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As you probably already know, here at The Points Guy, we’ll jump on any opportunity to travel. While credit card sign-up bonuses are one of the best ways to book once-in-a-lifetime trips for just the cost of taxes and fees, there’s another option a few of you might have heard of, too: Taglit-Birthright Israel.
Every year, this nonprofit organization sends more than 40,000 young Jewish people to connect with their roots in Israel … And the entire thing is free. No taxes. No fees. More than a few TPG editors and contributors have signed up for the opportunity to explore their heritage in the Holy Land.
If you’re fortunate enough to be eligible to go on Birthright, stop your hand-wringing and go. We promise you, Birthright will be 10 of the most transformative, eye-opening and (admittedly) exhausting days of your life.
And if you’re not? Don’t sweat it. We put together this handy guide so that you can experience the best of Birthright on your own personal pilgrimage to Israel.
Go to the Kotel (Western Wall)
For the Jewish people, the Western Wall in Jerusalem is the most religious site on Earth, and the area around it holds significance for a number of different religions too, including Islam and Christianity. On any given day, you’ll find people of all religions going to marvel at its beauty and, of course, participate in religious services and prayer. It’s a must-see on your visit to Jerusalem, just make sure to dress modestly. (Men, that means covering your head; women, wear a long skirt or pants and keep your shoulders covered.)
You’re going to want to pack your best sweat-wicking workout gear, sneakers and plenty of water for this one. Masada is a natural fortress built as a complex by Herod the Great and was in use until its destruction in 73 AD, and today, visitors climb more than 700 steps up the so-called Snake Path for the best sunrise views in Israel. Pro tip: Go early in the morning — and we mean early — so that you can beat the heat.
Float in the Dead Sea
Speaking of the views, Masada overlooks the Dead Sea, one of the best known (and strangest) bodies of water in the world. Once you’re done with your hike, grab your bathing suit and descend to float along the lowest land point on Earth. Yes, it really is as salty as they say (almost 34%!) so make sure you don’t have any significant cuts on your body. I’m serious: Do. Not. Shave. Your. Legs. And don’t forget to apply some of the mud as a face or body mask. It’s said to have healing properties.
Sit on the Beach
The city of Tel Aviv is right on the Mediterranean, making it a prime spot for a laidback beach day. Gordon Beach is one of the most popular stretches of sand in Israel, with locals and visitors crowding the shore to enjoy the warm, dry weather. Word to the wise: Hit up Benedict for brunch before the beach (say that five times fast).
Visit the Carmel Market
Carmel Market is the largest market, or shuk, in Tel Aviv. But don’t be shook by that. Here, you’ll find everything from food to spices to even electronics. Locals come here to stock up on affordable produce, such as loquats, avocados, dates and pomegranates. Don’t leave here without sampling a few things, especially those Instagram-friendly gummies.
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Eat Your Weight in Shawarma and Falafel
There’s no shortage of amazing restaurants all over the country, and no trip to Israel is complete without eating all of the amazing regional delicacies. There’s spiced shawarma with tahini sauce, fried falafel and plenty of hummus. Consume all three with fresh pita. This was basically all I ate when I took my Birthright trip, and these dishes should be the foundation of your Israel trip, too.
If you venture a little way out from the Dead Sea, you’ll find yourself in the Negev Desert and surrounded by Bedouin camps. The Bedouins are a nomadic group of people, and many still live in the desert in tents. I was fortunate to visit a Bedouin outpost that welcomes tourists during my trip. Here, you can ride camels, sleep in a traditional tent and experience some of the most outrageous stargazing of your life.
Pay Your Respects at Yad Vashem
No trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. After the Western Wall, it’s the second-most visited destination in Israel. The memorial pays tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, including the 6 million Jews who perished under Nazi rule. Yad Vashem is a reminder of some of the darkest days of human history, and has powerful exhibits such as the Hall of Names, the Children’s Memorial and the Museum of Holocaust Art. While it won’t be the happiest day of your trip, it’s an important stop whether you identify as Jewish or not. I’d encourage every traveler to pay his or her respects here during a purposeful trip to Israel.
Know before you go.
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