Looking to tour Israel? Here are 5 hidden gem day trips

When asked to recommend the most interesting, fun, educational, nature-filled or even politically laden day trips, I usually suggest something more unconventional or off the beaten track.

 ACRE HARBOR (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ACRE HARBOR
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

People frequently ask me to recommend day trips. Being raised in a family that has owned a car-rental business since 1972 has given me the opportunity to travel widely through Israel, and I have lots of favorite places. Keeping it down to five wasn’t easy.

For most tourists and even adventurous locals, leisure time comes at a premium, so the decision on where to go on vacation or on those precious days off is essential.

A day trip is defined as an excursion in which you leave in the morning to a specific place and return the same day. A typical day trip involves multiple attractions, and the unwritten rule is not to roam too far in order to maximize your time and stuff as much as you can in one day.

When asked to recommend the most interesting, fun, educational, nature-filled or even politically laden day trips, I usually shy away from the obvious Masada/Dead Sea or Jerusalem/Old City options and suggest something more unconventional or off the beaten track.

Here are five of my favorite less-traveled day trips.

 TACHANAT NIZIRIM, Nachal Tzipori. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) TACHANAT NIZIRIM, Nachal Tzipori. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
TZIPORI 

About a one-hour drive heading west from Jerusalem is the ancient Jewish, Byzantine, Roman and Arab city and former capital of the North, Tzipori. You can spend the entire day (and then some) learning and soaking up the important history of this quaint little northern town. Tzipori was the capital of the Galilee. Historian Josephus Flavius described it as “the ornament of the Galilee.”

Things to do

Jewish history and ancient archaeological buffs will have their hands full trying to take in all of the sites this ancient town has to offer. The number of historical places worth visiting is way too great for this article. Suffice it to say that visitors who love history and archaeological ruins will not be disappointed. Many of those historical attractions are in the Tzipori National Park. The sites include a Roman theater, a Jewish residential quarter, mikvaot (ritual baths), churches and a large number of mosaics including, notably, the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee.” 

The village of Tzipori also sports the Reish Lakish Olive Press, an ancient winery and a variety of quaint little shops. You can visit the Tzipori spa and go on a four-wheel tour of the area. 

You can even visit the ancient tomb of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, known in Jewish tradition by the acronym of his name, the Ribal. The Ribal’s grave was discovered on the ground of Mitch and Suzie Pilcers’ popular country village getaway. The Pilcers are a welcoming attraction themselves and have been in Tzipori for 30 years.

Where to eat

Mitch told me that he frequently sends his guests to Café 79 for breakfast or brunch. Located on Kibbutz Hasolelim not far from Tzipori, this café, masquerading as a food truck, serves light, non-meat fare and is a perfect place for a quick bite with a view.

ACRE

This fascinating location is about two-and-a-half hours north of Jerusalem, so you might want to consider spending the night, depending on where you’re starting from. Acre (also known as Akko) is a port city in northwest Israel on the Mediterranean coast. It’s known for its well-preserved Old City walls. For history buffs, Acre is one of the best places to visit in Israel thanks to the preservation of its stone architecture. There are plentiful historic tourist attractions and things to do among the myriad of narrow alleyways with khans (caravanserais), fortifications, and Crusader-era monuments to explore.

Things to do 

Probably the best thing you can do in Acre is to just walk through the Old City market and up and down the many fortifications, towers and walls located throughout the city. 

If you’re not claustrophobic, the Crusader Tunnel is one of Acre’s most intriguing tourist attractions. There are several museums in Acre, my favorite being the Ethnographic Museum Treasures in the Walls. It is a small but very interesting depiction of how life was 100 years ago.

Another interesting museum is the Underground Prisoners Museum. This is an excellent museum situated in an old British prison with lots of places to explore, including offices, a courtroom and old cells. 

The Hamam El Basha Museum is recognized as the main cultural center in the city. A large part of the museum’s exhibition is dedicated to the history of the ancient world.

The Citadel of Acre, which was built in the mid-18th century, is considered the main historic symbol of the city. A walk on the fortress wall is one of the most exciting activities at the citadel because of the striking view of the coastline and the architectural complex.

The shuk in Acre’s Old City is fascinating, bursting with color and eye-popping all at once. And don’t forget to go to Acre Harbor. The port, with a 2,000-year history, is now home to colorful local fishing boats and yachts. The harbor was a busy and important port from the classical age through the medieval period. At the port, you can hop on a tourist boat and head out onto the Mediterranean, where you’ll see excellent views of Acre Old City from the sea.

Where to eat

One of the best places to eat in Acre is Roots, a delicious meat restaurant housed in a classic medieval setting called “Knights Hall.” The restaurant is located close to the entrance to the Old City.

 THE AQUEDUCT at Caesarea. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) THE AQUEDUCT at Caesarea. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ZICHRON YA’ACOV/CAESAREA

One of my favorite day-tour suggestions is Zichron Ya’acov. This is one of the first modern settlements in Israel. It is located on Mount Carmel and features magnificent views across the Coastal Plain toward the Mediterranean. 

Things to do

Today, Zichron Ya’acov is a major tourist center. Its main street is lined with cafés and small shops surrounded by historic buildings. You will certainly want to take a wine tour at the Carmel Winery in what most consider the area to be Israel’s wine capital.

At the end of the street is the First Aliyah Museum, which tells the fascinating story of the pioneers from Europe who established this town over 100 years ago.

Just outside of Zichron Ya’acov is Ramat Hanadiv, the memorial gardens for Baron Edmond de Rothschild. This large estate occupies a swath of hillside on Mount Carmel. The formal gardens at the center are breathtaking, and entrance is free of charge!

Not far away from Zichron Ya’acov is the ancient Roman port city of Caesarea. The city is one of Israel’s wonders, combining ancient structures, archaeology and a picture-perfect harbor. You will want to see the sunset through the openings of the ancient seaside structure.

Where to eat

The Nili Wine House is a wonderful dairy restaurant right on the main pedestrian mall in Zichron Ya’acov. It has a rich dairy menu, mouth-watering homemade desserts and, of course, a large selection of the local wines.

 LATRUN CRUSADER CASTLE.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) LATRUN CRUSADER CASTLE. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THE JERUSALEM-TEL AVIV HIGHWAY

Things to do

You can literally spend a beautiful day exiting Jerusalem stopping along Highway 1 headed toward the Latrun interchange. There are wonderful nature-filled walks you can take at Ein Hemed and Nebi Samuels national parks. 

Near the Motza turn is the Yvel Jewelry Design Center. The Yvel Jewelry Factory and Visitors Center is a great place to visit to learn about jewelry-making with pearls and precious stones. In addition to the jewelry factory, there is a jewelry school for Ethiopian immigrants, many of whom work in the factory.

You will also pass the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, complete with its world-renowned and award-winning hummus eateries, churches and monasteries.

You will want to end the day in Latrun, which features the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum, a must for any Israeli Army buff. The complex also houses an armor display and one of the world’s most complete and interesting tank museums, containing some 160 armored combat vehicles. Nearby you’ll find the Armor Brigades Park for family recreation, the Museum of the Jewish Soldier in the Second World War, and the Nof Latrun kosher restaurant. 

Where to eat

While there are many eateries dotting this route, one place you should visit is Derech HaGefen. Located right near Beit Zayit, just outside of Jerusalem, Derech HaGefen sports a cool and relaxed atmosphere under a covering of shrubbery and flowers. With great food, it’s a perfect place for brunch.

MA’ALEH ADUMIM

Just seven kilometers east of Jerusalem, en route to the Dead Sea, are the beautiful desert landscapes, amazing vistas and refreshing springs of the Ma’aleh Adumim region. With its name referring to the reddish color of the mountains, Ma’aleh Adumim in the Judean desert was mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a border area and important pilgrimage route located between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The region offers an amazing day for the whole family.

Things to do

Tourists and local day trippers can choose from breathtaking lookouts, ATV and jeep excursions, camel riding, shepherding, Bedouin sit-downs, workshops and museums. Add a lunch at one of the many eateries and you have the perfect day. Shelly Brinn, the proprietor of Tour Adumim, will help you plan a most interesting tour and day. Contact [email protected] or TourAdumim.com

Where to eat

Hacnaanit is a meat grill restaurant located a few minutes from Ma’aleh Adumim at the Kfar Adumim junction right next to the gas station. You will find terrific BBQ meats and many other treats at this desert setting restaurant. Highly recommended.

Saar Tauber Tamir is the CEO of Tamir Car Rental in Netanya, a second-generation, family-owned car rental business operating since 1972, and the author of a unique monthly newsletter available through Tamir-Rental.com.