Israel is one of the most remarkable spots in the world that you can visit as a tourist. Owing to its extensive culture and ancient history, it is a paradise for history lovers who want to experience an old culture’s wonders. And while there are many popular landmarks you can add to your itinerary when you visit the Holy Land, if you want to experience something a little more special and explore some spaces that aren’t so popular with tourists, here are some of Israel’s hidden gems you should visit during your next journey.
This ancient Jewish city is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a mere three kilometers away from Tiberias. Through the centuries, people of many different faiths have passed through or lived in the city, including Christian pilgrims and Crusaders, as well as the Mamluks. An ancient synagogue dating back to approximately 50 BCE is one of the best-preserved landmarks. The walls of the main hall were initially decorated with frescoes, and the Magdala stone located inside features a carving of a seven-branched menorah.
In 2021, another synagogue was discovered at the site, dating back to roughly the same historical period. This one was located close to what used to be a residential area of Magdala, while the previous one was unearthed close to an industrial area.
Pool of Arches
You can explore this historical landmark with rowboats, as it is a subterranean pool built long before 1000. Originally built as a reservoir for the residents of Ramla, the pool is known as the Pool of Goats in Arabic due to its past use as a place where livestock came to drink water. The structure has endured despite several earthquakes over the centuries.
Exploring the pool takes around half an hour, which you can spend admiring the architecture of the place. There’s also an exhibit nearby where you can learn more about the history of the Pool of Arches.
This impressive national park comprises an extensive network of caves built over hundreds of years. The cave complex includes the town of Maresha, one of the most important in all of Judah during the First Temple Period. The burial caves and columbarium in the ancient city are recognized as a World Heritage Site, yet there’s still more that needs to be discovered. Only about 10% of the caves have ever been excavated, and many more are underground, extending into passageways and underground chambers.
There are over 3,000 caves at Beit Guvrin, serving many different purposes. Some were used as hideouts, others were chalk mines, and there was also a Roman amphitheater and a Byzantine church. The burial rooms created by the Sidonians are incredibly well-preserved, as they’ve been protected from the elements at the surface.
All trips to the Holy Land need to include a tour of at least a few natural landscapes. Wadi Qelt is one of the highlights in this regard, featuring not only a diverse flora and fauna but also several landmarks of religious importance. A stream is going eastwards in the ravine, originating near Jerusalem, then into the Jordan River and later into the Dead Sea.
If you enjoy birdwatching, you should know the area has large populations of griffon vultures, eagle-owls and lesser kestrels. The region is also one of the best in the world for rock climbing. Wadi Qelt is also important for both Judaism and Christianity. It is mentioned several times in the Miqra. The Eastern Orthodox Monastery of Saint George of Choziba is a cliff-hanging structure dating back to the 400s. It is an important pilgrimage site for Christians due to its association with the lives of Elijah and those of the parents of the Virgin Mary. In fact, during the earliest part of its history, the monastery was dedicated to Theotokos, a title given to the Virgin Mary in Eastern Christianity, roughly translating to “Mother of God”.
There are several relics of religious importance at the monastery, including the remains of martyred monks killed in 614 by the Persians, as well as those of the Saints George of Choziba, John of Thebes and John the Romanian.
The Hermit House
Hermit House overlooks the Mediterranean from its position near the Sidna Ali Mosque in Herzliya. It is an excellent example of vernacular architecture, created in the 1970s using discarded sea materials. It is built directly into the cliff, featuring several tunnels. The house has no telephone and no electricity, and the inside room is decorated with mosaics made of blue glass, plates and bottles. The outside of the dwelling is visible to the public, but if you want to take a tour of the interiors, you must discuss it with the owner.
To talk to any of the locals, however, you must have a good understanding of modern Hebrew grammar. Choose a textbook that features reading exercises, syntactic structures, and transliteration to help improve your pronunciation.
Hebrew Music Museum
Music is one of the central aspects of Jewish culture and religious belief. Synagogal music was used in the Temple, consisting of approximately twelve musical instruments, including the kinnor, the nevel, the shofar, and the tof. The Talmud also mentions that a pipe organ was used in temple music. While no pieces of music from that time have survived, traditional understanding claims that the tune used for Kol Nidre, a declaration recited before the evening service during Yom Kippur, used to be sung in the Temple as well.
The Hebrew Music Museum in Jerusalem is dedicated to musical instruments from many different cultures, including Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Iran and Europe. Ancient texts reveal the history of music in the Holy Land since its earliest days. While you can visit the museum independently, if you take a guided tour, you have access to interactive features, such as listening to what the instruments used to sound like.
When visiting Israel, you should be prepared for a unique experience. It is a remarkable place, full of culture and spirituality, that you’ll leave feeling mentally and emotionally richer than you were before your visit.