If you’re starting to plan your Israel itinerary, then you’re in the right place!
In this post you will find a basic Israel itinerary with some extra links to more detailed itineraries, Christian sites, Jewish sites and tips for travel with or without a car (or, following my personal recommendation, partly with, partly without a car).
The itinerary I present here enables you to gain a good understanding of what Israel has to offer in one very full (perhaps even too full) itinerary.
I am starting to offer private tours in Jerusalem and the desert. Please contact me here if you are interested.
Israel Itinerary Day 1 – Jerusalem: The Old City & Mount of Olives
If I had up to 72 hours to spend in Israel, I would stay in Jerusalem. Although the distances between places in Israel are small, moving from one hotel to the other always takes up considerable time and is more of a hassle than one expects. It’s always better to be relaxed than to rush things, and this is even more true while on vacation.
I would start my first day at the top of the Mount of Olives. From here you have the best morning view of the Old City. The main sites are the Chapel of the Ascension at the top of the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane at the bottom. From here it is a 10-minute walk to the Old City. The most important places to see are the Via Dolorosa, Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Unlike the Mount of Olives, the Old City is close to the New City, where you will probably sleep, so you can visit the Old City multiple times.
Additional Christian heritage sites: Where to start? The Old City of Jerusalem is the square kilometer with the most Christian institutions in the world: Christ Church, Ecco Homo, St. James Cathedral and many more.
Additional Jewish heritage sites: Burnt House, Hurva Synagogue, Western Wall tunnels, Sephardic Synagogues, Zedekiah’s Cave.
You can read about the most important sites on the Mount of Olives and in the Old City in my Jerusalem booklet. The booklets are only sold outside Israel, so order now and come prepared! Or download as a PDF or EPUB (e-book).
Israel Itinerary Day 2 – Jerusalem: The New City
Around the Old City there are some very important sites that can also be visited on the first day, depending where your interest lies. The City of David – the ancient city of Jerusalem (yes, the ancient city is outside of the Old City) and Mount Zion, where you will find the Room of the Last Supper, the Tomb of King David and the Church of the Dormition.
North of Damascus Gate is the Garden Tomb. Some Protestant denominations see this site, rather than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. Although most archeologists consider this to be a burial site that dates back to before the time of Jesus, it is nonetheless a quiet spot suitable for prayer and reflection.
The Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim is an interesting area to walk around. Here you can observe how Jews lived in Eastern Europe and how some of their traditions have been maintained. The Mahane Yehuda Market (often referred to as “The Shuk”) is a good place to grab something to eat.
If you plan on visiting just one museum in Israel, make sure it is the Israel Museum. It is by far the most important museum in Israel and, unlike other well-known museums around the world, the archeological artifacts on display here originate only from the Land of Israel, so the exhibits are connected to all the other sites that you will visit on your trip.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Memorial is a key site for those who want to learn about the Holocaust and how Israeli society has dealt with and continues to deal with the loss of one third of the Jewish people.
If you have time, stay another day in Jerusalem.
Israel Itinerary Day 3 – Tel Aviv
The beach will probably be your first stop once you’ve settled into your hotel. In Tel Aviv you are never too far away from the beach and, although there is a lot of history, Tel Aviv is not Jerusalem and there are no real ‘must-see’ sites.
Most of the tours in Tel Aviv start at Old Jaffa (which is today a part of Tel Aviv). Jaffa was an ancient port city with a long history. The sites here are close to one another – the Visitors Center, St. Peter’s Church, the galleries in the alleyways, and the flea market.
From here it is a short walk to Neve Tzedek and Rothschild Boulevard, where you have the Independence Hall. Carmel Market is also not too far away.
Additional Jewish heritage sites: The Museum of the Jewish People.
Recommended Museums: The Rabin Center (the only museum in Israel that deals with the timeline charting the history of the State of Israel), Tel Aviv Art Museum.
If you have time, stay another day in Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Judaean Desert are in the center of Israel. From here, you can head north to the Galilee or south to the Negev Desert. During the summer, I would suggest spending more time in the north, and in the winter, more time in the south. If you have limited time, travel from Jerusalem to the Judaean Desert – Masada and the Dead Sea (see Day 9).
Israel Itinerary Day 4 – The Northern Coast
The northern coast has sites that are mainly connected to overseas empires: the Romans in Caesarea, the British in Haifa and the Crusaders in Akko.
If you have a car, consider stopping off at Caesarea National Park, where you will find the ruins of the port city that King Herod built. Without a car it is too much of a hassle to get there. As you continue north you can stop for a swim in the sea at HaBonim Beach. On weekends it gets full but on weekdays (in Israel that means Sunday to Thursday) it is beautiful. You can take your time here and sleep in Dor or Zichron Ya’acov.
If you are traveling without a car, take the train to Haifa. The main sites are the German Colony and the Baha’i Gardens. In downtown Haifa you will also find some great places to eat. Haifa is a half-day destination for first timers. You can either spend the night there or continue to Akko. Akko, unlike Haifa, is a small city, but it has everything you need.
Akko has the most impressive ruins from the time of the Crusaders, which is one of the most interesting periods in the long history of the Land of Israel.
Israel Itinerary Days 5 & 6 – The Galilee and the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)
Another good option is to take the train from Tel Aviv strait to Akko, sleep there for a night or two and then go back to Haifa, since from Haifa there are many more bus lines to places in the Galilee, such as Nazareth, Tiberias, Tzfat, Kiryat Shmona and the Golan Heights.
Nazareth is where Christianity began, and it is also the largest Arabic city in Israel. I would advise against traveling there by car, as the traffic is terrible. Tiberias is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (or Kinneret, as we say in Hebrew) but despite its potential, it isn’t a particularly nice city.
The good thing about Tiberias (and Kiryat Shmona) is that from there you can rent a car from any of the well-known car rental companies and bring the car back to the airport. The Golan Heights, Judaean Desert and Negev Desert are much more accessible with a car and there is very little traffic.
Check out my new post about special accommodation in the Galilee
You can check out prices of car rentals in Tiberias here
Additional Christian heritage sites: Around the Sea of Galilee you’ll discover many sites connected to the ministry of Jesus: Tabgha, Capernaum, and the Mount of Beatitudes, where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered.
Additional Jewish heritage sites: Safed has been the “City of Kabbalah” – Jewish mysticism – since the 16th century.
Additional Zionist heritage sites: Some of the first Zionist settlements are in the Galilee – Kinneret (village), Rosh Pina, Degania and Tel Hai.
Hikes: Explore the Mount Meron and Amud Wadi National Parks. And if you are looking for a challenge, there is a three-to-four day walking route from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee called the Jesus Trail.
For a Road trip around the Sea of Galilee check out this site.
Archeological sites: Megiddo and Zippori (Sepphoris).
Israel Itinerary Days 7 & 8 – The Golan Heights
If you like nature and open spaces, then stay at least two days in the Golan Heights.
In the northern part of the Galilee/Golan are the Banias and Dan National Parks, which are full of water year round, making them perfect for hot summer days.
In the middle of the Golan Heights is Katzrin, the main city, which is also accessible by bus. Close to Katzrin is Yehudia Nature Reserve, which offers further beautiful walking trails.
Several outdoor activities: Wineries, fruit picking, jeep tours and more.
Israel Itinerary Day 9 – The Judaean Desert
From the Golan Heights, drive down Road 90 (through the West Bank) to the Judaean Desert. Masada and the Dead Sea are sights not to be missed. Other interesting sites are Qaser El Yahud, Ein Gedi National Park, and Qumran, the site that was inhabited by a small but very interesting sect 2,000 years ago, and where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
In my Judaean Desert booklet I have added a trek that goes around Masada (for experienced hikers only) and affords an amazing view of Masada that only a few people get to see. The booklets are only sold outside Israel, so order now and come prepared! Or download as a PDF or EPUB (e-book).
Israel Itinerary Days 10 & 11 – Negev & Eilat
The Negev Desert takes up half of Israel. The biggest city is Beer Sheva, in the northern part of the desert, but you can definitely skip it.
If you’re coming from the Judaean Desert (Road 90), you will reach the Arava, a part of the Negev that runs from the Dead Sea to Eilat. On the way to Eilat are some interesting villages and kibbutzim like Tzukim, Ketura and Lotan. The best-known nature park is Timna but, especially if you come in winter, just take your time and enjoy the desert.
I wouldn’t visit Eilat on Jewish holidays or during the summer vacation (July and August), as Eilat gets expensive and full of tourists, but during the winter it’s great. Eilat is a good place to snorkel and enjoy other water activities. It can also act as a base from which to head to Petra in Jordan or Sinai in Egypt for a day or two. In Eilat, you can lie on the beach in January and enjoy the warm sun.
Check out my new post about special accommodation in the Negev
Israel Itinerary Day 12 & 13 – Mitzpe Ramon and Sede Boker
On the way back to the center you can stop off at Mitzpe Ramon. The town lies next to the Ramon Crater. If you’re only coming to Israel for a short period of time and want to get a taste of the desert, you can skip the Arava and stay at Mizpe Ramon. It’s a small town but perfect for travelers, with or without a car. Hiking, cycling, jeep tours and hotels and hostels of all kinds. Half an hour north is the area of Sde Boker, where there is also plenty to see and do.
In some touristy places, like the Mount of Olives or the Dead Sea, you can pay to have your photo taken on a camel, but if you want to experience the real deal, you can take a few days out of your itinerary to go on a real Bedouin camel ride from Mitzpe Ramon.
Israel Itinerary Day 14 – Back to Ben Gurion Airport
If your flight is in the morning, it’s better to return the car in Tel Aviv, sleep there and take the train to the airport. But if your flight is in the afternoon, you can drive straight from Sde Boker – Mitzpe Ramon to the airport. It is about a two-hour drive.
This is a basic itinerary. If you have specific interests you might also want to check out the different itineraries laid out on the official Ministry of Tourism website.