Abigail Klein Leichman
May 9, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012

Everywhere you go in Israel this season, you’re bound to bump into a festival to your liking. ISRAEL21c features the top 10.

Even before international festivals became a strategy in luring the tourist trade, Israel has been finding reasons to celebrate year-round. From May to September, the festival season really heats up. The mother of them all will be the new Jerusalem Season of Culture, offering diverse dance, theater, art and opera events throughout the city, May 18-July 28.

And our top 10 choices (in date order) are:

1. Houses from Within, May 20-21

Highlights of the 51 sites on this popular Tel Aviv tour include Mosaic House, formerly a private home lined floor to ceiling with mosaics depicting Israeli song stars, politicians and international public figures; the Root Research Laboratory at Tel Aviv University’s Botanical Gardens; designer Gal Florsheim’s childhood home near the Habima Theater; the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Firehouse; and the private residence of David and Paula Ben Gurion.

2. Israel Festival, May 23-June 18

Israel Festival

Batsheva Dance Company will be performing at this year’s Israel Festival in Casesarea.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Israel Festival, which was founded in the ancient Roman theater in Caesarea and moved to Jerusalem in 1982. Appropriately, it will feature 50 outstanding performances in music, dance and theater. Some of the performers are the Batsheva Dance Company, Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Ahinoam Nini and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Also on the agenda are premieres of Israeli works and tributes to leading Israeli artists; street theatre; children’s shows; and a nightly jazz club.

3. Taste of the City May 27-30

For four days at the end of May, the cream of Israel’s restaurants and wineries offer their best dishes and drinks at discount prices in Hayarkon Park. This year’s culinary event will be the 16th annual fair. It attracts about 400,000 visitors every year, and is one of the largest food festivals in the world.

4. Jerusalem Light Festival, June 15-22

Jerusalem Light Festival

Jerusalem is awash in light sculptures and installations during the Jerusalem Light Festival.

The nooks and crannies of the capital’s Old City will be dramatically lit up for the occasion, and the city will be awash in statues, installations, performances and museum artwork relating to light. Light sculptors and designers from around the world will display their creations throughout the streets and alleys, in major tourist sites and public spaces.

5. Karmiel Dance Festival, July 12-14

About 5,000 dancers from Israel and abroad will take part in 120 events and performances at this 10th annual festival, which takes place in Karmiel, a central Galilee town between Acre and Safed. Activities, a bazaar and more than 250,000 anticipated visitors and guests are expected. For English-speakers who want a crash course in folk dancing, check out the companion workshop offered July 4-15.

6. International Puppet Theater and Film Festival, July 21-23 and July 28-30

International Puppet Theater and Film Festival

A colorful street procession opens this annual event based at the Israel Puppet Center in Holon, Israel’s “Children’s City.” Some 30 performances by resident and international artists are planned, as well as conferences, exhibitions, workshops for professionals and amateurs; a conference on the therapeutic use of puppets; and a special “Puppetry on the Screen” show featuring puppets in the world of film.

7. International Arts and Crafts Fair, August 15-27

International Arts and Crafts Fair

The Jerusalem Arts and Crafts Fair draws artisans from Israel and elsewhere around the world.

This annual outdoor festival has been held for 30 years at Hutzot Hayotzer, the Jerusalem Arts and Crafts art amphitheater near the walls of the Old City. It draws crafters and artisans from around Israel as well as many European and African countries. Concerts held in conjunction with the festival take place at Sultan’s Pool nearby. Open every evening (except Fridays) between 6 and 11pm.

8. International Klezmer Festival, August 15-17

International Klezmer Festival

Photo by Flash90.
A musician prepares for the Klesmer festival in Safed.

Held in the mystical Galilee city of Safed, this musical event showcases 45 artists performing “Jewish soul music” on eight stages and in the ancient cobbled alleyways of the city. Among those on the bill are Sinai Tor, Simply Tsfat, Aaron Razel, the Persian Jerusalem Orchestra and Vilna Klezmer. Visitors will also find a huge outdoor arts-and-crafts sale, tours and children’s events.

9. Red Sea Jazz Festival, August 22-27

Red Sea Jazz Festival

The Red Sea Jazz Festival is one of the country’s largest jazz events and takes place at Eilat Harbor.

This giant international jazz festival, held in three venues on the Eilat Harbor overlooking the Red Sea, features eight to nine concerts every evening. Attendees may sign up for clinics with guest artists, or sit in on nightly jam sessions. Styles spotlighted range from New Orleans to Latin jazz. Every evening at 7, an open concert is staged to give exposure to upcoming young Israeli jazz groups.

10. Haifa International Film Festival, September 13-22

Haifa’s was the first international film festival in the country, founded in 1983 (others include the Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival in Tel Aviv, May 12-21; Sderot International Film Festival, May 29-June 2; Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival, June 11-18; and the Jerusalem Film Festival, July 7-16). Held on Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the festival features 280 screenings, including 170 premieres. Outdoor events, workshops and film competitions are held. A new one this year is the Fedeora Competition sponsored by the Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean.

More on Travel

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: