3 Days* in ISRAEL
The image many of us have of Israel is a complicated one, stitched together from history lessons, news reports about the Israel/Palestine conflict and possibly an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”. Time for a fresh look. While it’s impossible to truly experience this complex part of the world in just 3 Days*, this itinerary allows for a decent snapshot of a divided country that’s home to about 8 million people.
Day 1* in Israel
Israel’s only international airport is Ben Gurion and its proximity to Tel Aviv/Jaffa suggest you start your trip in this lively city on the Mediterranean. Reminiscent of Miami’s South Beach circa 1987 with its seaside hotels lining the coast, there’s nothing particularly exotic about Israel's culture capital.
Starting from the atmospheric Jaffa Port, with its meandering alleyways it isn’t far to Neve Tzedek, an artsy and hip quarter you shouldn’t miss for its boutiques, cafes and trendy restaurants. Arouse your senses with a stroll along the mouthwatering produce stands at Carmel Market and continue into the Yemenite Quarter, where gentrification is slowly turning a crumbling, narrow grid of streets into the new hipster haven.
Load up on carbs at Miznon where Israel’s celebrity chef Eyal Shani gives fast food a go. The baked cauliflower and the Deep Pleasure dish are to die for. And definitely stop at Hamalabiya for a bite of “the best Malabi in Israel” – the Middle Eastern Milk Pudding. Take a digestive walk through Tel Aviv’s White City, a Bauhaus neighborhood that stands in contrast to the more ‘vintage’ quarters and doesn’t betray a hint of struggles that go on in other parts of the country.
If you'd rather not spend your limited time exploring Tel Aviv’s dynamic nightlife, make your way to Jerusalem, 60 minutes away, and set yourself up for an early start in the holy city.
Day 2* in Israel
Jerusalem is where the real adventure begins. Surrounded by a citadel wall that was scaled by thousands of zombies in World War Z, The Old City is squeezed into one square kilometer and is home to the holiest places for three major religions: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, the Temple Mount for Muslims and the Western Wall for Jews. While the old city is packed with countless more religious sights, if time is of the essence, don't miss these three highlights.
The Temple Mount requires the most organization as it opens only for a few hours throughout the day. Make sure to check times before planning your day.
If you happen to be in Jerusalem on a Friday try to visit the Western Wall before sundown as thousands of orthodox Jews gather at the Kotel to welcome Shabbat. Beware that most of West Jerusalem will be closed from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday and shopping or dining out can become challenging.
Schlep yourself through the ancient shuck’s (or souk) cobblestoned staircases and refuel with a freshly squeezed pomegranate/orange juice, a falafel or bowl of Kurdish red kubeh soup. No one will think you're meshuggah for bargaining with the vendors, so don't be shy. For sweeping and truly spectacular views of the city and Mount of Olives, try the roof terrace at the Austrian Hospice.
Exit the Old City by way of Mamila mall, near the Jaffa Gate. Not for its outstanding retail options but as an example of a well-designed promenade. From there, it's an easy hop to the Montefiore neighborhood where you can check out its many galleries and picturesque windmill before making your way to Mahane Yehuda, known for its produce market by the same name.
Welcome to foodie nirvana. Here you can try every Jewish Middle Eastern specialty you can imagine and vendors are happy to give samples of their Tahini, peppery olives or plump dates. As the stalls slowly close down for the evening, tiny shoebox-sized restaurants pop up in and around the market. The make-up of the neighborhood completely changes as the sun goes down - from a rather pious crowd to one of hipster Israelis.
Enjoy a drink at the Machneyuda bar, then head across the street for an exquisite meal at the same named restaurant – reservations required. The truffle polenta isa house favorite (rightfully so) and the Mussel gnocchi were To. Die. For.
Day 3* in Israel
No Israel trip is complete without a glimpse at the Palestinian reality in the West Bank. Simply visiting East Jerusalem’s neighborhoods and following the randomly erected Wall (memories of the German wall are inevitable) will be eye-opening already, but a trip through one of the West Bank checkpoints is an important experience in hair-trigger angst. I highly recommend a trip to Bethlehem, only a short drive from Jerusalem.
Banksy and many local artists have left their mark on the wall after Rachel’s Crossing. If you’re keen to explore more houses of worship, make a stop at the Nativity Church and the Milk Church, two architecturally and historically noteworthy sights. Take a run through the souk, a glimpse of local Bethlehem life before treating yourself to a mint lemonade and a crazy good falafel from Afteem on Manger Square.
On the drive back to Jerusalem, notice the plethora of settlements wedged between Palestinian neighborhoods, distinguishable by their white water tanks on the rooftops as opposed to the black version on top of the Arab homes. It's significant to note that while Jewish and Arab citizens pay the same amount of taxes, the money isn’t allocated evenly, with beautiful landscaping in the Jewish part of Jerusalem and potholed sidewalks and lack of street lighting in many of the Arab neighborhoods.
A delightful spot to end your third day is back in Jerusalem at First Station, a former train station turned cultural space with bars and restaurants lining the old railroad tracks. Like us you'll most likely wish you could extend your time in Israel, a country so full of dichotomies, beauty and history. L'hitraot!
- Flats, comfortable walking shoes
- Clothing that covers your shoulders and knees for the religious sights
- Sarong to cover up, if needed
- Matisyahu: an American musician who blends his Jewish Orthodox roots with hip hop, reggae and rock
- Lucille Crew: This Tel Aviv band combines a sophisticated funk-soul-hip hop groove that makes it hard to sit still
- Kutiman: Whether doing a solo album or collaborating with other artists, he’s worth a listen