Israel Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Israel, a land of profound historical and religious significance, beckons travelers with a captivating blend of ancient wonders and modern marvels. Nestled in the heart of the Middle East, this diverse nation offers a journey through time, where ancient cities like Jerusalem and Nazareth coexist with bustling urban centers like Tel Aviv. Explore sacred sites, walk in the footsteps of history, and savor a rich tapestry of cultures and cuisines. Whether you seek spiritual enlightenment, cultural immersion, or breathtaking landscapes, Israel’s timeless allure promises an unforgettable adventure at the crossroads of the world’s major civilizations.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 馃搮

The best time to visit Israel as a tourist largely depends on your preferences and the type of experience you seek, as Israel experiences distinct seasons:

  1. Spring (March to May): Spring is considered one of the best times to visit Israel. The weather is mild, and the countryside is lush and colorful with wildflowers in bloom. It’s an excellent time for outdoor activities, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the Mediterranean coastline.
  2. Autumn (September to November): Similar to spring, autumn offers pleasant weather, making it another great time to visit. The temperatures are comfortable, and you can enjoy outdoor excursions, religious festivals, and cultural events.
  3. Summer (June to August): Summer in Israel can be scorching, especially in inland areas like Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Coastal cities like Tel Aviv have a Mediterranean climate with milder temperatures. If you plan to visit during summer, stick to coastal regions, and be prepared for heat and higher tourist crowds.
  4. Winter (December to February): Winter in Israel is mild along the coast but can be cold and rainy in Jerusalem and the northern regions. It’s a great time for cultural exploration, including visiting museums and historical sites. You can also experience the holiday season festivities.
  5. High Holidays: If you’re interested in experiencing Jewish holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah (usually in September) and Passover (usually in April), plan your visit accordingly. These times can provide unique cultural experiences but may also affect availability and prices.
  6. Festivals: Check the calendar for special events and festivals like the Jerusalem International Film Festival, the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, and the Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkot) to see if they align with your travel plans.

In summary, the best time to visit Israel for most tourists is during the spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November). These seasons offer pleasant weather and are conducive to outdoor activities and cultural exploration. However, if you prefer milder temperatures and fewer crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of late spring or early autumn. Be mindful of religious holidays and festivals, as they can add a unique dimension to your travel experience.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 馃殞

Getting around Israel as a tourist is relatively straightforward due to its well-developed transportation infrastructure. Here are the best ways to get around the country:

  1. Public Transportation:
  • Trains: Israel has an extensive and efficient train network connecting major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Be’er Sheva. Trains are a comfortable and convenient way to travel between cities.
  • Buses: Buses are the primary mode of public transportation, serving both cities and rural areas. Egged is the largest bus company, and they operate a comprehensive network. Bus travel is affordable and widely used by locals and tourists.
  • Light Rail: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have modern light rail systems that make it easy to navigate within these cities and their suburbs.
  1. Taxis:
  • Taxis are readily available in cities and can be hailed on the street or booked through ride-sharing apps like Gett. They are metered, and it’s customary to tip the driver.
  1. Car Rental:
  • Renting a car is a popular option for tourists who want more flexibility and plan to explore beyond the major cities. Israel has well-maintained roads and highways, and road signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
  • Be aware that traffic in major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be congested, and parking can be challenging to find and expensive.
  1. Sherut Taxis:
  • These shared minivans are a cost-effective way to travel between cities. They depart when full, and the routes are well-established.
  1. Cycling:
  • Many cities in Israel, such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, have dedicated bike lanes and bike-sharing programs, making cycling a convenient and eco-friendly way to explore urban areas.
  1. Walking:
  • In many Israeli cities, especially Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, you can explore many attractions on foot. Walking allows you to take in the sights, explore local neighborhoods, and enjoy the vibrant street life.
  1. Domestic Flights:
  • If you’re traveling between Eilat and other major cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, consider taking a domestic flight for a quicker journey.
  1. Guided Tours:
  • For tourists interested in organized experiences, guided tours are widely available for specific attractions and regions.
  1. Ride-Sharing Apps:
  • Apps like Uber and Gett are available in major Israeli cities, providing a convenient and often cost-effective way to get around.
  1. Inter-City Buses: For longer journeys between cities, consider using inter-city buses. They are comfortable and offer amenities like Wi-Fi.

When planning your transportation in Israel, consider the specific destinations you want to visit and the convenience of different modes of transportation. For instance, while public transportation is excellent between major cities, renting a car might be more practical for exploring remote areas and natural reserves. Always check the latest information on routes, schedules, and prices to make the most of your travel experience in Israel.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the primary language spoken by the majority of the population, while Arabic is also recognized as an official language and is predominantly spoken by Arab citizens of Israel. English is widely used and understood, especially in urban areas and within the tourism industry. Here are some essential Hebrew and Arabic phrases for tourists:

Hebrew Phrases:

  1. Hello: Shalom (砖指讈诇讜止诐)
  2. Good morning: Boker tov (讘讜拽专 讟讜讘)
  3. Good evening: Erev tov (注专讘 讟讜讘)
  4. Goodbye: Shalom (砖指讈诇讜止诐)
  5. Please: Bevakasha (讘讘拽砖讛)
  6. Thank you: Toda (转讜讚讛)
  7. Yes: Ken (讻值旨谉)
  8. No: Lo (诇讗)
  9. Excuse me / Sorry: Slicha (住诇讬讞讛)
  10. How much is this?: Kama ze ole? (讻诪讛 讝讛 注讜诇讛?)
  11. Where is鈥?: Eifo鈥? (讗讬驻讛鈥?)
  12. I don’t understand: Ani lo mevin (讗谞讬 诇讗 诪讘讬谉)

Arabic Phrases:

  1. Hello: Marhaba (賲乇丨亘丕)
  2. Good morning: Sabah al-khayr (氐亘丕丨 丕賱禺賷乇)
  3. Good evening: Masa’ al-khayr (賲爻丕亍 丕賱禺賷乇)
  4. Goodbye: Ma’a as-salama (賲毓 丕賱爻賱丕賲丞)
  5. Please: Min fadlik (賲賳 賮囟賱賰)
  6. Thank you: Shukran (卮賰乇賸丕)
  7. Yes: Na’am (賳毓賲)
  8. No: La (賱丕)
  9. Excuse me / Sorry: Afsos (丌爻賮) [Note: Hebrew is more commonly used for this purpose in Israel.]
  10. How much is this?: Kam haza ya’ost? (賰賲 賴匕丕 賷賰賱賮責)
  11. Where is鈥?: Ayna鈥? (兀賷賳鈥?)
  12. I don’t understand: Ana la afham (兀賳丕 賱丕 兀賮賴賲)

While many Israelis and Palestinians understand and speak English, making an effort to learn a few basic Hebrew and Arabic phrases can be appreciated and can help enhance your interactions with locals and navigate daily situations while visiting Israel.

Where to Stay? 馃彣

Israel offers a diverse range of accommodations to suit various budgets and travel styles. Where you choose to stay depends on your interests, itinerary, and preferences. Here are some popular options for tourists:

  1. Hotels:
  • Tel Aviv: Israel’s cultural and economic hub has a wide range of hotels, from luxury to budget, many of which are near the city’s beautiful Mediterranean beaches.
  • Jerusalem: The historic and religious center of Israel offers a mix of hotels, including boutique options within the Old City and larger hotels in the newer areas.
  • Eilat: This resort city on the Red Sea has numerous hotels with stunning beachfront views.
  • Haifa: With its picturesque port and gardens, Haifa offers various hotel options for both business and leisure travelers.
  1. Boutique Hotels:
  • Israel boasts numerous boutique hotels that offer unique, personalized experiences. These can be found in major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Tiberias.
  1. Hostels:
  • Hostels are prevalent in popular tourist destinations like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They are an excellent option for budget-conscious travelers and backpackers.
  1. Vacation Rentals:
  • Platforms like Airbnb offer a wide range of vacation rental options, from apartments and studios to entire homes. They can be a great choice for families or travelers seeking a more home-like atmosphere.
  1. Guesthouses and Bed and Breakfasts:
  • In smaller towns and rural areas, you can find guesthouses and bed and breakfasts that provide a cozy and authentic experience.
  1. Kibbutz Stays:
  • Some tourists opt for stays on kibbutzim, communal agricultural settlements, for a unique insight into Israeli rural life.
  1. Desert Camps:
  • In the Negev Desert, there are desert camps that offer an opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the region and stargazing in the desert sky.
  1. Dead Sea Resorts:
  • Along the Dead Sea, you’ll find a selection of upscale resorts with spa facilities, allowing you to float in the salt-rich waters.
  1. Safed (Tzfat):
  • This historic city in northern Israel offers charming guesthouses and spiritual retreats, often hosted in traditional stone buildings.
  1. Old Jaffa:
    • For a unique experience, consider staying in the historic neighborhood of Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv, known for its ancient streets and vibrant arts scene.

When choosing your accommodation, consider factors such as location, budget, and the type of experience you want to have. In major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, booking in advance is advisable, especially during peak tourist seasons. Regardless of where you stay, Israel’s accommodations offer a wide range of options to cater to the diverse preferences of tourists.

What to Eat? 馃嵔锔

Israel’s cuisine is a delectable blend of flavors influenced by Jewish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African traditions. As a tourist, here are some must-try foods and dishes in Israel:

  1. Hummus: Creamy and savory, hummus is a staple in Israeli cuisine. It’s made from blended chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Enjoy it as a dip with warm pita bread.
  2. Falafel: These deep-fried balls or patties are made from ground chickpeas or fava beans mixed with herbs and spices. Falafel is typically served in pita bread with tahini sauce and fresh vegetables.
  3. Shawarma: Thin slices of marinated and roasted meat (usually lamb, chicken, or beef) are commonly served in pita bread with salads, tahini, and sometimes amba (a tangy mango sauce).
  4. Sabich: A popular street food, sabich consists of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, tahini, and various salads, all stuffed into pita bread.
  5. Shakshuka: This flavorful dish features poached eggs in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce, typically seasoned with cumin and paprika. It’s often served with bread for dipping.
  6. Malawach: A flaky, fried bread of Yemeni origin, malawach is usually served with grated tomato and hard-boiled egg, making it a delicious breakfast or snack.
  7. Baba Ghanoush: Similar to hummus but made from roasted eggplant, baba ghanoush is a creamy dip with a smoky flavor. It’s often served alongside hummus and tahini.
  8. Labneh: A thick, creamy yogurt cheese, labneh is often served with olive oil, za’atar (a spice blend), and fresh pita bread for a simple and tasty snack.
  9. Schnitzel: Israel’s take on the classic breaded and fried meat cutlet, often served in a sandwich with various toppings.
  10. Israeli Salad: A refreshing and colorful salad made with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers, typically dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs.
  11. Knafeh: A sweet dessert made from shredded phyllo dough layered with sweetened cheese or semolina, baked until golden, and drizzled with rosewater or orange blossom syrup.
  12. Rugelach: A Jewish pastry filled with sweet fillings like chocolate, nuts, or fruit preserves, often enjoyed with coffee or tea.
  13. Baklava: Layers of flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey or syrup, creating a delightful, sticky treat.
  14. Malabi: A popular dessert made from rosewater-scented milk pudding, topped with a variety of toppings like coconut, pistachios, or fruit syrup.
  15. Israeli Wine: Israel has a burgeoning wine industry, and you can enjoy a glass or take a winery tour to savor local vintages.

Don’t forget to pair these dishes with freshly squeezed fruit juices, such as pomegranate or citrus, or a glass of refreshing mint lemonade. Exploring Israeli cuisine is a delightful part of your visit to the country, so be sure to savor these flavors during your trip.

What to See? 馃攳

Israel is a country rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, offering a wide range of must-see places for tourists. Here are some of the top attractions and destinations to consider visiting:

  1. Jerusalem: The capital of Israel, Jerusalem is a city of profound religious significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. Key attractions include the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock. Explore the narrow streets of the Old City, visit the historic Mount of Olives, and walk along the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa.
  2. Tel Aviv: Known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful beaches, and modern architecture, Tel Aviv is a bustling metropolis on the Mediterranean coast. Don’t miss the White City, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its Bauhaus architecture.
  3. Masada: This ancient fortress located atop a dramatic plateau near the Dead Sea offers stunning views and a rich history. It’s a popular spot for hiking and exploring the archaeological remains.
  4. The Dead Sea: Float effortlessly in the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea, known for its therapeutic properties. The region also offers opportunities for mud treatments and relaxation.
  5. Galilee and Golan Heights: Explore the picturesque landscapes of the Galilee region, including the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) and the Golan Heights. Visit Tiberias, Safed (Tzfat), and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching.
  6. Nazareth: Visit the hometown of Jesus, which features religious sites such as the Basilica of the Annunciation and Mary’s Well.
  7. Caesarea: Explore the ancient Roman port city of Caesarea, featuring well-preserved ruins, a Roman amphitheater, and the impressive Caesarea Harbor National Park.
  8. Haifa: This coastal city is known for the stunning Baha’i Gardens and the historic German Colony. Don’t miss the panoramic view from Mount Carmel.
  9. Acre (Akko): Explore the well-preserved medieval Old City of Acre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring a Crusader fortress, markets, and underground tunnels.
  10. Eilat: Israel’s southernmost city offers Red Sea beaches, coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, and the Eilat Underwater Observatory Marine Park.
  11. Negev Desert: Discover the stark beauty of the Negev Desert, featuring the Ramon Crater (Makhtesh Ramon), hiking trails, and Bedouin culture experiences.
  12. Masada National Park: Explore the ancient fortress, Herod’s palace, and the visitor center that tells the story of the Jewish rebels who once occupied the site.
  13. Ein Gedi Nature Reserve: Hike through lush oases, waterfalls, and desert landscapes in this beautiful nature reserve located near the Dead Sea.
  14. Mount Herzl: Pay your respects at the Mount Herzl National Cemetery, where many Israeli leaders and soldiers are buried, and visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial.
  15. The Bah谩’铆 Gardens in Haifa: Explore the meticulously landscaped terraces and shrine, which are part of the Bah谩’铆 World Centre and offer breathtaking views.

These are just a few of the many remarkable places to visit in Israel. Whether you’re interested in history, religion, nature, or modern urban life, Israel offers a diverse array of experiences for travelers.

What to Do? 馃摳

Israel offers a wide range of activities and experiences for tourists to enjoy. Here are some must-do things to consider when visiting Israel:

  1. Explore Jerusalem’s Old City: Wander through the ancient streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, visit its historic and religious sites, and soak in the unique atmosphere of this holy place.
  2. Visit the Western Wall: Experience the spiritual significance of the Western Wall (Kotel) and leave a note in its crevices as a tradition.
  3. Walk the Via Dolorosa: Follow the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, retracing the path of Jesus’ crucifixion.
  4. Float in the Dead Sea: Enjoy a surreal experience by floating effortlessly in the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea. Don’t forget to slather on the mineral-rich mud for a natural spa treatment.
  5. Hike in Masada: Take a challenging hike up to the ancient fortress of Masada, offering breathtaking views and a glimpse into Jewish history.
  6. Explore Tel Aviv’s Beaches: Relax on the beautiful Mediterranean beaches of Tel Aviv, known for their lively atmosphere and vibrant beach culture.
  7. Discover the Bah谩’铆 Gardens: Visit the stunning terraced gardens in Haifa, part of the Bah谩’铆 World Centre, and enjoy panoramic views of the city and sea.
  8. Sample Israeli Cuisine: Savor the diverse and delicious flavors of Israeli cuisine, including falafel, hummus, shawarma, and fresh Mediterranean salads.
  9. Visit Bethlehem: Take a day trip to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus, and explore the city’s rich history and culture.
  10. Explore the Galilee: Discover the picturesque landscapes of the Galilee region, including the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), historic towns, and nature reserves.
  11. Visit the Israeli Markets: Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Israeli markets like Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem and Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. Shop for spices, fresh produce, and souvenirs.
  12. Enjoy a Sunrise at Masada: Wake up early to witness the breathtaking sunrise over the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan from the top of Masada.
  13. Experience the Negev Desert: Go hiking, stargazing, and camel riding in the beautiful Negev Desert, known for its unique landscapes and Bedouin culture.
  14. Tour Yad Vashem: Pay a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, to commemorate the victims and learn about this tragic chapter in history.
  15. Attend Cultural Festivals: Check the events calendar for cultural festivals and events happening during your visit, such as music festivals, food festivals, and art exhibitions.
  16. Discover Ancient Archaeological Sites: Explore archaeological sites like Caesarea, Megiddo, and Beit She’an to uncover layers of history.
  17. Enjoy Tel Aviv’s Nightlife: Experience Tel Aviv’s vibrant nightlife by visiting bars, clubs, and music venues. The city comes alive after dark.
  18. Hike and Swim in Nature Reserves: Israel offers numerous nature reserves for hiking, swimming in natural pools, and enjoying the country’s diverse landscapes.
  19. Engage with Local Communities: Interact with local communities, whether it’s joining a Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family, sharing a meal with Bedouins, or experiencing Druze hospitality.
  20. Participate in Spiritual Activities: Attend religious services, meditation sessions, or spiritual retreats based on your interests and beliefs.

Israel’s diverse range of activities ensures there’s something for every type of traveler, from history enthusiasts and nature lovers to foodies and adventure seekers. Be sure to plan your itinerary to make the most of your visit to this dynamic and culturally rich country.

Culture and Safety 馃

When traveling to Israel, it’s important to be mindful of the country’s culture and safety considerations to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Culture:

  1. Respect for Religion: Israel is a deeply religious and culturally diverse country. Be respectful when visiting religious sites and dress modestly. For example, cover your shoulders and knees when entering churches, mosques, and synagogues.
  2. Sabbath Observance: The Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) is observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening. During this time, many businesses, including shops and restaurants, may be closed or have limited hours. It’s also a time when public transportation is less frequent.
  3. Kosher Food: Israel has a large Jewish population, and many restaurants serve kosher food. Respect dietary restrictions, especially when dining in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Dairy and meat are typically not mixed in kosher cuisine.
  4. Language: Hebrew is the official language, but English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas. Learning a few basic Hebrew phrases can be appreciated by locals.
  5. Cultural Diversity: Israel is a melting pot of cultures, with Jews, Arabs, Druze, and other ethnic and religious groups living side by side. Embrace the diversity and be open to learning about different cultures and traditions.

Safety:

  1. Security: Israel has a strong security presence due to its geopolitical situation. Expect security checks at public places, transportation hubs, and tourist sites. Cooperate with security personnel and follow their instructions.
  2. Stay Informed: Stay updated on the current political and security situation in Israel, as it can change rapidly. Monitor news sources, follow travel advisories from your government, and register with your embassy or consulate if required.
  3. Emergency Contacts: Familiarize yourself with emergency contact numbers, including the police (100), medical services (101), and firefighters (102).
  4. West Bank and Gaza Strip: Exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and stay informed about the latest travel advisories and restrictions. Entry to these areas may require special permits.
  5. Personal Safety: While Israel is generally safe for tourists, exercise common-sense precautions. Keep an eye on your belongings, avoid displaying signs of affluence, and be cautious in crowded places.
  6. Health Precautions: Ensure you have adequate travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. Be cautious with food and water hygiene, especially in more remote areas.
  7. Unexploded Ordinance (UXO): In some areas, particularly near the borders and in the Golan Heights, there may be unexploded ordnance from past conflicts. Stay on marked paths and avoid straying into off-limits areas.
  8. Travel Restrictions: Be aware of any travel restrictions or security zones that may apply during your visit, especially in areas near the borders.
  9. COVID-19 Precautions: Keep up with the latest COVID-19 regulations and guidelines, including vaccination and testing requirements, mask mandates, and quarantine rules.
  10. Travel Documentation: Ensure your travel documents, including passports and visas, are valid and up-to-date. Check entry requirements before your trip.

It’s important to note that while Israel has security measures in place, many tourists visit the country without encountering any safety issues. By staying informed, respecting local customs, and exercising common-sense precautions, you can have a rewarding and safe travel experience in Israel.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Israel is a journey through the ages, where history, spirituality, and modernity converge in a captivating tapestry of experiences. From the ancient walls of Jerusalem to the vibrant streets of Tel Aviv, Israel invites travelers to explore its diverse landscapes, cultures, and traditions. Whether you’re drawn to religious pilgrimage sites, archaeological wonders, or simply want to savor the unique flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine, Israel promises an enriching and unforgettable adventure. So, pack your curiosity and embark on a voyage that will leave you with lasting memories and a deeper understanding of this extraordinary land. Welcome to Israel, where the past meets the present, and every corner tells a story.