At every age, there’s something new to thrill a kid as Israel has an abundance of historical sights and child-friendly activities, continually adding more. There are archeological digs, camel caravans and horseback riding, floating in the Dead Sea, desert caves to explore, fast food outlets, zoos, jeep tours, river rafting, shooting ranges at a kibbutz, bird watching parks and newly excavated ruins. Israel is an ideal family destination, exciting for children of every age, regardless of how many times they’ve visited. Israel loves kids and kids love Israel. A visit is way more dynamic than reading biblical stories. Experiencing the country, the mix of people — Sabras, Ethiopians, Russians — is only one aspect of life that makes Israel unique.
As kids age, so does Israel, still a new country and growing. Each time one returns, there are, along with the historic sights, new adventures. It’s informal; there’s no need to dress up except when modest dress (long sleeves and covered legs) are required at certain religious sites, such as the Western Wall or Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Jerusalem — City of Many Religions and Stories
The gigantic, castle-like, limestone fortress on a hilltop dramatically dominating the panorama that is the Old City of Jerusalem is a spectacular sight, too dazzling to be real, more like a movie set. For kids too young to be dazzled (under 2 years), Israel offers the best breakfasts: all-you-can-eat buffets — and hotels with heated pools. In addition to experiencing history, it’s great fun.
There are endless attractions that include touring a 4,000-year-old tunnel, hiking down to the reconstruction of the ancient City of David just outside the walls of the Old City. The Old City, with its Christian, Armenian and Jewish Quarters, is the original theme park with vendors selling larger, oval, sesame-topped versions of bagels, which tourists munch as they walk towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Mosque with its golden dome (removing your shoes before entering), stopping for a mint tea, pomegranate juice or falafel. The rooms at the Tower of David allow visitors to understand the timeline and follow the chronology in this castle-like museum. Ben Yehuda street is where tourists shop for Israeli made goods and eat meat on skewers, falafal and pizza. At the Israel Museum, one sees the Dead Sea Scrolls, accidentally discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea by a young Bedouin boy. For a more sobering experience, Yad Vashem allows visitors to walk through the events of the Holocaust.
Eilat — Beach Resort near Egypt & Jordan
The sun may not be shining anywhere else, but it’s a fixture in Eilat, the small beach resort in the southernmost corner of the country, now featuring large, luxurious Vegas-like resort hotels with spas and Disney-like Biblical characters, such as Herod. While some relax, others go on a camel tour, where a Bedouin guide instructs the group, “Go with the movements of the camel.” Is there any other choice? After dismounting and removing the brightly-colored, striped blankets, everyone picnics on pita bread and sage tea in the desert. It’s easy to enjoy this when they know they’ll be returning to a comfortable hotel that evening and not wandering around on camels for forty years.
At Dolphin Reef, a soulful, bougainvillea-adorned beach, home of eleven, bottlenose dolphins, a professional diver takes each guest by the hand into the deep waters of the Red Sea to scuba dive with dolphins who swim by, stopping to have their bellies and fins rubbed. There’s a glass-bottomed boat that goes below the water to simulate the sense of being in a submarine, malls galore, spa treatments for deserving parents, delicious ice cream on the boardwalk. A spectacular add-on from Eilat is a day trip to Petra in Jordan.
The Dead Sea & Masada — the Lowest Spot on Earth
Families celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the top of Masada, having risen early to climb up or making it easy on themselves by taking the cable car up to the ruins, where some may be seeing a mikveh (ritual bath) for the first time. Swimming in the Dead Sea is impossible, as is sinking. The salty water insists forces one to float and makes it impossible to go under. Here a guide can take a family on a desert tour, stopping to see the caves and surely going to a factory to shop for the Dead Sea mud products, reputed to be therapeutic.
The North — Endless Attractions
The northern part of the country has Tsefat, the spiritual hub, Bet She’an, recently unearthed and now a place to see ancient ruins, Druze communities, the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, an Olympic size skating rink, Akko (where jousting arenas still stand) and Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. And there’s always something new to surprise even the veteran traveler.
Along with all the casual restaurants and food stands, there is more ambitious cuisine everywhere and particularly in the Tel Aviv area, which is a cosmpolitan city, offering museums, mall shopping, Bauhaus architecture, the beach, an active night life scene and the nearby seaport of Jaffa.
Regardless of how much time one has, it’s impossible to do it all, which is why families repeatedly return to Israel. A kid won’t pester, “Are we there yet?” when where they are is as awesome as the next destination.
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