Last updated: 5 July 2019
“Should I visit the North or the South of Israel?” – That’s a hard question, and lately I’ve heard many people ask it. Almost all people include Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea in their travel plans, but then they have a couple more days and wonder where to spend them… The North or the South? Here are some pointers, which might help you decide!
The northern part of Israel includes Haifa, the Galilee and the Golan. The southern part includes the Negev and the Arava. I’ve lived both in the North and in the South of Israel. Both are charming in their own way. Here are the main differences between the North and the South:
Greenery VS Desert –
If you like to venture through green plains, forests and blossoming flowers, then you can find plenty of it in the North. On the other hand, if you like the beauty and quietness of the desert, you should head South. Many travellers that I met were amazed by the desert in the South. It seems like in most places, especially in Europe, there’s no desert like this one. So if you come from a place with no desert, I highly recommend the South!
More Christian Sites VS Less –
If you’re coming to Israel to visit as many Christian sites as possible, you will find the most in the North. You can drive around the Sea of Galilee and see the places where Jesus might have walked upon; you can visit Nazareth, the childhood town of Jesus; and you can also visit Yardenit, where you can baptise in the Jordan River. In the South you won’t find any main Christian sites, except for Qasr el Yahud, which might be the place where Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River, and some monastries, which are in the Judean Desert. The Judean Desert is not too far from Jerusalem, so it is not really so southern.
City Touring VS Hiking –
Although there are many hiking trails in the North, the more exciting hiking trails, in my view, are in the South. If you choose to hike, make sure that it’s not too hot to hike and that there’s no danger of floods. There are also many kibbutzim in the South and Bedouin camps, which you can visit.
If you prefer to do city touring, there are much more cities in the North, amongst them Acre, Haifa, Tzfat and Caesarea. In the South, on the other hand, there are almost no major cities to tour. The two major cities that do exist in the South are Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev, and Eilat, the southermost city in Israel.
The Mediterranean VS the Red Sea –
If you’re interested in snorkeling or diving, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful fish and corals that live in the Red Sea, at the most Southern point of Israel, right next to Eilat. The Red Sea is the home of the northernmost coral reef in the world. You won’t find corals in the North, because coral reefs cannot exist in the Mediterranean Sea.
Colder VS Warmer –
The weather in Israel is overall very nice and rarely really cold. Though, you should know that the temperatures in the South can get very high – around 45 degrees Celcius in the Summer – so if you don’t like to feel like you’re in an oven, you should think about visiting the North instead, where the temperatures in the summer rarely climb over 35 degress Celcius. The good thing is that in the South there’s not so much humid, so even if the temperatures are high, you won’t sweat too much. In the North, on the other hand, there’s very high humid, especially near the Mediterranean Sea.
So you can see there are some differences, but there’s also something similiar between the North and the South:
Public Transportation – Improvement Needed
Do you plan to travel Israel by public transportation? Well, the truth is that both the North and the South are not so accessible by public transportation. There are buses running quite regularly to major cities (like Haifa, Be’er Sheva and Eilat) and to major touristic sites (like the Dead Sea and Masada), but if you want to get to the smaller towns and more hidden sites, it could take you a long time to get to your destination. Here are some examples:
- If you want to get from Jerusalem to Nazareth, a direct bus leaves only twice a day (and late). So you will have to take two buses to reach Nazareth, if you don’t want to wait for the afternoon. And either way, it will take you about 2 hours.
- There are no frequent buses between the Christian sites around the Sea of Galilee. If you want to get from one site to the other, you might need to wait around 2 hours for a bus. In this case, it’s sometimes better to hike around the Sea of Galilee!
- If you want to get to the head of a hiking trail in the South, many of the trail heads are not accessible by public transportation.
So what can you do about it? If you have plenty of time in Israel, you can use public transportation (check out my Full Guide to Public Transportation in Israel), but if you don’t have too much time and want to see as much as you can – don’t let the public transportation stop you from travelling! I see two main options for you:
- Join an organized tour. There are many companies in Israel, which offer oragnized tours to different areas of Israel, including the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth and the Judean Desert. The budget companies usually offer self-guided tours, which include only transportation. The most popular company is Abraham Tours. Those companies limit the time you have at each location, so if you’re the type that likes to spend a long time wherever you visit, this might not be the best option for you.
- Rent a car. There are many car rental companies in Israel. If you have an international driving license, you can check them out and see if it is economical for you. Don’t rent a car for Jerusalem or Tel Aviv – just for the places you need it.
The main cities/ attractions in the North and in the South of Israel:
In the South: Masada and the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, Be’er Sheva, the Ramon Crater near Mitzpe Ramon, Sde Boker, Timna Park and Eilat.
Masada, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi are a day trip from Jerusalem, so they can easily be combined in any trip.
Suggested 5-Days Itinerary for Northern Israel
1- From Jerusalem, take a bus or drive to Nazareth. Abraham Tours also offer a shuttle to Nazareth, that leaves almost every day, if you prefer to take an organized shuttle. Stay in a hostel in Nazareth. Walk around the old area of the city and visit the churches.
2- On the second day, you can drive to the Sea of Galilee (if you came with a rented car) or take one of the day tours offered by various companies.
3- On the third day, you can take a bus or drive to Haifa. Stay in a hostel in Haifa. You can spend your day in Downtown Haifa, see the Bahai Gardens and eat something at the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.
4- On the fourth day, use public transportation or drive to Acre (Akko). Explore the Old City, visit the Hospitaller Fortress, walk along the old port and if you have time, stop to enjoy some time on the beach. Return to Haifa.
5- On the fifth day, you can drive up to Rosh Hanikra, one of the most beautiful natural spots in Israel (if you came with a rented car, of course). It would be a bit complicated to get there by bus. After visiting Rosh Hanikra, drive back to Haifa or continue all the way to Tel Aviv.
If you don’t have much time, instead of 3-5, you can take an organized tour to Rosh Hanikra, Haifa and Acre. They do it in one day, though you can do it in 2-3 days on your own.
Suggested 5-Days Itinerary for Southern Israel
1- From Jerusalem, take an early bus or drive to Be’er Sheva. Visit the Well of Abraham, the small Museum of the Islam and the British War Cemetery. From Be’er Sheva, continue by bus or rented car to Mitzpe Ramon. Stay in a hostel in Mitzpe Ramon.
2- On the second day, you can go hiking in the Ramon Crater or enjoy the wonderful desert around the little town of Mitzpe Ramon. If you need another day in the area, you can add it.
3- On the third day, drive to Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava region. It is also possible to get there by bus, but you will need to change buses in Dimona and it will lengthen your trip. Explore this unique ecological kibbutz and the hiking trails around it. Stay in Lotan.
4- On the fourth day, drive or take a bus to Timna Park, the most famous natural park in the area. You can rent a bike there and travel around the trails to visit the different sites, including the most ancient copper mine in the world and an Egyptian temple. Read more about Timna Park here – Saturday Morning in Timna Park. From Timna park, continue to Eilat.
5- Spend your day in Eilat and its surroundings. For ideas, check out – Top Free Things to do in Eilat.
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