We all have that inner hipster that loves to know about things that other people don't - and I'm the same! But I'll let my guard down just this once to share some of the most insane off-the-beaten-track places in Israel - that you've probably never heard of. Some of these you can easily visit, some are a little trickier and some are downright impossible - but knowing about them will mean you know something that other people don't. Just don't forget, I knew about them before they were cool.
St. George's Monastery
For those of you schlepping off to Petra because you think it's edgy to visit one of the most popular tourist destinations worldwide, just know that you can visit something very similar on your hoverboard just twenty minutes outside of Jerusalem. Set on a cliff edge in Wadi Qelt (Nahal Prat) and looking straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, this Greek Orthodox monastery was established over 1,500 years ago by the world's first hipsters. These monks were introverts before it was cool, and would live by themselves in caves all week, meeting only on Saturdays to share some artisanal bread with locally grown wine, and argue over whose robes were shabbiest.
The Other Makhteshim
Of course you've heard of Makhtesh Ramon, the giant crater in the Negev desert. And I get it. You are also channeling your inner hipster, and are right now thinking smugly to yourself: "I DO know about the other Makhteshim". Well, you'd better give up now because I'm not talking about Makhtesh HaGadol and Makhtesh HaKatan. There are actually a total of five makhteshim in Israel, and the two that you don't know about are the Arif Twins Makhteshim, located near the Egyptian border and two left turns past absolutely nowhere. Only the most hardened hikers will make it to this area of the western Negev, and it's hard to hike that far in Birkenstocks. So stick to Makhtesh HaGadol that you can drive through and have enough service to story on Instagram.
If a trip to Mars is out of the question because wearing a suit is giving in to the 'man' (even a space suit), you could just go visit Amram's Pillars in the southern Negev instead. When people visit Eilat, they normally go to Timna Park and see Solomon's Pillars, but you can escape the crowds and go to a place a lot of those 'regular' people don't know about a few kilometres away. Five massive red sandstone pillars are hidden away in a valley and only accessible by a hike or with a 4x4. Just like the Egyptians in Timna, the Romans dug for copper here as well, and many shafts are still visible. I guess the Romans also found Timna way too mainstream.
The Cave of the Silver Scrolls
This one's for you, Jerusalemites. if you can take a break from listening to live jazz music at your favourite eatery in Mahane Yehuda (it's an off-shuk little joint with exposed brick that you've probably never heard of) you may make it to the Old Train Station, because the new one is just too... new, you know? Just behind the Old Train Station, hidden away behind the roof of the Begin Center is a tomb in which archaeologists found the oldest written bible text ever found. On two tiny silver scrolls they found had the priestly blessing inscribed, and dated to over 2,500 years old. And you thought the oldest bible text was the Dead Sea Scrolls from 500 years later? Cute.
The Shivta Church-Mosque
In the western Negev desert there is an ancient city that has been abandoned for 1,000 years. The city of Shivta, which is a national park, had an impressive church for the Christian community that lived here - and next to the church was a mosque. Archaeologists used to believe that the transfer of these lands from Christianity to Islam was a forceful and bloody one. But some hipster archaeologists wanted to be different and decided that these two religious buildings, right next to one another and from the same time period, must mean that in Shivta these two religions coexisted peacefully. Most archaeologists started agreeing with them, so of course they had to change their minds again - and they found a church stone with a cross repurposed in the floor of the mosque. So now they think they weren't so chummy after all. In a game of "I was (x) before it was cool", you just can't keep up with guys who dig up old crap all day.
Everyone knows about Stonehenge in England, but did you know that Israel has it's very own version? Rujm el-Hiri, or 'Gilagal Refaim' in Hebrew, is as old as Stonhenge, but way less mainstream and at least as mysterious. Set in the lower Golan Heights, in the middle of an army firing zone, getting there isn't so easy, and once you do it really just looks like a pile of rocks. But when you fly overhead, you begin to see that it isn't just a pile of rocks at all - it's a carefully designed structure made up of concentric circles. Archaeologists can't agree on what this 5,000 year old structure was used for, but maybe the ancients just wanted to be original and make some art so deep that nobody else would understand.
Timna Hidden Lake
Another spot on the way down south that you've probably never heard of is the Hidden Lake near Timna. In fact, thousands of people drive right by on Route 90 and have no idea it's there, as you can only see it from the edge of a crater. It's not the oldest place in Israel - like the Egyptians and the Romans, the Israelis also mined copper here in the 1970s, and dug this quarry which flooded with groundwater. The beautiful blue-green water and the different red rocks make it one of the most stunning views in Israel. But be warned - trying to be original and going to an off-the-beaten-track location that is literally called the Hidden Lake might just be the most predictable thing you could do. Instead, maybe just go to the beach or the mall - because nobody will be expecting you to do something so conventional.
Kasui Sand Dunes
The south of Israel is a desert, but a rocky desert, not a sandy one, like, it doesn't look like the Sahara Desert, right? Wrong! In a very special corner of the Negev called the Uvda Valley, stands an impressive, authentic, 40 meter high sand dune. During the winter, flash floods erode the sandstone canyons in the area, and the wind brings those eroded sands to this spot. But get there soon - a major hotel chain has just opened a resort in nearby Shaharut, so it won't stay secret for too long, and your chance to go to this place before other people and rub it in their face will disappear forever.
So next time someone asks if you've been anywhere cool lately, make sure you tell them about that place you visited at the end of a hike in the middle of an army firing zone that you only know about because you are so well-read. Were all these places new to you or did you know about some of them already? Comment below with what you already knew about, visited, or even about other places that should be on this list!
My name is Jonny Finkel, and I am a licensed tour guide and professional photographer here in Israel. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions and I will be in touch with you very soon!