Family-Friendly Day Trips in the Center of Israel (Passover 2019)

After taking two wonderful in-country vacations this year – to the south over Sukkot Chol HaMoed and to the north over Chanukah break – we decided to plan some low-key staycation activities for Chol HaMoed Pesach.

Since we live in the center of the country, there is a pretty wide range of sites and activities that we can reach within just an hour or so. (I have a firm “one-hour-in-the-car-alone-with-the-kids” threshold!)

Here’s what we did:

Sunday: Netanya + Modi’in

Due to unseasonably cold and even rainy (which is super rare this late in the spring) conditions, we had to scrap our original plan of going to the beach.

No worries, we found something that may have been even more fun: We met up with friends from America at their stunning Air B&B in Netanya, and took the kiddos Go-Karting.

It was a quick pivot plan, and not something I’d even considered when making our original schedule, but somehow all the kids loved it and considered it a highlight of their week!

How much did it cost? It was 60 NIS per person (roughly $17) for a 10 minute drive.

How long did it take? There was an hour long wait until our kids got their turn on the course. (Fortunately they had ice cream, so we passed the time just fine, thankyouverymuch.) They drive for 10-12 minutes, which – although it sounds short – was more than enough.

We headed back to our friend’s place, where some of the more brave kids jumped into their (freezing cold) pool. The rest of us shivered and took pictures.

Later that evening, we met our cousins for dinner (I love being able to eat out during Chol HaMoed Pesach – it’s such a treat!) and bowling.

Monday: Gush Etzion

Monday was another dreary, freezing cold day (think: three layers plus a winter coat and gloves!), but we didn’t let that deter us. We had big plans and we were going to stick to them! Fortunately, the rain that was threatening never materialized, so we were just cold – but not wet.

First up, we had headed off to Gush Etzion for something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now: An ATV tour of Derech HaAvot with ReGush. The poor weather actually worked in our favor; the other family who had booked for that same time slot cancelled, so we got a private tour, just the guide (in one car) and us (in the other).

I had my three kids plus my oldest nephew with me, so one of them went in the guide’s car, while the other three came with me.

The views and history were fantastic… but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that the absolute highlight (for me) was getting to drive the ATV. Oh my gosh, it was a blast! The ATV was automatic, so don’t worry if you don’t know how to drive a stick-shift; you can handle this! It was so much fun to drive off-road! Our guide was also great and all of the kids (ages 9-15) had an amazing time, even as passengers.

How much did it cost? We paid 150 NIS per person (roughly $43), which covered taxes and insurance. Tourists will pay 18% less, since they don’t have to pay VAT.

How long did it take? We were out for about 60 minutes, including two brief stops for pictures and some history lessons along the way. (Can’t do anything in Israel without that!)

After our tour, we drove five minutes to Deerland, an outdoor adventure park with rock climbing, zip lining, trampolines, ropes courses, and a carousel and petting zoom for the little ones.

We met up there with the rest of the extended family, so we were a group of 11, ranging in ages from 3 – 73 years. Everyone enjoyed the activities, although I will admit that we skipped the 400-meter zipline that transversed the valley, because there’s only so much adventure my stomach can handle.

How much did it cost? It costs 15 NIS per person to enter Deerland, and then you pay for each activity you want to do. Or you can do what we did, which is buy a bracelet, which covers “admission” to the park, plus all the activities, for 65 NIS per person. (I just paid the 15 NIS for myself, since I knew I wasn’t going to do the activities.) The 40-meter zipline is an additional cost of 100 NIS per person.

How long did it take? We were there for about three hours, but you could certainly stay even longer. There is a picnic and BBQ area, so we brought a picnic lunch. There were also a few food stands, which all had kosher certification.

Tuesday: The Jerusalem Hills

The sun came out and the temperatures warmed up a bit, making it the perfect day for a hike!

We are so fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world – replete with plenty of hiking trails that are accessible for all ability levels, so anyone can enjoy that beauty. On this sunny Tuesday, we decided to explore the Jerusalem “hills” (הרי ירושלים) with a hike on the Springs Trail (שביל המעיינות).

The vistas were breathtaking, and the hike was mostly level, so it was easy enough for groups of all ages. Along the way, there are a number of fresh water springs, which you could splash and swim in. Personally, I thought the water was way too cold, but four of the six kids partook and thought it was awesome.

There were also a couple of smaller caves along the route, and all six kids (ages 10-16) enjoyed exploring them. We even brought our dog along, and he gave the trail two thumbs (paws?) up as well.

Of course, we had to end the hike with ice cream – it’s practically mandatory, as far as my kids are concerned!

How much did it cost? The hike itself was free, as the trail wasn’t in a national park (which do charge admission). We spent about 50 NIS on ice cream at the end, but this was definitely our most frugal day.

How long did it take? We took our time, with the kids exploring the caves and enjoying the springs. We were on the trail for about three hours, but you could have done it much more quickly.

Wednesday: Be’er Tuvia Flower Picking Festival

We started our day at the bar mitzvah of friends of ours from Cleveland, which was such a treat.

In the afternoon, we headed southward toward Ashdod for Be’er Tuvia’s annual flower picking festival. It was gorgeous, but also crowded and hot.

I did love having these stunning bouquets to grace my table for chag sheni.

How much did it cost? It’s 50 NIS to pick one bunch (they give you a container), or 80 NIS for two containers. We took two.

How long did it take? We were out there for just shy of an hour. You could certainly have gone faster – or taken longer. It was pretty hot, though, so we were eager to get out of the bright sun.

We finished our day at the Modi’in mall food court. I don’t even like McDonald’s, but when it’s kosher for Passover, you at least have to say that you tried it, right? (The French fries tasted exactly the same, the buns left something to be desired).

Thursday: Back to Netanya (Beach Time!)

Although the week started out cold, it had warmed up beautifully by Erev Chag Sheni. Which means one thing: BEACH TIME!

The sea is my happy place, so I stayed up ’til 2 in the morning the night before, cooking for chag and Shabbat (we were having guests for three out of four meals!) in order to be able to spend a few hours at the beach in Netanya.

We met up again with my dear friend’s family and it was the BEST. The kids frolicked (no, seriously: They FROLICKED) in the water, while I got to sit and catch up with my friend. Total bliss.

How much did it cost? The beach is free! We packed a picnic lunch and snacks, because #Jewishmothers.

How long did it take? We were there from 10 am – 2 pm. I easily could have stayed longer, but I was worried about finishing everything back at home in time for yomtov.

I know we packed a lot into five short days, but it is important to me – in our second year of Aliyah – to make these Chol HaMoed days extra special for my family. I want to show off all the fun and unique sides of living in Israel to my kids, for whom moving here has been wonderful, but also (total honestly) challenging.

As my children get older, there is also something fleeting about these moments, and I want to grab hold of these precious opportunities to be together as a family of five. In just two more years, my oldest will graduate from high school and be drafted into the army (heart palpitations), so I’ve only got two more “Chol HaMoeds” left to make these kind of family memories!

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