Categories
Free things to do Galilee

Top FREE Things to Do in Safed

Many years ago, when there were no A/Cs in the world, Israeli people would drive in the summer all the way up to Safed to enjoy its fresh and chilly air. Now, when anyone can turn on their A/C at home or at their hotel, they prefer going on vacation to the Dead Sea. But Safed has a very different experience to offer! If you’re interested in the Jewish Kabbalah, then Safed, one of the most mystical cities in Israel, is surely on your list!

Here’s a short video about Safed (not taken by me, so credit to Israel):

I’ve been to Safed last month and as always, loved it. It has a lot of stories connected to the Kabbalah and Jewish life in the Galilee, but also some historical sites, beginning in the Crusader times up until today. Before I tell you about the FREE things you can do in Safed, let’s go over some history and key terms.

A Short Review of the Safed’s History:

Safed was a Jewish settlement from the time of Second Temple. Crusaders have passed through it, Mamluks have also settled here, but Safed is most famous for being the center of Kabbalah during the 16th century. Many famous Kabbalists settled in Safed at that time, including the ARI, Rabi Joseph Karo and Rabbi Vital. Safed was also one of the Four Holy Cities at that time.

The settlement became a mixed one, with Jewish and Arab people living beside each other, not always in peace. When the Independence War burst in 1948, there were around 12 thousand Arabs and 1,200 Jews in Safed. The Jewish insisted to stay in their homes and when the British left the area, the battles inside Safed began. The Palmach had to send a force into the city in order to keep the Jewish people safe and to try and conquer Safed. After about a month of fighting, the Palmach decided to use the Davidka, a homemade Israeli mortar. The loud noise made by the Davidka and the fact that it was accompanied by heavy rainfalls frightened the Arabs, who thought the Jews might be using nuclear bombs, and they hurried to evacuate the city. And Safed remained completely Jewish.

What is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is a mystic method, discipline, and school of thought of Judaism. The Jewish Kabbalah is meant to explain the connection between God, the Infinite and the people on Earth. Kabbalists (people who learn Kabbalah) dig deeper into the Hebrew Bible and the traditional rabbinic literature in order to discover their inner meaning and their concealed dimensions. Want to learn more? You can try taking a Kabbalah class while in Safed. For more info, click here.

And just before we begin – Safed or Tzfat or maybe Zefat?

Unfortunately, it seems that the people of Safed aren’t able to choose how to present themselves in English, or at least aren’t doing a good job in branding. You’ll find many types of spelling for the city’s name – Safed, Tzfat, Zefat. I’ve decided to use the name Safed in this post, because Wikipedia calls it Safed. The truth is that I like Tzfat better, because I think it’s the most precise pronunciation, but… I’ll go with Wiki this time.

Now, about FREE Things to do in Safed:

Visit the different synagogues.

There are many synagogues inside Safed’s Old City, each one named after a different Rabbi and designed in a different way. I recommend getting a map of the Old City at the Visitors Center (address: אלקבץ 17) before starting your tour.

The Visitors Center is where the “Underground Tunnels” sign

I’ll highlight two of the synagogues:

The Ashkenazi ARI Synagogue. Originally built in the 16th century by Sephardic Jews from Greece, this synagogue was later bought by a large group of Ashkenaz Hasidim who came from Europe in the 18th century. Only then did the synagogue get its current name, the Ashkenazi ARI Synagogue. It is believed that in the 16th century one of the people who prayed here was Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the “ARI”.  Every Shabbat eve, he went with his students to a nearby field, called “Hakal Tapuchin Kedishin” (The Holy Apple Field), and welcomed the Shabbat with the famous Shabbat melody, Lecha Dodi. The synagogue was rebuilt in the mid-19th century after the massive earthquake of 1837.

When you enter the synagogue, you might notice there’s no mezuzah at the entrance. That’s because there’s no real need to put a mezuzah at the entrance to a room, as long as you don’t eat and sleep inside it. After entering, take a look at the holy ark, that was carved from olive wood by craftsmen from Galicia, who didn’t really understand the Jewish laws. At the top of the ark they drew a human face, which is against the Jewish law, which forbids to make a picture or statue of a human figure. There’s also a wooden chair in the synagogue, that is called Elijah’s Chair. It is believed that whoever sits on it will be blessed with a boy child within a year, so… ladies, if you’re interested.

The entrance to the Ashkenazi ARI Synagogue

Abuhav Synagogue. This one is my favorites. When you enter, take a look at the inside of the dome. There are all kinds of symbols up there, including Temple Mount, which represents the place of the Holy Temple, and four crowns, representing the Torah crown, the priestly crown, the royal crown and the crown that is unique to Safed, the crown of impending redemption. There are also three interesting paintings on one of the walls, showing two pigeons that represent God and the Israelites. The synagogue also holds the most ancient Torah scroll in Safed, which you will probably not be able to see, as it is only taken out three times a year, on Yom Kippur, on Shavuot, and on Rosh Hashanah.

A glimpse to the dome

Entrance to those synagogues are free, but a donation is always appreciated. Also, consider that the synagogues might be closed when you arrive, as they don’t have fixed opening hours. You can try to check opening hours with Safed’s Visitor Center by calling: 972-4-6924427.

Check out the different art galleries and talk to their owners.

Actually, I didn’t do this during my last visit, but I have done it about a year ago when I was with my grandma in Safed. There are plenty of art galleries around the old city area and many of them sell Kabballah related artworks. Feel free to ask the people at the art gallery about the different symbols, hear their views and stories. It’s really a great experience! Galleries can be found both in the old Jewish area and in the old Muslim area, around what was once the Market Mosque and is today a small art museum (which is also free to enter).

Explore Safed’s Citadel.

Above the Old City you’ll find an interesting archeological site called Safed’s Citadel. It was once one of the largest Crusader citadels in the Middle East. It was built by Benoît d’Alignan in the 13th century, upon a smaller citadel, and documents from that time describe a huge citadel, about 250 meters long and 110 meters wide, encircled by two massive defense walls. Later, when the Mamluks conquered the citadel in 1266 CE, they added a huge tower on the southern side of the citadel, a tower that was about 60 meters high and 35 meters in diameter. Underneath that tower, they dug a water reservoir. It seems like Safed was super important to those guys for some reason… The citadel was passed from one hand to another, until an earthquake, that took place on the 1st of January 1837, massively ruined it. Today you can walk around the ruins, see some of the massive walls and even enter the ancient water reservoir, that was later refurbished by the British. Today it’s dry and if you like to sing, it has superb acoustics!

The citadel is about a 15 minutes’ walk from the Old City and there are signs pointing towards it, so you won’t have a problem finding it. If you have a car, you can also park up there.

The entrance to the water reservoir

See the historical buildings.

Before entering the Old City of Safed, take a look at the buildings on the street above it, Jerusalem Street (רחוב ירושלים). The first historical building is Beit Busel, a complex originally built in 1904 as a hospital of the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People. Today it is part of Safed’s Academic College. But it has a very long history. After being a hospital, it was a German military base during World War I, a Scottish college from 1921 to 1936, and even a recovery home for the Workers of the General Organization in Israel until 1984. The original complex had three buildings, but one was demolished by a contractor who didn’t understand the importance of conservation. Today, the two remaining buildings are under conservation work and maybe soon we will be able to have a closer look on them. Now (December 2018), they’re hidden behind construction walls.

The entrance to the Beit Busel complex

Another building that you can see from Jerusalem Street is the Rothschild Hospital, that opened its doors in 1912. It is also part of Safed’s Academic College, which means you won’t be able to go inside, but you can take a look at its impressive façade.

The old Rothschild Hospital

Afterwards you can keep walking another 500 meters or so along Jerusalem Street until you reach a large set of stairs leading down to the Old City, called Maalot Olei Hagardom (מעלות עולי הגרדום). At the top of those stairs, on Jerusalem Street, stands an old, narrow, brownish building, cramped between two newer buildings. This was a British guard station (Pillbox), that had a perfect view on Maalot Olei Hagardom, which was the street that divided between the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter during the British Mandate, until 1948. A huge spotlight illuminated the street at night and if someone tried to cross from one side to other after curfew hours, the British soldier on the pillbox would shoot him. Opposite the pillbox, on the other side of the street, is a monument for the Davidka, a mortar that was used by the Israeli forces during their battle on Safed in the Independence War.

The pillbox at the top of the stairs
The Davidka memorial

Go up to Birya Fortress.

Although not exactly in the city of Safed, this place has some beautiful viewpoints and also an interesting historical story. The fortress was built on the 8th of January 1945 by the Palmach, the underground army of the Jewish community during the British Mandate. To be able to build it, they told the British that it was a meant for civilian purposes, but the truth was the Palmach’s main base in the Upper Galilee area. The Palmach came to this remote place for training and also turned Birya into one of the force’s biggest weapons cache. They were not allowed to carry weapons during the British Mandate. But the main story of this place is connected to February 1946, when the British find out that Birya was not an innocent civilian settlement. They found the caches and arrested all the people who lived there. A short time after their arrest, on the 14th of March 1946, around 3,000 young Jewish men and women made their way up to Birya and resettled. The next day, when only 150 of them were left to guard the place, the British came and evicted them forcefully. But the Jewish settlement didn’t give up and on the 17th of March, they resettled Birya for the last time. The British gave up and let them stay as a civilian settlement.

You can enter Birya Fortress every day between 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Sadly, there aren’t signs in English, but you can get the feel of the place and also climb up to the fortress’s tower for a nice view of the surroundings. Outside the fortress there’s another viewpoint, which I personally like better.

You can reach Birya by taking bus number 20 from the main bus station to Machane Meishar Station (מחנה מישר) and then continuing by foot to the Birya Fortress. The ride costs about 5 ILS and is 20 minutes long. The bus leaves every 90 minutes.

The tower at Birya Fortress

There are many other things to see in the city and its surroundings, amongst them Safed Cemetery, some small museums, the Messiah Alleyway, and the Mamluk Khan, that is today Ruth Rimonim Hotel.

Looking for a good place to eat in Safed? I’d recommend Falafel Yitzhak (פלאפל יצחק) on Jerusalem Street, a bit farther on from the old Rothschild Hospital. Prices are great and food is great as well.

If you want to leave the boundaries of the city, an interesting place would be the Tomb of Simeon bar Yochai at the foot of Mount Meron, which you can see clearly from Safed. Simeon bar Yochai was an important Rabi who lived in the 2nd century and believed to be the one who wrote the Zohar, a foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical. Some Jews visit his tomb to receive blessings, while others believe that it is a pagan practice as you cannot receive a blessing from a dead man. During the holiday of Lag Ba’Omer, thousands of people come to his tomb to celebrate his yahrzeit, anniversary of death. Visiting the Tomb of Simeon bar Yochai is part of a much larger phenomenon of Jewish people who visit different tombs of righteous people throughout the Galilee. To reach the tomb, you can take bus number 361 from the central bus station to Meron1 Station. The ride costs about 5 ILS and takes around 25 minutes.

Have a great time in Safed and its surroundings!


Think this post is useful or helpful? Don’t forget to like, share and leave a comment 🙂

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out my new app, Travel Israel on Google Play or iTunes. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Acre Free things to do

Top FREE Things to Do in Acre

 I visited Acre last month and didn’t have time to write down what I think of it. Now I have a few minutes, so… Acre is amazing! I have visited Acre (called Akko in Hebrew) a few times in the past, but this time I was truly astonished by its beauty. This small city, sitting on the tip of Acre Bay, has one of the most beautiful old cities in Israel, with enchanting alleyways, historical structures and impressive mosques.

Here’s a really cool short video I found on YouTube (published by Ruslan Paul):

Before I begin with the top FREE things to do in Acre, let me tell you a few interesting facts about the city.

Did You Know?

  • Acre’s Old City was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001, due to the amazing preservation of Crusader-era buildings beneath the Ottoman-era buildings of the Old City. When you walk around the Old City, remember there’s a 900 years old city beneath your feet!
  • Acre is home to another World Heritage Site – the Bahai Gardens of Acre, which I’ll talk about later in this post…
  • Acre’s port is over 700 years old and was one of the most important ports in the Land of Israel. Since the 19th century, following the opening of the port in Haifa, Acre’s port became less important and today it is mostly touristic.
  • When Napoleon came to the city in 1799, he was unable to capture it.
  • Old Acre is surrounded by the sea from three sides – the west, the south and the east. So there’s a big chance you’ll see the Mediterranean Sea when touring around the city!
  • In Acre live about 48 thousand people, most of them Jewish people. Inside the Old City of Acre live around 5,000 people, almost all of them Arabs. I have met some Jewish families who live inside the Old City and say they have good relationship with their Arab neighbors.

How to Get to Acre?

From Jerusalem: To get to Acre by public transportation, you will need to first get to Haifa. From Jerusalem Central Bus Station, take line number 960 to Haifa HaMifratz Central Station. From there, take one of the lines going to Acre (for example: 271, 251) and ask the driver to let you know where the nearest station to the Old City is. The whole ride from Jerusalem will take around two and a half hours and cost around 50 ILS. Another option is to take the ferry from Haifa to Acre. It leaves Haifa Port (Gate 5) every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (at 11 AM and 4 PM) and Saturday (at 11:00 AM, 1:30 PM, 5:30 PM), unless the weather does not permit. The cost of the ferry is 30 ILS (drive from Jerusalem to Haifa is around 37 ILS).

From Tel Aviv: The easiest way would be to take the Train from one of the Tel Aviv stations to Acre Station. Cost will be around 35 ILS and the ride will take around one hour and a half. Then, you will need to walk about 25 minutes to the Old City of Acre or take a taxi/ bus.

And if you haven’t read about the Rav Kav Card yet – read this post.

Top Free Things to Do in Acre:

Explore the Old City’s Magical Alleyways

I could spend days strolling around the enchanting alleyways of Old Acre. No matter where you go, you’ll find something amazing. Look upwards once in a while to see a beautiful stone relief or an interesting architectural feature, and always remember that you’re walking inside a city that’s built upon a beautifully preserved Crusader city from the 12th century. To see the Crusader buildings, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to the Hospitaller Fortress. It’s worth it, especially if you’re interested in history and archeology!

Some of the most interesting things to see in the Old City include the el-Jazzar Mosque, which is the most dominant mosque in Acre, with the big green dome. This is the third largest mosque outside of Jerusalem (the second largest is the new mosque in Abu Gosh). After taking a look at the mosque, you can take a walk through the marketplace of Old Acre, where they sell different products along with different kinds of food. When you find your way to the port area, you might be able to spot a clocktower.

The clocktower from down below…

This clocktower was built by the last Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, in honor of his 25 years of reign in the early 20th century. He built hundreds of clocktowers throughout the Ottoman empire and six clocktowers within the Land of Israel, in Acre, Haifa, Damascus, Safed, Jaffa and Jerusalem. The clocktower stands next to Khan al-Umdan, the largest khan in Israel, which is currently under preservation works and therefore is closed to the public (December 2018), but you can still admire the outside of the building.

Visit the Amazing Tunisian Synagogue

I’ve been to many different synagogues in Israel and the world and this is without a doubt the most beautiful! The whole synagogue is covered amazing mosaics depicting stories from the Bible, the history of the Jewish people and different landscapes and landmarks from the Land of Israel. There are also amazing stained-glass windows. My words can’t really describe their beauty, so I highly recommend you go see it yourselves!

If you would like to take pictures inside the synagogue, please make sure you come here NOT on Shabbat (between Friday evening and Saturday evening), as taking pictures during Shabbat is not allowed inside the synagogue. I’ve come to the synagogue on Shabbat, so I can only share with you the picture of the synagogue’s façade and not its interior.

Actually, the entrance isn’t free, but costs a small amount of 10 ILS per person. On Shabbat the entrance is free because it is not allowed to take money on Shabbat according to the Jewish law. 

The synagogue is open for visits from around 9:30AM to 12:30. During Shabbat, the synagogue is open for longer hours, but again – you won’t be able to take pictures to show your friends back home.

To get to the synagogue, you will need to exit the Old City from the Land Gate (עשר היבשה) and walk along Yehonatan ha-Khashmonai Street until it turns left to Yehoshafat Street. Keep on walking on that street until you reach the right turn to Eliezer Kaplan Street, which is the synagogue’s street. It takes about 10 minutes to get there.

The outside of the syangogue. Wait till you see the inside!

Walk Upon the Old City Walls

Acre is one of the only cities in the world where the ancient city walls are still standing, so it’s a great opportunity to walk upon some more history! The walls of Acre’s Old City are a bit more than 200 years old, but they have a much longer history. The first walls were built around 950 CE by the Islamic ruler, Ibn Tulun. Later, those walls were demolished and replaced by much more massive walls built by the Crusaders, who arrived in Acre in the 12th century. But their walls couldn’t stand against the Mamluk army, which arrived in the late 13th century and destroyed the walls and the city. On the ruins of the Crusader city, the Bedouin ruler, Dahar el-Omar, restored the city walls around 1750. And then comes the interesting part…

In 1775 el-Jazzar took over Acre and became the ruler of the Galilee instead of Dahar el-Omar. In 1799, the French military leader, Napoleon, stood in front of Acre’s walls. He thought that it would be easy to capture the city, like he did in Jaffa and other cities in the Land of Israel. At the end of the siege he imposed on Acre, his soldiers were able to break through the wall built by Dahar el-Omar, but then found themselves trapped in front of another wall, which they were not aware of. That wall was built by el-Jazzar’s people DURING the siege! Napoleon’s soldiers were slaughtered in between the two walls and Napoleon had to give up and make his way back to Egypt and from there, back to France.

The wall that was built during the siege was destroyed at some point of the history, but you can still see some of Dahar el-Omar’s walls. When you climb the walls next to the Land Gate, you’re actually standing on the massive walls that were built after Napoleon’s siege, between 1800 and 1814, by el-Jazzar. And if you’re asking what those cannons along the walls are, those also aren’t connected to Napoleon. They were places there after the siege in order to enhance the protection of Acre.  But they are still worth a pic ?

See the cannons?

Visit the Beautiful Bahai Gardens of Acre

The Bahai Gardens of Haifa are well known around the world. Many people come to Haifa just to see the gardens, which are beautifully lit during the evening. But few people know about the Bahai Gardens of Acre. I didn’t know about them up until about a year ago! Like the Old City of Acre, the Bahai Gardens of Acre (and of Haifa) are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Bahai faith was founded in the mid-19th century by a man called Bahá’u’lláh in 1863. This faith is based on the Bayání faith, that was founded in Persia about 20 years beforehand by a man who called himself “the Bab” (“the Gate”). Some of the Bahai faith’s main principles are unity of God, unity of religion, unity of humanity, Equality between women and men and world peace. They believe that the most important thing is that people will be in peace and that is why their gardens are so peaceful.

The gardens in Haifa might be more popular among the tourists, but the Bahai Gardens of Acre are more important to the Bahai believers. In Acre is buried the founder of the young religion, Bahá’u’lláh, and the believers come from all over the world to pay their respect to him. To reach the place where Bahá’u’lláh is buried, you will need to walk along a very long path surrounded by greenery, which slowly pulls you into the calm atmosphere.

The entrance to the gardens is completely free, and you even get a short explanation about the faith and the gardens from one of the Bahai volunteers. To be able to visit all parts of the gardens, you should come here on a Sunday, Monday, Friday or Saturday from 9:00 AM to noon. I recommend coming exactly when they open the gates at 9:00 AM so you will be able to experience the gardens when they are completely empty (and also get the first explanation from the Bahai guide).

This is just the beginning of the gardens…

Chill Out on the Beach

Acre has some beautiful beaches outside of the Old City walls. The closest beach to the Old City is called the Horses Beach (Hof HaSusim), but it has no facilities and no lifeguards, so it can be a good place to just sit on the beach and enjoy the sun.

If you’ll go a bit farther, about 20 minutes by foot from the Old City, you’ll get to a beautiful beach called Agraman Beach. There are restrooms and showers, water coolers, a kiosk and places with shade. The water is amazing, the beach is clean and the view of the Old City from here is just WOW! You will have to go see for yourselves, since I didn’t bring my phone to capture the view of the place.


If you’re looking for a place to stay in Acre, I totally recommend Eco Akko Hostel. Read my review on Eco Akko Hostel here.

And if you’re looking for something sweet, check out the bakery on Salah ad Din Street, between the hostel and the Land Gate. It’s called Nazareth Sweets and they have delicious kanafeh.


Think this post is useful or helpful? Don’t forget to like, share and leave a comment 🙂

Also, check out my Facebook page, Backpack Israel.

Want help with planning your trip to Israel? Check out my new app, Travel Israel on Google Play or iTunes. You’re also welcome to contact me through the Experts tab.

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Tel Aviv

Top Free Things to do in Tel Aviv

So, after Jerusalem and Eilat, I’ve decided to write about the top free things to do in TEL AVIV, the city that never sleeps! Tel Aviv is probably one of the most famous cities in Israel. It is also one of the vibrant cities in the world, with a long stretch of beaches, colorful markets, and crazy nightlife. So, what to do in Tel Aviv? Here are my top picks.

Post last updated on 8 November 2021.

Want to learn more about travel to Tel Aviv?

Read my full travel guide to Tel Aviv for budget-conscious travelers.

Table of contents:

Have fun on the beach

Explore the beautiful streets of Old Jaffa

Take a walk from Old Jaffa to Tel Aviv Port

Enjoy the graffiti of Florentin

Visit Rabin’s memorial at Rabin Square

Take a stroll through the German Colony of Sarona

Enjoy the atmosphere of Nachalat Binyamin Market

Explore the Independence Trail

Participate in one of Tel Aviv’s free tours

1- Have fun on the beach:

If you want to enjoy the sun, sand, and wonderful sea, grab a beach towel and head to one of Tel Aviv’s beaches. It’s free!

Tel Aviv is famous worldwide for its fantastic beachside along the Mediterranean Sea. The beach strip is divided into 13 declared beaches, each having a different vibe. All include showers, changing rooms, and toilets and are well maintained. Some beaches have sports facilities. Some offer lounge beds, chairs, and sun umbrellas during the season (April to October).

I love Charles Clore Beach, a few hundred steps away from Old Jaffa. It’s a quiet beach compared to the others, has a great view of Old Jaffa and a great bar-café on site. Other recommended beaches are Jerusalem Beach and Gordon Beach, which are very close to each other. Hilton Beach is a gay-friendly beach, not far away as well.

Jerusalem Beach

2 – Explore the beautiful streets of Old Jaffa:

In my opinion, Old Jaffa is one of the most enchanting places in Israel. Jaffa is one of the most ancient settlements in Israel, but today is part of Tel Aviv. Actually, the people who established Tel Aviv in the early 20th century came out of Jaffa’s Walls.

But, as I said, Jaffa has a very long history. The first settlement began at the end of the Neolithic period and started expanding in the Canaanite period, about 3,000 years ago. One of the most famous Biblical figures connected to Jaffa is Jonah, who sets sail from Jaffa’s port on his flee from God’s mission. Jaffa has its ups and downs throughout history, but even when it was demolished by certain empires, it was re-built soon after. The last person to re-build Jaffa was Muhammad Abu-Nabbut, the local governor of the city during the Ottoman period. When you explore Old Jaffa, you can still see some buildings remaining from his time, including the Mahmoudiya Mosque near Jaffa’s Clocktower.

Take a full day to explore the streets of Old Jaffa. I recommend beginning at the Clocktower, which was built in 1903 in honor of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II and to commemorate his 25 years of rule over the empire. If you’ll proceed on Miprats Shlomo Promenade, leading west, you’ll soon see a beautiful view of Tel Aviv. Afterwards you’ll arrive at the plaza next to St. Peter’s Church, one of the most important churches in Israel, commemorating the time when Christianity began spreading to the whole world. Other things worth seeing is the Artists’ Street and the Old Jaffa Port, which is one of the most ancient ports in the world.

A Visit to Old Jaffa: What to See? 

Old Jaffa Clocktower

3 – Take a walk from Old Jaffa to Tel Aviv Port:

Linking between Old Jaffa to Tel Aviv Port is the magnificent Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade, stretching over 14 kilometers along the Tel Aviv beachline. Along the promenade are many restaurants and cafes and of course, beautiful views of the Mediterranean. The promenade extends beyond Old Jaffa, but I recommend walking from Old Jaffa to Tel Aviv Port, especially in the early hours of the evening. The walk takes about one hour and it’s a perfect way to relax, do some people-watching and explore the Tel Aviv beachside.

If you prefer biking, you can rent a bike through Tel-O-Fun (the green bikes that appear almost anywhere in Tel Aviv) and bike along the promenade. It isn’t free, but it doesn’t cost much (about 23 ILS for an hour) and it’s a great way to get around Tel Aviv.

More about Tel-o-Fun:

4 – Enjoy the Graffiti of Florentin:

One of the coolest neighborhoods in Tel Aviv is without a doubt Florentin, just a short walk from Rothschild Boulevard. It’s super famous for its beautiful graffiti works, that are scattered all around it. There are some alleys which are totally covered with graffiti, some of less known artists and some that were made by well known graffiti artists, such as Jonathan Kis-Lev. You can wander around the different streets and alleyways by yourselves, or you can join one of the great gaffiti tours that take place in Florentin. I highly recommend those done by Aaron Gertz Tours. He offers budget prices and great content! And if you’re already in Florentin, you might also want to check out the wonderful food options in the neighborhood.

A beautiful graffiti on a synagogue in Florentin

5 – Visit Rabin’s memorial at Rabin Square:

Yitzhak Rabin was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel from 1974 to 1977 and then was elected for a second term of office in 1992. In October 1994 he signed the peace agreement with Jordan. About a year beforehand, in September 1993 he signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, a brave step that granted him the Nobel Peace Prize and later led to his assassination by a right-wing Jewish extremist who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords. Rabin was assassinated on 4 November 1995.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin happened at the end of a peace rally, which took place in the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv, today known as Rabin Square. If you’re in the area, you can come to visit the square. The City Hall of Tel Aviv is located at the top of the square and in the square are two pools and a beautiful memorial sculpture for the Holocaust, designed by Israeli artist Yigal Tumarkin.

Rabin’s Memorial is located on Ibn Gabirol Street, next to the City Hall. There are two memorials there, one more official than the other. The one on the wall preserves part of the authentic graffiti that people made on the City Hall’s walls right after the assassination. The big word says: “Sorry”. You can also see spots on the boardwalk, that indicate where Yitzhak Rabin stood at the time of the assassination.

When I was there a while ago I was stopped by some tourists, who wanted to know what I think about the political assassination and if I think it could happen again. I’ll leave those questions open.

The Square is about a half an hour walk from the seaside. Many Dan buses arrive near the Square.

Rabin’s Memorial – “Sorry”

6 – Take a stroll though the German Colony of Sarona:

The German Colony of Sarona is located a short walking distance from the Azrieli Mall (the three towers that are rectangular, circular and square). In my opinion, Sarona is one of the most beautiful parts of Tel Aviv. It is a modern-looking shopping center, situated in the original preserved houses of the 19th century German Colony. There is also a food mall nearby, but the prices are up high. If you’re not interested in spending a lot of money, I just recommend strolling along the shops and seeing the preserved buildings.

The history of the colony begins in 1871. The German Templars arrived to this part of Israel and decided to establish a colony here, after establishing one in Haifa. The Templars were very religious Christians and began developing agriculture and industry in the area. They were doing well under the British Mandate until September 1939, at the beginning of World War II, then they were declared as enemy nationals and exiled from the Land of Israel.

Later, Sarona was turned to a British camp, which was attacked many times by the Jewish underground forces. In December 1947, when the British were starting to pack their bags and leave the area, they passed the camp to the Jewish leadership, which turned it to a camp of the Jewish force, the Haganah. After the declaration of Israel’s independence in May 1948, the new government’s institutions settled in the houses of the German Colony.  Today, as I said, it is a shopping and recreational center.

Sarona and skyscrapers in the background

7 – Enjoy the atmosphere of Nachalat Binyamin Market:

This is another shopping area in Tel Aviv, situated closer to the seaside.  Even if you aren’t planning to buy anything, it’s nice to stroll around and soak in the nice atmosphere. On Tuesdays and Fridays between 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, this pedestrian street is filled with music, street performances and arts and crafts stalls. Read more about it in the official site: Nachalat Binyamin Market.

Nachalat Binyamin is about a 20 minutes walking distance from the seaside.

8 – Explore the Independence Trail:

The Independence Trail is a new trail in Tel Aviv, meant to take you back in time to the very beginning of Tel Aviv and to the very beginning of the State of Israel, from 1909 to 1948. The trail passes by the first buildings of Tel Aviv and important institutions, that tell the story of the city and of the country, like the Haganah Museum, the first branch of the Bank of Israel and the Independence Hall (originally the first mayor’s house), where the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948.

Coming Soon – a full guide to the Independence Trail

The starting point of the trail is at the first kiosk of Tel Aviv, which has been preserved. The kiosk stands on the crossroad between Rothschild and Herzl Streets. A short walk from there, on Rothschild 11, is the trail’s information center, where you can get the official map and all the information you need. I recommend starting the trail in the morning so that you will be able to see everything before most sites close at 4:00 PM.

The trail was created by the Tel Aviv Municipality together with the Tourism Department.

One last thing to be aware of – on Rothschild Avenue you need to make sure not to walk on the bicycle path (it’s lined out on the boardwalk). Many people ride electric bikes in Tel Aviv and it could be dangerous to walk there.

Read more about the trail in the official site: Independence Trail.

Independence Trail starting point

9 – Participate in one of Tel Aviv’s Free Tours:

If you want to discover Tel Aviv with a guide, but don’t want to pay too much, you can always join a Free Tour. But, keep in mind that not all Free Tours are really free. Some will expect you to leave a tip at the end, and the recommended amount of tip is about 50 ILS. So… which Free Tours do I recommend?

SANDEMANs have a Free Tour of Old Jaffa, which I participated in. It’s about two hours, the guides are certificated and interesting and you really get to see the main sites of Jaffa, so yes, I would recommend them. Due to the COVID-19 situation, they do not offer the tour at the moment.

(by the way, Yafo is Jaffa. For some reason, tourists say Jaffa, so that’s how I called it throughout the post…)

More Free Things to Do:

Top Free Things to do in Safed

Top Free Things to do in Acre


So, as I said, those were my top picks of free things to do in Tel Aviv. If you have any more suggestions, you’re free to type them in the comments or let me know through a message to my Facebook page – Backpack Israel or email at lior@backpackisrael.com.

If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

For more info about Tel Aviv and other places in Israel – check out my new app, Travel Israel – Land of Creation (free download on Google Play  and iTunes).

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Eilat Free things to do

Top Free Things to do in Eilat

Eilat is a perfect destination for those of you seeking for some sea and sun and beautiful hiking trails. Here are some of the best free things you can do in Eilat:

1 – Enjoy the Red Sea:

The Red Sea is the center of the city. We Israelis love going to the sea, swimming, snorkeling, diving, sailing and just sun-bathing on the beach. So go on, make your way to one of the beaches and have fun. The entrance to the water is free (as long as you’re not entering from a beach that requires entrance fee)! You can also rent a mask, snorkel and flippers from one of the diving clubs for a small fee and set out for some snorkelling. It’s better to snorkel near the Taba Border, there the coral reef is richer.

The Beautiful Red Sea from the Coral Beach Area

2 – Go on a Hike in the Mountains:

Eilat is surrounded by the beautiful Eilat Mountains, colored red, brown, pink and other fascinating colors. If it’s not too hot outside, put on a hat and hiking shoes and go on a hike in the mountains. There are also many camping spots in the area, so you can spend the night in one of them (all of them are simple and have no lights at night, showers or toilets).

Here are three trails you might be interested in:

And some more info about: camping in and around Eilat.

The Eilat Mountains – Just a Part of Them

Watch a video of Mount Yoash Viewpoint in the Eilat Mountains (video by Eilat City):

3 – Visit the Bird Watching Park:

It’s not exactly in the city, but if you like bird-watching, you should make your way there. Eilat is one of the most important stops for birds on their way to different places in the world. It’s a very quiet place, not very touristic, the place gets full only when the bird migrating season starts (spring), so you can feel like it’s all for yourselves. Walk along the circular path, stop now and then to try and recognize birds sitting in the trees or walking in the waters, and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings and calm atmosphere!

Tip: Go early in the morning with a pre-arranged picnic basket and eat breakfast on one of the picnic tables in the park. It’s a nice place to have a picnic!

The park is open 24 hours day, every day. 

How to get there? You can take about a 30 minutes’ walk from the Ice Mall area, through the agricultural fields, all the way to the Bird Watching Park. The park is located near the border crossing with Jordan. For more details, see the map below. If you want, you can combine this with a longer hike: Birds, Agriculture and Ancient Wells Just Outside Eilat.

4 – Go Watch People Ice Skate in the Ice Mall:

If you’re coming to Eilat in the Summer, you should get ready for very high temperatures. To chill down, you can enter the Ice Mall, which is the newest mall in Eilat, built in 2012. The mall is shaped as an oval and inside you can find two floors full of shops and restaurants, but most importantly, you can find a huge ice rink in the middle! Ice skating is quite expensive, so if you don’t want to spend your money, you can just enjoy watching other people ice skate (or falling on the ice over and over again because they don’t know how to skate).

How to get there? The Ice Mall is located at the Northern end of the touristic city. It’s not far from the abandoned “King City” castle, a short 10 minutes’ walk from the main promenade.

5 – Walk Along the Promenade at Night:

Until November 2013, the main promenade in Eilat was covered stalls selling all kinds of souvenirs, but the supreme court decided to shut those stalls down, as they weren’t completely legal and very messy. Now you can walk along the promenade without having to squeeze your way through a hoard of tourists and stalls. You can walk along the promenade during the day and enjoy the beautiful sight of the Red Sea, but you can also walk along the promenade at night, enjoy the sight of the far away lights, enjoy the music played by the musicians along the way and the nice atmosphere. If you like art, you can watch caricature artists draw people at the big plaza next to “The Ball”.

6 – Learn a bit of history at the Umm Rash-Rash Plaza:

Eilat is not just the sea and the sun. You can also find some history in it. Go to Umm Rash-Rash Plaza and read about the final military operation of the Independence War, admire the monument representing the Hanging of the Ink Flag and try to imagine how the place looked like back in 1949.

How to get there? Umm Rash-Rash Plaza is situated right next to Mall Ayam, on its southern side.

For more info, take a look at my post – “Meet Umm Rash-Rash”.

Umm Rash-Rash Plaza

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Also check out – Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem

If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

For more info about Eilat and other places in Israel – check out my new app, Travel Israel – Land of Creation (free download on Google Play  and iTunes).

Yours,

Lior

Categories
Free things to do Jerusalem

Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is full of great attractions and a lot of them are free of charge! Here’s a list of the top free things to do in Jerusalem:

1 – Visit the Old City:

The entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem is free of charge. Enter through one of the ancient gates and make your way through the beautiful, enchanting alleys. You can find a nice market in the Old City, aligning several alleys, amongst them David Street. You can get to the market from Jaffa Gate. The entrance to the market is situated right in front of the gate. You can also visit the many historical and religious places in the Old City, which are also free to enter. Place a wish in the Western Wall, awe inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and visit the Temple Mount. It’s possible to visit Temple Mount during the morning except for Fridays and Saturdays, but expect to pass through tight security checks. For more info about Temple Mount, visit my post – The Story Around Temple Mount.

Another place I highly recommend in the Old City is the Christ Church Museum near Jaffa Gate. It has wonderful models of the Old City and of Temple Mount, made by Conrad Schick. And it’s totally free to visit! You might also want to taste the delicious cakes sold in their cafe.

There are many other interesting buildings within the Old City Walls, so take your time to explore the different quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian.

How to get to the Old City? It’s very easy to access the Old City. The easiest way to enter is through Jaffa Gate, situated at the end of Yaffo Street, next to Mamilla Mall. You can get there by foot from the city center or by the light-rail train (station “City Hall”/”העירייה”).

For more info, visit the offical site of the Old City of Jerusalem.

And check out Top Free Things to do in Jerusalem Old City.

The entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

2 – Enjoy the Sounds and Smells of the Machane Yehuda Market:

One of the most vibrant places in Jerusalem is Machane Yehuda Market (the “Shuk”). If you want to experience a great market experience, then you will really enjoy this beautiful market! Fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, fish, Judaica items, and cheap clothes – you can find those and much more in the market! During the day you can find great restaurants here. At night, there are many fun bars and beautiful graffiti works on the market stalls’ shutters. 

How to get to Mechane Yehuda Market? Take the light rail train to the “Machena Yehuda” station.

For more info, visit the official site of Mechane Yehuda Market. 

A side alley at Machane Yehuda Market

3 – Visit Yad Vashem:

The World Holocaust Remembrance Center opens its gates for free to the public. Here, you will be able to learn about the Holocaust and get to know its victims. While visiting the center, make sure to visit the Holocaust History Museum. Before or after your visit, you can also visit the neighboring Mount Herzl National Cemetery. This is where many of the nation’s greatest leaders are buried alongside victims of terrorism acts and fallen IDF soldiers. Amongst the people who rest here are Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, Itzhak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, who signed on the peace agrrement with Jordan in 1994, and Golda Meir, the first woman to be elected Prime Minister in Israel.

Opening Hours: Yad Vashem is open Sunday to Wednesday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM,  Thursdays from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Fridays and Holiday Eves from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Closed on Saturdays and all Jewish holidays. The Mount Herzl Cemetery is open every day until dark, except for Yom Kippur, Independence Day and other national ceremonies.

How to get to Yad Vashem? Take the light rail train to “Mount Herzl” station (last station of the line). The entrance is just across the road.

For more info, visit the official site of Yad Vashem.

Check out this virtual tour by Yad Vashem:

4 – Go Up and Down Mount of Olives:

Mount of Olives, east of the Old City, is one of the holiest places to Jews, Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem.

How to get to Mount of Olives? The Mount is more of a hill, so with some effort, you’ll be able to climb to the top. The climb up takes about 20 minutes, depending on your pace. The base of the Mount is an easy walk from the Old City. You can either exit the Old City from Lions’ Gate or from the gate near the Western Wall, Dung Gate. From Dung Gate, walk around the city walls until you get to the base of Mount of Olives.

If it’s sunny and hot, you might prefer to take a taxi from the base to the top. The ride should cost up to 50 ILS. Another cheaper option is to take Arab bus number 255 from Damascus Gate terminal (which also operates on Shabbat) or Egged bus number 84 from the Ammunition Hill Light Rail Station (which only operates Sundays to Thursdays).

For more info on Mount of Olives, visit my post – The Many Sites of Mount of Olives: What to See?

Olive Mountain

5 – Visit the Rockefeller Archeological Museum:

The Rockefeller Archeological Museum was the first archeology museum to be built in the Land of Israel. IThe British built it in the 1930s. Till today, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Jerusalem. So when you come here, make sure to look at the architecture and decorations of the building and not just at the displays. One of the most interesting displays is the carved wooden panels from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which date from the 8th century CE. Another great display is the beautiful lintels, which were placed above the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Crusader era until the mid-20th century.

Opening Hours: The Rockefeller Archeological Museum is open on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10AM to 3PM and on Saturday from 10AM to 2PM. It is closed on Tuesdays and Fridays.

How to get to the Rockefeller Museum? The museum is located at 27 Sultan Suleiman Street, just outside of the Old City. You can exit the Old City from Damascus Gate and then continue down Sultan Suleiman Street, which goes to the east until you see the entrance to the museum to your left. It is about a 10 minutes walk from Damascus Gate. If you’re not coming from the Old City, you can take the light rail train to Damascus Gate station and continue from there.

For more info, visit the offical site of the Rockefeller Archeological Museum.

The beautiful pool at the center of Rockefeller Museum

6 – Enjoy the View from Armon Hanatziv Broadway:

One of the most dazzling views of Jerusalem can be seen from the Armon Hanatziv Broadway. From this beautiful promenade, you’ll see Mount of Olives, City of David, the Old City walls, and even parts of the New City. At the eastern side of the promenade is Armon Hanatziv (meaning: The Palace of the High Commissioner). During the British Mandate, the high commissioners lived in this Government House, so magnificent that it was dubbed “Palace”. Today, you cannot enter the Palace, as it is the headquarters of the UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization). Still, you can look at it from the outside.

How to get to Armon Hanatziv Broadway? If you’re coming from the city center, the best way to get to Armon Hanatziv is by taking bus nmber 78 from the Jaffa City Center / Strauss station (that’s near the light rail station). Get off at Ha’Askan/Yanovsky station (in Hebrew: העסקן/ ינובסקי). Then cross the road to the broadway.  It takes about 25 minutes to arrive from the city center.

7 – Explore the First Jewish Neighborhood Outside of the Old City Walls:

American Jewish businessman, Judah Touro, passed away in 1854 and left an estate of 60 thousand dollars for the poor of Jerusalem. The British Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, was one of the trustees of the estate. He decided to use the money to build a hospital for the Jewish people of Jerusalem. This plan didn’t work out, but Montefiore did manage to purchase a large piece of land for the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City walls. This neighborhood is Mishkenot Sha’ananim (meaning: Peaceful Habitation) and it was established in 1860.

On your visit to this peaceful and beautiful neighborhood, you will see the huge white windmill, which Montefiore built in 1857. He planned that the windmill will to provide flour and employment for the Jewish community outside of the city walls. Next to the windmill is a display of Montefiore’s chariot, which he used to travel around Israel during the 19th century. The chariot was restored after someone burned it. Also, make sure to take a look at the view of the city walls from the lookout south of the windmill.

Continue down the road from Mishkenot Sha’ananim, along King David road, and you’ll reach the First Station. This is a modern shopping and dining center, built inside the old train station of Jerusalem. Learn more about the First Station’s history by reading the signs all around the station.

How to get to Mishkenot Sha’ananim? The neighborhood is about a 25-minutes walk from Jaffa City Center light rail station. Just go down King George Street until you see the windmill to your left. You can also take bus number 7/ 75 / 77 / 78 from the Jaffa City Center / Strauss station and get off at Keren HaYesod/Shalom Alekhem station (in Hebrew: קרן היסוד/שלום עליכם).

8 – Take a Stroll in Ein Karem:

Beautiful Ein Karem is the most southwestern neighborhood of Jerusalem, nestled at the foot of Mount Herzl.  Take time to stroll between the different churches, take a look into the beautiful art galleries, stop for a drink of excellent coffee in one of the coffee shops and enjoy the view of the wonderful terraces that are situated next to the neighborhood and are dated back to the time of the Second Temple. You can easily spend here a few hours of exploring and relaxing. You can combine your visit to Ein Karem with a visit to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl Cemetery since they are nearby and also free of charge.

For  a suggested travel route in Ein Karem, visit my blog post – Ein Karem – Following John the Baptist.

How to get to Ein Karem? The easiest way is to get to Ein Karem is by taking the light rail train to Mount Herzl station and then taking bus number 28 down to the neighborhood (from the top of the road that’s west to the light rail station, leading down to Ein Karem). Alternatively, you can walk from the station to Ein Karem within about 30 minutes. But, keep in mind that the road is narrow at some places and there is no sidewalk, so be careful!

The Visitation in Ein Karem

9 – Visit the Botanical Gardens of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus:

If you’re into botanics and want to get to know the Israeli foliage better, you can visit the botanical gardens of Mount Scopus. ​It is located inside the Hebrew University, so you will need to show an ID when entering, but the entrance is free. Then you can wander around the beautiful, peaceful grounds of the gardens and read about the different plants common in Israel. There are also many benches throughout the gardens, making it a perfect place to sit down and relax. For more info, visit my blog post – The Botanical University.

If you’re already in the area, you might want to pay a visit to the Ammunition Hill Memorial Site (which costs 15 ILS per person, but is worth it, especially if you’ll watch the audiovision show). The site is located next to the Ammunition Hill light rail station,

How to get to the Botanical Gardens? You can take bus lines 30, 26, 23, 68, 46, 19 or 4a to the Mount Scopus Campus.

Opening Hours:  Sunday to Thursday between 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Fridays between 8 AM to 1:00 PM.

The Botanical Garden

10 – Explore the German Colony of Jerusalem:

This beautiful colony is one of eight colonies that the German Templars established in Israel in the 19th century. ​Today, you can stroll around the impressive buildings, that are preserved mainly along Emek Refaim Street. Some of the most interesting landmarks in the German Colony include the communal hall, the Matthäus Frank House, and the Templar Cemetery. The area is also full of shops and restaurants, so it’s a good place to stop for lunch or dinner.

How to get to the German Colony? From the city center, you can walk down to the German Colony along King George, King David, and Derech Beit Lehem Streets (about a 30 minutes’ walk). Alternatively, you can take bus number 18 / 34 / 77 from the Jaffa City Center light rail / Strraus station and get off at Emek Refa’im/Hatsfira station (in Hebrew: עמק רפאים/הצפירה). The ride takes about 20 minutes.

Guided tours in Jerusalem:

There are some companies that offer free tours in Jerusalem. Though, it’s important to note that “free tours” are not really free but are based on tips. Still, they are a great way to explore the city of Jerusalem and learn more about the places you see on the way. If you’re looking for a guided tour in Jerusalem, here are some options from the Free Tour platform Guruwalk:

Want a private guided tour in Jerusalem?

I’m a certified tour guide in Israel and would be happy to guide you around. Learn more here.

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If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

Also, feel free to follow this blog and like my Facebook Page – Backpack Israel.

And if you need help with planning your trip to Israel – check out my new app, Travel Israel – Land of Creation (free download on Google Play  and iTunes).

Yours,

Lior