Netanya, one of Israel’s foremost beach cities and tourist destinations, has a strange connection with Macy’s, one of the foremost department stores in the United States: both benefited from the involvement of Nathan Straus. Straus, who owned R.H. Macy and Company at the turn of the century, became an ardent Zionist after a trip to then-Palestine in 1912. He dedicated most of his substantial fortune to settling the land of Israel, and in 1928, two founders of a new settlement in Israel informed Straus that the new city would be named after him, in gratitude for his philanthropy. And so Netanya was born.
Netanya, located between Tel Aviv and Haifa, was established near the ancient town of Poleg, and initially grew citrus crops. Netanya absorbed many immigrants during the 1920s and 1930s, becoming a substantial settlement by the time Israel declared its independence in 1948. In December 1948, Netanya was the new country’s first community to receive “city status.” Netanya remained vulnerable to attacks due to its proximity to the Arab village of Tulkarm, and gained notoriety as the site of the 2002 Passover Massacre. Since the construction of the barrier separating Israeli towns from the West Bank, though, attacks have decreased significantly.
Netanya is still home to immigrants from France, the former Soviet Union, Spanish speaking countries, and English-speaking retirees. It has a Florida type of feel. It boasts many hi-tech companies and four industrial parks, as well as Israel’s only branch of IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant. This IKEA has a kosher restaurant.
Things to do in Netanya
Tourism plays a major role in Netanya’s economy as well, thanks to the miles of pristine white beaches and well-kept promenade. Many of Netanya’s beaches and promenades are part of the Shvil Israel, the National Trail, which runs from Dan in the north to Eilat in the south. Serious hikers can follow the trail as it winds its way through Netanya.
The beautiful beaches run the length of Netanya, and many offer amenities such as on-site restaurants and water sports. The Herzl Beach even runs a camp for children, and the Zanz Beach, catering to the ultra-religious, offers separate swimming for men and women. For many on a tour to Israel, relaxing on the warm sand, mere feet from the sparkling Mediterranean or a gourmet restaurant is activity enough!
Netanya also offers a “country club” experience through a number of its hotels and clubs which provide saunas, heated mineral pools, and volleyball or squash sports. For those requiring more action in their day, try parachuting, paragliding and surfing. In fact, Netanya is known as Israel’s paragliding center; it is not unusual to see gliders flying high above their fellow beachgoers.
Once you’ve dried off, don’t miss out on Netanya’s jeep tours, lasting a few hours or several days, horseback riding, golf, or “adventure sports” such as wall climbing and rollerblading. Museums abound in Netanya for the tourist seeking some culture and history. The Well Museum is a nod to Netanya’s humble beginnings, when the original settlers dug for two months until they hit water. Visitors can see the restored water pump as well as local exhibitions. The Tribes of Israel Pearl Museum is dedicated to the history of Yemenite Jews. The Diaminon Diamond Center contains an impressive diamond display as well as a miniature model of a diamond mine. And yes, the Tractor History Museum is a unique experience and a must-see if you are traveling with children. The museum displays an impressive tractor collection and other farming equipment used during Netanya’s early days. Other kid-friendly activities include a parrot farm and a visit to Moshav Mishmeret, which offers guided tours of bee hives, an animal farm, and a chance to pick your own oranges. Visitors can also take a guided tour throughout the city; one fascinating stop that must be in any Israel travel guide an is the Sycamore Garden, home to a 1,000 year old sycamore tree, an archaeological site from the Mamluk period, a Crusader farmhouse, and a mosque.
Visitors looking to spend a few quiet hours with nature will benefit from a stroll through Netanya’s southern section, which hosts a number of nature reserves, including Irises Reserve, especially beautiful in February and March when their famed purple irises bloom, the Nahal Poleg Nature Reserve, and the Udim Reserve.
Trips to the museum during the day, nighttime promenade strolls, paragliding, nature reserves, and, of course, the beach! Netanya has something to satisfy everyone on an Israel tour. From its humble beginnings as a clump of citrus trees and a dozen houses, to a robust, thriving city, Netanya’s charms will leave you wishing you could stay just a little longer.