Everyone should visit Jerusalem at least once in their life. Few cities can rival it for beauty, history and religious & cultural diversity; it’s the world in a microcosm.
That said, it’s well worth tearing yourself away from Jerusalem’s golden domes and incense-perfused churches to explore some great destinations that are easily visited within a few hours’ drive of the city.
But which are the best day trips from Jerusalem?
To help you narrow down your options, here is my pick of fantastic day excursions from Jerusalem. During the course of my multiple visits to Israel, I have visited all of these places. No second-hand knowledge here!
With one exception, all of these places can be visited independently, even if you are travelling alone. However, if you prefer, guided day tours are also available.
I will share practical tips to make it easy for you to take these day trips from Jerusalem, including how to get there and how to make the most of your time there. And at the end of this article, you will find my recommendations on where to stay in Jerusalem, solo travel tips and suggested reading material.
Read, bookmark, share; but most of all be inspired to plan your day trip from Jerusalem.
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Planning your trip to Israel
Getting your hands on a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Israel and to explore the country whilst you are there, is a smart move. I recommend the Lonely Planet Israel & the Palestinian Territories, which was a constant companion during my visit.
What is the best way to get around Israel?
Intercity buses are your easiest option for travelling between Israel’s major cities.
Buses depart Jerusalem for Tel Aviv and Haifa frequently. For less frequent services, such those operating between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and Eilat, it’s wise to book your bus ticket in advance.
The days when Egged and Dan had the monopoly on bus travel in the country are long gone and there are now multiple companies operating.
There is limited rail service in Israel, connecting Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Nahariya, also stopping at Ben-Gurion Airport, Beersheba and Jerusalem.
A sherut (shared taxi van) can be useful for travelling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Sheruts leave Jerusalem once they are full from the corner of Rav Kook Street and Hanevi’im Street in Jerusalem (across Jaffa Rd. from Zion Square), and terminate at Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station.
I have found sheruts to be a useful option on Shabbat when transport options are limited, and for travelling between Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem
Whilst having a car will give you greater flexibility, it is not necessary unless you wish to take a day trip to the more hard-to-reach areas like the Upper Galilee or Golan Heights. Whilst roads are good and major road signs are unusually in Hebrew and English, Israeli drivers can be a little on the impatient side.
By organised tour
Organised day tours come into their own when visiting destinations that are difficult to reach by public transport, when you want o see more than one destination in a day or when there are logistic challenges in getting somewhere.
Day tours are also a great way to meet people as a solo traveller.
With the exception of Petra, it is possible to do all of these day trips from Jerusalem by public transport. However, you may find it easier to bundle a few of these day trips into one as a day excursion; the Dead Sea destinations for example or the cities along Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
Where I think it might be useful, I’ve suggested day tours that you could consider if you don’t fancy going it alone.
Day trip from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv / Jaffa
For two day trips from Jerusalem for the price of one
For one of the easiest day trips from Jerusalem, head north-west to the vibrant beachside city of Tel Aviv and the ancient port of Jaffa (Yafo).
While Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays
The two cities are as different as chalk and cheese.
Home to more 1930s Brauhaus architecture than any city on earth, Tel Aviv is Israel’s centre for business, hedonism and nightlife.
The city’s 14 km of velveteen sand is lined with cafes, sun loungers and umbrellas flapping in the sea breeze and is the setting for countless games of beach volleyball. Sleek steel skyscrapers punctuate its skyline.
Just a stone’s throw from Tel Aviv’s gleaming boulevards lies the ancient port city of Jaffa, one of my favourite places in Israel. Jaffa’s shaded cobbled lanes, lined with cool cafes, restaurants and art galleries, are perfect for wandering
Neve Tzedek was the first Jewish neighbourhood to be built outside the ancient port of Jaffa. In recent years, the district has attracted legions of artists and writers.
Day trips from Jerusalem along the Mediterranean coast
The next three day trips from Jerusalem – Caesaria, Haifa and Akko (Acre) – are located north of Tel Aviv on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
If you are feeling ambitious, it is possible to visit two of these destinations as one day trip under your own steam. However, because of the distances involved, and the need to change buses in Haifa, this will make it a long excursion from Jerusalem.
For this reason, I don’t recommend visiting more than one of these destinations in one day independently.
If you are short on time and want to visit more than one of these destinations from Jerusalem, I recommend joining an organised day trip instead. Here are a few that offer free cancellation:
- Caesarea, Haifa & Akko Day Trip from Jerusalem
- Small-Group Day-Trip Along Israel’s Mediterranean Coast
To visit a magnificent Roman site
The ruined city of Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea and the largest port in Roman Palestine, is one of Israel’s finest archaeological sites.
Its extensive remains include a Roman theatre, Byzantine mosaics, aqueducts, a Crusader city and a 2,000-year-old port.
Because of its relative inaccessibility, this is one day trip from Jerusalem where having your own car is worthwhile (if you can brave Israeli drivers!). Alternatively, take an organised day trip from Jerusalem.
To visit one of the world’s most progressive centres of spirituality
Lovely Haifa is worthy of an overnight stay at least (on my last trip to Israel, I used Haifa as a base for three nights). As I worked as a volunteer on a kibbutz on the outskirts of Haifa some years ago, I confess that I have a soft spot for this city, the most egalitarian and secular in the country.
But if you are just visiting on a day trip from Jerusalem, make the sensational Ba’hai Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, your priority. Time permitting, explore the German Colony area, which is overlooked by the Ba’hai gardens.
To visit Israel’s finest Crusader ruins and a walled Ottoman city
For my money, Akko is Israel’s hidden gem.
At the last count, I have visited Akko three times and never tire of its charms. As if preserved in a time-warp, waves crash into the Akko’s time-worn walls and fishing boats bob gently in the city’s harbour.
Within a bastion of crumbling walls, the 200-year-old Arab town is a labyrinth of alleys and stairwells leading up to the ancient Turkish fortifications.
Outside Arab Akko lies the new city, encroaching on the embattled walls.
Finally, impervious to this contest, is the vast subterranean Crusader City.
Day trips from Jerusalem along the Dead Sea
The next three day trips from Jerusalem – Qumran, Ein Gedi and Masada – take you to the western shore of the Dead Sea.
Whilst each of these is a day trip in its own right, as they are all served by the same bus routes – #444 and #486 – you can combine them to make a longer day excursion from Jerusalem. Just check the bus schedules in advance.
For a fascinating peek inside the lives of an ancient sect.
In 1947, teenage Bedouin shepherds looking for a missing sheep stumbled upon a collection of earthenware jars in a remote cliffside cave.
But these were no ordinary jars.
Inside were the Dead Sea Scrolls, two-thousand-year-old manuscripts, written by an ancient sect called the Essenes. They are considered to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century as they led to a greater understanding of the Bible and the Jewish world at the time of Jesus.
For that quintessential Israeli Instagram image of you reading The Jerusalem Post whilst afloat, head to the Dead Sea.
Sitting between Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, at 400 m below sea level, the Dead Sea is not really a sea but a very, very salty lake.
Visit the oasis of Ein Gedi for an opportunity to bathe in the Dead Sea, as well as to explore its springs, streams, flora and fauna. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to slather yourself in therapeutic Dead Sea mud.
To visit a symbol of Jewish nationalism and sacrifice set in the desolate landscape of the Judean desert.
Masada shall not fall again
So goes the oath of allegiance sworn by newly enlisted Israeli soldiers. Rising 400m above the Dead Sea, this clifftop plateau and its tenacious defence by Jewish rebels has achieved almost mythical status, symbolising heroism and sacrifice.
Built as a fortified complex by Herod the Great from 40 to 4 BC, Masada became the last rebel stronghold after the Romans crushed the Judean uprising, destroying the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. 967 Jewish defenders held off 8,000 Roman legionnaires during a three-year siege.
Using Jewish slave labour, the Romans built a giant ramp up the side of the cliff and dragged battering rams up it. In 73AD, Eleazer Ben Yair, the rebels’ commander, gathered his people and instructed them that death was preferred to slavery.
Each man burned his possessions, bade farewell to his loved ones and then put them to death. Ten men were chosen by a lottery to execute the others and then to take his own life.
When the Roman soldiers burst in the following morning, they were met by a deathly silence. The only survivors were two women and five children, living witnesses to the story of Masada.
Although some historians have cast doubt on the so-called myth of Masada, claiming it to be exaggerated or incorrect, it remains a symbol of pride and nationalism for Israel.
What is beyond doubt is that Masada is a fantastic day trip from Jerusalem.
Take the winding path or the cable car up to its plateau and explore the impressive ruins, including Herod’s private palace, whilst looking over the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea.
Day trip destinations within a 30-minute drive from Jerusalem
If you have limited time in Jerusalem and want to spend more time exploring the city – and who would blame you! – here are a few destinations that you visit from Jerusalem in half a day or less.
For an easy visit to the West Bank and to check out an important Christian site.
If you would like to visit the West Bank, Bethlehem is the easiest option day trip from Jerusalem.
Just 9km south of Jerusalem and easily accessible by bus, it is celebrated as the birthplace of Jesus. Not so much a “little town” but more of a small city, Bethlehem is home to one of the largest Arab Christian communities in the Middle East, although their numbers have dwindled in recent years.
The main draw is the Church of the Nativity on the appropriately-named Manger Street, marking the site of Jesus’s birth.
This fortress-like church is not particularly attractive and may disappoint you. However, there are fragments of well-preserved 5th Century mosaic floors, and the church has a solemn atmosphere with whiffs of incense filling its cavernous interior.
In contrast to the oppressiveness of the Church of the Nativity, the light and airy St Catherine’s Church has achieved fame as the site from which Midnight Mass is broadcast. You can reach it via steps from the north of the Church of the Nativity.
Also, don’t miss The Grotto of the Nativity, the site of the manger where Jesus is believed to have been born, accessible from the south side of the altar.
For a non-religious focus, visit the Separation Wall
Covered with graffiti, this separation barrier cuts off Bethlehem from the rest of Israel. Banksy famously drew on it for the first time in 2005, depicting, children with bucket and spades sitting next to a crack in the wall through which could be seen an idyllic beach.
For a respite from Jerusalem with the opportunity for short hikes in a national park
The peaceful village of Ein Kerem, just 30 minutes from the centre of Jerusalem, is a great option for a half-day trip.
Regarded by Christian tradition to be the birthplace of John the Baptist, it is a beautiful spot. Wander its alleys and streets, go for an easy hike in the nearby National Park or visit one of the several churches.
Day trip to Petra from Jerusalem
To visit one of the most sensational archaeological sites in the world
The last and the most ambitious of these day trips from Jerusalem, Petra deserves way more than one day (I visited Petra as part of a small group tour to Jordan). That said, I have friends who have jumped at the chance at visiting Petra from Jerusalem.
This a VERY long day trip – be prepared for a 3 am pickup! – but a visit to the ancient Nabataean capital of Petra is unforgettable.
There are not enough superlatives in The Oxford English Dictionary to describe Petra. Hidden deep in the Jordanian desert, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
After walking for more than a mile from the entrance gate through a natural 3m-wide fissure, nothing can prepare you for the sight of the Treasury, Petra’s finest monument. Almost a match for this is watching the sunset at the Monastery.
Where to stay in Jerusalem
Jerusalem has accommodation options to suit all budgets. Over the years I have stayed in many places in Jerusalem, mostly hostels and guesthouses in the Old City.
If possible, choose a hotel in or close to the Old City. However, as the Old City essentially closes down at night, dining options are limited.
As a solo traveller, safety is important to me and walking around Jerusalem at night has always felt safe, even in the Old City.
Is Israel safe for female solo travellers?
Take it from a six-time visitor, five of these visits as a woman on her own. Contrary to what you may read in in the media, Israel is safe for female solo travellers.
Israel is the Middle East’s most liberal and democratic country, and because of the obligatory army service, the country is used to strong, independent women. Jerusalem’s abundant hostels give women travelling alone lots of opportunities to buddy up with other solo travellers if needed, and the city has a good public transport infrastructure.
Taking an organised day tour from Jerusalem is another way to beat solo travel loneliness, and can be a good way of getting to know Israel quickly.
The elephant in the room is the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which has led to Israel not exactly winning any popularity contests in the Middle East.
This means that you will find that security will be tight in Israel. However, these enhanced security measures help keep the tourist areas of the country safe.
Get used to seeing soldiers with guns everywhere; I have literally tripped over them when entering an intercity bus (guns, that is, not soldiers).
As the situation can be volatile, always check with the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel advisory before you go.
Whilst you are away, stay vigilant and keep an eye on local media. In particular, some areas of Jerusalem have been flashpoints for violent clashes between protestors and security forces, including East Jerusalem, around Temple Mount and the Damascus Gate and Lion’s Gate areas of the Old City.
My favourite books about Israel
Finally, do you want to learn a little bit more about Israel?
Here are my favourite books to read either before your visit to Jerusalem or whilst you are there.
Make your mouth water with this collection of 120 recipes from award-winning London-based chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. What makes this book so special is that Ottolenghi, an Israeli, and Tamimi, a Palestinian, explore the culinary heritage of their home city from the diversity of their own cultural perspectives. Perfect for inspiring your first trip to Israel or to re-create some of your favourite dishes after you have returned home.
Throw away your preconceptions about history books being dull and dusty. This epic history of Jerusalem by British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, is written with such passion and vigour that it will keep you gripped from beginning to end. Perfect for providing valuable historical context.
I’ve owned a few guidebooks to Israel over the years but this one is by far my favourite. Packed with archaeological guides, this is perfect for those who would like in-depth information on Israel’s must-see sights.
I love this book by Jerusalemite, the late Amos Oz, who is one of Israel’s most renowned writers. A Tale of Love and Darkness describes Israel during the social and political upheaval resulting from the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and paints a portrait of Jerusalem’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian people residents during this turbulent period.
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