Ramla is an ancient city in the centre of Israel, and a great place to visit as a day trip. It’s got a rich history, a mix of cultures, a market you will definitely love and some interesting activities and unique architecture.
I spent a day in Ramla on a tour with the city’s tourism board Go Ramla and discovered its fascinating history, views and flavours.
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How to get to Ramla
You can visit Ramla as a day trip from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. It’s located somewhere in the middle between the two cities.
From Tel Aviv you can take a train or the several bus lines that go to Ramla. Bus number 455 will take you from Tel Aviv’s central bus station to the main street in Ramla in about 30 minutes.
From Jerusalem take a bus from the central bus station and you will be in Ramla in about an hour.
When not to visit… : Public transport in Israel stops working on Friday afternoon and resumes on Saturday night. Most places will be closed on Saturday. Best plan your trip between Sunday and Thursday.
Once you get to Ramla, you can get around the city on foot. All of the main attractions are within walking distance from each other.
Ramla Museum and The Golden Hoard
A good starting point for your day trip is Ramla Museum. It’s located about 5-10 minutes walk from the train station or the central bus station in Ramla.
The museum will introduce you to Ramla’s rich history, and there’s a double meaning there. It’s both multi-faceted and affluent. Or rather, used to be affluent in the Islamic Golden Age.
Today it’s an Israeli city, with Jews, Muslims and Christians living side by side, but originally it was built by Arab muslims circa 705–715 CE, who made it into a flourishing commercial centre. The city went through several different phases since then.
One of the highlights of the permanent exhibition at the museum is the Golden Hoard – real gold coins and gold bars dating as early as 769 AD, discovered underground in Ramla in the 1960s.
The most interesting thing about them is the map on the wall that shows you all the countries these coins originated from. As Ramla was an big commercial centre, those coins travelled with traders from all over the Islamic world, from North Africa all the way to Central Asia.
A visit to Ramla makes for an inexpensive day trip. You can get a combined ticket at the Ramla Museum for three attractions: the Museum, the White Tower and the Pool of Arches (more about these later). With the combined ticket each attraction will cost you less than $3.
Ramla is famous for its market (shouk in Hebrew or souk in Arabic). The colourful market is the best place to stop for lunch or a quick bite and to take pictures.
This is more than a fruit and veg market. Ramla is a multicultural city and so is the shouk, with food from many different parts of the world.
You can try a Tunisian sandwich, vegetarian Indian food or a Turkish borek, for example.
It’s also a good place to buy all sorts of unique spices, nuts and pickles that you’ll find there in abundance. Don’t miss the extra-sweet local fresh lemonade.
As it’s very close to the bus and train stations, you can also return to the market later in the day for more food and drinks or to stock up on interesting foods to take home.
The Franciscan Church in Ramla
This church is very easy to spot thanks to its clock tower.
The full name of the place is The Franciscan Monastery of St. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and it includes a church, a monastery and a school.
The building is impressive, with sculptures of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (who are believed to be from Ramla) and a painting by Titian depicting Jesus being taken off the cross.
The church is open to visitors in the morning and is worth a visit – find out more information on The Franciscan Church.
The White Tower
The White Tower is also called the Square Tower. You will notice that it is square, but it isn’t white 😉
It’s called the White Tower after the White Mosque, of which you can see only remnants nearby. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site recognised for its historical and architectural significance.
The tower has just over 100 steps, and if you want to climb to the top, admission is included in the combined ticket you got at the Ramla Museum (or you can buy a ticket next to the tower).
It’s worth climbing the spiral staircase for the lovely panoramic view from the top.
On a clear day you will be able to see Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean Sea and on the other side of the tower, the mountains of Jerusalem.
My visit wasn’t on a clear day… but I could still see quite a bit.
If you look down from the top of the tower you’ll see the ancient underground water reservoirs. These are not open to the public, but the at next stop you can visit one that’s open to visitors.
The Pool of Arches in Ramla
In the Pool of Arches you get to row a little boat inside an ancient underground water reservoir.
When you enter, using the combined ticket you got earlier (or you can buy a ticket at the gate), go down the steps and get your boat. The pool isn’t big, but there’s space for a few boats and more than a few opportunities to take some cool photo.
I love architecture, and old Muslim architecture is always fascinating to see. The arches are beautiful and quite picturesque. Knowing that this structure has survived for over 1200 years makes it even more impressive.
I also liked the lighting in the pool, the red lights and the reflections on the water give the place a magical feel.
The Karaite Synagogue in Ramla
The Karaite Synagogue is a beautiful temple that’s quite different from most synagogues you’ll see in Israel or elsewhere in the world.
Karaite Judaism adheres to the Old Testament as the only source of religious rules, and disregards the oral tradition, which is a big part of mainstream Judaism. This mean the Karaites practice religion quite differently than other Jews.
The main Karaite synagogue is in Ramla, as it has a large community of Karaites.
If you’re interested in the intricacies of Judaism, you may want to arrange a visit and learn more. See more details about the The Karaite World Center in Ramla here.
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A note on the name Ramla
The official name you will see at the train station and on websites, signs, etc. is Ramla with an “a” at the end. But you may also hear it pronounced Ramleh if you talk to people. It’s the same place. The reason for this is that in Arabic there’s a difference between the written and spoken language. Ramla with an “a” is the formal, Literary Arabic name and Ramleh with an “e” is the Spoken Arabic name.
For more info on things to do in ramla, or to organise a guided tour, email ramla’s tourism board: email@example.com
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I would like to thank Go Ramla for inviting me on a guided tour of the city and Galit Keidar for organising the trip. All opinions are mine.