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Planning to spend only 5 days in Israel isn’t nearly enough to explore all that this fascinating Middle Eastern country has to offer, but it will give you a taste of the culture and history here. This was our first time in Israel, so we spent 3 days in Jerusalem and 2 days around the Dead Sea. But for those of you who have been before or don’t mind moving around to different locations every day, you may be able to squeeze in a trip to Tel Aviv and Bethlehem too. There are certainly a lot of things to do in Israel to build a full itinerary around.
Jerusalem is one of the holiest cities on earth, and has a lot of historical attractions to visit within the Old City, as well as several important museums that are a must-visit. It would be very easy to spend a week in Jerusalem but spending 3 days in the Israeli capital is just enough to get an introduction into all that the city has to offer. And Jerusalem is just under an hour’s drive from the closest beach along the Dead Sea, Kalia Beach, so it’s a no-brainer to add this area to your Israel itinerary too.
After arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, we made our way to Jerusalem by a pre-ordered taxi. The drive is around an hour so it won’t take much time out of your schedule, and you can always spend a day in Tel Aviv first if you prefer. We stayed at the Mamilla Hotel for 3 nights which sits at the crossroads of the Old City and the newer neighbourhoods, making it the perfect hotel to base yourself from so you can easily access the different parts of Jerusalem by foot.
Our first day in Jerusalem was based around the neighbourhoods outside of the Old City where you can find a lot of unique attractions in Jerusalem that some tourists may not necessarily see if they just plan to visit the Old City. Here’s the order that we visited the attractions in, as well as some places to eat in Jerusalem:
Jerusalem International YMCA - A short walk from the Mamilla Hotel is this famous 3-star hotel which also offers one of the best views in Jerusalem from its bell tower. From here you can see a panoramic view of the city below.
Yemin Moshe - This historic neighbourhood was the first to be built outside of the Old City walls in the 1890s, and is made up of beautiful stone buildings. It’s also home to the iconic Montefiore Windmill which is a major historical attraction in Jerusalem.
Montefiore Windmill - Today the inside of the windmill has been turned into a wine store thanks to Jerusalem Vineyard Winery. They also offer a wine and cheese experience with a view of the Old City which is a really nice activity to do in Jerusalem if you like sampling local wines.
Nahman Restaurant - We then made our way by foot to the Music Square for an Italian-style lunch at Nahman Restaurant. They have a lot of nice options available as well as a set lunch menu which is a good option if you’re travelling on a budget.
Hebrew Music Museum - The restaurant sits at the back of the Hebrew Music Museum, which is one of the most informative and unique museums in Jerusalem to visit. Here you’ll be able to listen to different Jewish musical instruments from around the world as well as learn more about how music helps to connect the Jewish people.
Miss Brown - This dessert shop is a very popular one in Jerusalem, serving unique flavours of tiramisu, mini pancakes, and churros. Miss Brown is a great place to stop on your way back to the Old City or your hotel.
Tower of David - With a museum, archaeological site, and incredible views to offer, the Tower of David is a must-visit in Jerusalem. If you want to see an amazing sunset view in Jerusalem then visit the tower just before the sun goes down and you’ll be blown away by the colours in the sky above the Old City.
Teddy Park Fountain Show - A short walk from the Jaffa Gate and the Tower of David is Teddy Park. This public park has a unique fountain show at various times throughout the day and evening, and it’s a nice free thing to do in Jerusalem if you have some spare time.
The Eucalyptus - Sitting just behind Teddy Park is a world renowned restaurant called The Eucalyptus. There are plenty of places to eat in Jerusalem, but what’s unique about this restaurant is that they serve dishes that would have been eaten during biblical times. It’s so good that celebrity chefs from around the world come to learn from the head chef and owner.
King David Light Show - Before heading back to your hotel, there should be just enough time to squeeze in the Tower of David light show which is projected onto the walls of the citadel, telling the story of King David through light and sound effects. It’s a fantastic thing to do at night in Jerusalem and really shouldn’t be missed.
The first day is a very busy one, but the second day is a little less stressful as it’s mostly based around the Old City. In order to see as much as possible, I would recommend getting to breakfast at your hotel as soon as it starts so you can be in the Old City for sunrise. Some of the main attractions in Jerusalem are open 24/7, or open very early, meaning you can bypass a lot of the large crowds that appear later in the day if you plan yourself accordingly. Here’s how our second day went:
Temple Mount - One of the most popular attractions in Jerusalem is Temple Mount, which is where the Dome of the Rock is located. Entry to the site is completely free, and security opens at 7am so it’s a good idea to be there for that time to avoid the crowds. They’re very particular about clothing here, meaning if you’re wearing something that’s too tight or revealing you’ll be given clothing to put over the top of your own.
Western Wall and underground tunnels - After exploring Temple Mount, take some time to visit the Western Wall and maybe slip a prayer into one of the cracks in the wall. This is the holiest site in the world for the Jewish people and is incredibly moving to visit. Located next to the wall is the Western Wall Tunnels which give you access to the remains of the ancient city of Jerusalem located below the current wall.
Old City guided tour - Since you’ve woken up early, it should only be around 10:30-11:00 in the morning by the time you’ve visited these three important sites. This will give you plenty of time to join one of the many guided walking tours of the Old City. Our guides took us on a culinary adventure through the bazaars, showed us some incredible viewpoints in the different neighbourhoods, and pointed out a few hidden gems along the way. You’ll try enough local food during the tour to cover you for lunch too.
Live the Bible - If you’re travelling in a group, or are a bit of an extrovert, then you should take the opportunity to visit Live the Bible and dress up in biblical clothing for a photoshoot in the Jewish quarter. This isn’t for everyone but it’s a unique experience in Jerusalem.
Holy Sepulchre - You’ve visited the most important holy sites for Muslims and the Jewish people, so now it’s time to see the Holy Sepulchre. This church contains both the tomb and crucifixion stone of Jesus, and sits at the end of the Via Dolorosa - a major pilgrimage route for Christians. It’s open very early in the morning and closes late, so there’s plenty of time to see it throughout the day.
City of David Segway Tour - The Peace Forest is located in the southern part of Jerusalem, and is where you can find the City of David Segway Tour. This is a really fun activity in Jerusalem to try, especially if you’ve never been on a Segway before. The tour takes you through the park area and finishes at a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Jerusalem.
Jacko’s Street - One of the best places to eat in Jerusalem is Jacko’s Street. This modern restaurant serves Kurdish food with a twist, using local and seasonal produce in their dishes. It’s so popular that tables are booked months in advance, and the atmosphere inside is incredible with a lot of singing and dancing. The restaurant is located next to the Mahane Yehuda Market.
Nightlife tour at Mahane Yehuda Market - If you’re not too tired from your day of walking, there’s a fun culinary evening tour with Yalla Basta that takes you to some hidden gems as well as to some food stalls at the famous Mahane Yehuda Market. The guide is very informative and will teach you about the development of the city outside of the ancient walls.
Western Wall at night - By now you probably want to dive right into bed, however I would highly suggest walking back through the Old City and visiting the Western Wall after midnight. The plaza is open 24/7 and there’s a completely different atmosphere here in the evening without the crowds of tourists.
You may want to spend another day exploring the Old City, but keep in mind that Jerusalem has quite a lot of interesting museums to visit too. If you weren’t able to fit the Hebrew Music Museum into your itinerary on the first day, you can always visit it today instead and make it a full day of education. But if you only want to visit a couple of museums in Jerusalem, here are two you can’t miss:
Yad Vashem - The official memorial to the Holocaust in Israel is called Vad Vashem. It holds the largest inventory of artifacts from the Holocaust, and the Holocaust History Museum allows visitors to walk through history and see some of these artifacts in person. There’s even a cobblestone street donated from Poland that’s been recreated inside. I would recommend spending at least the morning here to see all parts of the site.
Israel Museum - As one of the top 10 museums in the world, the Israel Museum has a lot of incredible exhibitions and artifacts within it. It’s the perfect museum to visit to learn more about the archaeology, culture, and history of Israel, and is home to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, among other important finds.
Mahane Yehuda Market - One of the most famous markets in the Middle East is the Mahane Yehuda Market. It features more than 200 vendors and is always full of a mixture of locals and tourists. The market is an ideal place to grab something to eat for dinner, with a few sit-in restaurants featured inside it as well as unique street food stalls.
After spending 3 days in Jerusalem, now it’s time to visit another popular location in Israel: the Dead Sea. The closest beach to Jerusalem at the Dead Sea is Kalia Beach, and it takes under an hour to drive there. Surrounding this area are a number of interesting landmarks to visit which are worth researching while you’re in the process of planning a trip to Israel. We spent 2 days at the Dead Sea in Israel which was enough to get a feel for the area:
Ein Gedi Camp Lodge - Our first stop was a quick look at the Ein Gedi Camp Lodge, which is a very unique type of accommodation in Israel where guests can stay in a converted air conditioned camper van with a private patio and hammock outside. If you’re not staying here it’s worth visiting for a quick photoshoot.
Masada National Park - One of the best archaeological sites in Israel, if not the whole Middle East, is Masada. This ancient ruin sits at the top of a cliffside and was originally built in 30 BC by King Herod. Sadly it was later destroyed by the Romans following the destruction of Jerusalem. It’s accessible either by cable car or hiking, and the views from the top are unrivalled.
Gallery Minus 430 - Before heading to our accommodation, we stopped by Gallery Minus 430, which is the lowest art gallery on earth. The site is a series of abandoned buildings that were once part of a Jordanian camp which have been completely revamped by artists.
Glamping -420 - For the ultimate Dead Sea experience, you need to stay at Glamping -420. Situated just above Kalia Beach, these luxury glamping tents include a double bed, indoor seating, a mini fridge, and other amenities. There’s also a shallow pool on site and the views of the Dead Sea are amazing.
Me Casa Restaurant - For dinner we took a short 10 minute drive to Me Casa Restaurant. This Italian-inspired restaurant serves a selection of pizza, pasta, meat, and fish which are all freshly prepared on site. Plus, they make their own ice cream too!
Once you’ve finished visiting Masada and other nearby Dead Sea attractions, it’s time to take some “me” time and enjoy Kalia Beach. This is a very popular beach in Israel so during the summer months it can get very busy. Luckily we visited in November and it wasn’t too crowded during the day. But of course, you’ll want to see some of the lesser known spots along the Dead Sea too before either returning to Jerusalem or heading back to the airport:
Kalia Beach for sunrise - The sunrise over Kalia Beach is something else, so get yourself out of your glamping tent early to enjoy it! There’s a small dock where you can sit and enjoy the sunrise from, or you can dip your toes in the water and get a photo walking along one of the salt walls.
Dead Sea Bike tour - There are many guided tours of the Dead Sea to choose from, but for a unique experience you should book with Dead Sea Bike. They have the option to go on a manual or electric bike tour to remote parts along the Dead Sea that aren’t accessible to tourists. Or you can join a Jeep tour to check out the interesting mushroom-shaped salt formations.
Kalia Beach - Following the tour, and depending on your schedule, you should have enough time to spend a couple of hours relaxing on Kalia Beach and floating in the Dead Sea. If you’ve stayed at Glamping -420 you’ll have free access to the beach, otherwise there’s a fee for a day pass.
So, how many days in Israel is enough? Well, that depends on what you want to see and if it’s your first time in the country. 5 days in Israel is a good amount of time to see some of its main highlights, including the ancient city of Jerusalem and a small tour of the Dead Sea. If you’ve already been to Jerusalem, you’ll be able to fit in more day trips from Jerusalem into your itinerary too.
If you have any questions regarding what to do in Israel or things to see in Jerusalem, please get in touch via email, the comment section below, or Instagram. I’d also love to hear any ideas about what we should visit the next time we’re in Israel!