10 Israel Experiences for the Whole Family

There's something for every age in Israel, from camel rides to world-class museums to great shopping.

Photo By: Dafna Tal/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Dafna Tal/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Dafna Tal/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Dafna Tal/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Noam Chen/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Dana Friedlander/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Dana Friedlander/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Noam Chen/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Alberto Peral/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Photo By: Itamar Grinberg/Israel Ministry of Tourism

Camel Rides

Israel isn't just for spiritual pilgrimages. More and more families are visiting to float in the salty Dead Sea, explore ancient ruins and ride camels. It’s true that these "ships of the desert" can spit, but most of the ones you’ll meet on guided tours have good manners. At the Negev Camel Ranch, a working ranch where the animals are bred and trained, visitors of almost any age can ride. Some Bedouin companies, such as the Desert Ship Farm, also offer rides and traditional Bedouin hospitality. Ask about arranging a meal of pita breads with creamy hummus, sliced cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, served at a low table in a real Bedouin tent. You'll be offered tiny cups of strong, black coffee and small glasses of very sweet, hot tea—both delicious and surprisingly refreshing in the heat.

Negev Desert

Beautiful, but largely barren. That’s the Negev Desert, which covers more than half of Israel’s land area. As you drive through the area, you’ll see warning signs about camels and tanks crossing the road (there’s a military training post here). If you'd rather, follow a hiking or biking trail. You'll find challenging routes as well as family-friendly ones. Go sandboarding down the dunes in the northern Negev, snap pictures at dusk or dawn when the colors change in the layered cliffs or camp out and watch the stars whirl overhead in the night sky.

Jeep Tours

Guided jeep or ATV tours are available if you don’t want to drive through the Negev. Most can be customized, so you can explore the area’s archeological digs, look for elusive animals like ibex and wild horses or visit the strangely beautiful moonscape in the Zin Valley, with its natural springs and desert oases. Other options include tours of Timna Park, where tall sandstone pillars lead to ancient copper mines. The kids can bottle colored sand to take home, go mountain biking and even enjoy pedal boating on a lake in the Zin.

Rappelling in Ramon Crater

Rappelling is called snapling in Israel. Expert instructors will provide all the gear you’ll need—but bring plenty of your own water. They'll also help first-timers overcome their fears as they descend into Makhtesh Ramon Crater, the world’s largest, erosion-made crater. If you’d rather watch than hang, head to the Visitors Center for breathtaking views. Don’t miss the museum dedicated to Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 1986.

The Israel Museum

You can’t miss the 16-foot, mirror-like sculpture at the Israel Museum, considered one of the world’s leading art and archaeology museums. "Turning the World Upside Down, Jerusalem," made of polished stainless steel, invites visitors to consider Jerusalem’s significance on Earth and in Heaven. Take the kids inside to the museum's Youth Wing for activities and fun exhibits like Cats and Dogs, as well as recycling workshops, storytimes and activities for every age.

Israeli Beaches

Bring your swimsuit and sunscreen. Israel’s shores touch the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. There are over a dozen beaches in Tel Aviv alone, where you can play matkot (a popular Israeli sport that's simliar to beach tennis), bask in the sun or swim. Paddle around the saltwater swimming pool at Gordon Beach and let someone watch the kids while you linger after sunset for drinks and dancing, or take the little ones to the shallow waters of Frishman Beach.

Water Sports

If you’re into scuba diving—or you want to learn how to dive—head to Eilat, named one of the best diving spots in the world by Dive Magazine. At an underwater museum at Caesarea National Park, you can swim through the submerged ruins of an ancient city built by King Herod. Or keep your head above water and go windsurfing, kitesurfing or board surfing. You’ll find watersports centers that rent sea kayaks, paddleboards, jet skis and catamarans in Tel Aviv, Eilat and around the Sea of Galilee.

City Market

Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market isn’t just a place to shop; it’s a bustling place where you can soak up the country's rich colors, the smells of incense and spices, and the sounds of merchants haggling with customers over the price of cashmere shawls, sequin-embellished skirts, hookahs and toy camels. You’ll be tempted to fill a bag with enormous pomegranates, fresh-baked bread dipped in za’atar (a blend of spices), Turkish coffee beans, date honey and much more. Shop thoughtfully, since there are some items you can't take home through Customs. Sellers can bag other things for you, such as dried teas, that you can take back as long as they remain unopened. Tip: Avoid visiting just before Shabbat, which begins on Friday at sunset. The market is crowded with shoppers then.

Cable Car to Masada

If your kids know all the characters in superhero movies, but they haven’t heard about Masada, take them to this mountaintop fortress in the Judean desert. Here, Jewish rebels are said to have made a final stand in 73 C.E. against Roman invaders. Masada is now one of Israel’s most important archeological sites, although controversy remains about how much of the story is true, and how much is legend. Climb to the top via the winding Snake Path only if you’re an experienced hiker; the heat can be intense, and you’ll be ascending from the Dead Sea area, the lowest place on Earth. It’s faster—and fun—to go by cable car. The views are spectacular, and the ruins of storehouses, water cisterns and once-heated baths are fascinating to explore.

The Dead Sea

Tell the kids to avoid getting water in their mouths when they float in the Dead Sea. It's actually a salty, mineral-rich lake at the lowest elevation on Earth, and the water is very bitter. But the black, slick Dead Sea mud is great for slathering on your body, either for fun or for its alleged skin benefits. Grown-ups can lie back in the water, float and relax while the kids cover themselves in goop.