Moon Israel & the West Bank: With Petra

Planning Essentials, Sacred Sites, Unforgettable Experiences

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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, strategic itineraries including a week in Jerusalem, three days in Tel Aviv, and a month exploring the region plus excursions to the West Bank, the Dead Sea, and Petra
  • 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: Journalist and longtime Jerusalem resident Genevieve Belmaker shares the history and culture of her beloved former 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 and planning essentials including Hebrew and Arabic phrasebooks, health and safety tips, customs and conduct, and information for LGBTQ, female, and senior travelers, families with children, travelers of color, 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.

Exploring further? Check out Moon Egypt.


Jerusalem’s Western Wall

WELCOME TO Israel & the West Bank


Planning Your Trip


BEST OF Israel and the West Bank



Ancient Terrain: Desert Hikes and Magical Waters


Beaches of Israel and the West Bank

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 continues to unfold today.

The crown jewel for most visitors is Jerusalem, a city bursting at the seams with historical and religious adventures alongside fine restaurants, excellent shopping choices, and an ever-increasing array of entertainment. 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. North along the Mediterranean is sparkling Haifa, often touted as a place in Israel where Jews and Arabs “coexist peacefully.” The city’s centerpiece is the world-famous Baha’i Golden Dome, of the people of the Baha’i faith.

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, 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 faith? Beyond the history books and headlines, it must be experienced to be appreciated.

mosaic at Caesarea National Antiquities Park


1 Taking in the history and significance of some of the most important sights in Christianity, from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Basilica of the Annunciation and the Church of the Nativity.

2 Paying your respects at the Western Wall. Also called the Wailing Wall or the Kotel, it’s the most famed religious site in all of Judaism.

3 Exploring the winding, storied streets and corners of Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv’s port on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.

4 Ascending to the mountaintop fortress in Masada National Park, getting to know the area’s unmatched views and equally epic history.

5 Touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting a broad sampling of what’s on offer at Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda Market (The Shuk)—a must for every visitor and many locals.

6 Peeking into the past while marveling at the sight of the Dome of the Rock.

7 Tucking into legendary knafe in Nablus.

8 Making a lifetime of memories at the nonstop party on the beaches in Tel Aviv.

9 Getting lost in the 50,600 square meters (125 acres) of Caesarea National Antiquities Park, which contains archaeological remnants spanning a time period of about 2,300 years, including a Roman Amphitheater that’s still in use.

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

11 Marveling at wonders of the Rose City of Petra, from the towering Treasury to the monumental Great Temple.

12 Floating in the magical waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest point in the world, and feeling the therapeutic impact of being immersed in a timeless place.

Planning Your Trip


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.

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 recommendations 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, 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.

When to Go

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.

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, crowded experience.

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. Areas that are typically impacted by violence include Jerusalem’s Old City, particularly Damascus Gate, as well as areas close to settlements in the West Bank. Smaller outbreaks do not typically impact tourists, unless there is an associated holiday, such as Jerusalem Day, which often turns very tense.

What to Take

There are a couple of clothing items you should be certain to take: long-sleeved shirts and long-sleeved pants or a long skirt. Depending on where you go and what’s happening, you may either be required to cover up more (both men and women) or it may be a social expectation. A scarf made of cotton that is longer and can be wrapped over your head and mouth/nose is also a good idea. There can sometimes be sandstorms and other situations, so a scarf is a versatile tool in this region. Make sure you have plug adapters for European-style wide dual plug (type C) and tri-prong plug (type H) and the type with three round pins (type M). Israeli voltage supply is 230V.

Getting There

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.

Getting Around

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.

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. Before going, check the security situation with local authorities and the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories website.

BEST OF Israel and the West Bank

If you are traveling to Israel and the West Bank with the intention of getting a good taste of the region, mapping out a general strategy is a must. This itinerary describes what to see on a two-week trip, covering the major highlights and most popular sites in several cities and regions.

Day 1

Get an early start to the Old City to beat the heat and crowds. Begin with a visit to either the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum or the Tower of David Museum.

market in the Old City of 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.

Work your way toward the Western Wall, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock. Keep going toward the outer wall of the Old City, toward the City of David archaeological site, where you can take a guided tour and walk through the ancient Hezekiah’s Tunnel, knee-high in water.

Go back toward the Old City for dinner, preferably somewhere off King David Street or in the popular pedestrian plaza and historic neighborhood of Nahalat Shiva.

Day 2

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 see the landmark Montefiore Windmill. Walk back into the Old City from nearby Jaffa Gate, take the popular Ramparts Walk tour, or walk up the belfry tower at the Church of the Redeemer for one of the best 360-degree views of the Old City.

Head up the hillside to Mount Zion, the site where some believe Jesus held the Last Supper and where King David’s Tomb can be found. This is also where you’ll find the lovely Dormition Abbey and get more great vistas of the city from multiple vantage points.

Take a taxi to the top of the Mount of Olives, where you will see one of the most famous views of the Old City set against the backdrop of new Jerusalem. 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 foot. As you work your way down, you’ll see the Jewish Cemetery and the Church of the Pater Noster and the ancient olive tree groves of the Garden of Gethsemane.

From the Garden of Gethsemane, head back into the Old City through the Zion Gate and past the Western Wall, where you’ll find some options for food.

Day 3

Spend today visiting some of Jerusalem’s best—and most memorable—museums. Allow at least half a day to take in the Israel Museum, about 20 minutes west of the Old City by car, with famed exhibits specializing in Judaica and Jewish and regional history. Here you can explore the vast space of the museum that covers thousands of years of history of the region from an archaeological and anthropological standpoint. You can see the Dead Sea Scrolls here, too. The museum often has special programming. Take advantage of the museum’s restaurant for lunch, before taking the light rail to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Allow at least four hours to take in the emotionally wrought exhibits that create a living exposition of the human suffering of the Holocaust.

From Yad Vashem, take the light-rail train to City Center and the famous Machane Yehuda Market (the shuk), where you can 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.

Tel Aviv
Day 4

Head to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem by bus in the morning after breakfast (and after rush hour). 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). Bring 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 neighborhood, the oldest neighborhood in the city, for a European-style dinner. If you can recharge at your hotel, head back out to party when things get started at the clubs around midnight.

restaurant at the HaTachana Train Station Complex

Day 5

Take a rest from the sun and nightlife of Tel Aviv to see the new and extremely popular addition of Sarona market for some shopping and cuisine. Self-described as the “heartbeat of Israeli culinary art,” it is an assault of regional colors and smells. Stay for a wine-tasting, try some olive oil straight from the press, and enjoy a three-course gourmet meal.

From the market, take a taxi or bus to one of the city’s best museums, like the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Take in the best view of the city at the Azrieli Observatory just before sunset, and then head back down to city level for dinner in one of the city’s many restaurants. You can take the train back to your hotel from Azrieli Center after doing any shopping in the mall there if needed.

Day 6

Before checking out of your Tel Aviv hotel, head to the north of the city and have a breakfast of shakshuka eggs at one of the Port of Tel Aviv’s many seaside restaurants. If you time it right, you can catch the weekly outdoor market. Swing by Old Jaffa for an afternoon of sightseeing at one of the oldest ports in the world.

Pick up a rental car for the short drive to Haifa, about an hour north of Tel Aviv. Leave some daylight, because the road to Haifa hugs the scenic shoreline of the Mediterranean most of the way. Settle into one of Haifa’s gorgeous boutique hotels in the historic German Colony.

Haifa, Caesarea, and Zichron Ya’akov
Day 7

Plan to start your day early and spend it exploring Haifa by car or by one of the ample public transportation options, including the city’s subway—the only subway in Israel.

Haifa’s cable car system

Start at the top of the Baha’i Gardens and Golden Dome for an incomparable view of the Mediterranean Sea and the Haifa Port. Take the middle entrance if you want to explore more of the gardens, but check visiting hours in advance as they fluctuate. For more views and strolling, the nearby Louis Promenade off Yefe Nof Street is fantastic and leads to the small but elegant Mané-Katz Museum and the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art.

At the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa is the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery, with its small but extensively painted domed chapel and peaceful grounds filled with tropical plants and flowers. Just across the street from Stella Maris is the San Francisco Observation Point with a multilingual and comprehensive audio history of the area. Steps away is Haifa’s cable car, which will take you down the mountainside to Bat Galim Promenade. Next to the promenade are Elijah’s Cave and the National Maritime Museum.

For dinner, some of the best options in the most idyllic setting are located in the German Colony, at the base of the Baha’i Gardens.

Day 8

After breakfast, set out from Haifa for the Caesarea National Antiquities Park, where you can spend most of the day exploring the gorgeous Roman ruins by the sea that include the aqueduct, an amphitheater, mosaic floors, and bathhouses. There are many great options for lunch at the old port,


On Sale
Aug 29, 2023
Page Count
416 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