Your Holy Land tour starts in the ancient city of Jerusalem. Few places in the world have such historical clout: sacred to three of the world’s greatest religions Jerusalem spans 3,000 years of contested history. Surrounded by crenelated walls that are guarded by ornate gates you’ll discover some of the most revered and sacred sites in the world. And all lie amid the atmospheric cobbled streets ringing with the strident peal of church bells and muezzin’s calls. Your home for the next few days is the fabled King David Hotel, itself the setting of world-changing events.
Start your day in New Jerusalem, visiting the Holocaust memorial and the Israel Museum. The moving Yad Vashem museum honours Holocaust victims with a thought-provoking centrepiece: a triangular concrete prism cuts through the hillside of the city. The Israel Museum holds the country’s greatest art and archaeology collection, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s a short trip to Bethlehem where the Church of the Nativity is built over the birthplace of Jesus.
History feels alive in Jerusalem's Old City. Get the ultimate overview from the Mount of Olives and then experience the telling detail in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrayed Christ. Every single brick of this ancient city is redolent with history: there’s the Western (Wailing) Wall, Dome of the Rock and the Stations of the Cross along Via Dolorosa. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a fitting place to end your day.
Skirting the Dead Sea to reach Masada hop in the cable car to the cliff-top where, some 2,000 years ago, Jewish Zealots were besieged by Roman legions. Three painful years passed before they took their own lives to avoid capture. Many of their fortifications, originally built by King Herod, still stand. In the nearby Qumran Caves the Dead Sea Scrolls were famously found by a young Bedouin shepherd in 1947.
As you head north into the Jordan Valley, Biblical stories seem to leap off the pages of each landscape’s story. Pause at the Roman city of Beit She’an before on to Nazareth – the city in which Jesus spent much of his life. Joseph’s carpentry workshop (the site where the Archangel Gabriel told Mary the news) is here too. In Cana, Jesus performed his first miracle. At Tiberias, your hotel overlooks the Sea of Galilee.
When you take to the waters of the legendary Sea of Galilee your boat will head for the ancient fishing village of Capernaum. In a ruined synagogue here is the place Jesus taught. In Tabgha a few loaves and fishes fed the multitude and over on the Mount of Beatitudes the beautiful Sermon on the Mount was preached. Banias, one of the sources of the River Jordan, is an important archaeological site that dates back to pagan times.
The roll call of history continues as you drive the Mediterranean coast. The ancient seaport of Acre has played host to Hercules and the crusading medieval knights, whose legacy can be explored here. Have a quick haggle in the markets before stopping in nearby Haifa to admire the magnificent Bahai Shrine. The city of Caesarea is rich in Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Crusader ruins but your final stop, in Tel Aviv, is rich in the pulsating buzz of the present.
Tel Aviv, lounging on the Med, is Israel at its most cosmopolitan and vibrant. Visit the sights, but also soak up the coffee culture and balmy sea breezes. The labyrinthine port of Jaffa is a stark contrast to the modern city. Here the old-world atmosphere lingers amid narrow alleys, flea markets and craft shops. As dusk falls, hit the eternal present of Tel Aviv’s Sea Promenade and Neve Dzedek, which is packed with restaurants and lively bars.
Enjoy a last lavish breakfast at the landmark David InterContinental, which has sweeping sea views as it is located in the city’s most fashionable district, before heading to the airport for your flight home.