Israel is filled with Biblical heritage sites, offering tourists various opportunities to connect with the land, people and God of the Bible. As a top tourist destination for Biblical experiences, tour guides in Israel have even been known even bring a Bible along to point out locations found in Biblical texts. Here are 10 of the most compelling Biblical sites you can visit on your next tour of Israel:
Rising to about 62 feet, this 2,000-year-old wall of stone stands on the western side of the Temple Mount and once served as an outer retaining wall of the Holy Temple. For generations, the Jewish people have prayed at this site and continue to do so, especially on pilgrimage holidays, Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost). Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, the large Kotel plaza is often crowded with people on Shabbat and on holidays, and at other times, it serves as a peaceful, spiritual retreat for quiet contemplation and prayer. The Western Wall ranks as Jerusalem’s #1 tourist destination. For a unique Kotel experience, check out the Kotel Tunnel Tours operated by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation where you will be able to learn more (and see for yourself, below ground) about the history of Solomon’s Temple, Herod’s Temple and the Western Wall, sourced from Biblical, historical and archaeological perspectives.
The ancient stones of this towering structure in Hebron may look familiar, as they were constructed by King Herod the Great (who also built the Second Temple of which the Western Wall still remains). Also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the structure houses the underground burial caves where the Biblical Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are believed to be buried. As the second Jewish holiest site in the world, approximately 700,000 people per year visit Hebron, located about an hour’s drive south of Jerusalem. The Hebron Fund is a popular choice of tour organizers, with tourists and locals alike sightseeing and participating in prayer services with experienced and local guides.
In modern times, this 2,000 foot-tall mountain in the lower Galilee is a beautiful spot for hiking trails. Covered in pine trees, Mount Tabor is surrounded by lush plains. But its history dates back to Biblical times – it is here where Barak and Deborah led the Jewish people against Sisera’s army and the Canaanites. Visitors can tour Mount Tabor to learn more about the area’s Biblical and strategic significance during the Second Temple, as both a site of settlement and the location of various battles.
Located on Mount Zion and outside the Old City of Jerusalem, an ancient building houses a cenotaph, or memorial marker, that indicates the underground caverns where tradition holds King David was buried. Prayer services are held on a regular basis, with Hasidic musical gatherings often taking place on Saturday nights.
Many songs have been written about the river that connects the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish people crossed into the land of Israel at the Jordan River following the 40-year journey from Egypt. Additionally, according to Christian tradition, the Jordan River is the site of Jesus’ baptism. Today, the Jordan’s often-calm waters offer areas where tourists can partake in kayaking or rafting. There are many hiking trails run by the Israel National Parks Authority, as well as the famous baptismal site near kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret (Casa al Yehud).
Masada, the high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, has seen a great deal of Jewish history, from the Jewish zealots making their last stand against the Roman legions, to modern times, as tourists from all over the world come to enjoy the incredible views and history the site has to offer. Ascend and alight Masada by foot (there is a longer snake path or a shorter way up) or cable car. In Biblical times, unlike Shimon bar Kochba at the battle of Betar or the siege of Yodfat, the residents of Masada held out against the Romans and took their own lives rather than be taken captive and enslaved. Enjoy impressive archaeological remains protected by Israel’s National Parks Authority, concerts and Israel Defense Force ceremonies atop Masada – sure to be an inspirational site for your visit to the Holy Land.
Located near the Old City, the City of David (Ir David) and its spectacular Jerusalem archaeological sites show what Israel’s capital looked like in Biblical days. Coins and other artifacts have been found in the neighborhood (Silwan), what may have been royal quarters for the rulers of the city. The site also includes portions of the underground aqueduct, which tourists can visit – the water tunnels are perfect for tourists to visit and learn on a hot summer day.
The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake in Israel, fed largely by the Jordan River. Its Hebrew name, the Kinneret, is a Biblical reference from Numbers 34:11 and Joshua 13:27, which references the sea. Located on the ancient trade route linking Egypt with the northern kingdoms, the Sea of Galilee drew many Jewish, Greek and Roman settlers, including the families of Jesus and his disciples. According to Christian tradition, the Sea of Galilee is the site of Jesus’s ministry. Today, the site is an important tourist attraction, with hiking trails and baptism sites for Christian pilgrims, as well as leisure activities such as rafting and swimming.
The Biblical city of Shilo is mentioned in both the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament in the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, Psalms and Jeremiah as the site where the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant were once located. Points of interest at the site include the place where the Tabernacle stood, storehouses from the time of the Tabernacle, water cisterns and ritual pools, lookouts, an olive press, wine-making press, family burial caves and more. Shilo is also great for family outings, with a short movie about its historical significance, as well as outdoor and leisure attractions like cycling, paintball and ATVs.
Although Biblical Rachel did not make it to Hebron, she gave up her burial place next to her husband in Hebron and accepted a burial on the side of a deserted road. Through this act of sacrifice, Rachel’s ‘prize’ was the children of Israel who visit her tomb every day, located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem. Stopping on the way to Hebron, visitors may pray at Rachel’s Tomb (Kever Rachel), which is the third holiest site in Judaism and a cornerstone of Jewish-Israeli identity, with Jews making a pilgrimage to this site since ancient times. Rachel’s story of years of childlessness, before she was granted children, has made her tomb a magnet for Jewish women to pray who are suffering from infertility.