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Most tourist come to Jerusalem to visit its historical sites that date back to over 3000 years. Others come for the religious sites, museums, and markets. Not everybody is aware that Jerusalem is a great starting point for several nearby day trips. These trips are an excellent option to spice-up the urban vacation with some fresh air. Here are some of the best day trips from Jerusalem that you should not be missing out on!
Best Day Trips From Jerusalem
The Dead Sea Area
1. Float on the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea hold two world-records. It is the lowest point on the planet, 400 meters below the sea level. It is also the saltiest lake on earth. The high concentration of minerals gives the water healing powers and floating ability. Two of the most iconic photos of a vacation in Israel are floating on the Dead Sea while reading a newspaper and a body covered by the Dead Sea mud. The Dead Sea is about 45 minutes’ drive to Jerusalem and has excellent public transportation service. But that is not all. Around the Dead sea there are also several amazing historical and archaeological sites. Hikers will also love the area which is full with well-marked hiking trails for all skill levels.
2. Climb to Masada
Masada is by far amongst the most popular day trips from Jerusalem. Dozens of organized day trips leave Jerusalem daily. This UNESCO heritage site has it all. Fantastic scenery, Amazing archaeological findings, and a dramatic historical story. Masada is at about 1.5 hours drive from Jerusalem and has excellent public transportation service. The site is located on a table-shaped mountain 400 meters above the Dead Sea. You can reach the top with the Gondola or hike up on the Snake path.
3. Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls
In 1946, a Bedouin teenager accidentally found seven ancient scrolls housed in jars in a cave near Qumran. He had no idea that this was the beginning of such a significant discovery. This discovery was the beginning of a long archaeological journey that eventually revealed a total of 20 complete scrolls and 16,000 fragments of scrolls. Most of them are books of the Torah (Old Testament) written in Hebrew. Many of them can be seen in the “Shrine of Book”, which is part of the Israel Museum.
A visit to Qumran is a chance to get a peek at the Jewish settlement that existed here during the Second Temple period (7-8 Century BCE). It is believed that its inhabitants were members of the mysterious Essenes sect. The complex was preserved in reasonable condition thanks to the dry climate in the Dead Sea Valley. The caves were the scrolls were found are closed for visitation but can be seen from the observation balcony at the eastern part of the site.
4. Ein Gedi Nature Reserve
The Ein Gedi Nature Reserve is located, near the shore of the Dead Sea, halfway between Qumran and Masada. The area is a harsh desert with yearly rainfall of no more than 40 mm. But in Ein Gedi(“Ein” means a spring in Hebrew), 4 springs are seeping with water all year round, creating the largest oasis in the Judean Desert. The combination of the sharp height difference and the magic of water flowing in the desert makes Ein Gedi a paradise for hikers. The two popular hikes are David stream and Arugot Stream, but there are many more trails varying from easy strolls to tough desert hikes.
If you have only a day for the area, then take one of the organized day trips. Otherwise, if you can allocate 2-3 days stay overnight near the Dead Sea to explore the area. We also recommend hiring a car for convenience.
Northern Judean Desert
The northern tip of the Judean Desert start from the eastern outskirts of the city. The sites in this area are within a 30 minutes’ drive from Jerusalem and are great also for a short half-day trip.
5. Hike in Wadi Qelt
Wadi Qelt is a stream running down from the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, crossing the Judean desert and passing through Jericho before it pours into the Jordan River. The impressive steep canyon of Wadi Qelt is a paradise of water and vegetation in the middle of the barren desert. This fact attracted men since ancient times and human activities in the form of ancient aqueducts and monasteries can be found along its banks. There are several marked hiking trails near the water and on the cliffs above the canyon. You can choose from short walks up to 20 Km tough desert treks.
6. Ancient Monasteries in the Judean Desert
During the 4th century monks started to establish monasteries in the desert areas near Jerusalem. By the 6th century, hundreds of monks lived in these monasteries. After the Muslim conquest, only a few monasteries and monks remained in the area. But the Crusaders period, gave new life to the monasteries. Visiting those monasteries today also is a fantastic experience due to their dramatic setting. Most of them are hanging from a cliff and merge beautifully with the surroundings. The most popular to visit are the Marsaba and St. George Monasteries.
7. Judean Mountain and Plains
In sharp contrast with the desert that lies east of Jerusalem, the western slopes of the Judean mountains are covered with its evergreen Mediterranean woodland. The central ridge of the Judean mountains creates a natural phenomenon called “Rain Shadow”, that prevent the rain clouds that are coming from the Mediterranean Sea to cross further east.
The Sataf is just 15 km out of Jerusalem. The site is showcasing ancient agricultural techniques (Mainly ancient agricultural terraces), centered around two attractive springs. Ein Sataf and Ein Bikura. The area was inhabited since 6000 years ago, and the first agricultural terraces were built 4500 years ago. Today it is one of the most popular areas for short hikes in the Jerusalem area. There are several easy hiking trails, ranging from 1 up to 5 kilometers, and plenty of pleasant picnic spots.
9. Explore Beit Guvrin National Park
Beit Guvrin National park is located about 50 kilometers southwest from Jerusalem in the Judean lowland. This is a hilly area that lies between the coastal plain and the Judean Mountains. It takes about 01:15 hours to reach it by car, and it is not served well by public transportation. The whole drive passes through beautiful scenery going down the Judean mountains and then crossing the plains from north to south.
Hundreds of natural and manmade caves cover this area. They served a variety of purposes: quarries, cisterns, storerooms, dovecotes, tombs, storage chambers, and shelters for farm animals. The best place to experience this is at the Beit-Guvrin National Park.
- The Columbarium Cave – A common type of cave to the area that was built to breed doves. The walls of this cave feature 2,000 carved shelfs. The doves were used for their meat and eggs as food and their poop as fertilizer. Doves were also sacrificed in rituals.
- The Bell Cave – An impressive cave with a very high ceiling, that was built during the Byzantine and early Muslim periods. These types of caves were used mainly as quarries and provided building material for the towns on the coastal plain.
- There are also several interesting archaeological findings in the park. Ancient biblical town, crusader fortress, old agricultural equipment, and a Roman theater.
- The park offers also pleasant hiking trails. You can pass between the different sites with a car. Or turn your visit into a 5 kilometers circular hike and pass on foot from one attraction to the next.
This is a guest post contributed by Erez Speiser.
Author Bio :
Erez was born in Israel in 1966, living now in Rakefet (Lower Galilee). By education, a mechanical engineer. However, his true passion had always been nature and the outdoors. Erez Enjoys Hiking, Mountain biking, Wind Surfing & Stand-Up Paddling. He loves Israel and its nature, and since 2018, started to put his skills, passion, and knowledge into promoting Hiking tourism in the country through this website.