Israel's Ancient Sites & Modern Marvels - Atlas Obscura

Israel

Israel's Ancient Sites & Modern Marvels

Israel packs more beauty, history, culture, and contentiousness into a small space than any place on Earth. It is a portal to ancient history, and home to modern, energetic cities.

On this 10-day tour, we’ll leap between the distant past and the vibrant present, exploring the histories of civilizations reaching back to Biblical times and the country's new, cosmopolitan urban areas. 

Across Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and other cities old and new, we’ll visit tombs and tunnels, churches and souks. We’ll dig into local cuisine and get to know the diverse people who call this country home—all while learning about the political issues and religious histories that continue to shape the region. 

This trip is limited to a small group of 16 explorers.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Seas, cliffs, and caves: Explore saline lakes, clifftop fortresses, crypts carved into limestone, and many other natural wonders with fascinating pasts.
  • Urban exploration: Enjoy the bustle of Tel Aviv, with its distinctive architecture and active after-dark scene.
  • Hidden histories: From covert cables to sunken tunnels, many of Israel’s compelling stories are easy to miss unless you know where to look.

TRIP COST

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have limited capacity and expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $3,875—the $500 deposit plus the $3,375 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below. 

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.

Itinerary
Day 1
Welcome to Israel!
  • After arriving in Israel, you'll be transferred to West Jerusalem, where you’ll check into the Villa Brown, a funky boutique hotel inside a 19th-century villa. Please note that in order to fully participate in this afternoon's activities, you'll need to arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (TLV) by 12:30 p.m.
  • After settling in, we’ll wander the surrounding neighborhood. As we stroll along Ha'Neviim, or “The Street of the Prophets,” we’ll stop into the Kidane Mehret Church, on the grounds of an Ethiopian monastery, to marvel at its soaring rotunda. We’ll also walk to the stately, stone Tabor House, which the German architect and missionary Conrad Schick built for his family in 1882. (Today, the building houses the Swedish Theological Seminary.) Taking care to remain discreet and respectful, and to avoid disturbing local residents, we’ll visit the Mea She'arim neighborhood, planned by Schick and home to Orthodox haredim clad in black suits, full beards, hats, and spiraling locks of hair called peyes
  • We’ll continue getting to know our guides and fellow travelers over dinner at a tantalizing restaurant in Nachlat Shiva, which is bustling with pedestrians and sidewalk cafes.
Dome of the Rock & Western Wall Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Day 2
A Trip Into Jerusalem’s Past
  • Today, we’ll step into the ancient world. After breakfast, we’ll depart for the Old City, one of the most interesting, contentious, and beautiful places on Earth. Our first stop is the City of David archaeological site, where researchers have excavated fortresses, roads, and other relics that reveal the ancient history of the city. These discoveries have sparked political, social, and cultural debates that continue today. Afterward, we’ll make our way to the base of the Temple Mount, a holy site for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Near the gilded Dome of the Rock, we’ll explore the Western Wall, thought to be built around 19 BC. Only a small stretch is visible today, but an underground tunnel extends its footprint. We’ll wind through its subterranean reaches, and then head to the Jewish Quarter, where we’ll visit the Temple Institute, dedicated to making good on the Biblical commandment to construct sacred vessels and build a grand Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
  • For lunch, we’ll head to the Muslim Quarter, where we’ll browse the colorful souk and buy lunch from one of the many enticing food stalls. 
  • We will spend the afternoon in the Christian Quarter, starting with the Church of Holy Sepulchre, said to be the site where Jesus was crucified, and the location of the tomb where he was buried and resurrected. Next up is Mount Zion, where we’ll visit King David’s Tomb compound and climb up to the Cenacle, or Upper Room—thought to be the site of the Last Supper—and then head to the roof. There, we’ll survey the view from the President’s Room, a small domed chamber that gave heads of state a vantage point over the Western Wall during a time when Jews were forbidden from approaching the sacred sites.
  • For dinner, we’ll be treated to a delicious tour of Machane Yehuda, a market where locals stock up on fruits, nuts, seeds, and local specialities such as falafel, shawarma, and halva. As night closes in, the market’s bars and restaurants become destinations for music and art.
Day 3
Old Sites, Modern Conflicts
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll journey to the West Bank to meet up with our guide, Rami Nafez Nazzal, a Palestinian journalist and peace activist of Beyond Borders Tours. As we tour Bethlehem, stopping at the Church of the Nativity, originally built in the 4th century, our guide will share first-hand stories about the modern life of ancient disagreements, and how they continue to cast shadows over social, political, and security concerns between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
  • Afterward, we cross back into Israel, where we’ll discover a handful of overlooked sites spanning the Medieval, Ottoman, and modern eras. We’ll appreciate some of the earliest homes constructed outside the city walls, St. Andrew’s Church—built to memorialize Scottish soldiers killed battling Turkish forces during World War I—and a slim, secret cable that was pulled above the Hinnom Valley during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to transport medical supplies and weapons from a hospital room to a school on Mount Zion.
  • In the afternoon, find a lunch spot of your choice around First Station, the city’s oldest train terminus that has become a vibrant hub for food and culture. Nosh on shakshuka, lamb-stuffed pastries, or black tahini, then rejoin the group to walk together through town. On the way, we’ll pass the sites of bombings and burials, and visit an ornate synagogue with Rococo flourishes, imported from the Italian village of Conegliano.
  • After dinner on your own, enjoy a night out on the town in Jerusalem or the Old City. 
Day 4
Monasteries & Museums
  • When we wrap up breakfast, we’ll pile in for a short drive to the Monastery of the Cross—built in the 11th century on the remains of an older structure—in the valley where Jesus’s cross may have been constructed. Afterwards, we’ll wander through a lovely grove studded with olive trees, to arrive at a cemetery near Israel’s parliament. Over the past decade or so, the cemetery has become a site of pilgrimage, drawing busloads of supplicants on a regular basis. The result is a striking contrast: pilgrims flocking to the cemetery while Israel’s highest-ranking members of government conduct official business next door.
  • In the afternoon, you can choose your own adventure: Opt for a carefully curated tour of the art, artifacts, and archaeological finds on view at the Israel Museum, or drop by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and get enjoy a personal tour of its TV studio while the government is in session. Duck in for lunch at the Knesset or one of the restaurants in the Israel Museum.
  • Your afternoon and evening is free, and guides will help steer you toward delicious meals and fascinating neighborhoods to explore.
Day 5
Ancient Seas & Vibrant Cities
  • After breakfast, we’ll leave Jerusalem, and, weather permitting, enjoy a swim in the Dead Sea. We’ll also take in breathtaking views the Judean desert from Masada, a 2,000-year-old fortress built high atop an isolated cliff. Near the salty lake’s shore, we’ll also visit Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found tucked inside limestone caves.
  • Next, a bus will carry us to Tel Aviv. We’ll begin to explore the vibrant, modern city with a walking tour and dinner in the Rothschild Boulevard area.
  • Afterward, we’ll check into our new lodging nearby—the boutique Brown Hotel Tel Aviv, tucked away on a leafy street that’s still close to the action of the dense city and its 20th-century skyscrapers. 
Day 6
Architectural Oddities
  • When breakfast is over, we’ll start the day at the infamous, towering Central Bus Station. Intended to be the among the world’s largest and grandest transit hubs, it skidded into delays, decay, and dysfunction. We’ll wind our way through the jumble of corridors to discover the buildings’ many uses. (Buses still pass through, but these days, it’s also home to religious spaces, bomb shelters, and a Filipino food market.)
  • For lunch, we’ll mill around the Carmel Market (the Shuk Hacarmel) with the pre-Sabbath crowd, encountering heaping piles of spices, olives, and sweet treats.
  • The evening is yours for after-dark exploration: Your chance to dip into the city’s underground or beachside clubs.
Tel Aviv, Bauhaus Martin Baumgärtel (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Day 7
Bauhaus Buildings & Hidden Tunnels
  • Grab some breakfast before a morning walking tour, where we’ll discover some of the 4,000 light-hued, Bauhaus-style buildings with flat roofs, narrow balconies, and stacked windows that cropped up in the 1930s, earning Tel Aviv the nickname “the White City.” We’ll also encounter some of the vibrant, wildly creative street art that marks the modern city.
  • Next, we’ll fill up at the indoor Sarona market, home to trendy eateries and food stalls, before descending underground to clamber through the tunnels that once linked two Templar wine cellars—and, later, were covert workshops to repair planes that Haganah fighters smuggled from the British Air Force.
  • At our next stop, a guide will lead us through a carefully curated tour of the modern and contemporary art collection at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Then, we’ll head out as a group to a surprising cultural event, before fanning out to enjoy a night out on the town, wherever it takes you.
Day 8
Cultural Connections
  • After breakfast, we’ll pack out and travel north. On our way to beautiful Galilee, we will stop in the Arab town of Kafr Qara for an intimate conversation with students and staff at a multilingual Arab-Jewish school, and will meet with an imam at a mosque and Islamic educational center. 
  • Next, we’ll be treated to a traditional Middle Eastern lunch at a stunning private home in Umm al-Fahm, where we’ll also survey sweeping views of the West Bank. 
  • Our journey north will continue after lunch, as we make our way to Beit She'arim and its ancient necropolis, consisting of dozens of burial caves carved into the soft limestone. 
  • We’ll end the day in Nazareth, where we’ll tour various churches, mosques, and shrines in the Muslim and Christian city before heading to our home for the final two nights of the trip, a Kibbutz Afik in the Southern Golan Heights. 
Day 9
Mystics & Mountains
  • Following breakfast, we’ll decamp for Safed, an ancient, elevated town steeped in the history of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. Below the hill, we’ll visit the millenia-old Tzfat cemetery, where pilgrims pour in to visit great rabbis’ graves, which are painted bright blue. An archaeologist will lead us through the Old City, revealing the history of its colorful synagogues and spiritual art.
  • Next, we’ll explore Golan Heights, a territory that has been hotly contested by Israel, Syria, and others. From there, we’ll take a jeep ride across some of Israel’s most rugged terrain.
  • In the evening, we return to Kibbutz Afik, where we spend our final night in Israel.  
Day 10
Israel Farewell
  • Our last day begins on the western edge of the Sea of Galilee, where we’ll visit the waterfront city walls and ancient tombs before continuing on to Beit She'an, where we’ll retrace the vast remains of the ancient Roman city (one of the 10 that comprised the Decapolis, cities scattered along the Empire’s eastern edge).
  • We’ll return to Tel Aviv for a festive goodbye dinner together before setting out for the airport and returning home. Please note that your flight should depart Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) after 11:30 p.m. tonight. The group itinerary calls for heading straight from dinner to the airport for a late-night flight. If you'd prefer to spend the night in Tel Aviv and fly out the following morning, we'd be happy to offer hotel recommendations. 
The Fine Print

Your Israel trip includes

  • All lodging throughout the trip, ranging from well-equipped boutique hotels in the cities to relatively simple accommodations in other areas. (Private rooms are available for a single supplement of $645. Otherwise we’ll work to place singles of the same sex together.)
  • Nine breakfasts, eight lunches, and six dinners. (For non-group meals, your guide will gladly offer recommendations.) 
  • Transportation throughout the trip in a private coach. 
  • An expert local guide, in addition to special guests all along the way.
  • Admission to all proposed activities, sites, and events.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this region has to offer!

Travelers are responsible for

  • Transportation and flights to and from Tel Aviv. 
  • Individual travel insurance (optional). 
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.

NOTE ON FLIGHTS

 
Arrival in Tel Aviv: Your flight should arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) by 12:30 p.m. on February 3.
 
Departure from Tel Aviv: Your flight should depart TLV no earlier than 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 12. The group itinerary calls for heading straight from the final group dinner to the airport for your flight home. If you'd prefer to spend the night of the 12th in Tel Aviv and fly out the following morning, we'd be happy to offer hotel recommendations for your extra time in Tel Aviv. 

ACTIVITY LEVEL

Travelers should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking 3 to 6 miles each day and remaining on their feet for long periods of time. We’ll be spending a good amount of time outside and in rural areas, and walking up and down stairs. 

Payment

You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $3,375 will be due by November 3, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date, and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the trip’s Terms & Conditions. For those wishing to have a single room, a supplement of $645 will be included with the final payment. 

OTHER QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.