Jerusalem can be an intense experience. When you feel the urge to get away for a day or two, consider taking a road trip to some of the fascinating and scenic places that are accessible on all sides of the holy city. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the scenery changes as you drive down off the ridge that Jerusalem rests on.
To the east, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of driving from Jerusalem to start the descent through the Judean desert and on down to the lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea.
On the way, you’ll pass Bedouin tribes camped near the highway, a place where you can stop and ride a camel through the desert, and the hostel of the Good Samaritan. A little further on, you may want to consider a detour off to the north (watch for the left turn) through the stark beauty of Wadi Kelt, where you can park and hike into the valley to the St George’s Monastery carved into the cliffs.
Continuing on the way down to the Dead Sea, you’ll notice signs for Jericho, one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world, on the left. If you’re in a rental car from an Israeli company, you’ll have to take a pass on Jericho, which is under Palestine Authority control and closed to Israelis and Israeli vehicles.
As you come to the turn off toward the Dead Sea, you can choose to visit one of the beach resorts (Kalia, Mineral Beach) or the peaceful Ein Fascha Nature Reserve that’s a true oasis in the desert.
Another 20 minutes driving will bring you to another national park, the renowned Ein Gedi Park that includes a variety of hikes for all level of walkers, and the refreshing David’s and Arugot Springs and some welcome waterfalls. Back down at ground level, stop by at Kibbutz Ein Gedi to take a leisurely stroll through the botanical garden that includes biblical plants and rare trees.
If you still have energy, continue on to Masada, the ancient fortress built by King Herod, where a group of Jewish zealots who had fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple found refuge and eventually committed suicide rather than submit to the yoke of the Roman Empire. Today, much of Masada has been excavated and restored and is one of Israel’s most popular visitor sites.
Another option would be to drive down to Masada before sunrise, and do your road trip in the opposite direction, taking advantage of the early morning cool to ascent the ancient fortress before starting back and returning to Jerusalem in the early evening.