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12 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 tourist attraction 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, 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 things to do. 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 and sightseeing.

1 Underwater Observatory Marine Park

Underwater Observatory Marine Park
Underwater Observatory Marine Park
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See the underwater world without getting wet. This underwater observatory is one of Eilat's major points of interest for anyone wanting to view the fantasia of color below the sea surface. From the tower observatory, 100 meters offshore, you take the stairs down six meters 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 fish, turtles, and sharks. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can also take a glass-bottomed boat trip to see the shoals further afield.

Location: Coral Beach, Eilat

Official site: www.coralworld.co.il

2 Timna Park

Timna Park
Timna Park
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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-meter-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 3,000 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 kilometers north of Eilat

3 Dolphin Reef

Dolphin Reef
Dolphin Reef
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If you want to snorkel with dolphins, the aptly-named Dolphin Reef is the place to go. This private bay runs a variety of tours and trips where you are able to interact with the group of bottlenose dolphins that live in the water just offshore. There are snorkeling 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.

Location: South Beach, Eilat

Official site: www.dolphinreef.co.il

4 Ice Space

Ice Space
Ice Space israeltourism / photo modified
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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˚Celsius as you walk between the various ice sculptures on display. No, we don't know what it has 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, Eilat

5 Coral Beach Reserve

Coral Beach Reserve
Coral Beach Reserve
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Eilat's premier diving and snorkeling site is the protected Coral Beach Reserve, and the offshore waters are 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 to 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, Eilat

6 Bird Watching Center

Bird Watching Center
Bird Watching Center
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Right at 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 for tourists who want to spot the most species passing through, and this small Bird Watching Center, on the road towards the Jordanian border post, is the best place to bring out your binoculars. Inside the reserve are well-marked trails, with plenty of hides dotted along the path at the best spots.

Location: 2 kilometers northeast of Eilat

7 Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens israeltourism / photo modified
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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. It's a great place for an early evening stroll, when the worst of the heat has dissipated for the day, and a good place to let the kids explore if you're traveling with little ones in tow.

Address: Sheshet Hayamim Road, Eilat

8 King's City Theme Park

King's City Theme Park
King's City Theme Park israeltourism / photo modified
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Kids need a break from the beach? No problem. Eilat is home to a theme park with a distinct Holy Land twist. Inside the park, 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 in town, particularly if the little ones are getting bored of the sun and sand and need to let off some steam.

Address: Antibes Road, Eilat

9 Beaches

Beaches
Beaches
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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 laid-back and quiet, though still home to great cafés and restaurants. On all beaches there are sun loungers and sunshades for rent and all the facilities you could want for a day of blissed-out sunbathing and swimming.

10 Hai-Bar Nature Reserve

Hai-Bar Nature Reserve
Hai-Bar Nature Reserve
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The kibbutz of Yotvata sits at the entry to Hai Bar Nature Reserve, which was established in 1963. This sprawling 10,000-acre park is home to plenty of wildlife, including antelopes, wild asses, hyenas, ostriches, and a whole bundle of other desert creatures. All the animals have been reintroduced to the wilderness here since the park was established with the aim of populating the area with animals that would have lived here in ancient times. It makes for a great day out from Eilat's beaches.

Location: 50 kilometers north of Eilat

11 Mount Zefahot Trail

Mount Zefahot Trail
Mount Zefahot Trail
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This circular hiking trail, just to the south of Eilat town, is an opportunity to get incredible panoramic views over Eilat, with Jordan and the town of Aqaba to the north, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula 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, and anyone with a decent level of fitness can tackle the well-marked trail. It's best hiked either in the early morning before the worst of the day's heat descends.

Location: South of Eilat

12 Red Canyon

On the way to the Egyptian border post, the Red Canyon provides a taste of adventure for hikers and nature lovers who don't have time to explore the desert scenery further. A well-marked trail here, suitable for families, leads you into the red-tinged rock of the canyon and takes around 30 minutes to complete with some gentle scrambling involved. For those who want to explore further, there's a longer, half-day circular route from the canyon that leads to a pleasant wadi (valley) and allows you to take in more of the arid landscape.

Location: South of Eilat

History

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 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 Raynald of Châtillon, 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.

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