Most travelers and tourists who visit Israel keep to the center of the country or to its largest cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be’ersheva). In so doing, many of Israel’s greatest sites—historical, archaeological, and natural—are missed. 


        In addition, perhaps the worst kept secret in Israel is that the friendliest people seem to live outside of the main urban areas, inhabiting instead the kibbutzim, moshavim, and villages scattered around every peripheral region such as the Golan Heights, Galilee, Jordan Valley, Sharon Plain, Shephelah, Arava Plain, and Negev Desert.


        Visitors to Israel who cling to the luxuries of the great indoors (hotels, museums, art galleries, fine dining restaurants) would do well to expand their comfort zones. If Israel normally evokes images and memories of the Kotel, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Knesset, Israel Museum, Mamilla or Azrieli shopping malls, Tel Aviv beaches, Mahaneh Yehudah and Carmel markets, Baha’i Gardens, and Masada, you may be surprised to learn just how much of the country remains to be discovered. 


        To that end, here’s a taste of what awaits the intrepid who dare to venture beyond the beaten track:

1.  Ein Afek – There are actually three historical sites named Afek in Israel; this one lies in Galilee between Haifa and Akko, not far from the town of Kiryat Motzkin, and features both a beautiful nature reserve with a British era police station and an adjacent tel dating back to the Canaanite era.

2.  Judin/Yehiam Fortress – Judin is a ruined Crusader bastion built atop the remnants of a Roman fort and Byzantine structure. It is conveniently attached to the kibbutz Yehiam, and is a national park called Yehiam Fortress in honor of the fallen Palmah soldier Yehiam Weitz, killed in action nearby around the Akhziv bridge during the British Mandatory period.

3.  Montfort Fortress – One of the trickiest sites in the country to locate unless you happen to hike the Keziv Stream in Upper Galilee. Situated northeast of Nahariya and just south of the expansive Goren Park (the easiest way to reach it is from the moshav Goren, heading south and downward to the stream then up the ruined hilltop), Montfort is a stunning and haunting Crusader site that leaves an indelible impression. It is also accessible to trekkers of a red hiking trail (not for the faint of heart).

4.  Bar’am – Bar’am was a Jewish town during the Roman era, and today is a national park that features an ancient synagogue and later Maronite church, both of which remain in use for special events. The tombs of Ovadiah the Prophet and the exilarch Mar Zutra are nearby.

5.  Hermon Stream – Trickling down from Mount Hermon into a spring and forming part of the headwaters of the Jordan River, Hermon Stream is a stunning nature reserve that also features archaeological ruins of the pagan city of Paneas (a.k.a. Caesarea Philippi, Neronias) and of King Agrippa II’s luxurious palace, as well as Crusader ruins. Hiking the trail alongside the streambed is a peaceful pleasure suitable for all.

6.  Banias – The nearby city of Paneas was pronounced “Banias” by the Arabs, and the name was applied to the proximate 10-foot waterfall that cascades into a large pool. Banias is a part of a nature reserve and also features a suspended trail through a narrow basalt canyon above rushing waters. Kibbutz Snir and an SPNI field school are located in the vicinity.

7.  Nimrod Fortress – Northeast of Hermon Stream lies impressive ruins on the slopes of Mount Hermon, vestiges of the Ayyubid fortress named Nimrod after the biblical hunter who also features in Muslim lore. Built in 1227, it resisted the Crusaders, fell to the Mongols, and was reconstructed by the Mameluke sultan Baybars, whose royal emblem of a lion is depicted at the site in a stone sculpture.

8.  Lakelet Hula – An “agamon” in Hebrew, the picturesque lakelet is situated in the Hula Valley, which divides the northern Galilee’s Naphtali Mountains in the west from the Golan Heights to the east. Visitors can rent bicycles or golf carts to tour the area and see some of the migratory birds, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, that use the lakelet and valley as an ideal pit-stop en route to and from Africa every year. The site is managed by JNF, and will soon include a Bird Sanctuary and Education Centre named after Stephen Harper, former prime minister of Canada.

9.  Hula Reserve – A short distance south of Lakelet Hula is the Hula Valley’s official nature reserve, where visitors can climb a wooden observation tower and walk along a furtive hideaway overlooking lush swampland and a serene pond. Mallards, swamp turtles, African catfish, water buffaloes, squacco herons, great cormorants, and pelicans all call the area home.

10.      Hatzor – Once commanded by King Yavin of Canaan and conquered by Joshua, Hatzor eventually became one of King Solomon’s three regional administrative centers (along with Megiddo and Gezer), and was also where later Jonathan Maccabee won a victory against his Seleucid opponent Demetrius. Hatzor today is a national park whose tel includes a temple, tower, and underground water system dating to the Canaanite and Israelite eras. The site features an upper and lower city, and is located near the large kibbutz Ayelet HaShahar.

11.      Kfar Nahum (Capernaum/Capharnaum) – Nahum’s village became famous for its importance to Christianity, whose Jewish founder moved here from Nazareth to preach to his disciples on the shore of Lake Kinneret. The Jewish village had several shuls, and the remains of the ornate White Synagogue can be seen today alongside churches ancient and modern associated with the apostle Peter. Archaeological ruins are also displayed outdoors giving a sense of the ancient site’s grandeur. Today the site is managed by Franciscans who charge a nominal fee.

12.      Tabgha (Ein Sheva) – Close to Kfar Nahum is Tabgha (a corruption of the Greek name Eptapegon), also known as Ein Sheva in Hebrew for its seven springs. Important to Christians as the site of the multiplication of bread loaves and fish, and for the sermon on the mount that took place on the nearby Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha today features Franciscan churches and monasteries including the Church of the Primacy. There is also by the shoreline the beautiful Ein Iyov mini waterfall, a perfect place to relax and enjoy views of Lake Kinneret.

13.      Hamat Teverya (Tiberias Hot Springs) – Located at the southern end of the city of Tiberias, the hot springs of the ancient town of Hamat (which merged with Tiberias during the Roman era) were frequented by the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud (e.g. Shimon bar Yohai, Eleazar ben Shimon), and the site, today a national park, sits immediately below the tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess. The site features remnants of several synagogues, including one whose magnificent mosaic floor is the earliest ever found in Israel, as well as a wading pool and channel, steam chimneys, remains of a Roman bathhouse, and the Muslim spa Hamam Suleiman.

14.      Hamat Gader – Located in the southern end of the Golan Heights, southeast of Lake Kinneret, Gader’s natural hot springs were frequented by Talmudic sages (e.g. Jonathan ben Eleazar, Hanina bar Hama, Ammi bar Nathan, Judah Nesiah II) and today attract Israelis from all walks of life. Unfortunately, the site has been monopolized and commercialized to a large extent, and instead of being an official nature reserve with a standard and nominal conservation fee, it has been developed as an attraction with a relatively steep admission fee (90-100 shekels). Towels are not provided as part of the admission fee either, so be sure to bring your own.  

15.      Gan HaShlosha (Sakhne) – Widely considered the most beautiful natural site in Israel, Gan HaShlosha (named after three Jewish pioneers who died in 1938) lies just north of the Gilboa mountain range, near kibbutz Nir David and the Beit She’an Valley. The water park features underground springs, waterfalls, a tower and stockade, an ancient flour mill, an archaeology museum, and picnic areas. Beware of the fish that rush to nibble your skin as soon as you enter the warm water.

16.      Beit Alpha (Beit Ilfa) – Situated on the kibbutz Heftziba at the foot of the Gilboa mountain range, this national park features an ancient synagogue with a genizah archive and a marvelous mosaic floor, dating from the 500s CE. A short film exhibited inside the site portrays the shul and village in its heyday and a model of the synagogue is displayed just outside.

17.      Halutza (al-Khalasa) – One of the Negev’s Nabataean towns, Halutza later became a Byzantine settlement. There are many well-preserved structures and a deep well, and in every direction are more ruins, attesting to the impressive extent of the ancient site. Unfortunately, Israel has not prepared the site for visitors; it should definitely be a national park, but there has been minimal excavation or trail delineation and the notable absence of signage both at the site and on the road thereto makes visiting challenging. There is great hiking to be had along nearby Nahal Bsor. Halutza is fairly close to the artful kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh.

18.      Gezer – Just about ten kilometers southwest of Modi’in, Gezer is a national park featuring a tel dating from the Canaanite era. As one of King Solomon’s regional administrative centers, it also has a three-stage Solomonic gate, as well as an underground water system, a series of monoliths, and three distinct observation points with panoramic views of Modi’in, Tel Aviv, Rosh Pina, Ashdod, and Ashkelon. Gezer is close to the village Karmei Yosef, moshav Kfar Bin Nun, and kibbutz Sha’alvim.

        The aforementioned constitute only a sample of the many fascinating and breathtaking places Israel has to offer, all of which are seemingly but not actually far from the frequented hubs.


        With the affordability of Israeli car rentals, the many bus routes offered by Egged, Superbus, and Kavim (among other companies), and the burgeoning train network of Israel Railways – not to mention the various hiking trails for committed trekkers and campers – there really is little excuse for not getting around and expanding your touring horizons.


        To be sure, certain of the less-frequented sites require alertness and caution due to their current lack of amenities or their rugged terrain, but the adventurous and well-prepared will be duly rewarded for their willingness to explore the length and breadth of Israel.

For more from Brandon Marlon on the Land of Israel, please see 18 Must-See Sites in Israel.

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