Steeped in rich history, culture, beautiful scenery and not to mention an exciting culinary scene, Israel is making its way onto Brits’ 2020 travel wish lists – in fact, tourist arrivals to Israel have increased 10% in July 2019, compared to July 2018*. Israel has been put on the world stage thanks to recent events including Eurovision and Pride, and the UK’s burgeoning middle eastern culinary scene.
From the beautiful coast of Tel Aviv, the rich history of Jerusalem, the must-visit archaeological sites, the wonder of The Dead Sea, a stream of new luxe and boutique hotel openings, the superb culinary scene worth sampling, and the LGBTQ friendly city of Tel Aviv, these are some of the many reasons to visit Israel in 2020.
Two Cities, One Break
The two remarkable and beautifully different cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, merely an hour apart, are must visit locations in Israel. Famous for its religious and historical significance, Jerusalem is Israel’s ancient capital, the Holy City. Within the confines of the Old City, Jerusalem is overflowing with historical sites including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and the Tower of David.
By contrast, Tel Aviv, dubbed ‘the City that never sleeps’ is a cosmopolitan hub at the heart of Israel’s nightlife, cultural and culinary scene, lined with beaches and boardwalks reminiscent of the US’ Los Angeles. The city is blessed with golden sand beaches, a vibrant art scene, quirky boutiques, buzzing bars and home to the ancient port of Jaffa. Any trip to Israel is incomplete without a trip to each city, both of which have something fantastic to offer, whether soaking up the sun in Tel Aviv or the history in Jerusalem.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Direct to Israel
There’s no better time to visit Israel now that Virgin Atlantic has launched its new flight route between Tel Aviv and London Heathrow.
The inaugural flight on the 25th September marked the commencement of the airline’s new, long-awaited route to Israel’s cosmopolitan metropolis. With a relatively fast flight time of just over five hours, the route takes passengers straight to Ben Gurion Airport – the airlines shortest flight from the UK.
Flying daily between London and Tel Aviv, the flight operates on an Airbus A330-300 aircraft with Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class, Premium and Economy Light, Classic and Delight offering.
Home to Culinary Delights and The Vegan Capital of the World
Tel Aviv’s culinary charm is hard to deny – the city has been dubbed “vegan capital of the world”. With over 400 vegan and vegetarian eateries throughout the city, meat-free dishes with fresh fruit and veg are easy to come by.
Tel Aviv’s vegan chefs take pride in using the freshest of vegetables, and often meander through “shuks” (markets) for seasonal menu inspiration.
Whilst staple Israeli foods hummus and falafel are innately vegan, the culinary scene in the city has seen the explosion of dynamic and flavourful green dishes, making ethical eating both delicious and exciting. From hummus joints like Hummus Abu Dabi, to vegan bistros such as Sultana, an exciting vegan BBQ bonanza, to high end restaurants including OPA, the work of renowned vegan chef Shirel Berger, Tel Aviv is bursting with the most delicious plant-based eateries the world has to offer.
Often referred to as “the Land of Milk and Honey”, going to Israel is an opportunity to sample all the culinary delights it has to offer. As a country of immigrants, Israeli cuisine has been shaped by a melting pot of cultures and diverse foods, which have travelled from their country of origin and made their way into Israeli cooking. Israeli dishes like shakshuka and couscous for instance have origins in North Africa and were brought to Israel by North African Jewish immigrants. From staple Israeli dishes like hummus, shwarma, shakshuka and falafel, there are fresh, diverse and delicious mouthfuls of food to be found across the country. Israel is also home to world renowned chefs and chef restaurants, including HaSalon, run by celebrity chef Eyal Shani and Claro, Chef Ran Shmueli’s restaurant, which celebrates fresh local produce with creative ingredients.
A trendy and newly opened eatery for 2019 is Café Popular, in Tel Aviv, which is run by celebrity chef Avi Levy. The restaurant is popular with the city’s young and fashionable crowd and the menu features spicy and bold seafood dishes, as well as meat classics with a Mediterranean twist such as Israeli roast beef and phyllo cigars filled with Jerusalem mixed grill. There is also an expansive brunch menu featuring dishes such as scrambled eggs with mushroom ragu.
A trip to Israel is also a chance to sample some of the beautiful and stylish hotels the country has to offer, with an array of accommodation options catering to different styles and budgets suited to every type of traveller. If stuck for inspiration, The Levee, in Tel Aviv, is a beautiful, newly-opened apartment hotel for 2019. The 1913 historic villa, in Neve Tzedek, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, underwent nine years of restoration to transform it into eight luxury apartments. The Levee seamlessly marries the old with the new through the historic look of the villa’s exterior and the contemporary style of the bright and spacious apartments, making it the perfect bolthole to stay in whilst in Tel Aviv.
Also new to Tel Aviv is its first pot hotel, with WOW Allenby set to open in 2019. This will be the debut of the new ‘pod-hotel’ brand, offering single, double and king pods, starting at a reasonable £35 a night. WOW Allenby has 40 rooms, meanwhile the WOM Neve Tzedek is set to follow in autumn, boasting 140 rooms. Each pod has a bed, a desk, sink, air conditioning, TV, sound system, storage space and a safety deposit box, whilst bathrooms will be shared between four guests.
Elsewhere in Israel, The Six Senses Shaharut (opening Q1 2020) offers an idyllic bolthole in the middle of the Negev Desert. Nestled into a cliff, the resort offers a view of the spectacular surrounding landscape and boasts 60 suites and villas as well as a Six Senses Spa.
If ethical living is your niche, another newly opened hotel, The Kedem Hotel in Tirat Carmel is a secluded oasis, overlooking the forested Monheim Park to one side and a path leading down to the Galim Stream on the other. The hotel is nature-friendly and has a wide range of pampering facilities The hotel also offers body and soul workshops including meditation, yoga, detox and breathing workshops.
Thanks to an abundance of LGBTQ bars, hotels and beaches, not to mention Tel Aviv Pride, the city has become a popular holiday destination for LGBTQ travellers. The Tel Aviv Pride parade is one of Israel’s biggest and most vibrant celebrations, and takes place during Tel Aviv Pride week, which unites the city’s LGBTQ community. Several cultural events, lectures, exhibitions, parties and conferences for the LGBT community take place over course of the week, including the first national conference of the gay community which took place in 2019.
International tourists too, are invited to join in the celebrations in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world – last year, over 250,000 people flocked to the city for the annual parade, which concludes with a beach party on Tel Aviv’s stunning coastline. The city is an LGBT friendly destination all year round, and one which supports equal rights for all.
Step into the lowest place on earth
No trip to Israel is complete without a visit to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. The Dead Sea is a hyper-saline lake that is eight times saltier than any ocean; naturally, this makes bodies more buoyant and floating comes at ease. Once finished bathing, visitors to the Dead Sea should try lathering themselves in the rich, black mud found on the seabed, which is high in minerals including magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium and is known to be great for your skin. Having been around for over 3 million years, The Dead Sea is also rich with history – legend has it that Cleopatra discovered its black mud and was a promoter of its benefits.
Israel’s Beer, Wine and Spirits Scene
As well as a bustling nightlife scene, a robust spirits, beer and wine scene is emerging in Israel. Winemaking and craft brewers have been on the rise, and Israeli winemaking has attracted global attention. In Israel, winemaking goes back to biblical times, and today there are over 300 wineries within the country. Winemakers in the country have even sought out a way to grow grapes in the desert – the first country to do so. The craft beer industry is also on the up, and brewpub BeerBazaar is a great spot to visit, serving exclusively Israeli beers, with locations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israel’s first artisan distillery, Jullius Distillery in Galiliee, produced the first gin in the world to be made only from local Israeli plants, named Akko. The wild aromatic gin is made from 12 botanicals that grow in the Galilee and has a round and velvety texture.
Accessibility in the spiritual old city of Jerusalem
Another reason to visit the spectacular city of Jerusalem is its accessibility. For the first time in history, Jerusalem is now accessible to people with disabilities. The Old City of Jerusalem is the most-visited place in Israel, culminating in 10 million visitors each year, and has undergone a ground-breaking project that allows the less-abled to experience the historical sites of the city. As part of the project, four kilometres of streets in the Muslim, Armenian and Christian quarters were made accessible, and roughly two kilometres of handrails were installed alongside staircases in the Old City. This unique access project allows even more visitors to the country to enjoy the cultural wealth of Jerusalem.
Brand new international airport at the heart of the desert
The recently opened Ramon International Airport, in the Negev Desert of Israel, has opened up the Red Sea resort city of Eilat and the surrounding desert area to international and local tourists. The southern gateway to Israel has flights from Tel Aviv and Haifa, as well as other European airports. Located to the north of Eilat, tourists to this region can visit Timna Park and experience the amazing history and geology it has to offer, amidst the stunning desert scenery. Elsewhere in Israel’s Negev Desert is the Ramon Crater, the world’s largest erosion crater. Part of the Ramon Nature reserve, the crater is shaped like an elongated heart and is surrounded by the Nevev Mountains. The crater formation began hundreds of million years ago and it is the largest of the three Negev craters, containing spectacular geological formations that are unparalleled by any other in the world.
UNESCO Heritage Sites
Besides the wonderful cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, there are incredible archaeological sites to be seen elsewhere in Israel. Located on a flat plateau above the Dead Sea in the south of Israel, Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a desert fortress with breath-taking views of the ruins. The ancient fortification is steeped in history too, originally built by Herod the Great in 30 BCE to protect himself from enemy threats and later occupied by a group of Jewish zealots attempting to fend off the Ancient Romans, Masada is one of Israel’s true gems.
Israel boasts several other UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Old City of Acre, the walled port-city, where the remains of the Crusader town lie both above and below street level and date back to 1104 to 1291. One of the main attractions at Acre are the Knights’ Halls, built 800 years ago by the Knights Hospitaller and made up of giant halls, a dungeon, a large hall supported by massive pillars and the Beautiful Hall.
Elsewhere in Israel, the magnificent, towering Roman ruins of Caesarea are located on the Mediterranean coast are a must see. The archaeological park has a roman amphitheatre, pillars and sculptures, and visitors are also able to take an underwater tour of the site, littered with ancient artefacts.
To find out more about Israel, please visit: https://en.citiesbreak.com