11 Tips for a First Family Trip to Israel

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Tips for a family trip to Israel include visiting archeology sites
The Roman amphitheater in Bat She’an Photo credit Sarah Ricks

Israel is a tiny country. But Israel offers wildly varying experiences. From history, desert hiking, archeological ruins of Roman amphitheaters, art galleries, great food, museums, synagogues, mosques, and churches, and meeting locals, Israel offers it. World Traveler and Mom Sarah Ricks helps you plan your family’s unique experience with tips for a family trip to Israel. Including recommendations of a guide, travel agent, scheduling, and packing for winter.

Tips for a family trip to Israel include visiting archeological sites
Ruins of Herod’s palace swimming pool in Caesarea, Israel. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

Tips for a Family Trip to Israel

1. Experience many cultures.
2. Be sure to schedule enough time in Israel.
3. Israeli food is a highlight.
4. Bring clothes for ever-changing winter weather.
5. Stay at a kibbutz.
6. Embrace wildly different experiences.
7. Visit archeological ruins.
8. Don’t overschedule.
9. Everyone doesn’t have to go on every excursion.
10. Consider using a travel agent.
11. For a family trip to Israel, consider a guide.

My husband, two college-age children, and I just took our first family trip to Israel. We were overwhelmed by its history and natural beauty. But we were also amazed by the variety of things to do in Israel. For a winter trip, here are my top 11 tips for a family trip to Israel.

1. Experience many cultures.

On our December family trip to Israel, my family was surprised to see many cultures. For example, we didn’t expect to see Christmas trees and Santas in Tel Aviv. I was especially surprised to see Muslim teenagers in hijabs taking selfies with the giant Christmas tree in Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem and Nazareth, we visited Catholic churches, saw mosques, and heard the Muslim calls to prayer. Signs in Tel Aviv are in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Russian. And in Jerusalem, we visited both the Muslim open-air market and the Armenian Christian quarter.

SheBuysTravel tip: We would not have felt comfortable in the Muslim market in Jerusalem without our guide.

Tips for a family trip to Israel include visiting the desert and Dead Sea
My son Charlie floating in the Dead Sea in Israel. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

2. Be sure to schedule enough time in Israel

Let’s be honest, a plane ride of 11 hours or more gobbles an entire day. And isn’t something I’d want to tackle twice in a week. Try to spend at least 8 days, with a travel day on either end.

3. Israeli food is a highlight.

My family loved the Israeli breakfast. Warm breads, fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes, hummus, hot poached eggs with tomato, charred eggplant, grilled peppers, mild and sharp cheeses, juicy oranges and grapefruit. Also, I liked the smoked and pickled fish. We enjoyed lunch from a local shawarma place in the town of Bet She’an and delicious walnut baklava from a market vendor. But we weren’t limited to Israeli food. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have a variety of restaurants.

4. Bring clothes for ever-changing winter weather.

Winter weather in Israel is local. For example, one day it was 58 in Jerusalem. But that same day, after we drove into the desert, it was warm enough for my son to float in the Dead Sea. And even after a hot day, expect temperature plummets at night. Sometimes at night, I needed a sweater, a jacket, and a scarf to walk outside.

One of my tips for a family trip to Israel in winter is to have layers of clothing to pile on – and shed.

Tips for a family trip to Israel include visiting art galleries in Safed
Exploring the 16th-century artists’ town, Safed, Israel. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

5. Stay at a kibbutz.

We stayed two nights at a kibbutz on the Galilee Sea, Nof Ginosar. This was a kid-friendly, no-frills hotel. Its good cafeteria-style restaurant served traditional Israeli breakfast and a wider variety at dinner. It was inexpensive. And had plenty of grounds for kids to run around. While we didn’t explore them, the hotel grounds included a playground, ping pong, basketball, and a pool.

6. Embrace wildly different experiences.

Israel is only about the size of New Jersey. While tiny, Israel offers widely varying experiences. We took a 3-minute cable car to the top of Masada, the rocky mountain where King Herod built a fortress and palace. That same day, my family floated effortlessly in the salty water of the Dead Sea.

Israel is also urban.

In Jerusalem, we visited the emotionally powerful museum of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem.  In urban Nazareth, we explored the modern Catholic Church of the Annunciation, built where Mary learned she would give birth to Jesus. Huge images of Mary holding baby Jesus surround the church, each reflecting its own country’s art traditions.

And Israel has an artists’ town. We wandered art galleries in the sunny 16th-century town of Safed, built of stone and populated by Ultra-Orthodox Jews and artists. In Safed, we visited two Sephardic Synagogues, both exuberantly decorated and topped with blue domes.

Tips for a family trip to Israel include visiting desert hiking and the Masada
We took the cable car up to visit the ancient desert fortress, Masada. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

In contrast to Safed’s spiritual beauty, we also glimpsed evidence of war. In the Golan Heights, a Jeep drove us on muddy, rutted roads until we reached and explored hilltop trenches dug by Israeli soldiers in 1973.

Meanwhile, in the distance, we saw Syrian towns. And we were close enough to hear gunfire from the ongoing Syrian civil war.

7. Visit archeological ruins.

I had no idea Israel had amazing archeological sites. Herod, King of Judea when Jesus lived, built a palace and fortress on top of a rocky hill, Masada. We saw three levels of Herod’s palace spilling down the cliff. We visited ruins of mosaics, cisterns, ritual baths, a synagogue, and a Byzantine church. Plus, we touched the giant rocks the Roman army used to destroy the fort and end the Jewish uprising in 73 A.D.

Also, King Herod built Caesarea, a city covered in sand until only 100 years ago. Now, Israeli musicians play in its Roman amphitheater. We climbed its steep seats for stunning views of the Mediterranean.

Further, at Bet She’an National Park, we explored the Roman and Byzantine remains of a city first settled thousands of years ago. Walking the 400 acres of these ruins, we could easily see the skeleton of the city. For example, there were the public baths, that was the paved street lined with shops and columns, here was the amphitheater, there was a Temple to Dionysus, those were the public toilets.

On the Sea of Galilee, the Franciscan order reconstructed the 5th Century synagogue excavated on the grounds. Did Jesus preach here? The Franciscans say so. Next to it, they built a modern Catholic Church, suspended over the ruins of the Apostle Peter’s house.

8. Don’t overschedule.

Since there’s so much to do in Israel, it’s tempting to overschedule. I’m glad we canceled a few plans. After the Holocaust museum and memorial, Yad Vashem, we had planned to visit a different museum. But it was such an emotional experience, we chose instead to skip the next place and linger over lunch.

Tips for a family trip to Israel include visiting archeology sites
The Roman amphitheater at Bet She’an National Park, Israel. Photo credit: Sarah Ricks

9. Everyone doesn’t have to go on every excursion.

For me, food is culture, and food markets are part of the experience. My family doesn’t share my enthusiasm. While it was exhilarating to explore the spices, pastries, fish, fabrics at the Jerusalem open air market, I was glad my daughter skipped that excursion.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Unless you’re ok with wall-to-wall people, don’t visit the main Jerusalem market on a Friday afternoon.

10. Consider using a travel agent.

This was our first family trip to Israel. And we were happy a travel agent planned it. Lisa Ratner (ratnerlisa@hotmail.com) tailored the trip for us. Since my husband and I enjoy boutique hotels that let us easily walk to attractions, Lisa booked The Market House in Tel Aviv and Harmony Hotel in Jerusalem. Both were excellent boutique hotels. And both had delicious food.

Plus, Lisa suggested experiences we would not have arranged. We ate a traditional religious dinner with a local family in Jerusalem. In addition, we had coffee in the home of a Bedouin woman who recently divorced her husband for taking a second wife. Her children now go to public school with Jewish kids. And she teared up when she told us she votes as a citizen of Israel. Both visits were highlights of our trip.

11. For a family trip to Israel, consider a guide.

We were so glad we had an excellent guide in Israel, hired by our travel agent Lisa Ratner (email above). For 7 days, our funny and expert guide Charles Ayache handled the logistics. Charles drove while teaching us ancient history, modern politics, and Israeli culture. He patiently answered our questions. Charles knew when how to avoid crowds, how to dodge traffic, and which neighborhoods were safe. Among the best tips for a family trip to Israel – let Charles guide you.

What appeals to you about visiting Israel? Tell us about it in the comments.

7 responses

  1. What a truly incredible experience from the culture, history & archeology to the food! Great tips and insights.

  2. You have me sold on a guide. Dream destination for sure. Love all your photos!

  3. On my bucket list. Traveling with a guide makes so much sense for a trip like this.

  4. 4.5

  5. You already know how much I loved my visit to Israel. This just makes me want to return — and the photos are inspiring.

  6. 5

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