11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Eilat
Eilat is Israel's only Red Sea resort, sitting on their teensy stretch of Red Sea shoreline, squeezed in between Jordan and Egypt. The big draw-card here is the Red Sea's famous diving, and just south of town is the fantastic underwater world of Coral Beach Reserve. If you're more landlubber than diver though, the beaches here are more than enough to keep you happy with plenty of fun-in-the-sun for everyone. Just north of town is the head-spinning, naturally-sculpted world of Timna Park; one of Israel's most beautiful and surreal sights. These strangely-shaped rocks and incredible landscapes are enough to get even the most dedicated sun worshipper off the beach for a day of desert adventure.
1 Underwater Observatory Marine Park
See the underwater world without getting wet. This underwater observatory is a must-do for anyone interested in the fantasia of colour below the sea surface. From the tower observatory, 100 m offshore, you take the stairs down 6 m below the surface to witness the teeming underwater life of the Red Sea. While on the shore there is also an excellent aquarium with hundreds of Red Sea fishes, turtles, and sharks. If you're feeling more adventurous you can also take a glass-bottomed boat trip to see the shoals further afield.
Hours: Daily 8.30am-4pm
Admission: Adult 94NIS, Child 74NIS
Location: Coral Beach
2 Dolphin Reef
If you want to snorkel with dolphins then the aptly named Dolphin Reef is where you head. This private bay runs a variety of tours and trips where you can interact with the group of bottlenose dolphins, which live in the water offshore. There are snorkelling and swimming trips, and if you don't want to go into the sea, there are a number of observation docks on the shore where you can watch the dolphins from dry land.
Hours: Sun-Thu 9am-7pm; Sat-Fri 9am-4.30pm
Admission: Adult 64NIS, Child 44NIS
Location: South Beach
3 Ice Space
Winning the prize for wackiest tourist attraction in Eilat by a mile, Ice Space throws you out of the desert and into the freezing world of the Arctic. Inside, the temperature plummets to a steady -7˚C as you walk between the various ice sculptures on display. No, we don't know what it's got to do with a desert town on the Red Sea coast either, but on a boiling hot summer day it's a blissfully cool treat. Kids will also love it.
Location: North Beach
4 Coral Beach Reserve
Eilat's premier diving and snorkeling site is the protected Coral Beach Reserve with the offshore waters home to a vibrantly colorful world of coral and flitting fish. If you're a diver, a trip here will be the highlight of your Eilat holiday. Even newbie divers are well catered for with Eilat's swag of dive tour agencies all able to cater for first-timers. If you don't fancy plumbing the deep, the reefs right off the shore are shallow enough for you to enjoy the fish life and coral just by snorkeling. Masks and goggles can be rented on the beach.
Location: Coral Beach
5 Bird Watching Centre
In the center of the bird migration routes between Africa and Europe, the Eilat area is great for bird watching. Spring and autumn are the best seasons, and this small Bird Watching Centre, on the road towards the Jordanian border post, is the best place to bring out your binoculars. Inside the reserve, there are trails with hides dotted along the path at the best spots.
Location: 2 km northeast of Eilat
6 Botanical Gardens
On the hill above Eilat, this botanical garden is a shady spot of lush tropical trees and plants. It's an excellent escape from the scorching sun and the profusion of greenery makes an interesting juxtaposition with the surrounding bare desert escarpment.
Location: Sheshet Hayamim Road
7 King's City Theme Park
Kids need a break from the beach? No fear. Eilat is home to a theme park with a Holy Land twist. Inside, the rides take a historic theme with ancient King Solomon playing a starring role in the major water ride, and the entire caboodle centered round a Middle Eastern-style castle. It makes for a good family day out, particularly if the little ones are getting bored of the sun and sand.
Location: Antibes Road
Above all else, Eilat is a beach resort and most people come here simply to flop out on the sand. The best beaches hug the coast slightly out of town with family-friendly Coral Beach being the most popular. Palm Beach and Village Beach are more laidback and quiet, though still home to great cafes and restaurants. On all beaches there are sun loungers and sun shades for rent and all the facilities you could want for a day of blissed-out sunbathing and swimming.
9 Timna Park
This beautiful and fascinating national park has surreal desert landscapes and an intriguing ancient copper-mining history. It's famous for its bizarre rock formations that have been sculpted by wind and rain. The most well-known of these is called Solomon's Pillars: a 50-m-high wall of sandstone rock, carved into pillar shapes by erosion. A flight of steps leads up the cliff face to a relief depicting Pharaoh Ramses III making an offering to the goddess Hathor. Excavations in the area from 1959 onwards have revealed that copper has been systematically mined here since as early as 3000 BC with both the Egyptians and the Israelites working the mines at different times. Opposite Solomon's Pillars is the Hill of the Slaves - a camp in which the miners of the 14th and 12th centuries BC were housed. The surrounding camp walls and the remains of houses and workshops can still be seen.
Location: 30 km north of Eilat
10 Hai-Bar Nature Reserve
The kibbutz of Yotvata is the entry to Hai Bar Nature Reserve which was established in 1963. This sprawling 10,000 acre park is home to antelopes, wild asses, hyenas, ostriches, and a whole bundle of other desert creatures. All the animals have been reintroduced to the wilderness since the park was established with the aim of populating the area with animals that would have lived here in ancient times.
Location: 50 km north of Eilat
11 Mount Zefahot Trail
This circular hiking trail, just to the south of Eilat, is an opportunity to get incredible panoramic views over Eilat with Jordan to the north, Egypt's Sinai to the south, and the craggy escarpment of Saudi Arabia across the glittering Red Sea to the east. It takes about four hours to hike.
Other Notable Attractions
En Netafim Spring
The spring of En Netafim is the only spring in the area that flows throughout the year. It's a lovely spot to cool off and have a dip with water gushing over the rock outcrop and spilling into the pool below. To reach the spring is a 10-minute walk from the car park.
Location: 10 km northwest of Eilat
Gorge of the Inscriptions
This narrow gorge has been a favored graffiti spot for travelers for centuries. There are numerous inscriptions scattered across the rock face from Nabataean and Greek times as well as other inscriptions in Hebrew.
Location: 22 km northwest of Eilat
Eilat's position near the Sinai land bridge, between Africa and Asia, has made it a crossing point for centuries. In religious accounts, after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt they wandered through Sinai and "the way of the plain from Elath, and from Ezion-gaber" and then into the wilderness of Moab, which was held by the "children of Lot" (Deuteronomy 2,8-9). Thus it is clear that the two towns of Eilath (probably on the site of present-day Aqaba) and Ezion-gaber or -geber (excavated in 1934 on Tell el-Khalayfa in Jordan) were already in existence in pre-Israelite times. Ezion-geber, "Solomon's port", is thought to have been founded by the Edomites or by the Midianites who lived to the south of them, on the Saudi Arabian coast. It was also visited by Egyptian ships transporting copper from the mines of Timna.
In the 10th century BC, Solomon had ships built at Ezion-geber and manned them with his own people and with Phoenicians supplied by King Hiram of Tyre. These ships "came to Ophir and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to King Solomon" (1 Kings 9,26-28). Here, too, the Queen of Sheba landed on her way to visit Solomon in Jerusalem and "try him with hard questions" (1 Kings 10,1 ff.).
In the 8th century BC, the Israelites lost the port. In the 3rd century BC, it passed to the Ptolemies who then ruled Egypt, then to the Nabataeans, and finally to the Romans, to whom it was known as Aila. The architect who built the monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai, in the 6th century AD, was a native of Aila. In 1116, during the reign of King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, the Crusaders built a castle on the island lying off present-day Taba (in the Sinai, just south of Eilat). The castle was taken by Saladin in 1170, recovered by Reynald of Chatillon, and thereafter was finally incorporated in the Muslim dominions, being held first by the Mamelukes and later by the Turks. After the First World War, Eilat lay within the British mandated territory and in 1949 became part of Israel.