Israel has always been an alluring destination. From biblical times to present day, this slice of holy land in the Eastern Mediterranean has long attracted visitors. It has attracted turmoil, too, and Israel remains a politically sensitive country. Nevertheless, its appeal for visitors is enormous and the day-to-day issues facing residents have little effect on those coming to appreciate its astounding historic relics, impressive religious sites and exquisite natural beauty.
Home to the Mount of Olives, the Sea of Galilee and the ancient port of Jaffa, it’s hard to go anywhere in Israel without stumbling upon a place of religious significance. None, though, compare to the holy city of Jerusalem. Sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, this ancient metropolis is claimed by both Israel and Palestine and its status remains one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Jerusalem’s stunning skline belies the ugly political landscape, with its beautiful bell towers, striking minarets and the golden dome of the Al Aqsa Mosque. Split into Arabic, Jewish and Christian quarters, this cultural melting pot translates into a sumptuous culinary scene, as well as a feast for the eyes.
Tel Aviv is a different story. Israel’s commercial and political heart is a city of glistening skyscrapers, thronging streets and sandy beaches; of contemporary art galleries, excellent restaurants and hedonistic inhabitants. Quite a contrast, then, to neighbouring Jaffa, an historic port city of sprawling markets, cobbled docks and crumbling city walls. This juxtaposition of old and new is typical in Israel, where ancient cities like Nazareth and Akko exist alongside modern metropolises such as Haifa and Eilat.
Israel’s landscapes are equally diverse. Mountains, deserts and fertile valleys can all be found in this slither of the Middle East, while the Dead Sea, Red Sea, Sea of Galilee and Mediterranean coastlines offer everything from unique geological spectacles to seaside holiday resorts.
If you can read beyond the headlines and see past the politics, in Israel you will find a beautiful and beguiling nation quite unlike anywhere else on Earth.
20,770 sq km (8,019 sq miles).
8,192,463 (UN estimate 2016).
387.5 per sq km.
President Reuven Rivlin since 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with three round pins are standard; many European two-pin plugs fit the sockets.