In Israel, history and modernity swirl together in a place where all three major Abrahamic religions converge. To experience Israel today is to look back at its past, to witness its bright but sometimes chaotic and often conflicted present, and to ponder its future. There’s no more appropriate place to do all of the above than Jerusalem. Israel is a small enough country that you can speed through almost all of its main cities and regions within a week or two. That said, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are particularly linked in the country’s centre. Ben Gurion A
The King David remains an iconic institution in Jerusalem, and its central location makes for an ideal launching pad to explore the Old City. First built in 1929, the hotel has been rebuilt, renovated, and expanded over the past 90 years, and now showcases 233 luxury rooms and suites. The classically-adorned Oriental Bar houses a speciality Israeli wine bar within, a smart choice to sample from the country’s growing lineup of acclaimed wineries. For still-elegant though more modern accommodations, consider the Mamilla Hotel, connected to the Jaffa Gate directly through the Alrov Mamilla Avenue shopping street. The Mamilla boasts its own exclusively-Israeli wine bar, along with a rooftop bar offeringspectacular city and sunset views.
Whether accomplished in a half-day walking tour or an in-depth, multi-day expedition, touring the Old City of Jerusalem is assuredly one of the primary reasons you’ve come to Israel. Your journey will take you through the weaving alleys of its four quarters: Jewish, Armenian, Christian, and Muslim. A multitude of historical and religious sites lay within, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount; Church of the Holy Sepulchre; King David’s Tomb, and the Cenacle or Upper Room, purportedly the site of the Last Supper; the grandly golden Dome of the Rock; and more. The city further hosts an abundance of museums and memorials, while the pedestrian walking alleys through Ben Yehuda Street showcase shops, cafes, and ample people watching. With an extra afternoon to spare, a day trip to the Dead Sea is a can’t-miss opportunity.
EAT & DRINK
The Mahane Yehuda Market, or the Shuk, is a sprawling marketplace whose traditional produce and staple stands have now been fortified with dozens of trendy food purveyors and a string of bustling bars. The streets leading to the market are also stocked with shops and restaurants to explore, showcasing the near countless global culinary influences which have made their way to Israel. Head back to the Old City for a food tour through its maze of alleys, with everything from hummus, falafel, and shawarma, to kebabs, tahini, and shakshuka. But the best eats may take some unearthing so consider hiring a guide; local food expert David Kichka leads small groups on tailor-made tasting tours, for instance. For a high-end dinner, visit The Eucalyptus from chef Moshe Basson. The restaurant is known for its “biblical Israeli cuisine,” showcasing a menu built around the Seven Species noted in the Bible as indigenous products of Israel. End your evening at the basement speakeasy, Gatsby. It may take you a moment to find its discreet entrance, and reservations are recommended, but well-made craft cocktails and a sultry atmosphere that stays buzzy even on otherwise quiet Friday nights (Shabbat) will more than makeup for it.
TRIP EXTENSION: TEL AVIV
Ancient sites abound in Tel Aviv as well, though you may be tempted to head straight for the city’s prime beachfront instead. Tel Aviv has also become an internationally renowned nightlife destination, so leisurely afternoons will help ensure you’re well rested for the long nights ahead. A good night starts with a tasting at Tel Aviv’s single malt whisky distillery, Milk & Honey, or a visit to one of several locations of Beer Bazaar, a brewery which sells the best of other Israeli craft brewers alongside its own brews. Small groups looking for a few libations should stop into creative cocktail den Imperial, whose current menu showcases drinks named for different landmarks of the city. To truly get a taste of Tel Aviv considers a nightlife crawl—Ido Weil of TLV Nights will get you behind the velvet rope, whether you’re after a sharply-dressed rooftop scene or a bumping basement club. Back in the daytime, soothe yourself by eating your way through Carmel Market. Delicious Israel offers a number of tours that’ll take you to top vendors, from historical mainstays to up-and-comers. If you’re on your own and only have time for a single stop, seek out the hummus at restaurant Shlomo & Doron. Rest your head at one of a growing number of trendy boutique hotels that match Tel Aviv’s vibrant, youthful edge. The Fabric Hotel or The Vera both offer a stylish retreat with all the extras, such as rooftop lounges and on-site cocktails.
Credit: Jake Emen for Penta Barron’s, 30 November 2018.