Many people, even seasoned travelers, may think of Israel as simply a conflict zone, too unstable for a visit. With that image firmly in mind, some folks may not even pause to consider what the vibe is like outside of that pervasive fear factor.
Well, I'd love to be the one to open your mind for a new year of travel possibilities: After spending time in Israel, it quickly became my new favorite destination in the world. It was hard to leave. The tiny country (about the size of New Jersey) offers more adventure than you would guess.
I'm a travel blogger living in India, and have been to more than three dozen countries, so the middle east destination had a bit of competition to make it to the top of my list. But boy did it soar! Here are eight reasons why Israel just became my new favorite travel destination and why you might want to head here in 2017.
1. Taking a dip in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea's salty water has so many health benefits: It's said to heal psoriasis, osteoarthritis, sinusitis, and more), and regardless... it's just so cool to float without trying. You literally cannot sink, given the high salt content of the water. Just lean back and chill! And the magic mud is the perfect cure for that dry skin you get on the flight over.
Tip: Be careful though: The mud will stain a white swimsuit. Best to wear black! Also, the zone has showers and you'll really want one since the salt makes you feel very oily. Bring your shower necessities and a change of clothes.
2. Art vibes in Akko
The Mediterranean town of Akko was my favorite place in Israel. If you assume that everyone in Israel is Jewish, you're incorrect. This town is mostly Arab, and while you look out over the white buildings and bright blue water you can hear the beautiful call to prayer. Kite-surfers love jumping from the cliffs here.
People visit to see the famous ancient castle walls, but I loved it for the art, including epic murals all over town. A new initiative encourages locals earn an income by turning their homes into homestays for travelers. They've made the homes themselves a work of art with even the ceilings painted, and the whole town is a little art oasis.
Tip: You must stay at the Efendi Boutique Hotel in Akko. It has the same type of art inside and is just the coolest hotel! Eat at Uri Buri which won an award for top restaurants in the world in 2016 by TripAdvisor.
3. Jerusalem's mind-blowing history
Israel is only 68 years old, but has 5,000 years of history — most of which is in Jerusalem. Inside the city of Jerusalem is an area known as the Old City, where you'll visit the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall, and Temple Mount. You'll want to take a tour so you can learn about everything you're seeing. It's incredible how much history has happened here.
The actual city of Jerusalem is a mix of modern and traditional (Orthodox). For example, McDonald's here is kosher so no cheese on that burger — but at night the local market, Mahane Yehuda Market, turns into a bar scene and a huge party.
Tip: The best area to stay is the downtown triangle and Herbet Samuel Hotel is your most luxurious bet.
4. Nightlife in Tel Aviv
On the subject of nightlife, Tel Aviv is insane. Parties here go on until way past sunrise. They love trance and house music and the scene overall has a very underground feel. One popular bar is a New Orleans-style place called French 57, which employs a master mixologist. You can check out SpeakEasy on Rothschild 24, or Jimmy Who is a great bar nearby. And the coolest place I went was Sputnik, which was like a maze inside.
Tip: Israelis love to party until the sun rises, so head to Breakfast Club nightclube to keep the booze flowing.
5. Wine and dine in Golan Heights
Israel has a huge variation in elevation. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, but there are also mountainous areas and very high hills up North near Syria. Because of this, the nation is capable of growing a big variety of grapes, and making some serious wine. I went to Golan Heights Winery. You can also arrange a private chef to come do cooking classes in the middle of nowhere while doing a 4x4 ride around the dusty terrain of the Golan.
At this time, there is an issue of safety in the Golan Heights as after I left it was attacked by ISIS — the first time ISIS has attacked Israel. So, make sure you check out the travel advisories before doing this boozy adventure.
6. Dining in the darkThere are only 10 true so-called "black-out" restaurants in the world, and one is in Tel Aviv. Na Laga’at has chefs and waiters who are all visually impaired or blind. The whole experience is touching and emotional. It's also a theatre and you can see shows put on my deaf and blind actors, which take years to prepare. You definitely need to book ahead.
Tip: This is a great way to get to know people. When you dine in the dark it leads to a lot more talking than usual. You have to touch to find each other's hands in order to pass water and share bread. It's a totally unique way to spend an evening.
7. Local graffiti in Florentine
Florentine is the trendy place to chill in Tel Aviv. It's full of graffiti and this is where artists, writers, and creative minds gather. I took a tour with a local artist, Oren, and even did a little graffiti of my own. The legality of it is a little bit of a grey zone.
Tip: Check out Romano House to buy art and go into all the boutique here. They are some of the best designers in the world and the clothing is unbelievable gorgeous in every single shop.
8. Surfing the Israeli Coast
While surf isn't what most people think of when Israel comes to mind... it should be! The surf culture all along the coast is great and you can easily rent standup paddleboarding, surf boards, and boogie boards, or take lessons.
Tip: Want a killer reef break? Go to Haifa, about an hour North of Tel Aviv.
By the way? This list doesn't even scratch the surface, if you ask me. There's so much more to Israel. You can scuba dive at the Red Sea in Eilat in the South. If you're into tech, it's a dream. After Silicon Valley, Israel is next for start-ups (like Waze and Viber). If you like food, you will be dreaming here! The food is a Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean mix and every meal I had was good. Even the oranges were sweeter in Israel! When it comes to luxury, it's simply off the charts.
That said, while there's a lot to do in Israel, the best thing about it was the people. I found Israelis to be open, light hearted, and always up for a good time. Don't be surprised if you get invited to Shabbat dinner — and don't decline the invite. It's the best meal you'll have all trip!
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Jet Set is Bravo's launch pad for the most extravagant, luxurious, and unforgettable travel experiences. Ready for takeoff? Then Like us on Facebook to stay connected to our daily updates.