Despite its often-controversial portrayal in the media, the truth of the matter is that Israel is a place like no other; overflowing with vibrant and eccentric culture, food that’ll tantalize your taste buds, and landscapes from desert to forest and everything in between. For such a relatively small country - for comparison, it’s almost exactly the same size as the state of New Jersey - Israel knows how to pack in an abundance of beauty.

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So, don your Source Sandals, make room for some of the world’s best hummus, practice you haggling tactics for the inevitable shuk (market) visits, and let’s make our way over to this beautiful, often-misunderstood state.

10 Hike Yam-L'yam

It’s not often that you can boast about hiking across an entire country - that is, unless you’ve walked the 3-5 day Yam-L’yam trek. Spanning from one side of the nation to the other, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee (known locally as the Kinneret), Yam-L'yam is one of the most well-known and popular hiking trails in Israel.

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Compared to a number of other hikes such as Shvil Yisrael (the 1000km+ Israel National Trail that runs north to south), Yam-L'yam isn’t actually all too difficult - and you’ll be blessed with varying stunning landscapes throughout.

9 Walk through the Shuk HaCarmel

It wouldn’t be a trip to Israel without a little wander through one of its world-famous markets. With 250+ vendors, Jerusalem boasts the Mahane Yehuda Market, while over in the progressive, hipster city of Tel Aviv further east, all the hype is about the Shuk haCarmel (Carmel Market).

With everything from freshly picked fruit and vegetables to authentic local spices, cheap-as-chips falafel, and every piece of (knock-off) fancy-pants clothing imaginable, you could easily spend a couple of hours getting lost in the chaos and beauty of it all.

8 Ascend Masada

Down in the Judean Desert - one of the world’s smallest yet most diverse desert regions on the planet - another A-grade hike is waiting for any adventurers to conquer it. Masada itself is actually the ancient fortress that sits atop the mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, and, as expected, the views from the peak are second to none.

For those leaning a little more toward the lazy lifestyle, there’s always the option to take the cable car to the top. It might be less rewarding but the views are equally magnificent, regardless of how you get there.

7 Float in the Dead Sea

Considering that we’re already in the Masada area, it makes perfect sense to take a quick detour and make a stop at one of Israel’s undisputed highlights - the Dead Sea. What makes this body of water so special is two things - one, that its surface and its shoreline sits about 430 meters below sea level, making it officially the lowest elevation on land on the planet - and two, that its salt concentration is so high that nothing can live within its waters.

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The immense salt levels are also the reason why we can float with ease, making for some unforgettable photo opportunities.

6 Try some Water Sports in Eilat

When it comes to the cities scattered across Israel, it’s usually the vibrant Tel Aviv and the historically-significant Jerusalem that attract all the attention. As impressive as each of them are, they’re not the be-all and end-all of elite Israeli locales.

Situated at the southernmost tip of the country on the Red Sea, bordering Jordan to the east and Egypt to the west, Eilat is a popular port and resort city, welcoming tourists from near and far in search of a refreshing getaway. Thanks to its proximity to the flat water, there are a number of thrilling water-sports tours that depart from Eilat.

5 Get a taste of the IDF with Marva

In Israel, upon finishing high school, it’s mandatory for locals (both males and females) to enlist in the IDF (the Israeli Defence Force). Joining the army is a routine part of the local culture.

Many people are completely unaware of this. However, there’s a unique program by the name of Marva which gives tourists an accurate, tough, but incredibly rewarding insight into the life of a soldier during the six weeks of basic training.

4 Visit the Western Wall

This ancient limestone wall in Jerusalem’s Old City is undisputedly the most spiritual site in the world for the Jewish people. Despite the fact that the current Wall is only a small segment of what it once was, it hasn’t stopped people - locals and tourists - visiting this sacred and iconic monument.

It’s not the only thing to see in the Old City either - there are four quarters to explore (the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish Quarter), each dotted with historical sights, cobblestoned streets and providing a unique ambiance.

3 Abseil down rockfaces on Nahal Dragot

After tackling Yam-L’Yam and Masada, just in case you haven’t quite satisfied the urge to hike, the locally infamous yet internationally unknown Nahal Dragot journey will do the trick. Make no mistake though - this is no walk in the park whatsoever.

Those who are brave enough need to carry a 30-foot rope with them to loop along D-rings built into rock faces, before abseiling down into crevasses or pools of water, depending on the recent rainfall. This hike, albeit relatively short, is touted as one of the most difficult hikes in the country, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

2 Pop into Haifa

Once again, we’ll sway away from the spotlit areas of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, moving north this time to the underrated, aesthetically impressive coastal city of Haifa. While the city offers a great science museum, glistening views of the Mediterranean, top-class eats, and the beloved Louis Promenade, its main attraction is without a doubt the pristine Baha'i Gardens - representing the holiest site of the Baha'i people.

These colorful gardens, spanning across multiple levels, welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists, year after year, who come to snap some photos in front of the stunning facade.

1 Savor the food

To this point, our journey has been mostly focused on activities - walking, hiking, floating, and the like. However, we are in Israel, home to one of the most delectable cuisines on the planet, so we couldn’t complete this list without mentioning some of the essential foods. Of course, we can sample all we like at the various markets, but there are also infinite sit-down eateries ready to satisfy.

Take one bite of a fresh plate of falafel, hummus, shawarma or shakshuka and you’ll be ordering a second before you can even count your shekels. Yes, it really is that good.

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