In 2017, more tourists visited Israel than ever before—about 3.6 million! As of June 2018, that record was on schedule to be broken, with already 2.2 million visitors exploring its holy sites, wandering its sandy beaches and discovering its complex culture. It’s easy to see why Israel made Virtuoso’s Top Ten and Hot Ten lists for fall and holiday travel among Americans—and why it’s the host of 2019’s

Destination Expo.

This Middle Eastern country is as rich in history as it is abundant in exhilarating experiences. Though one of the few countries you can see in a day, a 10-day stay is recommended to see all Israel has to offer. Chad Martin, Israel Ministry of Tourism Director for the Northeast Region, said it best: “Israel has everything that other destinations have, but more.” Just what kind of more are we talking about? Here’s a peek.

DIVERSE CITIES

A common saying is “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays.”That’s how distinct each stop on a tour of Israel can be. Though a pilgrimage of Jerusalem might top the list of reasons to visit Israel, a romp in Tel Aviv should also be on the agenda. Famed for its 24-hour lifestyle and nightlife

scene, chic boutique hotels, and world-class shopping and dining, Tel Aviv has emerged as one incredibly cool city. Haifa, in contrast, is known for its stunning scenery and mountainous setting, with Baha’i Gardens and the German Colony among the most visited attractions. Then, there’s Jerusalem …

RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE

There is religious magnitude found in every corner of Israel, yet 3,000 year old capital city Jerusalem

is undoubtedly the epicenter. The three main monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam, Christianity—recognize it as a holy. Old City, surrounded by an ancient wall, contains among many

sacred sites the Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall), Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine. Nazareth, to the north, draws religious seekers with its underground Synagogue Church, domed Basilica of the Annunciation, St.Joseph’s Church and open-air Nazareth Village.

SEASIDE BEACHES

With its entire western coast bordering the Mediterranean Sea and access to the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, Israel is renowned for sparkling waters, vibrant sunsets and sandy beaches. The Dead Sea—about 422 meters below sea level—is the lowest point on earth and one of

the most popular tourist destinations. Its high salt concentration provides a relaxing float; therapeutic minerals make for a reviving mud bath. Along the Mediterranean, from Old City in the north to Tel Aviv to Eilat at Israel’s southernmost point, are ancient ruins to be found, waters to dive, rays to soak

up and dolphins to be spotted.

EXQUISITE CUISINE

Way beyond standards like hummus, falafel, and baba ganoush, Israel has culinary creations from around the world to sample and savor. Taking influences from its Middle Eastern

and Mediterranean neighbors as well as North Africa and—of course—old- World Jewish fare, the cuisine of this relatively young nation has deep roots. Serious foodies will want to plan their trip around the OpenRestaurants™ Festival, occurring yearly in November.

MUSEUMS AND ARTIFACTS

Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world, with 200-plus. Israel Museum, the largest cultural institution in Israel, offers collections ranging from archeology to fine art and comprehensive educational programming. Other must-see museums include Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem-a Holocaust memorial museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Farkash Gallery (also

in Tel Aviv) and Haifa’s Israel National Museum of Science.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

Through Israel’s extraordinary geographic diversity, you could experience snow-capped mountains, dry desert wadis, lush greenery and humid beachfronts—all in one day. That means something for everyone, from skiing to rappelling; hiking to camel riding; swimming to sunning. Multigenerational, family-friendly, LGBTQ-welcoming, religiously symbolic and culturally diverse, Israel

has it all—and more. Take these parting words from Chad Martin: “Despite its significant past, Israel

also has a modern story to tell. “It’s not just what happened here, but what is happening and what could be.”