This past December I had the opportunity to visit Israel for free, all thanks to Mayanot Israel. I'd like to share the highlights of my stay so that you can plan your own Israel trip and get to see the best of the country.
1. Tzfat (Also Known as Zefat, Safed, etc.)
Tzfat was one of the first places that I visited on my trip. As one of the four holy cities, Tzfat has a rich history. Being the highest city in Israel, it was often used as a fortress of sorts from the late Middle Ages to the Ottoman Era. Now, it is a beautiful city filled with winding roads and hidden markets and delicious food. If you're vegan/vegetarian, make sure to keep an eye out for "Elements Cafe" and "Tree of Life." I can personally recommend smoothies from both restaurants!
In the middle of Tzfat (where the restaurants are) there is an absolutely charming marketplace. I could have spent an entire day there if I didn't have so much else to do! From beautiful jewelry to local art, it's easy to see how Tzfat is often referred to as the art capital of Israel. Before you leave, make sure to find a rooftop (like the one pictured above) to get the most beautiful lookout over the mountains.
2. Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is the financial and technological hub of Israel, and a must-see city. Explore the streets during the night and you'll find the best party and bar scene in the country. During the day, make sure to explore the markets. Carmel market was my favorite, boasting a wide selection of art and jewelry as well as the best falafel that I've ever had (pictured above--it was $2!). Make sure to pick up some pomegranate juice as well, it's better than anything that the USA has to offer. Also make sure that when you're purchasing (almost) any non-food item, never pay full price! Israel's markets have a bargaining culture, and you can usually get a pretty good deal on most goods, especially crafts.
While you're exploring the markets and shoppings centers, definitely keep an eye out for graffiti. Tel Aviv is also one of the most liberal cities in Israel, and local artists love to incorporate political messages into their street art.
3. Masada and the Dead Sea
A trip to Israel would not be complete without hiking up Masada and floating in the Dead Sea. However, the hike up and down Masada can be avoided if you're there in the blistering heat of the summer; the mountain offers a tram that goes up and down for a small fee. Either way, make sure you bring (a lot of!) water. The views from the top are unlike any other landscape that I've ever seen before, and the history of Masada is impressive as well. Once used as a fortress, Masada was sieged by the Romans and the Jews who were living up top committed mass suicide to avoid slavery. Ancient buildings can still be seen and walked through at the top of the mountain.
After the hike, I went to the Dead Sea. You can pay a small fee for a spa, where you can cover yourself in mud beforehand. Bring watershoes and make your way down to the sea. It's true, you really do float! And after the mud mask, your skin will feel softer than you've ever felt before.
4. Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl
Unfortunately I have no photos of either Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, or Mount Herzl, Israel's national cemetery. Yad Vashem was the most in-depth, heart-wrenching Holocaust museum that I've visited to date. Filled with artifacts, videos of survivors testimonies, and historical information, Yad Vashem should be at the top of your list when you visit Israel.
I had the honor of going to Mount Herzl with Israeli soldiers who knew many stories about the soldiers who were buried there. Some even had close friends who had died serving their country. They made the cemetery a touching experience unlike any other. Since many people do not have this opportunity, I would highly recommend getting a tour of the cemetery as opposed to walking around yourself.
Unfortunately, my tour group was unable to enter Jerusalem due to safety issues. President Trump decided to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and in response, the Palestinians declared three "Days of Rage" in which they would protest his decision. Thus, I cannot give any recommendations on the best things to do in Jerusalem. I can, however, promise that I will be returning to Israel one day so that I can visit!
If you have any questions about my experience, please comment or email me! I'd love to talk.