Seven days in Israel is plenty of time to experience the culture of the country. While even years of staying in Israel might not be enough to take in all of its historical, cultural, and gustatory pleasures, you can certainly take in the highlights within a week-long trip.
In this twin set of seven-day scenarios, you'll give yourself an urban base to explore in-depth and from which to branch out into the region. If you're enticed by the beach and nightlife of Tel Aviv, Israel's Mediterranean metropolis, start there, but if you are more motivated by historical or religious interest, make Jerusalem your starting point.
Either way, if you're flying from the United States, your trip will begin and end in Tel Aviv, so let's start there.
7 Days in Israel Itinerary #1
Tel Aviv is an anomaly as far as Middle Eastern cities go, which makes it a great place to start your Israel adventure. Although Israel is considered the Holy Land, with a human history that predates Jesus Christ by almost too many centuries to count, Tel Aviv is a new city, founded only in 1909. Like New York City, it would be tough to call it beautiful, but it also has a vitality and earthy charm that makes it a natural destination for tourists from around the world.
First Stop: Tel Aviv
After the long flight from the United States, you'll likely want to relax overnight in Tel Aviv and spend your entire first day doing absolutely nothing. However, our advice is to peer into the city's soul by going to the beach. Walk along the Tayelet or seaside promenade and you'll see a cross-section of Tel Aviv society with the dazzling blue Mediterranean right in front of you.
Without having to cross a single street, you can explore ancient Jaffa at the southern end of the promenade, linger in any number of beach grills and bars as you walk north, and even go as far as Namal, the Tel Aviv Port, a fantastic outdoor shopping center with sculptured wooden decks that meet the water's edge. It's popular with families and boasts the city's best fish restaurants. If you go on a Wednesday night, a DJ keeps the beat up al fresco.
Day 2: Tel Aviv
Use your second day in Tel Aviv to discover the city's unique urban character away from the beach. Haggle for watermelons in the Carmel Market. Go shopping at the HaTachana, a former railway station. Soak up the city's phenomenal Bauhaus architecture. The best tour is also free: just stroll the length of Rothschild Boulevard and Bialik Street and you'll see why UNESCO designated Tel Aviv "The White City."
Day 3: Jerusalem
On day three of your seven-day sojourn, head for the Judean Hills that surround the Holy City of Jerusalem, which also serves as Israel's official capital city—though not everyone agrees with that. Fortunately, the only labyrinth you'll have to untangle is that of the Old City, where the holiest sites, including the Western Wall, are located. The atmosphere of Jerusalem is completely different from Tel Aviv. It's the starting point for many faiths and there's truly nothing else like it on earth.
Day 4: Jerusalem
Use your fourth day to explore more of Jerusalem. Visit Yad Vashem, Israel's exhaustive, emotional national Holocaust memorial. Then ogle at the archaeological wonders contained in the spectacularly renovated Israel Museum. By this point in your journey, you're going to have lots to think about.
Day 5: The Dead Sea and Masada
Since this is your vacation, you may not want to think too hard, which is why the next stop on your itinerary should be the Dead Sea. It's close to Jerusalem, but witnessing this broad expanse of black water can feel downright otherworldly. Here, at the lowest point on earth, you will literally float on water, an experience that puts the "a " in amazing.
Of course, this being Israel, you can (and should) also make time for a visit to the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada, which served not only as a military defense station but as a place of worship throughout Jewish history. Take the cable car up for spectacular views of the desert and the Dead Sea.
Day 6: Sea of Galilee and Tiberias
On your sixth day, you're still in discovery mode and that means heading north to the Sea of Galilee. Actually a large freshwater lake the Israelis call the Kinneret, this region is one of beautiful scenery and rich in biblical associations. After you're done exploring, stay overnight in the lakeside resort town of Tiberias.
Day 7: Caesarea
On the morning of your last full day in Israel, visit the ancient Roman ruins of Caesarea. By mid-afternoon, you'll be back in Tel Aviv with enough time for shopping, a museum visit and time to rest before enjoying some New Israeli cuisine at any number of trendy restaurants.
7 Days in Israel Itinerary #2
Instead of starting in Tel Aviv, consider begging your trip to Israel with a stop in Jerusalem first. Jerusalem is a small city that also happens to be extraordinary. Within its ancient walled city are sites sacred to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The atmosphere within those stone walls is both serene and electric, and something that simply must be experienced.
First Stop: Jerusalem
Outside the Ottoman-era ramparts, there's a bustling newer city with fabulous museums, fantastic restaurants, and other attractions. Use your first full day to explore some key Jerusalem attractions. Visit Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial; then ogle at the archaeological wonders contained in the spectacularly renovated Israel Museum.
Day 2: Jerusalem
Visit the Old City, where the holiest sites, including the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are located. It's the starting point for many faiths and there's truly nothing else like it on earth. Explore the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters on foot.
Day 3: The Dead Sea and Masada
Day 3 is your chance to float on water with a visit to the Dead Sea. Although close to the city, it can feel like a million miles away from everything. Here, at the lowest point on earth, you will literally float on water. Of course, this being Israel, you can (and should) also make time for a visit to the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada. Take the cable car up for spectacular views of the desert and the Dead Sea. For your overnight, shun the generic hotels of Ein Bokek and go for the great, value-priced kibbutz at Ein Gedi.
Day 4: Sea of Galilee
On your fourth day, head north to the Sea of Galilee. Actually a large freshwater lake the Israelis call the Kinneret, this region is one of beautiful scenery and rich in biblical associations. Suggested overnight in the lakeside resort town of Tiberias, a bustling place with an ancient Roman past.
Day 5: Haifa/Caesarea
The ancient Roman ruins of Caesarea, directly on the Mediterranean coast about halfway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, are well worth a visit. You could precede that excursion with a visit to Haifa's Baha'i Shrine and Gardens. Either way, by mid-afternoon you'll be back in Tel Aviv with enough time for some shopping or a beach break before enjoying some New Israeli cuisine at any number of trendy restaurants.
Day 6: Tel Aviv
Use your first full day in Tel Aviv to discover the city's unique urban character away from the beach. From haggling for fresh produce in the Carmel Market to shopping in the former railway station known as HaTachana, there are plenty of ways to soak up the culture of Tel Aviv on your first day. Also, be sure to pay attention to the city's Bauhaus architecture; you can even take a free tour from Rothschild Boulevard along Bialik Street to experience "The White City" and see some of Tel Aviv's most famous architectural marvels.
Day 7: Tel Aviv
On your last day in Israel, stroll the Tayelet or seaside promenade to experience a mix of Israeli and international cultures against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.
Start your adventure at the southern end of the promenade known as Jaffa, an ancient port that's served the city for centuries. As you venture up the promenade, be sure to stop by beachside grills and bars to experience the local cuisine before making your way to Namal, the other Tel Aviv Port that features an outdoor shopping area on detailed wooden decks right along the water's edge.
The Port is popular with families and also boasts the city's best fish restaurants. If you go on a Wednesday night, a DJ keeps the acoustic sizzle going late...a great way to end your trip on an upbeat note.