falls” under the burden of the Cross.
4. The traditional place where Jesus whispered his heartfelt goodbye to his mother.
5. The memorial to Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross, giving a short reprieve to Jesus (Mark 15:21).
6. Here, Veronica traditionally wiped away the sweat from Jesus’ face.
7. There is a tradition that speaks of Jesus falling here a second time.
8. The memorial where Jesus stops to speak to a group of pious and weeping women (Luke 23:28-29).
9. The traditional place where Jesus falls a third time before reaching Golgotha [Calvary], a traditional place of His Crucifixion.
The Via Dolorosa culminates with the last five stations in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a Church encompassing all the Christian sects represented in Jerusalem and revered as a traditional place of the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The church is renown for its grandeur and the competing chants and mixture of incense from various orthodox sects. The Stations are found in the cavernous tombs, the side chapels, and the altars memorial to where Jesus was stripped, nailed and hung from the cross. And finally, there is the Angel’s Chapel (entrance to the tomb itself). The last of the Stations are Golgotha (Calvary) and the Garden Tomb (where you will visit at the end of the day).
On your way to Damascus Gate, in the direction towards the Garden Tomb, browse through the Arab shuks (open markets) where you can shop for gifts, enjoy the smells of traditional Arab spices and deserts, along with the sights of bright clothing and sparkling gold jewelry, and the sounds of multi lingual bartering.
The Garden Tomb, north of Damascus Gate, is an ancient cemetery, not far from Golgotha, the traditional site of Calvary. Through the “Weeping Room,” you enter the tomb, next to the entrance there is a typical stone that was rolled away by the angels when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome the mother of the apostles James and John came to anoint the body of Christ with spices and oils. The garden is a peaceful place where you can reflect on the day in prayer, song, and communion.
New City Museums:
The Time Elevator is an interactive presentation located in the heart of the city, not far from the Old City. Chaim Topol, who starred as the famed Tuvye in the Fiddler on the Roof, narrates the modern history of the State of Israel. It is a good transition from the Old City into the New, but note that the showing times are limited throughout the day.
The Israel Museum has several exhibitions featuring ancient artifacts, historical synagogues from around the world, and modern Israeli art. The most famous of these exhibitions is the Shrine of the Book. The Dead Sea Scrolls are permanently displayed in a stand alone building that is shaped like the vessels they were found in and the ambiance of the caves that hid the clay pots safely for almost 2,000 years. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the caves of Qumran, located in the wilderness of the Dead Sea, and are a collection of Biblical scrolls as well as temple scrolls, and commentaries written and preserved by the Essenes and others collected for safe keeping during the Great Revolt. The Israel Museum also has an impressive and realistic model of the city of Jerusalem, from which you will have a good view of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament).
The Bible Lands Museum is across from the Israel Museum and displays a rich collection of artifacts representing the various religions, cultures, and historical periods throughout this area of the world—from prehistoric times to the time of Jesus, and into the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods.
Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum is dedicated to the Shoah (the annihilation of 6 million Jews by the Nazis in WWII). This museum is an intense experience and you will want to dedicate time to make your way through, perhaps reserving this for your last museum of the day.
Go out for dinner and some last minute shopping at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in the heart of the New City center, if you are early enough then you can go to the Mehane Yehuda shuk [open market] for fresh fruit and vegetables, and a quick meal of traditional Middle Eastern shwarmah or falafel. It is an exciting experience to be amongst the throngs of shoppers and the calls of barter from the open stalls in the market. You could explore the city center as you choose from the wide varieties of restaurants offering rich Israeli and multicultural cuisine. Jerusalem comes alive at night, teeming with Israelis and tourists alike.
From Jerusalem, it is a short drive to Bet Lechem(Bethlehem) where you can visit the Church of Nativity, built over the spot where Jesus was born. Entering the church you will descend into the cave that was prepared as a stable and served as lodgings for Mary and Joseph, where Jesus was born. There are ruins of Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches built on various spots in the fields outside of Bethelem, commemorating the night of Jesus’ birth where Angels of the Lord appeared to shepherds in a nearby field singing praises about the birth of their Lord. One of the ruins, found in Kanisat al Ruwat one mile southeast of Bethlehem, is a 4th century church, and then about 656 yards north are the ruins of the Roman Catholic church commemorating this scene. If you are visiting around Christmas time, you will find the town decorated for the holiday in the western style, with lights and Nativity scenes. Perhaps you will even witness the Christmas procession led by mounted police on Arabian horses, followed by government officials and Church leaders.
On your last day, you can go down from Jerusalem and spend a day in the Dead Sea area. You will first come to Qumran, the secluded and ascetic religious community in Judaism that flourished between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. Many scholars associate John the Baptist with this community and Jesus may have even spent time here. The community members were mostly scribes of the Zadokite priesthood and their families. They are responsible for the copying and preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, now maintained by the Israel Museum, found in the surrounding caves. As you continue to drive south along the coast of the Dead Sea, you will come to the Ein Gedi oasis. This is the natural spring and waterfall where David hid from King Saul and afterwards provided cover for the Jewish Zealots during the rebellions against the Roman period—after the time of Jesus in the 1st century AD. Today it is a popular hiking spot for Israelis and Tourists alike.
Continue your tour south until you come to Masada. Here are the ruins of Herod’s palace made notorious in history during the 1st century Great Revolt against Rome. Here the Zealots, their families, and many Jewish refugees sought refuge from the Roman soldiers. If you want to hike up the snake trail be sure to get there early, perhaps making this your first stop after you leave Jerusalem. However, many prefer to take the cable car up to the summit and then hike down. Explore the palace remains as well as cisterns, vast food stores, Mikvot [ritual baths] and the Synagogue built by the Zealots. From this height, the view of the Dead Sea and surrounding desert wilderness is magnificent and vast. Masada has a restaurant and gift shop to visit before finishing your day relaxing at the Dead Sea Spa with its healing mineral baths. Here you will have the unique experience to rub mineral rich mud mined from the sea before floating in the buoyant salt lake.
Some opt to drive back to their hotel in Jerusalem; however, there is a quiet Ein Gedi guesthouse that offers comfortable lodging. You will have a shorter drive after your long day touring but a longer drive to the Airport the next day.
Departure back home…