School’s out, and it’s the hottest time of year in Israel, but there are tons of fun things for kids to do this summer, from swimming with dolphins to hiking through a water tunnel to petting a kangaroo.
ISRAEL21c scoured the country’s top attractions (free and paid) for our list of great children’s activities. If your favorite summertime activity in Israel is not on our list, please add it in our comments section.
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The beach is no doubt the ultimate summer playground for kids of all ages, and with 273 kilometers (170 miles) of beautiful coastline in Israel, you just can’t miss. In summer, the Mediterranean has an average temperature of about 30 degrees C (86 F), so it’s like getting into a warm bath.
Some particularly child-friendly stretches include Shavei Tzion Beach near Nahariya with its natural seawater pool; Achziv Beach (see #18) replete with lagoons to splash in; Dor (Tantura) Beach in the Carmel, with its natural wave breaks; Beit Yannai Beach near Caesarea, which has both awesome kite-surfing and restricted turtle nesting grounds; Palmachim Beach near Rishon LeZion with its perfect sand for castles; Tel Baruch Beach in Tel Aviv, which has tons of paid parking and family-oriented cafés; and the ever-popular Accadia Beach in Herzliya.
You’ll find families picnicking into the late hours of the night, enjoying the cooling sea breezes. Try to avoid the hottest hours, and watch out for the jellyfish that tend to come in huge swarms at the start of July.
2. Water parks
Paint the sunscreen on the kids and slide into Israel’s water parks. Shefayim is the largest, covering 24 acres with 22 slide rides and three pools – suitable for all ages. Located in Kibbutz Shefayim, about 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv.
Meymadion is a smaller version of this park, in North Tel Aviv’s Ganei Yehoshua park complex. Surf, slide and swim into dozens of attractions.
Generations have taken the breathtaking plunge down the mega slides at the Luna Gal Park on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The biggest water park in the north includes swimming pools, splash pools, extreme slide rides, water tubing and a beach.
Holon, 15 minutes south of Tel Aviv, has a water park called Yamit, where extreme slide rides meet wave pools and slides and pools for littler ones. Parents of older children can let the kids “slide” and escape to the park’s spa and Turkish-style saunas.
3. Zoo adventures
Israel’s two biggest animal parks are among the top most-visited tourist sites in the country.
Jerusalem’s Tisch Family Zoological Gardens hosts the world’s largest collection of animals mentioned in the Bible, as well as thousands of other creatures in natural habitats. There’s a train to ride around the grounds, a play area, a petting zoo and guided educational activities.
The Ramat Gan Safari (972-3-630-5305) combines the safari and zoo experience. Drive your car (or take a safari bus) through the open-air exhibits, then stop off at the zoo area for a closer look at your favorite furry friends. The Safari has the largest animal collection in the Middle East. Check out the elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, hippos and lions wandering freely on 250 acres.
4. National parks
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority manages more than 60 national parks and nature reserves across the length and breadth of Israel.
Beautiful hikes, fascinating archaeological sites, cool caves, shaded picnic spots, short and long trails, natural springs and wildlife sightings are sure to delight kids of all ages.
The Apollonia National Park in Herzliya about 20 minutes outside Tel Aviv, is a great option for families with little kids. It’s a small cliff-top national park surrounding a ruined Crusader city. The trail is only an hour long but doesn’t offer much shade, so go early or later in the day. Don’t forget to take a photo with the knight at the end of the trail!
Another easy day-trip option is Yarkon and Tel Afeq National Parknear Rosh Ha’ayin. This compound offers easy trails through a nature reserve and a 3,000-year old fortress that you can climb around. Kids can dip their toes in the streams. Pack a lunch, as you won’t want to leave this place.
5. Science museums
Israel is known as a powerhouse in the field of science, so it makes sense that the country boasts awesome, hands-on science museums for the young generation.
The Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem is running a special summer interactive exhibition dedicated to Israel’s 50 Greatest Inventions. In Haifa, the MadaTech, Israel’s National Museum of Science, Technology and Space, has joined forces with the American Museum of Natural History from New York in a special exhibit on the future of space exploration. The museum has numerous other fun science-themed exhibits and 3D movies.
Rediscover the scientist within you at the Carasso Science Park in Beersheva. The complex has 12 colorful and interactive indoor exhibits on topics ranging from optical illusions to communication to genetics and energy.
Another option is the Clore Garden of Science – an outdoor museum in the heart of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Eighty hands-on activities challenge visitors to forget what they think they know and open their minds to understanding the world around them.
6. Play at the park
There are many parks throughout Israel, and a few really stand out. The Ra’anana Park is a major green lung of the Sharon region and one of the best child-oriented places to visit. The grounds include an artificial lake, walking and cycling paths, sports facilities, an amazing playground, a small zoo, a bird-watching center, a café and art exhibition space. Check out the award-winning Friendship Park for special-needs children that is integrated into the general play area.
Herzliya Park is known for its slides among the 10-and-under set. Located diagonally across from the Seven Stars Shopping mall, this state-of-the-art park, replete with numerous eucalyptus trees, offers bridges, slides and other activities. Biking and walking paths crisscross the 50-acre area.
Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv is a major family-oriented destination, with extensive lawns, sports facilities, a climbing wall, botanical gardens, an aviary, two small animal enclosures, a water park and dozens of playgrounds and lakes. Rent bikes for the whole family or one big family bike; or rent pedal boats, rowboats and speedboats to navigate the Yarkon River that runs through the park. Kids love to ride the train in the Ganei Yehoshua section.
7. Sound-and-light shows
There are some images you’ll never forget. The sound-and-light shows in Jerusalem and Tiberias are among them.
In Jerusalem, the “Night Spectacular” at the Tower of David Museum is a multisensory production offering a modern look at history via giant virtual-reality images and phenomenal sound effects.
In Tiberias, a 15-minute, state-of-the-art multimedia presentation is shown free of charge every evening on the southern end of the lakeside promenade. The whole family will be dazzled by dancing fountains styled on the famous one at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas; pyrotechnics screened onto jets of water reaching 30 feet into the night sky; and a laser show on the backdrop of the Sea of Galilee. The shows run nightly at 8:30, 9:30 and 10.
8. Ice skating
There isn’t a better way to beat the Middle East summer heat than getting into a massive “cooler” and strapping on a pair of skates at one of Israel’s indoor skating rinks. Kids can skate at the Canada Center in Metulla, in Israel’s north; at Ice Space in Eilat on the Red Sea and at a new rink in Holon called Ice Peak. There is also a rink at the Luna Park in Tel Aviv. Israelis, new to the sport, may still be a little shaky on skates. North American or European kids will be able to show the locals some new moves, no doubt.
9. Tales in Sand
Kids big and small are sure to be awestruck by the second Tales in Sand exhibit taking place at the Eretz Israel Museum (972-3-641-5244) in Tel Aviv, July 1 to August 26. Following a successful event two years ago, the Dutch World Sand Sculpting Academy and their Israeli colleagues are back with bigger and better sand sculptures.
Characters from children’s literature, including The Three Musketeers, Peter and the Wolf, Tarzan, Alice in Wonderland, and The Little Prince, will stand alongside Biblical heroes including David and Goliath, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and Jonah and the whale.
The family-oriented nighttime event offers kids the opportunity to build their own sculptures in the sand under the guidance of the artists.
10. Art exhibitions for children
This summer’s hot picks include ArTricks, an interactive display of optical illusions that will challenge your senses, at the Israel Museum’s Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education.
In the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood in Tel Aviv, the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art is geared to children and has computer stations and art tables at the ready for the new generation of artists. If you speak Hebrew, come for story hour and an art workshop offered every Saturday.
After you’ve checked out the gorgeous new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, head downstairs to the children’s exhibit Exploring the Wheel. This interactive exhibit offers drawing, a zoetrope and cycling and, of course, art works.
And don’t miss the super popular A-B-See-Do (A-Ba-Ga-Da in Hebrew) exhibit at the Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish People. This interactive exhibit opened in 2011 and continues to be in such high demand that people must order tickets in advance (+972-3-7457808). It presents the Hebrew language in an entertaining and unusual way with climbing walls, slides, stairs and ramps alongside word-slot machines, computer games, a television show teaching sign language, and a dog that says words based on letters put in her mouth.
11. Israeli Children’s Museum
The Israeli Children’s Museum in Holon is the fourth most-visited museum in the country, and it’s not hard to see why. Touching, feeling, climbing onto and into the displays is actively encouraged in guided activities for children aged 2½ to 11. Stories for children under age 12 are offered in Hebrew only.
For older children, the museum campus also includes the renowned experiential exhibitions on deafness, blindness and aging: “Invitation to Silence” (age 12 and up), “Dialogue in the Dark” and “Dialogue with Time” (age 14 and up). For an English tour, arrange when you call ahead for reservations: 972-3-650-3000, ext. 3.
12. Gan Garoo
This four-acre park (972-4-648-8080) provides a taste of Australia’s wildlife right in Israel’s Beit She’an Valley. Seven types of kangaroos, plus cockatoos, flying foxes, laughing kookaburra, cassowary, wallaby, and emu are spread out in a landscape of eucalyptus trees and other Australian plants.
Kids can get up close and personal with the wildlife – the kangaroos love to be hand-fed, and keepers give out sticks full of juicy fruit to offer the birds. They can’t adopt any of the resident animals no matter how much they may want to, but toy versions in the gift shop are perfect companions for the ride home.
13. Learn to surf
If your kids are at least six years old, you can sign them up for surfing lessons in Tel Aviv through companies including Surf in Israel (972-50-219-3630) and Israel Surf Club (972-3-510-3439). Group or individual lessons (English instruction available) last 90 minutes, up to five days, any day of the week, rental included. At Surf Club, instructors also give stand-up paddleboard and kayaking lessons for all skill levels.
Kite Away, a surf school in Beit Yannai near Caesarea run by Olympic windsurfer Amit Inbar, gives courses and offers summer Surf Camps for kids ages seven to 15, Sunday to Thursday from July through August.
14. Chill out at Mahuti
Head over to the Mahuti (Essence of Life) interactive visitors center in central Tel Aviv for some fun and inner peace. Yes, those two concepts are mashed together at the center created by Israel’s richest woman, Shari Arison, to promote her idea of achieving inner peace. Visits must be booked in advance (03-718-1333) and are offered in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Visitors are guided on a 75-minute tour through the center, playing at multimedia stations and on an electronic drawing board along the way. There’s also a relaxation room that is like a huge movie theater, and a fun mirrors room with sound-and-light effects.
15. Whitewater rafting down the Jordan
River rafting is a great activity for older kids, especially along the historical Jordan River. Starting at the foot of the Golan Heights, the pleasure-packed 10-minute ride passes through a scented eucalyptus grove. With wind in your hair, see the mountains cradling the Jordan as whitewater licks your nose and toes. While the ride is short, a number of other activities can complement a rafting ticket, like kayaking, paintball and jeep tours.
16. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
Have your family join the global trend of social activism when on holiday. Voluntouring in Israel is popular and easy to do. Help out at Leket – the national food bank, on a kibbutz, at an eco-village or at a soup kitchen.
17. Tel Aviv Port
The Tel Aviv Port is one of the non-stop city’s main entertainment hubs, and it’s geared to all ages.
On the northeast side, a new concert venue stages free children’s shows every Tuesday at 18:00. On the main boardwalk, the sight of waves crashing onto the pier is sure to garner squeals of delight. There’s also a huge sand pit to play in.
Weekends are busiest at the port, with buskers and balloon artists keeping the crowds entertained.
18. Rosh Hanikra
Rosh Hanikra, at the northern tip of the Mediterranean Sea near Israel’s border with Lebanon, is the only mountain ridge in Israel that descends straight to the sea. Kids love the steep cable-car ride down from the top to the natural limestone grottoes at sea level.
The grottoes are open all year and even at night, when they’re lit up and especially dramatic. As you walk along the 656-foot walking track, you’ll see and hear the crashing waves and feel the warmth radiating from this explosive encounter. Fruit bats, rock pigeons, swallows and hyrax are all part of the landscape.
19. Sea turtles hatching on Achziv Beach
Right near Rosh Hanikra, Achziv National Park (04-982-3263) boasts one of the nicest beaches in northern Israel. Kids can find sea anemones, urchins, crabs and even little octopi among the rocks, but the real fun comes on summer nights, when sea turtles hatch along the sand. It’s possible to book a campsite, or a room at the local field school, and go with a park ranger to watch the action.
20. Swim with dolphins
If you’re looking for a memorable experience, swimming with dolphins is definitely the way to go. The Dophin Reef in Eilat is an ecological site that offers visitors the unusual opportunity of meeting and observing dolphins in their natural habitat.
Visitors can get close to the bottlenose dolphins from the site’s floating piers and observation points or during a guided swim or dive. Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult in the water.
21. Mey Kedem Water Tunnel
Grab a flashlight, bathing suit and water shoes and head over to the Mey Kedem archaeological site in Alona Park, near Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina. This may very well be your family’s favorite experience this summer.
Mey Kedem is part of a complex water system built by the Romans. A 280-meter stretch of the tunnel was restored for the public to walk through.
The visit starts with a short movie about the history of the Roman water canal system – call ahead (972-4-638-8622) to arrange to see it in English. Then a guide will take you underground and through the tunnel. Children do not need to know how to swim, but they must be comfortable in water.
22. See the stars
Kids ages six and up can check out the universe with a visit to the planetarium at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. There are two shows to choose from (or go to both, and get half off the second ticket): “Stars” and “Astronaut.” Both are produced by the National Space Centre of Leicester, England, and take visitors – who sit on a revolving stage – to infinity and beyond.
If you’d prefer to peer through a telescope, the Night Sky Safari at the What’s Up Observatory in Eilat offers an amazing journey to the stars for children and adults.
The Israeli Astronomical Association hosts special evenings at its observatories around the country. Call ahead (972-3-731-4345) to find out where and when there’s a meet-up.
23. Kite Festival
It can’t be August in Jerusalem without the annual Israel Museum Kite Festival, this summer in its 28th year. Kite-making workshops, kite flying and a musical parade of giant puppets will highlight this event on August 20, and the fee is included in museum admission.
(Update: The Kite Festival has been moved to take place during the Sukkot holiday in September.)
It’s a little person’s dream come true. Aimed at ages four to nine, the Picolonia play complex in Herzliya (972-9-954-1397) gives children a chance to experience the adult world and learn how all the elements around them work. From mini supermarket to play café, fire station to town square, Picolonia offers a fun, educational and role-playing (and air-conditioned) environment.
Children can be a princess, police officer, cook, cashier, racecar driver, firefighter, or whatever their heart desires. There’s also a real café for adults to refuel.
25. Apple packing in the Golan
At the Beresheet Visitors Center at Perot Hagolan in the Golan Heights – Israel’s largest fruit-packing plant – kids can enjoy an hour-long guided tour (in Hebrew) where they’ll see the path of the fruit from the nearby trees through cool storage, sorting, packing and quality control leading up to the shipping of the fruit to markets. Apple tours take place all year around, while cherry tours are in May, June and July. A kosher restaurant is on the premises, and visitors can buy fresh fruit, wines and other products made in the Galilee and Golan Heights. (972-50-683-1758, 972-4-696-1988)
26. Theme parks
Israel’s theme parks can’t rival Disney. But even with the paint flaking from the knock-off superheroes, and gondolas that have seen better days, you’ll find a bit of Israeli charm at the country’s somewhat naïve theme parks.
Luna Park in Tel Aviv was once the only theme park for kids in Israel. Now there is Superland in the sand dunes of Rishon LeZion; King’s City in Eilat, which is built on a biblical theme; and the nature-oriented Shvil Hatapuzim near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, east of Caesarea. Most of the rides at Shvil Hatapuzim are handcrafted and respect the environment in which they are built.
Park managers don’t usually mind letting in packed lunches to eat at the picnic tables. Just keep the kids drinking lots of water as most of the activities and rides are out in the sun. Get a Hebrew-speaking friend to help you search online for discount coupons.
27. Go to the Negev
Anyone who has suffered the humidity of central Israel in July and August will know that heading to the desert is a brilliant idea. It’s hot in the Negev, but there is no humidity and it can even get chilly in the evenings.
The Negev is an amazing destination for the whole family and includes eco-villages at which kids can learn to build mud houses; national parks; Paula and David Ben-Gurion’s desert home in Sde Boker and their gravesite (one of the best viewpoints in Israel); jeep rides; rappelling at Mitzpeh Ramon; sandboarding on the Negev dunes; the Alpaca Farm; and Timna Park, where kids can make colored sand art with desert rocks, try a Bedouin-style meal and count how many ibex they can spot in the Zin Canyon.
28. HaDov Halavan (The White Bear)
This indoor climbing center was new last year when we visited, and it is now a huge hit with kids of all ages — from toddlers to teens. Older kids will enjoy bungee jumping, trampolining, indoor rappelling, rope-walking and wall-climbing, and there’s an indoor “road” and cars for the little ones. Fifteen minutes’ drive north of Netanya, and definitely worth checking out. You and your kids won’t want to leave.
29. Yam Carmel, Ofer Forest
This outdoor adventure park for big kids and little kids offers dry-track tubing, an omega (zip line), a climbing wall, rappelling, bungee-jumping and a rope-bridge climbing course. Extreme sports are a hit in Israel, and the activities here keep adrenaline at the top of the chart. Yam Carmel is open to the public on Saturdays throughout the year.
30. Look under the sea
There’s an amazing world of fish in the Red Sea waiting to be seen. And Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat is geared to wow children and adults alike with the finned population. At the Underwater Observatory Marine Park, visitors can check out the colorful fish by swimming alongside them in an enclosed natural pool area or from the underground rooms lined with enormous windows.
For a quieter fish viewing experience, head over to the Coral Beach Nature Reserve. The reserve boasts one of the most densely populated coral reefs in the world. There are also dozens of fancy colorful fish.
Or watch the sights of the coral reserve and the sea on a two-hour glass-bottom boat ride, departing every two hours from the Eilat marina.
31. Nature camp
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is offering its first-ever summer camp for English-speaking children entering grades 1-6, based at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Kids will learn all about the residents of the urban sanctuary, and about the bird-banding program.
During excursions off the site, they’ll be introduced to the prickly porcupines, gazelles and other wildlife that inhabit Jerusalem. Hikes, science experiments, arts, music and sports are all on the itinerary from July 28 to August 8 (sign up for one or two weeks). Information: 972-52-386-9488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
32. Eat ice cream
Eating ice cream is a great summer pastime. Israeli ice cream parlors serve up an Italian-style gelato with a dash of chutzpa in many flavor combinations. You can still get chocolate, don’t worry, but there’s also hummus, cheesecake, and spicy flavors.
Some of the top parlors include Leggenda, Vaniglia, Aldo and Iceberg. You can also taste coexistence in a cone at the Jewish-Arab Bouza in Tarshiha in the Galilee.
Additional reporting by Abigail Klein Leichman, Karin Kloosterman and Nicky Blackburn.