Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Israel is many things to many people ... A center of faith for three of the world’s great religions. A strategic crucible of modern world politics. A land of stunning natural beauty. A complex ethnic tapestry. An archaeologist’s dream. A realm of transcendent landscapes. A place that has resonance for any traveler seeking answers to the great spiritual matters of our times.
While many tours focus on one religious tradition or another while in Israel, we follow a multicultural pathway through Israel’s many layers of religious heritage. And we explore contemporary issues, too, inviting you to peer behind the headlines to meet Palestinians and Israelis, native Sabras and Eastern European immigrants, Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze, nomads and homesteaders. If you are drawn to places that challenge your preconceptions, or even inspire some soul-searching, come feel the power of this ancient place. Travel to the Holy Land—at least once in your life.
Fly overnight from the U.S. to Tel Aviv.
An OAT representative will meet us upon our arrival this afternoon at Tel Aviv’s airport, where we'll meet travelers who took the pre-trip extension to Jordan. We’ll transfer to our hotel and settle into our rooms, and then our small group’s Trip Leader will deliver a short orientation briefing before we share a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Israel’s cultural and commercial hub, Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 near the ancient port city of Jaffa (with which it later merged) as a planned “garden city” on the Mediterranean coast, and blossomed into the largest collection of Modernist buildings in the world. Today, Tel Aviv is home to about one-third of Israel’s population, and is a thoroughly modern city in every sense of the phrase—whatever it may lack in ancient history, it more than makes up for in vibrancy and contemporary culture.
After breakfast at our hotel, we begin today’s discoveries with a visit to Jaffa, a 4,000-year-old city situated on the southern outskirts of downtown Tel Aviv that may well be the world’s oldest seaport. Our Trip Leader will take us on a walk through Old Jaffa, followed by a visit to the Ilana Goor Museum, housed in the private home of this renowned Israeli artist, designer, and sculptor, where artifacts from Israel’s past and artworks from its present stand side by side. From there, we’ll venture to the colorful Jaffa Flea Market and have the chance to browse the vendors' extensive selection of antiques. Then we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before we continue on to Tel Aviv.
After a panoramic city drive, we enjoy a walking tour of Tel Aviv’s Old Town, followed by a visit to the Carmel Market. Commonly referred to as a shuk, this type of bustling outdoor market is the oldest model for food shopping in the Holy Land, where you can discover a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, spices, nuts, and even clothing and housewares. It’s an authentic and invigorating whirl of activity that reveals Israel’s incredible diversity.
Afterwards, we depart for the city of Bnei Brak outside Tel Aviv, where we meet with members of the Jewish Orthodox community here and enjoy dinner with local scholars at their yeshiva, an institution of rabbinical learning. Please note: Both the Jaffa Flea Market and the Carmel Market are closed on Saturdays. If Day 3 of your itinerary falls on a Saturday, you may have the chance to visit them on Day 15. Groups staying in Tel Aviv on a Friday, Saturday, or holiday will enjoy a Home-Hosted Dinner with an Orthodox family in Jerusalem on Day 11 in lieu of today’s yeshiva dinner.
Today we set out to Nazareth, a predominately Muslim town that is believed to have been the childhood home of Jesus. We travel north along the coast, stopping first at Caesarea, where Herod the Great built a remarkable artificial port—an engineering marvel in its time. Here we’ll explore Roman ruins, many of which were transformed into a walled Crusader's city in later times, and have some free time for lunch on our own.
Then we’ll proceed to Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. This ancient seaport on the slopes of Mount Carmel is invested with both the historical weight of Jerusalem and the modern ambiance and tempo of Tel Aviv. It is in some senses Israel’s model city, rich with history, replete with a stew of cultures and religions working side by side, and evolving rapidly into the modern world. We’ll head to Mount Carmel for a panoramic view of the terraced Baha’i Gardens, as they flow down its slopes toward the busy harbor, then continue on to Nazareth. We'll also stop at an olive farm for a tasting, followed by dinner. Please note: If your transfer to Nazareth occurs during a weekend or local holiday, dinner will be at a local restaurant in Nazareth.
Today is yours to enjoy at leisure in Nazareth, perhaps to explore the Old Quarter, or to visit the quaint church built on the site of Joseph’s home and workshop.
Or you may join a full-day optional tour that begins with a visit to the ancient walled city of Akko, once known by the Crusaders as the city of Acre. Our walking tour includes a visit to the Knights’ Halls, a series of vaulted halls below street level; the Al-Jazzar Mosque; and the spice market, the Old City’s main marketplace.
Then, after an included lunch at a local restaurant, we continue to Rosh HaNikra, where we witness a wondrous series of cavernous tunnels formed by the pounding of the sea on the white chalk cliffs.
Dinner is at our hotel this evening.
This morning you’ll explore Nazareth, walking in the footsteps of Jesus—as well as Elijah, Deborah, Solomon, and many other biblical figures—as we pay a visit to the Church of the Annunciation, built on the site where Mary is said to have received word from the angel Gabriel that she would bear the son of God.
Then we travel to the Golan Heights via ancient Tzippori—a site first settled by the Hasmoneans in the second century BC, which then served as the Roman capital of Galilee through the reign of Herod, and is the reputed birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Today the site boasts a plethora of spectacular ruins, including colonnaded roadways, a Roman villa with mosaic floors, a citadel, a system of underground cisterns and aqueducts, and an ancient synagogue where rabbinic sages compiled the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish law.
After free time for lunch on our own, we visit Safed. A scenic hilltop city, with narrow old streets winding past medieval synagogues that is set high in the mountains of Upper Galilee with views to the Golan Heights, Safed is also a center of Jewish mysticism—or Kaballah.
We arrive at the Golan Heights in the afternoon, and have ample time to explore Kibbutz Kfar Haruv after we check into our lodge. Kibbutzim have played and continue to play a very important part in the development of modern Israel, and our tour will include an informative discussion with some kibbutz members. Then we enjoy dinner in their company at the kibbutz’s restaurant, where you’ll have the chance to talk more with some members and learn about both the history and the day-to-day life in this communal settlement.
After breakfast is delivered to our cabins, we set off for a light morning walk in the Gamla Nature Reserve. We’ll take in the history and archaeology in this beautiful area that was once an ancient fortress captured by the Romans, the name of which comes from the Hebrew word for camel—gamal—because the ancient fortress was on a mountain shaped remarkably like a camel’s hump.
Next, we stop at Kibbutz El Rom, located next to the battleground of the Valley of the Tear, one of the defining moments of the Yom Kippur War. At the Kibbutz El Rom we’ll learn about the struggle of the Israelis against the Syrian Army during the tank battle there in 1973. We then pause at the Valley of the Tear Memorial, which overlooks the battleground.
We continue on to a Druze village, where we enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch with a Druze family and learn about their unique culture and traditions. The Druze are an Arab religious community that opted out of mainstream Arab nationalism, and whose members have served in the Israeli Defense Forces. In the past, the Druze have seemed radical for their belief in equality between men and women, the abolition of slavery, and separation of church and state.
Afterward, we return to our lodge, where the remainder of the day is at leisure and dinner is on your own.
This morning, we leave the Golan Heights, making our first stop at Capernaum (formerly Kfar Nahum), an ancient Roman fishing village whose church was founded on the traditional site of St. Peter’s home. While there, we’ll also visit the modern Church of the Beatitudes, which was built near the site of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, and Tabgha, where he was said to have fed 5,000 followers on five loaves and two fish, before boarding a boat to sail across Lake Kinneret, better known as the Sea of Galilee.
First, we’ll cruise to Kibbutz Genosar to view the “Jesus Boat,” the restored skeletal remains of a fishing vessel discovered on the muddy shores of Lake Kinneret in 1986 that dates back to the first century AD—the time of Jesus’ ministry. We’ll then stop by the River Jordan for a lunch of “St. Peter’s fish”—tilapia—which has been harvested here since Biblical times, after which some travelers may wish to join the Christian pilgrims who gather here to renew their baptism vows by immersing themselves in the same waters where Jesus was baptized.
In addition to its historical importance, Lake Kinneret is the only sweetwater lake in Israel, and it is considered by many to be a national asset. Visitors take the history and religious importance to heart, but to modern Israelis, the lake’s ability to store and supply scarce water for drinking, for agriculture, and for industry is nearly as important.
From here, we travel to Jerusalem. We arrive in the early evening, settle into our hotel, and enjoy dinner on our own tonight.
After breakfast at our hotel, we enter the maze of chambers and cisterns underneath the Western Wall, part of the ancient city wall that is of great spiritual significance in the Jewish and Islamic traditions, revered by Jews as the last standing remnant of ancient Jerusalem’s Second Temple.
This site is also known as the Wailing Wall for Jews’ mourning of the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70. Although the wall is nearly 1,600 feet in length, only about 230 feet are visible above ground. The remainder was hidden when King Herod raised the landscape surrounding the Temple Mount in the year 19 BC. We’ll see portions of the wall that have been perfectly preserved, and head underground to explore the parts that were sealed off until excavations began in 1967, and had been hidden for almost 2,000 years.
Then we spend the day getting to know Jerusalem, as we explore its Old City on foot. Though it occupies an area of less than one square mile, this ancient enclave’s history and spiritual significance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims is immense. We begin our comprehensive walking tour in the area around the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter, which is adjacent to the site of Solomon’s First Temple and the Second Temple. From here, we have an admirable view of the Islamic Dome of the Rock, perched on the Temple Mount, and a different perspective on the Western Wall. Our walk then takes us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built around what it believed to be the site of Christ’s burial and resurrection, and along the Via Dolorosa—the ancient “Way of the Sorrows,” where it is traditionally held that Christ walked to his crucifixion.
After strolling the winding streets of Jerusalem’s Arab and Christian quarters, we’ll enjoy lunch at a restaurant in the Old City. Then we visit Mount Zion, the traditional Christian site of the Last Supper, and the Mount of Olives, site of Christ’s betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the summit we’ll enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the Dome of the Rock and the Old City. From there, we’ll return to our hotel and enjoy dinner on our own this evening.
Today we travel to Yad Vashem, the stirring “everlasting memorial” to the more than six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. With the world’s largest archives of material relating to the Holocaust—more than 50 million documents and artifacts—this museum and memorial complex, while built on the Mount of Remembrance, aims not only to remember, but to educate. We’ll spend the morning at this solemn site, where we’ll hear a moving first-person account of the horrors of Hitler’s “Final Solution” from a Holocaust survivor.
Then we explore the bustling produce market at Machaneh Yehuda, one of Jerusalem’s oldest Jewish neighborhoods, where we'll also have free time for lunch on our own. Then we’ll return to our hotel and have the balance of the day at leisure. Tonight, enjoy dinner on your own.
This morning begins with a discussion with a Palestinian journalist who will share her perspective on living in Israel. Then we visit the City of David, an archaeological park whose ruins shed light on the establishment of Israel under King David in 1004 BCE and the history of the Jews during Biblical times. A highlight of the site is an ancient 1500-foot-long water tunnel built by King Hezekiah in 701 BCE to protect Jerusalem’s water source from invading Assyrians. Our tour concludes at The Davidson Center, where we view a virtual reality reconstruction of the Herodian Temple Mount as it stood prior to its destruction.
The rest of the day is at leisure, or you may join an optional tour to Bethlehem, which features the Church of the Nativity. Built over the grotto where Mary is believed to have given birth to Jesus, the church was one of the world’s most coveted holy sites for centuries, and was both captured and defended by a succession of armies. The tour also includes a visit to Shepherd’s Field, where an angel is said to have announced Christ’s birth.
Dinner is on our own this evening. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday during your trip, this evening we’ll return to the Western Wall and have the opportunity to hear prayers on the eve of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath).
Today is at leisure in Jerusalem, or you may choose to join an optional tour that begins in Herodion, a hilltop fortified palace built by Herod the Great in the desert south of Bethlehem that is also thought to be Herod’s mausoleum. The tour continues to Mar Elias Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery originally built in the sixth century AD, then rebuilt in the twelfth century. There are usually views of both Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the hilltop. We’ll have lunch in the monastery’s restaurant before returning to Jerusalem, with a stop on the way to visit Ein Karem.
Nestled in the hills to the southwest of Jerusalem, Ein Karem is notable as the birthplace of St. John the Baptist. Our visit takes us to two churches connected to the life of the biblical figure: the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Church of the Visitation. Although both structures are relatively new, both are constructed over the remains of much older buildings that marked two important sites for early Christians—the site of St. John’s birth and the site of the visit from St. Mary to St. John’s mother, St. Elizabeth.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
This morning, we visit the Israel Museum to see the model of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then we journey to the village of Lakia—located at the edge of the rugged Negev Desert—to experience A Day in the Life of an Islamic Bedouin community, where we discover how the rich traditions of the Holy Land’s Bedouin tribes persevere in and are adapting to the modern world. We’ll begin with tea and a pita bread-making demonstration with a Bedouin woman at a traditional tent. Next, we explore the village itself on our way to visit the Bedouin Women’s Association founded to preserve culture while improving literacy and women’s rights. We share a traditional meal with its members, and get a firsthand look at its Bedouin embroidery project.
This afternoon, we drive to the Dead Sea and have an afternoon at leisure. At more than 1,300 feet below sea level, the landlocked Dead Sea is actually a large saltwater lake—and one that is nearly impossible to swim in. Because of the high salt content of the water, what you are really doing is floating on the surface of the water. Later, we enjoy dinner together at the hotel.
This morning, we embark upon an off-road adventure in the Judean Desert. We’ll ride 4x4 vehicles among stunning canyons, erosion craters, and dry riverbeds and experience the landscape up close. We’ll break for a picnic lunch in the desert.
In the afternoon, we head to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, where we’ll visit its lush oasis and embark on a short hike. This evening we'll enjoy dinner together at our hotel.
Our day begins with a visit to Masada, where we’ll ascend by cable car to walk among the powerful, 20-acre ruins of this isolated hilltop fortress, where from AD 70-73, Jewish defenders made the last stand of the Judean revolt against Rome.
En route to Tel Aviv, we stop at the Qumran Caves in the Dead Sea Rift Valley to see the archaeological site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
Enjoy some free time this afternoon to relax or explore Tel Aviv independently before gathering for a Farewell Dinner in a local restaurant.
We rise very early this morning and transfer to the airport to board our flight to the U.S., or begin your optional Palestinian Discovery post-trip extension. Please note: The order of activities during your trip may vary depending on the day of the week. Many sites in Israel are closed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and other temporary closures can occur due to religious observances, festivals, or safety considerations. Due to crowds, the visit to the Western Wall tunnels may change in day and/or time and even fall late at night or very early in the morning.