Jewish Heritage

Our Top Jewish Heritage Tours and Destinations
By Damien Martin

Shanah tovah! It’s a new year on the Jewish calendar and we are in the midst of the High Holidays, with Rosh Hashanah last week and Yom Kippur this weekend. Across the Virtuoso network, there are companies offering Jewish heritage tours in destinations from China to Sarajevo and plenty of places in between. From two-week itineraries to two-hour tours, on land and by water, Virtuoso suppliers have you covered.

Day tours

Much of the diaspora settled in Europe and contributed to the history and society of many major cities. ITB Holland has half- and full-day for it's In the Footsteps of Jewish History tour, visiting the Portuguese Synagogue -- the world’s largest when it was built in 1675 -- and the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam.

Abercrombie & Kent offers customized full-day excursions in London and Moscow, while Esperance’s Russia tours visit the old district of Kolomna and Grand Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg and monument to writer Sholom Aleichem and the New Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.

Florencetown’s Jewish Heritage tour starts from the beautiful Synagogue, continuing through the Jewish cemetery and museum, onto the former ghetto and first neighborhood of the Jewish Community in Florence. Also in Italy, IC Bellagio has Jewish Florence and Jewish Venice tours and I.D.I. Travel’s tour in Rome features carciofi alla giudia, Jewish-style fried artichokes. Onirikos boasts Jewish tours in Rome, Florence, Venice and Sicily.

In Paris, the full-day tour by Découvertes starts in the Pletzel quarter of the Marais district and continues to the Holocaust Memorial and Museum of Jewish Art and History featuring works by Chagall and Modigliani, among others. It ends at the memorial to the infamous 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Aristo’s Tours’ half-day walk tours the Marais and significant houses near the Place des Vosges.

Made for Spain and Portugal’s Barcelona Special Jewish Sites tour is led by an architect and Jewish heritage advocate who brings guests to Montjuïc and El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter, while the corresponding tour in Lisbon visits the Baixa Pombalina and Alfama district, which Jews have called home since the Middle Ages.

Mazurkas Travel’s Poland tours include Krakow’ Kasimierz district and the museum in Oskar Schindler’s former factory, plus a journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Warsaw’s POLIN museum.

Patriot Travel’s Prague walking tour goes to several synagogues that played key roles in the history of architecture and Hasidic teaching, plus drawings made by children in the Terezin concentration camp.

Calvados Club’s half-day driving tour in Sarajevo traces more than 400 years of Jewish history in the city once known as “European Jerusalem” and which still is home to the Sarajevo Haggadah, a precious illuminated manuscript smuggled out of Spain after 1492 Alhambra Decree expelling Jews from the country. The manuscript is written on calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold, setting forth the order of the Passover Seder.

Travel2Greece’s Jewish heritage walking tour reveals the impact Greek Jews had on the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, while Greece a la Carte’s half-day tour traces 2,300 years of Jewish life at the Jewish Museum of Athens.

In Istanbul, see the 19th-century Kamondo Staircase, Neve Shalom Synagogue and Balat area on the Golden Horn, an important Jewish settlement in Byzantine and Ottoman times. Turkey At Its Best adds the Galata Tower, Zulfaris and Abrida synagogues and Jewish cemetery for its full-day itineraries.

Multi-day itineraries

Of course Israel is a destination full of Jewish history and culture, but there a few itineraries from Virtuoso-preferred suppliers that focus on Jewish heritage in the Holy Land. Kensington Tours’ eight-day journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem includes Mount Zion, the Tomb of David, Tomb of Judges and Massada. Artisans of Leisure’s 10-day Israel program highlights Qumran, the Golan Heights and Old Jaffa.

Kensington also offers a weeklong Jewish Heritage tour of Poland, while Artisans of Leisure has Jewish tours of Amsterdam, Budapest, Germany, Italy, Sicily, Morocco, Central Europe, Portugal and Spain ranging from four to 15 days.

In addition to its day tours, Mazurkas Travel has a 10-day Jewish History and Culture in Poland & Prague itinerary that begins with Shabbat dinner in Warsaw and visits Terezin on the last day, with Lodz, Krakow and Wroclaw in between.

Tauck’s Honoring the Jewish Heritage sojourn over two weeks is highlighted by Warsaw’s Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, Budapest’s Dohány Street Synagogue, Vienna’s Leopoldstadt and Prague’s Josefov district.

Heritage Tours offers an eight-day pilgrimage to Spain traces Judaism through Barcelona, Girona, Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba and Seville. Their eight-day Portugal itinerary does the same through Evora, Castelo de Vide, Belmonte and Lisbon.

Heritage Tours also has a 12-day Morocco Jewish heritage tour, while Mountain Voyages Morocco has a similar 13-day journey, featuring the birthplace Rabbi Hayyim Ben Moses Attar and the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V, who defended Jews against the anti-Semitic policies of Vichy France. You’ll also see the Jewish Quarter of Fes, Hebraic epitaphs in Meknes and much more.

A bit further afield, Adams & Butler has created a 12-day Jewish Heritage Tour in Ireland. In Dublin, see the birthplace of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog before retracing the steps of James Joyce’s fictional protagonist Leopold Bloom. The tour stops in Youghal, which in 1555 became the first place in Ireland or Britain with a Jewish mayor, and at the Cork Synagogue while exploring the beauty of the Irish countryside.

Even more off the beaten path, WildChina has a 12-day Jewish Tour of China that includes Tianjin’s synagogue and Xiaobailou Jewish district, Harbin’s old and new synagogues and European-inspired architecture and explores the legacy of the medieval Jewish community in Kaifeng and Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, liberated in 1945.

River cruises

Several cruises dedicate certain sailings to Jewish heritage. Uniworld’s Rhine-Main Discovery & Munich itinerary focuses on Judaism’s 2,000-year legacy in Germany, seeing Jewish communities that are growing and thriving in addition to commemorating the horrors of the past. Visit Munich’s bustling Jewish Community Center and witness the revival of Cologne’s Jewish culture along with solemn excursions to Dachau, Nuremberg’s Courtroom 600, Frankfurt’s Wall of Remembrance and Wertheim’s stumbling stones. Signature lectures onboard on “The History of the Jews in Europe” and “Jewish Intellectuals, Writers & Musicians” add depth to the experience.

Avalon Waterways’ Blue Danube Discovery cruise on Aug. 12 will focus on Jewish heritage. In addition to guided tours of Prague and Budapest’s Jewish Quarters, the cruise stops in Regensburg, which was not bombed in World War II and thus has well-preserved Jewish buildings and history.

The May 1 departure from Vienna on Crystal Cruises’ Reflections on the Danube will have a Jewish heritage theme with many of the same destinations as Avalon, including Vienna’s Jewish Quarter and Jewish Museum, founded in 1895 as the first of its kind. Crystal also visits the Mauthausen concentration camp in Linz.

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