Moon Israel & the West Bank

With Petra


By Genevieve Belmaker

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Ancient stories meet modern cities in this deeply significant region where the past is always present. Take the trip of a lifetime with Moon Israel & the West Bank. Inside you'll find:
  • Flexible itineraries including a week in Jerusalem, 3 days in Tel Aviv, and a month exploring the region plus excursions to the West Bank, the Dead Sea, and Petra
  • Strategic advice for foodies, pilgrims, beachgoers, archaeology buffs, and more
  • The top sights and unique experiences: Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or pay respects at the Western Wall, and stop at holy sites throughout Northern Israel and the West Bank. Feast on falafel, hummus, and shaksuka and haggle for antiques at a market in Jerusalem. Bike through Tel Aviv's charming Neve Tzedek neighborhood or relax at one of its beaches. Float in the Dead Sea, watch the sun set over the massive Negev craters, or stay overnight in a Bedouin tent encampment
  • Local insight: Jerusalem journalist Genevieve Belmaker shares the history and culture of her beloved home
  • Full-color, vibrant photos throughout
  • Detailed maps for exploring on your own, and useful tips on border crossings and checkpoints
  • Thorough background information on the landscape, history, government, and culture
  • Handy tools including Hebrew and Arabic phrasebooks, health and safety tips, customs and conduct, and information for LGBTQ, female, and senior travelers, families with children, and travelers with disabilities
  • Focused coverage of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, the North Coast, the Galilee and the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Eilat and the Negev, and Petra, Jordan
Experience the best of Israel and the West Bank with Moon's practical advice and insider tips.


streets of Old Jaffa

the Ramon Crater in the Negev desert

DISCOVER Israel & the West Bank


Planning Your Trip


Best of Israel and the West Bank


Journey into Jerusalem

Outward Bound: Excursions from Jerusalem

Ancient Terrain: Desert Hikes and Magical Waters


Tel Aviv’s beach and promenade.

Israel, the West Bank, and Petra all have one thing in common: They are lands frequented by pilgrims and painted by a tableau of stories stemming from ancient times through today. These are also places where modern, secular life thrives and some of the most advanced technology in the world is born.

This region is significant to the three largest monotheistic religions in the world—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As such, it is home to thousands of years of epic history. That history continues to unfold even today.

Many people dream their entire lives of journeying here. The archaeological and anthropological sites and museums also make it a prime destination for students and scholars.

The crown jewel for most visitors is Jerusalem, a city bursting at the seams with incredible historical and religious adventures alongside fine restaurants, excellent shopping choices, and an ever-increasing array of entertainment for every taste and age. As much as Jerusalem makes the past feel present, liberal, freewheeling Tel Aviv is intently focused on the future. The fresh scent of sand and sea seems soaked into everything, and marketplaces smell of spices, falafel, and Turkish coffee. It’s an aromatic assault on the senses. North along the Mediterranean is sparkling Haifa, a city on a bay that is frequented by cruise ships filled with visitors from Europe. Often touted as a place in Israel where Jews and Arabs “coexist peacefully,” Haifa is known for being a politically moderate city. The city’s centerpiece is the world-famous Baha’i Golden Dome, of the people of the Baha’i faith.

spices for sale at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv

Dome of the Rotunda at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

the ancient Roman aqueduct at Ceasarea

The West Bank, with its ancient cities of Bethlehem, Jericho, and Hebron and the more modern city of Ramallah, offers a journey into another world—just as Petra’s ancient stone facades do. On a hot summer day with the warm smell of olive trees and a backdrop of rolling brown hills, you can almost forget the centuries-long violence and political tensions that have troubled this area.

Is it any wonder this region has inspired such passions, such creativity, such devotion, such faith? Beyond the history books and news headlines, it must be experienced firsthand to be truly appreciated.

Old Town port of Jaffa

waterfall in Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

Turkish coffee in Tel Aviv


1 Stepping into the dark, cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most important sites in the Christian world. Also known as the Church of the Resurrection, it houses four stations of the Via Dolorosa. It’s constantly filled with throngs of pilgrims, and its walls are filled with centuries of art.

2 Admiring the architecture of Tel Aviv’s White City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered an outstanding example of new town planning in the early 20th century, adapted to the cultural and geographic context of Tel Aviv. A must-see for architecture aficionados.

3 Taking in the view and finding a contemplative corner in the gray-domed Roman Catholic church atop the Mount of Beatitudes, just outside of Tiberias, where Jesus is believed to have given the Sermon on the Mount.

4 Paying your respects at the Western Wall, the most famed religious site in all of Judaism. Named for its position as the outer western wall of the destroyed Second Temple’s courtyard, the Western Wall is also called the Wailing Wall or the Kotel.

5 Roaming the terraced gardens in the looming shadow of Haifa’s Baha’i World Center, which cover the northern slope on Mount Carmel. The Golden Dome is so massive that it acts as the unofficial center of Haifa.

6 Taking a photograph of the famous six-pointed star window at the gorgeous ruins of Hisham’s Palace, a major archaeological site in Jericho.

7 Getting lost in the 125 acres of Caesarea National Antiquities Park, which contains archaeological remnants spanning a time period of about 2,300 years.

8 Taking in the history at the imposing, affecting Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the oldest working churches in the world. It is widely regarded as the location of Jesus’s birth.

9 Exploring the winding streets and corners of Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s port on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. You’ll find archaeological sites here, along with upscale shops, some of the best fine dining in Tel Aviv, an artists’ quarter, renovated Ottoman-era houses, and several important landmarks.

10 Journeying back in time in Akko’s magnificent Acre Old City. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is comprised of a complex network of buildings, archaeological and historical sites, and museums and takes about two days to tour completely.

11 Investigating the mysteries surrounding Masada National Park. A trip to the mountaintop fortress is enough to send the most jaded of travelers into another time and space with its epic views and equally epic history.

12 Navigating the art, religious relics, and historical lessons of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, one of the largest churches in the Middle East.

13 Seeing bright, rare fish, including a dark room for viewing glow-in-the-dark sea life at Eilat’s Coral World Underwater Observatory.

14 Educating yourself on the regional conflict that has long troubled this part of the world at the Museum on the Seam, along what was once a border between East and West Jerusalem.

15 Watching the sun rise or set at the Mitzpe Ramon Observatory and Ramon Crater, the largest of three massive geological craters in the Negev and home to the Ramon Crater Nature Reserve.

16 Marveling at the Great Temple of the Nabataeans, one of the most impressive and well-excavated sites in the “Rose City” of Petra.

Planning Your Trip

Where to Go

A city of just over 800,000 people and an important locale to the three major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Jerusalem seems older than time itself and is enthralling with its dozens of archaeological, religious, and historical sites and museums. When you tire of tours and history lessons, it is just as interesting to stroll through the unique districts of the city, such as the German Colony, with its many family entertainment options, lush greenery, unique homes, and numerous shops, and then stop for a world-class meal in one of the city’s many restaurants. A classic destination for religious pilgrimage, Jerusalem also has a lively arts scene and some nightlife offerings, though it is tame compared to Tel Aviv. A claim to fame is that it is home to more museums than anywhere else in Israel.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv isn’t called the “center” for nothing. It boasts a dizzying offering of restaurants, clubs, museums, performing arts venues of all sizes, nightlife, music, beaches, surfing, and outdoor sports. The first modern Jewish city, Tel Aviv has earned its reputation as the core of contemporary Israeli life. It is a place known for its openly accepting atmosphere for people of all kinds, for its high-powered technical and business sector, and as the heart of the country’s famed diamond industry. Tel Aviv’s world-class parks and recreation offerings are at the heart of its many summer festivals, events, and live concerts. It is, far and away, the most popular place in Israel to party and just enjoy life.

Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center

Haifa and the North Coast

Once you’re in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, situated on the coast about an hour north of Tel Aviv, you can easily jump off to other charming coastal towns and nearby historical and religious sites, such as Akko, Caesarea, and Zichron Ya’akov, with minimal hassle. The life of Haifa, the only city in Israel with any public transportation on the weekend, revolves around the dominating Baha’i Gardens and Golden Dome. You can spend days just going between exploring Haifa’s museums, restaurants, and beaches and wandering through the serene and pristine grounds of the Baha’i Gardens.

The Galilee and the Golan Heights

The north of Israel encompasses the Upper Galilee, the Lower Galilee, and the Golan Heights, home to gorgeous parks and nature reserves that include countless hiking and camping opportunities. The area is known for its world-class wineries and numerous significant archaeological, religious, and historical sites. The Golan and the Galilee are also home to some fascinating people, like the Druze; important cities, like Nazareth; and spiritually moving locales, like the Sea of Galilee.

The West Bank

The West Bank is where many important historic and religious sites, including the towns of Bethlehem, Jericho, and Hebron, can be found. The Arab city of Ramallah, just a short drive from Jerusalem, is the hub of Palestinian arts and culture in the West Bank and known for the important cultural festivals it puts on every year. Because of the complex security situation, it is recommended that visitors travel to the West Bank with a licensed tour company and check the current recommendaitons from their consulate before planning a trip.

Eilat and the Negev

The bosom of the Negev Desert, which makes up more than half of Israel’s landmass, the south is considered by many to be wild and untamed in many ways, though it is also an up-and-coming tech center. A popular destination for desert ecotourism, the Negev is the perfect place to experience camping out under the stars and to discover the unique beauty of the desert on long hikes. Home to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, the south is sparsely populated, but boasts the thriving tourist hub of Eilat at its far south end. Eilat has some of the best coral diving in the world and tax-free shopping, and it is the gateway to Petra, Jordan.

Petra, Jordan

Nothing can prepare you for the incomparable experience of seeing the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. Once the capital city of powerful and wealthy spice route merchants, modern Petra is a massive archaeological site that takes several days to explore thoroughly. Replete with hikes of varying lengths that end at gorgeous archaeological finds, Petra can be experienced in tandem with the immediately adjacent Arab village of Wadi Musa, with its many offerings of Bedouin food and hospitality.

Know Before You Go
High and Low Seasons

There are distinct high and low seasons in this region. The high season is April-October (approximately from Passover through Sukkot on the Jewish calendar), and the low season is November-March. Check the calendar carefully before planning your trip with an eye out for major Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holidays. The airfare and cost of hotels will be much higher during those times, and many businesses and tourist sites will be closed or have shorter hours.

The three most challenging times to visit are during the Jewish holiday of Passover week (approximately the end of March), which ends in the Christian holiday of Easter Sunday, and during the week of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (approximately the end of October). The month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, around July-August, puts a bit of a damper on any sightseeing related to sites in the West Bank.

Easter observances draw many pilgrims to Jerusalem.

A generally good period to visit, when it is not too hot and not too cold, and there are not too many holidays to affect the opening and closing of sites, is in April-June.

Try to avoid visiting Jerusalem during August, when the heat coupled with the chaos of annual vacations and events among local residents make for an overwhelming (not in a good way) experience. Essentially, the city becomes extremely crowded.

Shabbat (Sabbath) and Weekly Closures

If you only have a few days in Israel, it’s good to be aware of the Jewish Shabbat (or Sabbath), which starts on Friday at sundown and ends on Saturday night after three stars are out in the sky (when it is fully dark). All government offices and services stop, including public transportation (except in Haifa, where some public buses run on a limited schedule throughout Shabbat). Also, any restaurant that is kosher is closed. Taxicabs still operate, but their fees are higher than normal. The exception is East Jerusalem, which is predominately Arab, where business continues as normal. Arab areas do shut down on Friday afternoon, which is their major prayer time during the week.

Passports and Visas

Many countries have a visa waiver agreement with Israel, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, which means you only need to purchase a round-trip ticket to show your future departure. You will be issued a visa upon entering Israel. Your passport must be good for at least six months past the date of your departure from the country.


Check any travel advisories from foreign governments before departing. Sporadic violence might mean that you choose not to visit a certain area.


The best and most common way to get to this region is by airplane, which will take you to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Entry from Jordan or Egypt is also possible by car, and arrival by cruise ship over international waters commonly occurs via the Port of Haifa. Eilat Airport in the south handles domestic flights if that is your final destination.

Though the geographic area is fairly small (you can drive from the northern border to the southern border in one day), the complex security situation does require some advance planning, especially if you intend to visit multiple regions or cross international borders during your trip. Within most towns and cities—particularly Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, and Eilat—public transportation and taxis make it fairly easy to get around. For travel beyond isolated locales, it is best to get a rental car. Long-distance buses will also get you around cheaply and efficiently, but they can require a sense of adventure and extra time for potential mishaps. The Israel Railways train is also an option, especially for going to and from the airport.

Best of Israel and the West Bank

If you are traveling to Israel and the West Bank with the intention of having a wide variety of experiences, mapping out at least a general strategy is a must. This itinerary describes how to get a taste of the best of the region in two weeks, and includes the major highlights and most popular sites in several cities and regions.


Have breakfast at your hotel and get an early start to the Old City to beat the heat and crowds. Take the most accessible entrance at the Jaffa Gate, and stop by the information center for any current happenings and available tours. From here you can start to explore with a visit to either the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum or the Tower of David Museum.

Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Follow the main road downhill through the tightly packed shops selling all kinds of scarves, food, trinkets, jewelry, and souvenirs and try your hand at the regional custom of negotiating for a deal. Then head for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the spot where many believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. From here, head to the Austrian Hospice for an incredible view of old and new Jerusalem from the rooftop and a piece of famous apple strudel in the quiet gardens.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Dormition Abbey

After leaving the Austrian Hospice, wander around a bit as you work your way toward the Western Wall, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock. Pass the Western Wall and keep going toward the outer wall of the Old City, toward the City of David archaeological site. Here you can take a guided tour and walk through the ancient Hezekiah’s Tunnel, knee-high in water. Skip the tunnel if you are claustrophobic, but if you’re not, bring a flashlight.

Go back toward the Old City and take one of the many waiting taxis to dinner in City Center, preferably somewhere off King David Street or in the popular pedestrian plaza and historic neighborhood of Nahalat Shiva.


Take a taxi to the popular outdoor pedestrian shopping center Mamilla, where you can have breakfast alfresco at one of the restaurants with a vista of the new city and the landmark Montefiore Windmill. From Mamilla, it is a quick hop to the Old City, where you can check out anything you missed the previous day, such as the popular Ramparts Walk tour that circles the Old City along the top of the walls. Alternatively, there is the walk up the belfry tower at the Church of the Redeemer for one of the most highly rated and under-visited 360-degree views of the Old City.

Before it gets too late, exit the Old City through the Zion Gate and head up the hillside to Mount Zion, the site where some believe Jesus held the Last Supper and King David’s Tomb can be found. Don’t let anybody talk you into making a “donation” here; the site is free. At Mount Zion you will also find the lovely Dormition Abbey and great vistas of the city from multiple vantage points.

Take a taxi to the top of the Mount of Olives, where you will see the view of the Old City of Jerusalem that Jesus is said to have shed tears over when telling of its coming destruction. Go by foot into the nearby Arab village and have lunch at one of the many small restaurants serving Arab food before heading back down the hillside by taxi. Ask to be dropped off at the Church of the Pater Noster, and then walk downhill to the nearby Dome and Chapel of the Ascension and the Garden of Gethsemane.

From the Garden of Gethsemane, it is a long walk or a quick taxi ride to a City Center restaurant; try something near Tolerance Square this time.


Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before heading out to see some of Jerusalem’s museums. Go by bus or taxi to The Israel Museum, about 20 minutes west of the Old City by car. Allow at least a half day to explore the museum and its rich, famed exhibits specializing in Judaica and Jewish history as well as regional history. Take advantage of the museum’s restaurant for lunch and hop across the street to the Bible Lands Museum. Then take a taxi to the nearby and underrated Monastery of the Cross, located in the valley from which the wood for Jesus’s cross is said to have been taken. From here take another taxi to Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, or walk five minutes to the bus that will take you to the light rail. The light rail will deliver you to Mount Herzl and the associated Herzl museum, near the shuttle buses that take you down Yad Vashem’s long drive. Allow at least four hours and some time for food or a cold drink at the cafeteria where you can meditate on the sweeping view of the Jerusalem forest.

From Yad Vashem, take the light-rail train to City Center and the famous Machane Yehuda Market (the shuk), where you can wander around and finish with dinner in one of the shuk’s many wonderful restaurants or cafés. In the evening, the shuk’s nightlife cranks up, and the quiet pubs turn into hopping parties, some with live music.

dining at Machane Yehuda Market

Tel Aviv

Go by bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in the morning after breakfast (and after rush hour)—it’s very easy to go back and forth between these cities by bus. After checking in at your hotel, take a stroll around Dizengoff Center’s great shopping district, and stop by the Bauhaus Center to pick up maps and information about Tel Aviv’s famed White City and available tours. Stay near Dizengoff to enjoy one of the area’s many outstanding restaurants for lunch.

After lunch, get ready for a late-afternoon beach session (in summer months, wait until after 2pm at the earliest). Take water and a change of clothes so you can go straight to dinner afterward. Try Aviv Beach, just north of Charles Clore Park, or any of the beaches that are north of Charles Clore Park but south of the Marina. From Aviv Beach, take a nice 25-minute stroll to the HaTachana Train Station Complex for some shopping and dining; make sure to check out the Made in TLV store. Five minutes away, wander through Tel Aviv’s historic Neve Tzedek


On Sale
Nov 26, 2019
Page Count
368 pages
Moon Travel

Genevieve Belmaker

About the Author

Genevieve Belmaker is an award-winning American journalist, editor, author and photographer who has lived and worked extensively in New York City, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Israel, as well as throughout the U.S. and South and Central America. She is founder and publisher of La Raza X Publishing.

She has worked as an editor with reporters on producing hundreds of stories. She writes about and reports on fascinating people and places around the world, the global environmental crisis, the journalism industry, social justice, and crime. Genevieve's work has been published by Middle East Eye, Pacific Standard, Poynter, Nieman Reports for Harvard, Mongabay environment and science news, Quill magazine for the Society of Professional Journalists, PBS Mediashift, and others.

Genevieve is the author of several travel guides for Moon. She also wrote and published the epistolary novella Lovingly Yours and the children's book The Littlest Kitten.

Learn more about this author