State of Israel – the country of juxtapositions. It’s overflowing with historical sites of important religious significance, yet it plays host to one of the most well-known gay pride celebrations in the world. The Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea all touch its land, but deserts blanket well over half its surface. It’s home to the lowest point on Earth, The Dead Sea, that can be viewed from atop a mountainside fortress. Contemporary and ancient exist cohesively, each respecting the other. It’s small in size, roughly the size of the United States’ 5th smallest state, New Jersey, but within its borders, you can sunbathe, take a salty float, ski, hike, immerse yourself in history and well, just read on for more. We’ll tell you why this destination that may never have been on your family travel radar should actually top the list.

Make the history books come alive: Masada

A must-do while in Israel is the cable car ride to the top of Masada, a fortress in the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea built by King Herod between 37 and 31 BC. Because it remained untouched for more than 13 centuries and has had minimal reconstruction work, it’s considered one of the most authentic and complete Roman siege works left standing anywhere in the world today. In 73 AD, it was also a refuge for 960 survivors of the Jewish revolt, who eventually chose mass suicide over being enslaved by the Romans. Once it was clear they could not win against Lucius Flavius Silva and his 15,000 Roman soldiers, the Jewish men, led by Eleazar ben Ya’ir, killed their wives and children and then killed each other. The last man standing was left to fall on his own sword. One of the final acts was to burn the fortress, but they purposely left their food stores because “it will bear witness when we are dead the fact that we perished, not through want but because, as we resolved in the beginning, we chose death rather than slavery”. For many, Masada remains a staunch symbol of Jewish heroism and the continuing universal struggle between oppression and liberty.

The cable car leaves every 15 minutes to take you to the top or bring you back down, but if you're feeling extra sporty, you can walk to the plateau via the 60-minute, broad and easy Snake Path or the steep 20-minute Rampart Path. As night falls between March and October on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there's a sound and light show that tells the story of Masada in the last days of the siege.

Good to know:

  • Wear comfy, closed-toe shoes as the surfaces are uneven.
  • Bring sunscreen and carry water because there's very little opportunity to find relief from the sun's rays.

Online: parks.org.il

photo: view of the Dead Sea in the distance from Masada via Maria Chambers

Have you had the opportunity to visit Israel? We’d love to hear about your experience in the Comments below.

— Maria Chambers

This trip, including hotel stays, food and activities, was paid for by Israel’s Ministry of Travel.