In the past five years, we have traveled to so many destinations. My favorite destination due to history and faith was the Holy Land. On this trip, we spent time in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, a few hours in Nazareth, and in the Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) area. The total time in Israel was eight days. The flight to Israel is quite long, so we paired it with a layover in Amsterdam on the way there and a few days in Istanbul, Turkey on the return leg.

Check out our post on how to spend a short layover in Amsterdam!

I researched more for this trip than any other destination. My research for this trip included both logistical items but also a refresh on several bible stories. I grew up in the church, as did my husband and we still regularly attend. When planning this trip, it was surreal to be able to see all of these locations discussed in the scripture readings. This trip was logistically complex but worth the extra planning time.

Holy Land Adventure Map
Map of our Holy Land Adventure

Stop 1: Tel Aviv

Our flight landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv at 3:00 AM local time on a Wednesday. Mind you, we left Chicago on a Monday at 4:30 PM. While we were able to sleep a little on the plane, we also spent the day exploring Amsterdam and then boarded another flight. Needless to say, we planned for our first day to be a blur. Our main priority for the trip was the Holy Land adventure and therefore waisting one day in Tel Aviv to recuperate and prepare for traveling to Jerusalem was welcomed.

We hit the ground in Tel Aviv ready to explore around 12:00 PM. One of our main priorities was to explore Israeli cuisine. This is where my husband fell in love with Shakshuka. This tomato dish with peppers, paprika, and poached eggs is delightful! We also embraced the fresh salads and doner kababs.

Stop 2: Jerusalem of the Holy Land Exploration

Arrival Day: Day 0 in Jerusalem

We decided to rent a car for the remainder of our trip. If we were only going to Jerusalem, we could have booked bus transport, however, since we’re traveling to several additional places, the car was the best option. We traveled back to Ben Gurion Airport to pick up the rental car and then traveled to Jerusalem. The drive is about an hour, however, plan for traffic. Once we got into the outskirts of Jerusalem, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We arrived at our Airbnb around 3:00 PM to find a massive water leak running through the main family room. We have used Airbnb many times, so we alerted the owner of the concern. Unfortunately, we were not able to get in touch with him so we escalated to AirBnB. Due to the water damage, we were not able to stay in the location, so quickly needed to find a plan B. Shortly after escalating, we received a refund and ended up finding another hotel. This added a little stress to the day in the Holy Land, but we ended up in a sufficient, safe, and clean hotel. The hotel also had free parking. Parking is insane in Jerusalem, so be prepared to find a lot far away and pay per day or feed meters regularly.

Exploration Begins: Day 1 in Jerusalem

On our first day in Jerusalem for our Holy Land adventure, we purchased a guided tour through Viator. The agenda consisted of:

  • Old Jerusalem and Bethlehem
  • Mount of Olives
  • Western (Wailing) Wall and site of the Crucifixion (Church of the Holy Sepulchre)
  • King David’s Tomb – the site of the last supper
  • Old City of Jerusalem
  • Scenes of the Nativity in Bethlehem

On day one, it was important for us to get a general lay of the land from an expert and then to determine where we want to spend more time. The tour was a full day and it was money well spent. If you are new to Viator.com, sign up for their email club, wait a few days and you’ll most likely get a coupon. Patience friends.

Exploration Continues: Day 2 in Jerusalem

The rest of our time in Jerusalem was filled with further exploration. We spent one day traveling to Masada National Park and swimming in the Dead Sea. When researching Dead Sea locations, be mindful of hours and seasonality. Based on our research and recommendations from our hotel concierge we visited Kalia Beach. I recommend tackling both locations in one day, but make sure you start your adventure around 8:00/8:30 AM to allow an appropriate time. It will take you approximately an hour and a half to get to Masada and then on the way home, you can indulge in the spa of the Dead Sea at Kalia Beach.

Masada
  • Book tickets in advance.
  • Parking is plentiful, but you will encounter several tour buses.
  • Food and beverage are available.
  • Plan to visit during daylight hours.
  • Wear sturdy shoes. The Masada campus is uneven.
  • Plan for a 3-hour visit if you take the tram. If you plan to hike up to Masada plan for 5 hours.
  • The visitors center is ADA accessible, the Masada itself is not.
Kalia Beach
  • Plan to visit during daylight hours.
  • Parking is plentiful, but you will encounter several tour buses.
  • Book tickets in advance.
  • Food and beverage are available.
  • Showers and lockers and changing rooms are available.
  • Plan for a 2-hour visit.
  • Swimming in the Dead Sea at this location is not ADA accessible.

Exploring Jerusalem: Day 3

We explored Jerusalem, the Holy Land, by foot on Day 3. We were close to 20,000 steps of exploration. This included going back to the Old City, The Garden of Gethsemane, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Grotto of Gethsemane, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and Church of Mary Magdalene.

Our day started at the Garden Tomb. This beautiful garden area overlooks a big bus depot. We then walked around the Old City, retraced our steps on the Via Dolorosa, and made our way to the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount. For reference, the entire Old City is about .5 square miles and divided into the Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish quarters. If you do not participate in a guided tour, when exploring the Old City, make sure to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall.

We then walked over to the Grotto Gethsemane, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and Garden of Gethsemane are all located in the same 1/4 mile area. This whole Old City Holy Land day of exploration took us about five hours. This allowed just enough time to go back to our hotel and do some laundry prior to dinner. Check out our post about travel tips, which include why doing laundry is key on longer trips.

Holy Land Jerusalem map

Stop 3: Pulling into Nazareth

Plan for a 2-hour drive between Jerusalem and Nazareth. I was excited to see the landscape of Israel on this road trip and was honestly quite disappointed. Most of the drive is highway and there is not much to see. You will not pass any large exciting shopping malls or nice restaurants. Instead, you will see highway pull-offs with a gas station and a dinner that may or may not be open. I recommend waiting to eat your next meal until you reach Nazareth. Nazareth is a large city with many restaurants and shops.

Our rationale for visiting Nazareth was to tour the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is where the angel appeared to Mary. The Basilica was beautiful and definitely worth the trip to Nazareth. After grabbing a coffee and darting under shop awnings due to extreme downpour, we started making our way to Tiberias.

We arrived in Tiberias and I highly recommend our hotel, the Royal Hotel Tiberias. The hotel was under renovation when we stayed in 2019 and appears to be fully remodeled. When we arrived we realized it was primarily a tour bus stop and had a meal plan available. I recommend getting the meal plan for breakfast and dinner. The buffet has a variety of options and allows you to focus on your purpose of the visit, the Holy Land sites. Tiberias itself does not have a nightlife or a significant restaurant scene.

A Full Day of Holy Land Sites in Tiberias

We only had one day to explore the entire Tiberias area and definitely made the most of it. All sites require a car. You will not be able to taxi, train or bus through the Tiberias Holy Land sites. We visited:

  • Capernaum National Park known as the “Town of Jesus”
  • Bethsaida, the birthplace of apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip
  • Tabgha, where Jesus fed 5,000 people
  • Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, where Jesus exorcised demons from two possessed men
  • Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount
  • The place of Jesus’ Baptism on the River Jordan. For this site, you will literally stop on the side of the highway to view the Jordan River.

Wrapping Up the Holy Land Exploration

On our final day in Israel, we traveled from Tiberias back to the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport. The drive was an uneventful two hours. You will travel on the highway and there are not any significant sites to see along the way. We left Tiberias five hours prior to our flight to allow for a lunch stop, rental car drop-off, and time to relax prior to catching our flight. For our return leg, we stopped in Istanbul for three nights and also did a day Viator trip to Ephesus. Our Holy Land exploration trip was more than we could have imagined and encourage everyone to take this trip.

Overall Holy Land Recommendations

  • Research extensively and prioritize sites for this trip. There is so much to see and you will not have time to visit every site.
  • Recommend 8-9 nights in the Holy Land.
  • Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Tiberias are must-see areas for Holy Land trips.
  • Masada is a stunning historical phenomenon, however, you will need to dedicate a day to the visit.
  • The Dead Sea is a unique experience but is not ideal for the elderly or anyone with mobility concerns.
  • Overall, the Holy Land is not ADA accessible.
  • Accommodations outside of Tel Aviv are quite different than US flag hotels. Unless you are prepared to spend $600 per night, expect older hotels with limited amenities.
  • You will not experience a significant variety of food. Hummus, falafel, doner, and a variety of salads will be your primary diet.

To best prepare for this trip, check out my blog post 6 Crucial Tips for Traveling Internationally.

Happy Traveling!

Emily M

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