The Mediterranean is full of ancient maritime cultures, but some seaside countries are just recently becoming popular cruise destinations. One up-and-coming cruise hub in the eastern end of this historic sea offers the best of Mediterranean, modern European, and Middle Eastern cultures and lifestyles. Not to mention the spiritual attractions of the home of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths.
And the best news is that more and more cruises are calling in Israel’s ports and also embarking and disembarking from Israel, allowing for pre- and post-cruise explorations of this bucket-list country.
Here are Israel’s two main cruise ports – and their top attractions, although many attractions of Israel are accessible from either port, especially if you have overnights in port, cruise-tours, or pre- or post-cruise extensions in either city.
PORT OF HAIFA
This is Israel’s largest port, located on one of its most beautiful bays, and the gateway to the sights and cities of northern Israel.
About 90 minutes away, the dynamic city of Tel Aviv is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the oldest section, Jaffa’s, ancient streets representing the original entry port for the country dating back 3000 years. But Tel Aviv is also a lively, modern city with a seaside promenade, 10 miles of sandy beaches, a preserved, early 20th century Bauhaus neighborhood, lively arts culture, markets, and Israel’s hottest restaurant and nightlife scene.
Haifa is also the closest cruise port to the city of Nazareth, of biblical fame as Jesus’ hometown in Galilee and a must-see site for those interested in sites relating to the Christian faith.
Galilee is a mountainous region that is a center of agriculture to this day, and where the biblical story of Jesus walking on water is said to have taken place on the Sea of Galilee.
The ancient city of Acre, famously central to crusader-era stories with medieval structures remaining to this day, is also close to the cruise port of Haifa. Acre has UNESCO World Heritage status for its Ottoman quarter and the largest hanging gardens in the world, the Baha’i Gardens.
PORT OF ASHDOD
Further south on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, Ashdod itself is one of the most ancient cities in the world, dating back to the 17th century B.C. Today, you’ll see a modern port with elegantly wide boulevards, museums, a national park and more.
But for many, Ashdod is the gateway port to iconic Israeli sites of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Jews, Christians and Muslims all hold Jerusalem to be a holy city. Some religious sites are shared by two or more of these religions.
For picturesque and awe-inspiring views of the Old City and the Temple Mount, tours take visitors to the Mount of Olives. Excursions also take you to Mt. Zion, the Zion Gate and the Western (Wailing) Wall.
In the Jewish Quarter, you’ll discover the Holy Sepulchre, and in the new city, civic institutions like the Knesset and Israeli Supreme Court exist alongside the powerfully moving Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum and Children’s Memorial.
Synonymous with the birthplace of Jesus, visitors to Bethlehem today visit the Church of the Nativity, erected over the Cave of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born. You’ll also want to experience the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of St. Joseph built over his carpentry workshop.
A cruise to Israel gives travelers the opportunity to visit holy sites of three world faiths, see sites rooted in ancient history and Middle Eastern culture, experience a dynamic European lifestyle, and indulge in the sun-kissed days and nights of a modern Mediterranean beach destination.
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