I’ve been privileged to travel to Israel 5 times so far.
The first time was as a lap child. My father, (who turns 60 today, Happy birthday Abba 🙂 ) likes to say that he walked across the Atlantic as carrying me up and down the aisle was the only way I wouldn’t cry. With 5 brothers born after me, it’s no surprise that we didn’t travel abroad again after that.
As a 22 year old in August 2007 I did a month-long trek across the holy land with 2 of my 5 brothers. My grandparents were aghast that we hadn’t traveled to Israel and offered to fly us there. When I went to use the $100 off $400 Continental Privilege pack coupons that I had previously bought, I discovered that it allowed us to select Continental BusinessFirst seats despite booking a cheap coach ticket, so we flew to Israel in style. We took advantage of the plethora of SPG bargains that existed back then, spending just a couple thousand Starpoints per night to stay in Jerusalem, Haifa, Eilat, Tiberias, and the Dead Sea. There’s nothing like your first trip to the holy land. Seeing the Kotel for the first time and then going on the Kotel tunnel tour afterward is an amazing experience. I didn’t care for the side-trip to Eilat (The only differences between Miami and Eilat is that Miami has sandy beaches, good kosher food, and shuls 😉 ), but I did collect an Egypt stamp while we were down there. Things are easier when you’re just 3 guys, we rolled into Tzfas on a Friday and found an apartment that we were able to rent for Shabbos.
Sadly, my lounge is nothing to write home about, 2007:
In September 2009 Mimi and I flew to Israel for her brother’s wedding back in the days when Delta actually had saver class business award seats. We loved kayaking on the Jordan and hiking around the Golan. We went on a great Segway tour in Jerusalem and loved the Ramparts Walk. I had booked the Sheraton Jerusalem with Starpoints, but Starwood wound up moving us to the Mamilla when that hotel left the SPG program.
Banias waterfall, 2009:
In May 2010 I took Mimi on a mystery trip where she didn’t know where we were going. We flew on a Swiss and Lufthansa First Class award and made stops in Zurich, Paris, and Venice, along with a quick jaunt to Israel.
In March 2015 USAirways released all of their business class seats from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv on saver award tickets, so I booked a trip with my in-laws to visit Mimi’s brother and his family there. Our outbound flight was delayed and I got USAirways to rebook us on United, which worked out in our favor as that earned a boatload of miles:
We stayed mostly local in Jerusalem with activities like the Kotel Tunnel tour, Bloomfield Science Museum, and Mini Israel.
Impromptu speech from Bibi after the Megillah at the Great Synagogue, 2015:
Giving a DansDeals Seminar in Jerusalem, 2015:
I’ve long wanted to try out El Al, and now it’s more affordable than ever thanks to Qantas, but I couldn’t find enough availability for an upcoming trip to Israel. I did find United award space and look forward to trying out their new 77W Polaris class to Tel Aviv.
This time we have a 5 month old, 4 year old, and a 6 year old, so we’re not going to do anything too crazy, but I’m always open to reader suggestions for activities to do and places to eat.
Kosher eating in Israel on a mehadrin level is always complicated. Life seems pretty simple in the US where the major hashgochas are universally accepted, but figuring out which Israeli hashgochas are on par with US agencies is difficult to say the least.
Last year a non-Jewish blogger reached out for a 1 week Israel itinerary, while still leaving time for him to blog the whole time, and avoid cities that would close down for Sabbath. Here is what I suggested (before Qantas started offering El Al redemptions), with some edits for clarity:
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I’d love to see a review of El Al 787 business class from EWR-TLV and LY 777 first class from TLV-LAX, but I know that’ll cost an obscene amount of points/cash. If you do fly first class though, you should be able to have a travel agent make any meal requests from TLV…as long as they’re kosher 🙂
A week is a tall order, especially on a busy blogger schedule. If you can swing it, I’d probably do a 5th night free award at the Waldorf Jerusalem, and then a night or 2 each at Sheraton TLV, Ritz Herzliya, and SPG Design Elma Arts. I’m assuming you’re going before March, otherwise the W TLV might be an option.
Just bear in mind that Israel does not have a service oriented culture, so a true 5 star hotel will never exist there.
That being said, the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is in a fantastic location and does a decent enough job along with a great complimentary breakfast.
Conventional wisdom may be to avoid Jerusalem on Friday/Saturday, but I’d stick around. The experience of seeing an entire city in a hustle and bustle preparing for Shabbos (walk around the Machne Yehuda Shuk or the streets of Meah Shearim) is neat and then seeing it all come to a halt on Friday evening/Saturday is something you won’t find elsewhere. You can still tour Christian/Muslim sights/Temple mount in the old city on Saturday and if you’re up to it, see the crowds filling in the western wall area on Friday night.
-Definitively book a Western Wall tunnel tour well in advance here.
-I love the Ramparts walk in Jerusalem on top of the old city walls, you can get a birds eye view into everyday life in all 4 quarters of the old city from there.
–Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, is a must see.
–City of David tour, be prepared to get a bit wet!
Aside from that, Jerusalem is a good base for a fascinating day trips to:
–Masada tour/Dead Sea floating/Ein Gedi hike
-Dig for a day archaeology at Bet Guvrin
-A tour of Hebron and the cave of the patriarchs.
-If you want to take a tour of the west bank for a view of the conflict from both sides.
TLV has beaches and a big bar and nightclub scene, but not much historical. I wouldn’t focus too much time there. People love the dialogue in the dark exhibit, which has to be booked well in advance.
The Palmach museum is neat as well.
There are a ton of awesome wineries if you’re into that. I can give you more info on those if you’d like.
Up north along the Mediterranean sea, you’ve got the Roman ruins in Caesarea, the high-tech companies in Haifa, the grottoes in Rosh Hanikra.
Inland north there’s Tiberias on the sea of galiliee, the ancient city of Tzfat, and the Golan Heights. I love exploring Nimrod’s fortress and Baniyas waterfall in the Golan.
There are more authentic israeli possibilities, like staying in a kibbutz for a night or staying in a “Zimmer“
And that’s ignoring the possibilities of goind down south to Mitzpe Ramon, Eilat, and trips to Petra or Sinai…
Anyway, I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming. Happy to follow up on anything.
So, what does your perfect Israel itinerary look like? Share your top activities and eateries in the comments below!