Unfortunately, flights to Israel will probably be canceled for the foreseeable future. This means your Israel trip, the one you’ve been planning for some time now, just went down the drain.
Hard to find a silver lining, unless you decide to take it easy and create a new virtual itinerary that lets you experience the best of Israel — without lifting a finger or moving an inch.
Get comfortable, and don’t bother changing out of those PJs. Here are eight ways you can experience the sights, sounds, and culture of Israel without setting foot on a plane.
- Watch personal experience videos or serene aerial images of the Holy Land
These days, you can travel the world through Youtube. Try a real-time walking tour of Tel Aviv, aerial views of Haifa, and walkthroughs of the Machane Yehuda market.
You can also experience some awesome stuff vicariously through the work of online personalities, like this virtual Tel Aviv food tour from travel blogger Mark Weins that will give you plenty of inspiration for your quarantine cooking projects, and this super high definition masterpiece from The Vine Studios that takes you all over the country in just nine and a half minutes.
Also on the list of must-sees is the web series Sergio & Rhoda in Israel. This couple video diary their adventures traveling and hiking in Israel in HD while explaining the sites and their personal experiences from a spiritual Christian, but remarkably inclusive, perspective.
2. Explore Jerusalem online in unexpected ways
Jerusalem is a must-hit spot on any Israel trip, real or virtual.
Imagine praying at your favorite site, having a Zoom-based culinary workshop, or joining an exclusive art gallery hopping event from an online platform. Jerusalem is Traveling 2U was launched by the Jerusalem municipality, Jerusalem Development Authority, East Jerusalem Development Company, and Israeli travel startup Bridgify to help tourists do just that, and a lot more.
The Tower of David Museum is known for its virtual reality experiences in the city. The museum’s “The Holy City 360” provides an inside view of Old City sites, even ones that are off-limits to everyday travelers.
Quirky insights come from the musings on the museum’s blog, which tell tales of other times the city has found itself in lockdown or facing shortages, such as during a 19th-century cholera outbreak, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
3. Visit museums and sites that are open online
Who needs Netflix when you can browse through Israel’s most exciting museums and sites at all hours of the day and night for free on the Internet?
Below are just a few such museums offering up super fun virtual experiences that shine an inspirational light through all darkness, at a time when cultural institutions have been forced to shut their doors to the public.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Doing an especially great job of providing virtual experiences for kids, including videos on how to create art like Van Gough and Monet and an English-language audio guide explaining 12 different works of art from the museum’s permanent collection geared especially for kids, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art knows how to make for the best during a global pandemic.
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum’s website welcomes you with “The museum is closed, come on in!”
Content includes printable coloring pages of famous works of arts featured in the museum from artists like Reuven Rubin and Zeev Raban, instructional arts-and-crafts videos, behind-the-scenes looks into several exhibits with English subtitled explanations from those who curated them, a self-guided tour, and snippets of museum life, such as a time-lapse behind-the-scenes look at a day at the museum, from happier busier times.
City of David
“A Coronavirus inspired discovery in the City of David” on the site’s website shares virtual tours, discussions, stories, and historically accurate and even humorous video explanations of ancient Jerusalem of the site through videos geared toward online learning during a global pandemic.
Some of the other possibilities for a virtual tour are Beit Hatfutsot: Museum of the Jewish People, Friends of Zion Museum, and Bible Lands Museum.
4. Check out Israel’s live webcams and real-time streams
The Western Wall live webcam stream put into place long before the Covid-19 pandemic, is a game-changer for those who like to check in any time of day or night for a little online spiritual break from the everyday drudgery of life.
Those who’d like to know what it feels like to be present at the Holy Fire ceremony, an Orthodox Christian Easter tradition at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, can watch it retroactively in its entirety on YouTube, where it previously live-streamed.
- Stay in and see the sights (or in this case sites!)
Skip the dry dusty heat and travel to Masada right from your couch. Masada 360 is a complete 360-degree English-language virtual tour of the site complete with all the info you’d get if you went in person.
A refreshing after view would have to be this video compilation by Tourist Israel of Israel’s favorite national parks, which includes the waterfalls at Banias and Eilat’s Coral Beach nature reserve.
English-language Travel Trailer videos from Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority take you through guided tours of famous sites, like this one of Tel Megiddo. The smartphone app of the same name gives you full access to a variety of videos and planning tools for that future in-person trip.
7. Explore the Western Wall Tunnels from your chair (Western Wall Tunnels 360 Live)
In the old days, the ancient Israelites would travel to Jerusalem to the Holy Temple to bring an offering for the Passover holiday. Think they ever daydreamed about journeying there virtually and saving the trip? My, how times have changed.
Not only now can you stand as close as any modern human has ever gotten to the “Holy of Holies” and pass next to a Hasmonean aqueduct when you visit the remarkable site in person, but in our even newer pandemic-driven reality, you can do so from your computer chair.
Including a fully guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnels in the language of your choice from the site’s usual team of guides, this hour-long 360 Live experience also utilizes film clips and illustrations. It’s so like the real thing that a live question-and-answer session with the guide closes the experience.
8. Visit Israel’s president at his official residence
One of the most lovable presidents in recent Israeli history, Reuven Rivlin makes inclusion his mission, connecting to Israel’s people on a more personal level than presidents of the past.
The man who broke out into a spontaneous round of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, to buck up spirits at a press conference after SpaceIL’s failed moon landing, Rivlin has spent this quarantine period reading bedtime stories and the Passover Haggadah to the nation’s children over Livestream, as well as uploading new segments of a virtual President’s Residence tour each week.
You can view the house, gardens, and ceremonial spaces, its displays of artwork, and archaeology while getting unique insights into the history of this once off-limits space. Hebrew with English subtitles.
About the Author:
Jessica Halfin is an American immigrant who arrived in Israel in 2006. She is an Israeli-trained baker, gourmet cook, food and culture writer, and gives foodie tours to tourists in Haifa City.