Things to do in Israel in the Winter

Lee Saunders 25/10/2021

After hibernating in our homes due to travel restrictions, winter is almost upon us, and hibernation is the last thing on our minds. Although hard to believe, Israel does have cooler weather and there are things do in Israel in the winter. While the temperatures are slightly warmer in November, between December and February, the mercury can fall between 56-64 Fahrenheit, remaining mostly sunny. Pack away vests and tank tops though and bring light jackets and long sleeves. The weather is wilder, rain may well fall in January, but it is hardly a north European or Canadian winter.

There are many places to visit in Israel in winter. You will even find skiers on the snow-topped Mount Hermon, in northern Israel, just hours from the country’s sandy beaches. The country’s bakeries see snow too, well sugar, on the donuts as the festival of Chanukah comes to town. Christmas visits to Jaffa, Jerusalem and Nazareth are beyond special for Christian visitors. With Jerusalem chilly and hilly, this is a superb time to head down south to Eilat for warmer, drier weather and to enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins and other exciting outdoor activities.

Room at the Inn in Nazareth, this winter

With Christmas approaching, one of the top things to do in Israel in winter is head to the city of Nazareth. There may not have been any room at the inn in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, but there is plenty of comfortable accommodation at the Mary’s Well Nazareth Hotel in his boyhood town of Nazareth. Once a quiet, rustic Jewish village of around 500 back in Roman times, today it is a city of 60,000, Israel’s largest Arab city, with both Muslims and Christians tending to the many steeples and domes. This is a city of religion and faith, of spirituality and holiness, with the main attractions transporting you back to Nazareth’s ancient past. A popular destination for Christian pilgrims, as the number of visits increased, the city built the first church – the Church of the Annunciation (or Basilica of the Annunciation) – in 1969, on the site of Joseph and Mary’s home and where Mary learned of her pregnancy. This is among the most sacred places in the Christian world and there is also the famous Jesus Trail, a 65 km hiking and pilgrimage route that starts in Nazareth and traces the route Jesus may have walked, connecting many sites from his life and ministry. So much has been written about Jerusalem’s Old City that it is difficult to find new words to describe this must-see and unparalleled neighborhood. Shrouded in mystery and endless secrets, the Old City is without doubt one of the city’s well-visited gems, and at Christmas time, heading to the Christian and Armenian Quarters to see important landmarks and churches, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is especially poignant to Christians of all denominations.

As much sugar as snow, this winter

The sunshine may dim in Israel during December, but the lights keep on burning, long into the winter, as the magical festival of Hanukkah illuminates the country. Starting early this year – on November 28 – the Jewish festival of Hanukkah is a must-see for any winter visitor. This fixture in the Jewish calendar is a firm favorite among many, and a wonderful time to visit and enjoy Israel, take in the candle lighting ceremonies, enjoy live entertainment, and taste the heart of the festival – its iconic symbol – the donut. The sheer variety of donuts available will amaze first time visitors and satisfy the biggest donut-lovers: from the traditional strawberry jam-filled donuts to those packed with dulce de leche, from Nutella to the well-known sfenj, a Moroccan fritter cooked in oil, sprinkled with sugar and soaked in honey. Try one of the many delights on offer either at Roladin, the country’s largest bakery chain, or the Tel Aviv branches of Lehamim Bakery or Marzipan Bakery in Jerusalem’s lively Mahane Yehuda market.

Holiday of Holidays is unique in Haifa

The seasonal atmosphere in December is particularly special in Haifa, where each year the Holiday of Holidays celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan with a range of colorful events in the German Colony and Wadi Nisnas, marking the diversity of the city’s population. Visitors can enjoy various activities, exhibitions, street parties and performances, fairs, shows and concerts and are encouraged to check COVID-19 updates for events. Overlooking the German Colony is the infamous Bahá’í Gardens, which – in ordinary times – pulls in close to a million visitors each year and is known as one of the faith’s two holiest sites and a major place of pilgrimage for Bahá’ís, who mark festivals and holidays, including the New Year, in March, and the birth of the Báb and Baha’u’llah in October and November. Take a free guided tour to learn about the fascinating beliefs, values and spirituality of this young religion and gently walk down the 1km, 19-terrace staircase. As you weave northwards from the via HaNassi Boulevard, you will enter the HaCarmel neighborhood containing the luxurious Dan Carmel and charming Dan Panorama Haifa.

Winter Pilgrimage to the Birds or the Dolphins

One of the best winter activities in Israel happens further north in the spectacular wetland habitat in the Galilee – the Hula Valley, which witnesses one of the year’s mass bird migrations in October and November. This nature reserve, once 15,000 acres of swampland, becomes a site of worldwide significance for water birds and a most important wetland reserve in the Middle East – the best place to do bird spotting in Israel, and one of the best in the world due to its location on a major migration route for birds travelling from Europe to Africa and Asia. About 500 million migratory birds pass through the Hula Valley annually, with pelicans, herons, white-tailed eagles, storks, and cranes among the 400 species making the flight. With bicycles and golf carts available, the park, located between Kiryat Shmona and Rosh Pina, makes for a wonderful day trip for the whole family, two hours north of Tel Aviv. A few hours the other way, in the southern city of Eilat, take off your mask and put on a snorkel in a place where the underwater adventures are endless. From the Underwater Observatory to the Red Sea, enjoy fantastic scuba diving trips and the magical experience of swimming closely with dolphins at the Dolphin Reef.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

While the birds may be headed to warmer climes, if enough snow falls, there’s only one place to be in Israel – Mount Hermon, a snow-capped treat that rises over 9,230 feet above sea level, and an ideal spot for skiing, tubing and sledding. Mount Hermon is open for up to about 50 days of skiing and boarding year, attracting about 300,000 visitors, generally between January and March. The resort has 14 ski runs and 5 chair lifts – available to spectators and those skiing.

But there’s a valley low enough

Within a hot stone’s throw of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea – arguably the world’s most natural health clinic – retains an almost mythical status, as the lowest point on earth, attracting tourists of all ages, aches and pains, and from all corners of the globe. Take the mandatory selfie baked in mud or as you float in the healing waters of this world-famous salty lake, and go home rejuvenated – ready to start 2022 with gusto.

Shake off any winter blues and head to Israel, this year’s Winter Wonderland.

Check here for the latest COVID regulations and requirements to travel to Israel.