From Sea to Shores: The Best Excursions to Experience Israel from Cruise Ports

If your cruise ship docks in Israel and you have a day to explore the Holy Land you need to plan your time very carefully. The best way to maximize your time on a short cruise stop in Israel is to join a ship-to-shore excursion with a local tour company. If you try to do it alone you will most likely waste a lot of time navigating the streets and trying to fit in everything you want to see. 

panoramic view of hedge and raw houses across large body of water
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Things to Consider When Planning a Ship-to-Shore Excursion in Israel

  • Which port is your cruise ship docking at? 

Cruise ships dock at either Haifa Port or Ashdod Port. If you start your excursion from Haifa Port then you can easily visit northern Israel, Galilee, the coastal cities of Caesarea, Acre, and Tel Aviv. It is also possible to get to Jerusalem for a day trip. But traveling further south, for example, to the Dead Sea might not be possible because of the travel time. If your cruise ship docks in Ashdod, you are perfectly situated to take a tour of the Dead Sea and Masada, as well as Jerusalem and Bethlehem. But traveling from Ashdod to Galilee on a ship-to-shore trip will not be possible because of the distance.

  • How Long Will Your Cruise Ship Be in Israel?

Most cruise ships stopping in Israel only give you a day to explore the Holy Land. It usually takes time to disembark, and you have to be back on board by a certain time. This does not leave you with a lot of time to see the country. In fact, it is usually even less than a full day. If you’re lucky enough to be on a cruise that allows several days in Israel, and if you want to see as much as possible, then join one of the Petra tours from Israel to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

If you want to customize your trip and pick and choose specific sites and attractions then opt for a private tour. You’ll be given a basic tour outline and you can ask to make adjustments to suit your personal preferences. However, group sea-to-shore tours are cheaper, efficient, and often the best bet if your time is limited. 

  • Should You Join an Organized Shore Excursion or Go It Alone?

Specifically with shore excursions, it is always better to join an organized tour. For the simple reason that time is limited, and on an organized tour you’ll see more than you would if you tried to do it independently. The only time an organized ship-to-shore excursion is not recommended is if you want to go and sit in a cafe, or on the beach and you’re not interested in seeing the sites. 

city art building construction
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Excursions From Haifa Cruise Port

Nazareth and Sea of Galilee Tour from Haifa Cruise Port

Haifa shore excursions include a tour that takes you north to the childhood hometown of Jesus, Nazareth. Although today it is a bustling city it is famed for several churches that mark the sites where biblical events took place. The magnificent Church of Annunciation stands on the site where Gabrial appeared to Mary and told her of her future son. Just a few steps away is St Joseph’s Church. Beneath the church are ancient 1st-century stone dwellings that may have been the home of the Holy Family. The tour takes you through the breathtaking greenery of Galilee with its farmlands and rolling hills. Here Jesus spent his ministry traveling from one village to the next preaching the word of God. Visit the Sea of Galilee, and perhaps stop to see sites like the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, or Capernaum.

people walking up and down the stairs near temple
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Jerusalem Private Tour from Haifa Cruise Port

Although it takes about 1.5-2 hours to travel from Haifa to Jerusalem it is completely worth it! If you have to choose one place to visit in Israel it should probably be Jerusalem. On a day trip to Jerusalem, you can pack in a visit to the top attractions of Jerusalem’s Old City, as well as a visit to the Mount of Olives. With a private tour, you could ask your guide to focus on what interests you. One popular option is to focus on Christian sites. Retrace Jesus’ footsteps along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, and spend time in the massive 4th-century Holy Sepulchre Church. You could customize your tour to include a stop at the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, or the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives. Muslim visitors might prefer a shore excursion that includes Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jewish visitors could opt for a visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum or the Western Wall Tunnels.

panoramic view of hedge and raw houses across large body of water
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Haifa and Acre Private Tour from Haifa Cruise Port

This tour option is best if your time is limited, perhaps because your cruise ship is departing in the early evening or if you have a late start to the tour. It is also a great option if you’d prefer a more laid back slower tour. As you’ll already be in Haifa it is the perfect opportunity to explore this fascinating city. Tour the Baha’i Gardens and visit the historic German Colony. Then continue to Acre, one of the most impressive sites in Israel. The Old City of Acre is fortified by massive walls and was built on the edge of the sea. On a private tour of Acre, you can explore the underground Crusader City, take a walk along the market street through the fortified Old City of Acre, and visit the former Ottoman Hammam, or the ancient Citadel. Acre is a city that has seen civilizations come and go for thousands of years. There is a lot to discover, from ancient synagogues to underground water cisterns, and a quaint port used by local fishermen.

roman aqueduct in israel
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Caesarea and Tel Aviv Private Tour from Haifa Cruise Port

Going south from Haifa Port you can explore Cesarea and Tel Aviv. This shore excursion gives you a taste of the old and the new. Visit the Caesarea National Park to see the remains of a Roman port city that thrived in the 1st century BC. King Herod built a city complete with palaces, a hippodrome, temples, homes, and bathhouses. Not only that but the city’s ancient Roman amphitheater has survived and is still used for performances today.  Walk through the well-preserved remains, and see structures from other periods in history such as the massive city walls and moat that the Crusaders built about a thousand years later. After stepping back in time the next stop will bring you straight into the 21st century. The vibrant city of Tel Aviv is famed for its pristine beaches, world-class museums, tree-lined boulevards, Bauhaus architecture,  and quaint historic neighborhoods such as Neve Tzedek. Don’t miss Carmel Market for a glimpse into Tel Aviv’s local street life, and be sure to stop to taste some of Tel Aviv’s famous street food. Another must-see part of Tel Aviv is Jaffa, an ancient port city that is now a joint municipality with Tel Aviv. 

beach and sea on sunset
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Excursions From Ashdod Cruise Port

Masada and the Dead Sea Excursion from Ashdod Cruise Port

One of the most popular Ashdod shore excursions is to Masada and the Dead Sea. It is about a two-hour drive, but the scenery along the way is unique. You’ll pass the massive Ramon Crater, and follow steep twisting desert roads as you descend to the flat plains of the Negev Desert. Then you’ll see Masada rising out of the flat landscape. Masada is a massive isolated rock plateau, with steep sides rising 1424ft, (434m) from the ground. Take a cable car to the top of the flat summit to see where Herod the Great built a palace fortress in 30 BC. The remains of the fortress are in excellent condition and include Roman bathhouses with mosaics intact, palaces, storage rooms, and water cisterns. About a hundred years later, when the fortress had become a simple garrison outpost, the remote mountaintop became a refuge for Jewish rebels in the First Roman-Jewish War. After the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem they set about trying to scale Masada to reach the rebels. It took a legion of about 8,000 soldiers and heavy military equipment but they eventually reached the top of Masada. There they found that the Jews had chosen suicide over surrender, and all 960 men, women, and children were dead. Masada became a Jewish legend and a symbol of bravery. 

Next, head to the Dead Sea. Here the salt deposits have formed white crystals along the water’s edge, and the concentration of minerals has made the Dead Sea mud, and water world renowned for their beneficial properties. Dead Sea minerals are used in cosmetics, and therapeutic creams, oils, and lotions, but you can get these benefits naturally by relaxing on the beach and having a swim in the water.  Most day shore excursions to the Dead Sea will give you some time on one of the beaches to soak in the saline water, and enjoy this unique location. From the lowest point on Earth, the tour returns you to Ashdod Port in time for your onward journey.

Masada and the Dead Sea Private Excursion from Ashdod Cruise Port

If you’ve opted for a private tour from Ashdod cruise port to Masada and the Dead Sea you could customize it by spending less time at these two sites and instead include a stop at Ein Gedi desert oasis or even a visit to Jericho.

woman taking pictures of ruins
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Jerusalem and Bethlehem Tour from Ashdod Port

About an hour’s drive from Ashdod is the iconic city of Jerusalem. Discover the many historic and religious sites within Jerusalem’s Old City, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Via Dolorosa, and the Western Wall. Take a walk along the narrow stone lanes through the Armenian, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Quarter. See the landmarks of the Mount of Olives such as the Garden of Gethsemane, and take in the panoramic view across the City of Gold from the mount. Not far from Jerusalem is Bethlehem where Jesus was born on the first Christmas Eve. It is a place most people only get to read about, but on a ship-to-shore excursion in Israel, you can visit Manger Square and the Nativity Church that encompasses the grotto where Jesus was born. 

Jerusalem and Bethlehem Private Tour from Ashdod Port

If you’ve opted for a private shore excursion to Jerusalem or Jerusalem and Bethlehem, then you can customize your trip. Skip attractions that you don’t find interesting, determine the pace of the day tour, and include places you’ve dreamed of visiting. For example, there is the Banksy Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem and the famous Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.

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