I’m Sammie Herrick and welcome to my guide on the best hidden gems of Israel. I’m a proud expat, originally from Boston and now happily living my best life in Israel. I think my interest in exploring and learning about the world started from my experience going to a boarding school.
There were a lot of international students to learn from at this boarding school and I actually took my first trip abroad to perform a play in London. From there I was hooked. During college, I lived in Japan for six months too.
Then upon graduating, I was awarded a Fulbright grant from the U.S. government to teach English and learn Chinese in rural Taiwan. This truly cemented my love of travel, exploration and taking the path less traveled.
I then decided to move to Israel and get my Israeli citizenship. I started my blog (www.sammieherrick.com) as a way to not only share travel tips and ideas but to also help others make the jump to move abroad.
I truly believe living abroad is an experience that changes your whole life for the better – even if there are some hiccups along the way. It’s my passion to help others achieve that goal of moving abroad. Now, Israel is my home of many years and I’m so excited to share a bit of it with you.
Israel, A Land of Hidden Gems
I think Israel is an absolute one of a kind destination. Israel is full of hidden gems and is truly where it all started. It holds a special meaning for people of three major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Being in a place that is so significant to so many leaves a really big impression on visitors.
Israel is such a special travel destination because it has so much to offer in such a small package. Israel is just slightly bigger in geographical size than New Jersey but holds everything from Mount Hermon for skiing, to camels in the desert, and to the lush greenery of the Jordan River.
It offers a mix of old and new. Home to some of the oldest cities in the world while being a “start-up nation”. It’s unlike anywhere else on earth.
My Travels through Israel
Although I have traveled through a lot of Israel, I definitely have more to see. I’ve lived in Tel Aviv for years but just the other week I went to The Cactus Garden (which is magical by the way) for the first time. So I feel like even the places I know like the back of my hand seem to have surprises.
Definitely on my bucket list is Neot Semadar. It’s a Kibbutz in the south of Israel that is home to one of the most unique architectural wonders and hidden gems in Israel. The arts center in the kibbutz has this giant pink and blue tower that is actually a functioning cooling/heating system.
The kibbutz has a focus on sustainability and even has their own winery. It’s top of my bucket list for sure. I’m hoping to visit by the end of this year!
Favourite Place in Israel: Jaffa
I’ve had many special and life altering moments in Israel and so many places hold important meaning to me. One of my favorite places is Jaffa. It’s the oldest part of Tel Aviv and is home to one of the oldest ports in the world. But, it’s the striking beauty of this place that makes it top of my list.
Situated right on the Mediterranean, filled with winding alleys and ancient buildings – it’s a must see for anyone visiting Israel. Jaffa also has some of the best restaurants I have been to in the whole country, including the best hummus! Wherever there is good hummus, there is me 🙂
Best Hidden Gems of Israel
Israel is chock-a-block full of hidden gems. Like I was saying earlier, after years and years of being here, I’m still stumbling upon new spots. Three of my favorite and recently discovered gems would be the Cactus Garden, the Rock Garden and the Tropical Garden in HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv.
Most people have been to the park but have no idea that these gardens exist. They’re all located fairly close together and are totally worth a visit. The park at large outside of the gardens is a great place for a picnic too.
These three gardens don’t look like they belong in the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv – so it’s an amazing and truly magical escape from city life without having to go too far. My next tip may not be a hidden gem to the locals, but for tourists, you cannot come to Israel without tasting the perfect falafel.
The perfect falafel can be found at Frishman Falafel in Tel Aviv. It’s a local favorite and for good reason. Trust me, I’ve tested hundreds of falafel places over the years and this place ranks as the top spot in Israel.
Although Eilat is a gem, it is certainly a well known one. However, what many people don’t realise is that they may want to dedicate a whole lot more time for the drive down to Eilat. It’s the southernmost point in Israel. There is a ton of cool stuff to see along the way that is worthy of a stop.
Firstly you have Har Gamal otherwise known as Camel Lookout near the Ramon Crater. Ramon Crater is the biggest crater on earth and the top of Har Gamal gives you the best lookout point. It’s a nice short hike – perfect for a sunrise if you’re bold enough to start your day that early!
Also along the way, Hai-Bar Yotvata is a national park near Eilat that is home to animals including ostriches and ibex. Slightly further south is Timna Park. Timna Park is known for its geological and archaeological wonders. The red rock formations against the blue sky are stunning.
Then, if you travel even further south, you can go to the Red Canyons. The Red Canyons are also famous for their unique geology and phenomenal views. It’s a great place to go hiking and exploring. Also, if you find yourself in the Israeli desert, I highly suggest booking a trip to do some glamping.
Luxury camping in the desert is an up and coming trend in Israel and it is a once in a lifetime experience. There are a few companies that do a great job in this space. Feel free to reach out to me for recommendations. Falling asleep under the stars in the vast Israeli desert is not to be missed!
More Hidden Gems of Israel
Now, onto the last few hidden gems of Israel. I will head back in the other direction to the north of the country. If you want some pure Israeli nature then look no further than Nahal Tavor. This is not one of the well known spots in Israel but I honestly don’t know why. It’s a truly enchanting place.
Nahal Tavor is a fairly short and easy hike (around 7km) through rivers, waterfalls, lush greenery and hundreds of wild flowers guiding your way the whole time. Mount Gilboa is also a fantastic spot to take in the nature of northern Israel. The mountain overlooks the Jezreel Valley.
It has an iris reserve making for a great place to hike the trails. Also, just as a quick aside: I have traveled to other countries where I felt their popular spots were somewhat overrated but I do not feel that way in Israel.
Places like the Dead Sea, Masada, Mount Zion, the Bahai Gardens, Shuk Mahane Yehuda, the Golan Heights, the Old City, Ein Gedi and more are totally worth it. They may not be hidden gems but they are magnificent!
Favourite Travel Moments in Israel
One of my all time favorite moments in Israel was actually at the aqueducts in Caesarea. King Herod built these aqueducts in the 1st century BC and the way they are still preserved to this day is mind-boggling.
I highly recommend visiting here to take in this amazing piece of history. But, for me this place is special because it was one of the first places I brought my family when they came to visit me in Israel for the first time.
If you couldn’t tell, I love sharing Israel with other people. I have an entire blog dedicated to expat life in Israel, including tips on how to move here yourself. So being able to share this amazing place with the people I love, gave these aqueducts a really special place in my heart.
And I think most Israelis feel the same way. We are excited to share our land with everyone. Don’t be shy to ask for advice or help from any local.
Spend Time on a Kibbutz in Israel
The people of Israel are some of the kindest I have ever met. They always want to help, so no worries if you get lost. Someone will help you out. The Israeli people may be full of ‘chutzpah’ but are totally soft on the inside!
A fantastic way to immerse yourself as a tourist here is to spend some time staying at a kibbutz. Kibbutzim are uniquely Israeli and give a glimpse into the Israeli mindset. Many kibbutzim have guest houses and allow visitors, so opt for a few days at a kibbutz instead of a usual hotel.
Ultimate Food Experiences of Israel
Considering one of my hidden gems of Israel was actually a falafel place, I think that proves how important food is here. For me, food is a major part of the overall experience of Israel. Tel Aviv is actually considered the vegan capital of the world – so vegans can rejoice when they arrive in this city!
Being one myself, I know how hard it can be to travel and find good food. That is no problem here in the holy land. As far as food experiences go, I highly suggest going to an olive farm where you can eat olives, test different olive oils and see how everything is made and grown.
Israel also has some stellar wineries if that’s up your alley. As far as must try foods: falafel, hummus, malabi and kanefeh are top of the list. Head to the shuks (the open air markets) to eat these foods like a real local.
How Long to Stay in Israel
Having brought friends and family here and given them the full Israeli experience, I would say 7-10 days is enough time to see the attractions. However, it’s not enough time to truly explore. Israel is small. So 7-10 days may seem long enough but there are so many things to see and do.
If you’re really interested in seeing it all, from north to south and east to west, and all the hidden gems of Israel, I would say 3-4 weeks is a safer bet. After all, you want to leave some free time to relax on the beaches!
Tips for the Hidden Gems of Israel
I think a really key point that I want to make extra clear, because I know my foreign friends ask me this a lot and have a lot of concern about it, is that Israel is a really safe place. After living in three countries prior to Israel, I feel extremely safe here. So come and travel with confidence!
I wrote a blog listing the top 10 apps to download before coming to Israel, which I highly suggest checking out. These apps can make your trip a whole lot smoother. But as far as other tips go, don’t be nervous when they interview you at the airport. That’s one unique Israeli experience.
It will seem weird at first. When I first visited Israel, it was the first time I had ever experienced anything like this but it’s no big deal – especially if you know about it beforehand. They will ask you general questions about yourself and your trip to Israel, so just answer honestly and go with the flow.
If you plan to visit holy sites (which I definitely recommend) try to bring some modest clothing – i.e. shoulders and knees covered. This way you can be fully respectful of the local people and their customs. One huge thing to be aware of before coming is that most of Israel strictly observes Shabbat.
Starting Friday night and ending Saturday night, things you expect to be open won’t be – including public transport. Depending on where you are, these closures may be more or less strict. You will notice a difference no matter what, so plan your trip accordingly and check opening hours.
Thanks for reading my guide on the best hidden gems of Israel. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or tips for your own adventure to Israel – @sammieherrick on Instagram. I can’t wait to see where you go!