Israel for Extended Families

Photo by amira-a

An action-packed Israel itinerary with attractions for everyone

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It is a well-known dilemma. You’re going to Israel with the  family: Mom, Dad, three kids and a grandparent or two. How do you keep the little ones happy without boring Grandpa/Grandma, and how do you keep the skeptical teenager engaged without losing the fourth grader? Here is a modest proposal for an itinerary for families that should work for everyone.

Day 1 in Israel

Drive north (from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or the airport) stopping at Caesarea the grand 2,000 year old ruins of the ancient city that was King Herod’s Rome-away-from-Rome on the Mediterranean. Be prepared to let the kids wade in the waves either by the hippodrome or later on by the aqueduct. Head to Haifa to visit the Bahai Gardens.  There is an hour-long tour, for which you need to wait in line, but if you’re short on time, go directly to the gorgeous overlook of the Bay of Haifa from the mountain above the gardens on Yafe Nof Street. It is equally beautiful with no waiting. End the day at the Adi Overlook above the Sea of Galilee before checking into a hotel near the city of Tiberius. Highly recommended is Ma’agan Holiday Village, a kibbutz guest house with a beach-front and a pool about 20 minutes south of Tiberius.

Day 2

Begin the day at the Mount of the Beatitudes, the beautiful church and lovely gardens perched on a cliff above the Sea of Galilee that celebrates Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Not only for Christian pilgrims, this is a lovely spot, and an inspiring little piece of history. Drive to Tel Dan, for a nature walk through the bubbling springs at the source of the Jordan River and the ruins of the Biblical city of Dan.  At one spot you’re even allowed to wade in the water. Drive up to the Golan Heights, stopping on the side of the road at The Saar Waterfall for a photo-op and a gorgeous view, but only from January to June, when the falls are flowing.

Stop for lunch at one of the four Druze Villages of the Golan Heights and then head south to Mt. Bental, an extinct volcano and former army base that overlooks the border with Syria. The kids will enjoy exploring the old bunker, the adults will enjoy the recorded explanations of the panoramic view and everyone will enjoy a cup of hot chocolate in the coffee shop perched at the top of the world.

There are two ways to end the day that all ages will enjoy, depending on the season. From April to October, go rafting on the Jordan at the Jordan River Park with Abu Kayak. It’s a beautiful two hour long float along the little river that is fun enough to give the kids a giggle but calm enough that the grandparents can enjoy themselves as well. During the winter months, go to the Decarina chocolate factory in Kibbutz Ein Zivan and enjoy a chocolate making workshop. But call ahead. They’re often booked up way in advance. (For adults who may not be interested, there’s a wine shop next door).  Overnight in Galilee.

Day 3

Drive south. Stop at Belvoir, the ruins of the Crusader Fortress where the Knight’s of St. John made their last stand, including a beautiful mountaintop view of the Jordan Valley. A swim in the Sachneh, a park where a river has been widened to be a public swimming spot and a visit to the Beit Alpha Ancient Synagogue with its 1500 year old mosaic floor featuring the signs of the Zodiac. Head South to Jerusalem. It should take about two and a half hours. Overnight in Jerusalem.

Day 4

This day should be devoted entirely to the Old City of Jerusalem. For a detailed itinerary of the day, feel free to refer to our Jerusalem in 3 Days itinerary,  but for a quick thumbnail list of “must-sees” in this great and ancient walled city, note this list, and for keeping kids excited, note the parentheses added for each site:

The Mount of Olives Overlook (for kids: camel rides and/or donkey rides), the Garden of Gethsemane, the City of David (with kids – 3D movie and the walk through Hezekiah’s Water Tunnel), the Western Wall, the Western Wall Tunnels, The Davidson Center (with or without kids, see the movie reenactment), The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and if you still have energy, Dormition Abbey and The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion (with kids:  get to Mount Zion via the “Walk on the Ramparts”).  This day will involve a great deal of walking and large quantities of history so be prepared and have a Bible on hand.

Day 5

Head to the Dead Sea for a visit to Masada, a splash and hike in the springs of Ein Gedi and a float in the Dead Sea. For this day, we refer you to our Day at the Dead Sea itinerary.  With the family, it makes sense to emphasize the springs of Ein Gedi and the swim in the Dead Sea and perhaps make do with a bit less archaeology. The climb up Masada is recommended for anyone who is in good physical shape and it can make a great family bonding experience, but it is a tough, hot,  hour-long uphill slog and there’s no bailing out half-way there.  Don’t look a gift cable-car ride in the mouth.  First ride up: 8:00 A.M. Overnight in Jerusalem.

Day 6

Today you are all in for a treat. The destinations are both fun and educational, and appeal to all ages and generations. Drive first to the unforgettable archaeology experience of Dig for a Day at Beit Guvrin National Park. This is neither staged nor faked. Everyone digs up real artifacts from 2000 years ago.  After a quick lunch at the gas station cafeteria across the street, drive to the Ayalon Institute in Rehovot.  This is an amazing tour of a secret underground bullet-factory from 1946, when even the possession of firearms was a capital offense under the British Mandate. On your way back to Jerusalem, stop at Latrun for either 1) the Tank Museum, where the kids are allowed to climb on the tanks, and learn the story of the battle or 2) the nearby Mini-Israel, a model of the whole country, featuring many of the sites that you’ve been visiting for the past six days.

Day 7

Beach day in Tel Aviv. In a way, Tel Aviv is a modern version of ancient Caesarea, where you began, a Western City in a Jewish Commonwealth.  If you can, go on a Tuesday or a Friday, when the Nachalat Binyamin Craft Fair is open, one of the largest open air craft fairs in the world, and definitely worth the visit, especially near the end of your trip when you might be looking for gifts or souvenirs. Even on an overcast day, when you might not want to go swimming, however, make sure to go for a stroll on the “Tayelet”, the boardwalk that runs from the very north to the very south of the city along the coast, dotted with cafes, historical explanations and many bikers.

Bike lovers might take this opportunity to rent bikes and ride on the boardwalk, or even better, to connect up from there with the bike trail which runs along the Yarkon River. Regardless of which direction you walk or bike, end your day with a stroll through Jaffa, the ancient port of Tel Aviv,  and climb up to the Summit Park for a view of the sunset over the Mediterranean.

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