The rugged, hilly landscape around Jerusalem, the focus of three major religions for centuries, is packed with archaeological remnants of various ages. The climate is dry, slightly cooler in summer and colder in winter than the coast, due to its height. It has a fair amount of winter rainfall and, occasionally, snow. About 520,000 people live here, many of whom are religious Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The city of Jerusalem is built on a hill surrounded by trees, so that when travelling towards it, the road winds upwards, a sensation compared by many to a spiritual upliftment. Once there, however, you will find a bustling city with a luminous beauty due in great part to the white Jerusalem stone of which, by law, every building is made. West Jerusalem, the New City, is as modern as any other in Israel, and is the seat of the national government and the industrial and commercial centre of the region. Most of the city's shops, bars, restaurants, theatres and nightclubs are situated here, and the area around Zion Square teems with visitors and locals late into the night, especially in summer.
Some of the main attractions of the New City are the pedestrian mall on Ben Yehuda Street, the colourful open-air food market called Machaneh Yehuda, the Knesset (Parliament) building, Hebrew University, and Mea She'arim, a Jewish community that lives exactly as their ancestors did in the European "shtetl". Yad VaShem is an unforgettable monument to and museum of the Holocaust. The Israel Museum with its garden of sculptures, the Hadassah Medical Centre with its famous stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall, Mount Scopus, and Sultan's Pool, an outdoor amphitheatre which hosts summer rock, jazz and classical music performances by Israeli and international stars, are also not to be missed. The Old City is surrounded by high walls and was the original city of Jerusalem in ancient times. You can enter the Old City through six different gates. The most accessible is the Jaffa Gate, as it leads off Jaffa Road in the New City.
The Old City is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian. Each offers fascinating architecture and sights, including the David citadel with its fabulous view of the whole city, the main street from Roman times called the Cardo, the Burnt House, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, the Mount of Olives, the Arab shuk (market) and the Temple Mount which is the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. Walking tours are the best way to see the Old City, and the Jewish Quarter is the safest. It is not advisable for visitors to walk alone around the Muslim Quarter, which is entered from outside through the Damascus Gate. Dress conservatively: women should cover their shoulders and knees and men should wear long trousers.
East Jerusalem is the area outside the Damascus Gate extending east. Most of the residents are Arab and are usually friendly to tourists, but it is best to go there in a group, and to be extra cautious at night.
This charming village is taken to be the birthplace of John the Baptist. Here you can picnic or wander around, visiting a number of churches.
An Arab village thirteen kilometres west of Jerusalem, both Jews and Christians believe this was the original site of the Ark of the Covenant.
Halfway to Tel Aviv, Latrun was a strategic stronghold of the Arabs in the 1948 war. The area contains a monastery, the Tombs of the Maccabees and Canada Park, a forest full of archaeological ruins.
Sorek Cave in Avshalom Reserve
This huge, magnificent cave has both stalactites and stalagmites. Because there is a lack of public transport, join a tour unless you want to hike from the nearest village, Nes Harim, which is 7 km (4 miles) away.
Das Tote Meer
Created by a rift in the earth's crust, the Dead Sea was so named because it cannot sustain any life-forms. In Hebrew the lake is called Yam HaMelach (salt sea), which is also apt as its water contains eight times more salt than that of the ocean. At 400 m (1,300 ft) below sea-level, this is the lowest point in the world. The area is incredibly humid during summer and is veiled by a haze of evaporation. You can float on the waters of the Dead Sea without any effort. Bobbing around is lots of fun if you don't shave beforehand and keep water out of your eyes. If water gets into your eyes, rinse your burning eyes at the freshwater showers found on all the beaches. It is best to swim at the resorts. Also famous is the Dead Sea mud, supposed to be excellent for the skin thanks to its high concentration of minerals. Try some free of charge, and if you like it you can buy the more expensive creams made from it at pharmacies and salons. Ein Gedi is the name of a well-known resort by the Dead Sea, as well as a kibbutz and a nature reserve in the area. The nature reserve boasts some nice climbs leading to various springs that water this oasis.