Israel is a wonderland for family-oriented activities year-round – and many fun opportunities are still on offer during this summer of COVID-19.
National parks, beaches, local farms, coral reefs and more than a few entertainment attractions are open and expecting local vacationers. The activities, of course, come with social distancing rules and hygiene requirements.
Unfortunately, most – if not all- of the country’s traditional summer festivals and art fairs have been cancelled this year, as well as theater events and annual dance celebrations.
In May, Israel announced that it was opening tourist season for locals. As Israelis set out to enjoy the country’s many offerings, and resumed daily activities, not all social distancing measures were maintained, and this likely contributed to the current spike in new COVID-19 cases. With this sharp uptick comes ever-changing rules relating to which summer activities are open and which are closed.
NoCamels recommends that would-be visitors check in daily with the Health Ministry guidelines, as changes are frequent.
And don’t forget to look out for the Purple Badge designation for places that abide by government regulations such as preventing overcrowding, hygiene procedures, and safe open space operation.
NoCamels put together this list of 7 fun things to do in Israel during this summer of COVID-19 (and in non-pandemic times):
Summertime is beach time
Israel’s spectacular beaches have garnered some major international media coverage. “With coastline bordering the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, and the Sea of Galilee, and everything from world-class scuba diving to ancient ruins to explore, the beaches of the Land of Milk and Honey have something for every type of sand lover,” reads a 2017 Vogue Magazine article.
Indeed, this country is blessed with plenty of seashore offerings catering to just about every crowd.
In Tel Aviv, urban beaches connect the city to the coastline; in Eilat, the Red Sea is brimming with coral reefs and fish; Caesarea’s beaches mix ancient Roman ruins with quiet sandy fun; beaches at the Dead Sea offer a unique floating experience at the lowest point on earth; and pampering beaches await at the Sea of Galilee.
The TripAdvisor community constantly rates and updates favorite beach choices around the country, and it is worth it to take a look before choosing where to go.
Jellyfish season overlaps summertime beach season but that never keeps locals out of the waters. If you do get stung, a clean seawater-and-sand scrub should calm the pain.
And some beaches have closed for periods of time during the COVID-19 pandemic. NoCamels suggests checking the Health Ministry updates before setting out with a picnic basket and towel.
Local farm tasting and tours
Touch-and-taste tours are always fun and are still possible with safety measures in place. Israel boasts a number of local farms that invite the public to learn hands-on about how farmers make the desert bloom.
“This is a healthy experience to enjoy during this health crisis,” agronomist Uri Alon, who runs The Salad Trail, tells NoCamels. “This is an open place, there is a lot of space to maintain social-distance. Come to see how vegetables grow, learn about the different varieties and taste the best produce.”
The Salad Trail, located in the Hevel Habesor region of the northern Negev, requires advanced booking.
Similarly, the Halbrecht Farm Food Garden invites visitors to tour its gardens and learn how to grow vegetables and herbs. It’s not just about planting and picking, but rather the whole process from seed sapling to your plate.
In addition to traditional fruits and veggies farming, Israel has become a seaweed powerhouse. SeaKura offers social-distancing friendly family-oriented tours behind the process of growing seaweed. Tasting is included, too. Booking ahead is required.
It’s all about connecting with nature.
Visit Sea Turtles in Rehab
The Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Mikhmoret, about a half hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv, welcomes visitors to meet and learn about these magnificent marine reptiles.
The center is part hospital, part rehab center and full educational facility set on raising awareness, educating the public and involving them in caring for this powerful species.
Please don’t pop by whenever it suits you. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel runs tours of the sea turtle center in Hebrew and English. To book a tour ahead of time, please click on this link.
Kids must be ages six and older.
A country of museums
With more than 230 museums dedicated to art, science, history, comics, design, architecture, and technology, there are countless exhibitions for a wide-reaching audience.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered some of the museums, but a majority are open according to Purple Badge guidelines.
There are too many museums to recommend, so we’ll include just three examples of the bountiful options now on display.
Since reopening in June, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art has welcomed people from around the country to see Jeff Koons: Absolute Value – From The Marie and Jose Mugrabi Collection.
Kids will enjoy the Koons exhibit, although some of the subject matter is mature in nature.
The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv presents Israel’s treasures of nature. Tours are not being offered during COVID-19 but self-guided visits are easy to follow.
The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History opened its doors in July 2018. The museum’s mission is to “inspire acquisition of knowledge, to promote understanding, and to reinforce our bonds with nature and our place within it – for the benefit of future generations.”
And there’s a colorful, fun display of Kinetic Art at the Yaacov Agam Museum of Art in Rishon Lezion. Look at the artworks from one angle and then make sure to move and view them from another perspective!
Please remember to book ahead for all museum visits.
National Parks night hikes, camping and more
It’s summertime and hiking during the day hours can get hot. That’s why the Israel Nature and Parks Authority offers night hikes – some by lanterns, others by moonlight.
The authority manages more than 60 national parks and nature reserves across the country. During the present pandemic, only some of them are open to the public and visits, like elsewhere, must be booked in advance.
In Israel, the topography changes quickly. You can hike in the desert dunes or trek up mountains, you can walk through rivers and through thorny overgrowth. The longest trail is the Israel National Trail and it spans over 1,000 kilometers.
A night visit to the Nimrod Fortress adds a sense of excitement to this medieval Ayyubid castle, located on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon.
Day hikes are aplenty, too, of course. The Parks Authority ranks trails according to difficulty and offers maps to visitors. It also runs camping grounds – some are open, with new hygiene measures in place.
NoCamels recommends checking the Parks Authority website before a visit – both to reserve a place and make sure the site is open.
There are also a number of camping and glamping (glamour camping) sites in Israel where families can get away, including at the Blum Village in Kfar Blum in Israel’s northern Galilee region.
And don’t forget to wear a face mask!
Swim with dolphins
In mid-June, after three months of lockdown, the Dolphin Reef in Eilat reopened for business in accordance with COVID-19 regulations.
While sightings of dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea do happen, this ecological site in the Red Sea is the place to come if you’d like to meet and swim with flippered friends.
Visitors can scuba dive or snorkel with the resident bottlenose dolphins or observe them from the floating decks.
Wineries, vineyards, and innovation
Hundreds of wineries – from boutique to large enterprises – are serving up award-winning wines to diners the world over. Many of them welcome visitors to see, taste, and learn about the innovative viticulture underway in Israel.
While a wine tour may not sound like a family-oriented adventure, kids may not get to taste the final product but they’ll get to see the process from vineyard to barrel to bottle.
Many of the wineries use Israeli agri-tech and this is a chance to see it up close.
So, whether you’re visiting in the Galilee, Judean Hills, the Negev, the Sharon plain, or the Coastal plain, be sure to look up a local winery and book a tour and tasting.
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com