Israel Travel Guide

Israel Travel Guide

A small strip of land nestled between Egypt and Jordan, Israel is a country steeped in history. It’s been populated for thousands of years, while the country is dotted with historical sites, ancient cities, sandy beaches, and has huge cultural and religious significance. Israel hosts more and more travelers each year and not just as a place of pilgrimage.

Cities like Jerusalem, Nazareth and Akko offer tons of history. At the same time, modern metropolises such as Tel Aviv and Haifa have vibrant nightlife and boast contemporary art galleries, glassy skyscrapers and buzzing streets. Despite the seeming monotony of the landscape, it is really diverse in fact. As you travel from South to North Israel, you discover not only deserted mountains and deserts, but also fertile valleys and palm groves. The country isn’t perfect with the confounding politics of the region. However, the country’s natural beauty, rich culture and seaside resorts make it a welcoming spot for spending some time here.

This travel guide aims to give my readers only reliable travel information. This implies I don’t encourage any political discourse about Israeli-Palestinian relations. And yes, I do realize that a lot of things mentioned here originated or is common in other cultures of the Middle East or Mediterranean.

Getting Around Israel

Buses are the most popular and convenient means of transport in Israel. Trains are also quite accessible since they connect Ben Gurion airport with Haifa, Tel Aviv, and other major cities. Trains provide reasonably priced service for reaching Beer Sheva, Dimona, Ashdod and Ashkelon.

If you find yourself in Israel on Saturday expect your trip to be more complicated. Public transport is very limited during the Sabbath day. This usually implies you have to pick taxi or sherut (a multi seat van). Buses are available in Haifa on Saturdays, while trains don’t run at all from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening. For example, a bus trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, will cost around 9 USD. At the same time, a trip from Tel Aviv to Haifa costs 9-12 USD. A 5 hour long trip from Tel Aviv to Eilat costs 40 USD.

Accommodation in Israel

Dormitory rooms in hostels range from 19-33 USD per night, depending on the city. Privates in hostels cost around 30 USD. Budget hotels cost around 60 USD per night for a double room with free WiFi and A/C. However, there are always cheaper options. You may expect to pay around 40-60 USD for a studio apartments and 20 USD for a shared room through services like Airbnb. For those wanting to visit some distant places and live in the tent, camp sites across the country offer accommodation option for 14-20 USD. Usually located next to national parks and historical attractions, campsites are great to get easy and quick access to them.

Food in Israel

The Western fast food is pretty expensive in Israel and will actually cost you more than local meals. Combo meal at McDonalds cost around 13 USD. Meals like Falafel, Shawarma (doner kebab) or tunisian sandwich come for less than 5 USD. Stick to local food to save extra money. For a meal at an inexpensive restaurant, expect to pay around 17 USD. Meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will cost as much as 60 USD. Groceries are expensive in Israel, so you may carry out your own research, on which supermarket is cheaper. My budget daily menu consisted of hummus with fresh pita, salad made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and lemon juice, falafel and shakshouka. Well, maybe shawarma to diversify this list. It usually cost me 12-15 USD per day.

How To Do Israel On a Budget

Take a Free Walking Tour

Some major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa offer free walking tours to get acquainted with history and culture of Israel. I attended a free walking tour through the City of David, which revealed enormous religious and cultural significance not just for ethnic groups living here, but for all of humanity. With the Old City being divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian quarters you can learn a lot of new things from your guide. During high season these tours are fast-paced due to increased number of participants. The custom of tipping makes this tour not entirely free. But since you get more than you pay, it is really worth spending a day wandering around the city.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

A very busy and probably most sacred place for all kinds of Christians. The Church is located upon the summit of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Being an important pilgrimage site, the entire place is run by several most influential religious groups who seem to be completely immersed in an intricate set of rituals one can hardly comprehend at first glance. With the muted light all around, the glimmering candles make the Church look even more expressive and cryptic. Usually filled with crowds from around the world, this site you must visit at least once in your lifetime. Admission is free.

Get a Bike

Considering bad urban traffic, bikes are convenient means of transportation in Tel Aviv. Generally, you have to pay 20 USD for a weekly rental or 5 USD for a daily rental, but you can get a bike for free! If you use it within 30 minutes you don’t have to pay at all. With more than 150 stations that are scattered in the city, it makes your trip through the city much easier and cheaper than by bus or train. Remember to return the bike before 30 minutes expire or you will be charged with extra usage fees.

Couchsurf

Since my hosts in Tel Aviv were extremely hospitable and welcoming, I really enjoyed my stay with them. There is no other way to get off the tourist trail and learn special local spots like couch surf. This will also allow you to reduce expenses on accommodation and travel a bit longer.

Fill Up At Breakfast And Stick to a Local Food

Most hotels and hostels offer free breakfast. These vast morning buffets can easily fill you up until afternoon so you can skip your lunch. Since most breakfasts consist of boiled eggs, cheese, bread, jam and butter you can discreetly grab a few slices into your backpack for later in the day. Falafel and hummus are incredibly affordable and allow you to keep on track in the afternoon. With plenty of other street food like pita bread, shawarma or sabih, you can be pretty certain that it will do good for you.

Visit King David’s Tomb

The authenticity of the King David’s Tomb still provokes heated debate and looks like it will never be either confirmed or disproved. The legend has it that King David was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, on a lower level beneath the Hall of the Last Supper. With the stone sarcophagus in the middle, the crypt is separated into two sections for men and women. This sacred place can become quite crowded, depending on the time of day. There is no admission fee.

Top Things To See and Places to Visit in Israel

Learn at the Israel Museum

The Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem is one of the most important museums in the country. Museum collections contain the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, and a diverse collection of Judaic and European art. Located in the center of Jerusalem, the Museum is also home to the archaeological finds of the Stone and the Bronze Age, period of the First and Second Temples and Roman rule. The museum is a great place to learn history of Israel, see the works of Rembrandt, Marc Chagall and Pissarro. Admission is around 15 USD.

Get A Glimpse Of History At Western Wall

Also known as the Wiping Wall, no trip to Jerusalem would be complete without a few moments here. While this is the holiest of Jewish sites, it was actually a part of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans. The large square that faces the Western Wall is used as an open-air synagogue and can be particularly crowded during the festivals and celebrations. Remember to dress modest clothing when visiting this place. Men and women are separated into two groups during worshiping. The Wall is available 24/7 with no admission.

The Jerusalem Archaeological Park

Since Jerusalem is a city steeped in history, archaeological park offers chance to stand on stones that remember the Romans and Herod the Great. By walking through the park, you can enjoy the fragments of the Robinson’s Arch, see the huge stones that serve as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple. Not far from here, there is the ascent to the ancient Huldah Gates, with the direct path to the Temple Mount beyond it. Ruins from the Umayyad era can also be found there. Davidson Center is a place to enjoy archaeology exhibitions and get an idea of how life in Jerusalem looked like two millennia ago. Admission is around 9 USD.

Float In The Dead Sea

An iconic place in Israel and Earth’s lowest elevation on land, which is now rapidly shrinking. Most travelers come here to float in its waters and treat a host of common illnesses. Hypersalinity of the water helps you float in it and minimizes the risk of sinking. The mineral-rich mud is another reason to come here. With so many people all around spreading mud across their skin, it usually takes 20 minutes before it dries and you go for a dip to wash it off in the Dead Sea. Make sure NOT to taste the water and splash as it way too salty and stings when it gets in your eyes.

Dive The Dolphin Reef

The dolphin reef is a protected marine area where travelers can not just observe dolphins in their natural habitat, but swim and play with them. Can be easily reached from Eilat Central Bus Station with Egged Bus 15. You can go snorkeling and scuba diving with dolphins. Great spot for hanging out with family and kids. Admission is around 20 USD.

Explore Tel Aviv

A trip to Tel Aviv is like discovering another side of Israel. Quite a contrast not just to the neighbouring Jaffa, but to Jerusalem and other ancient cities. A modern city with a bunch of places to hang out also reminds of New York or Los Angeles. The best time to visit Tel Aviv with its wide avenues, concrete and glass buildings, is period from March to June and September to December. Make sure to meet Tel Aviv greeters to attend a free walking tour. Go out and watch people on Dizengoff street or explore the neighbourhoods by strolling along the Tel Aviv-Jaffa promenade.

Relax in Eilat

The only Red Sea resort in Israel wedged between Egypt and Jordan, and separated from the rest of the country by the Negev desert. The town has a vibrant nightlife, sand and pebble beaches, several diving centers. Travelers who got tired from laid-back holiday at the beach, head to the Timna park with eye-catching geological formations and ancient copper mines. The Yotvata Hai-Bar is another reason to head north of Eilat. Located a bit further away from Timna park, Yotvata Hai-Bar nature reserve is home to endangered herbivores and gives chance to see them in the wild. Great place to visit with kids. Admission is around 8 USD.

Get Off The Beaten Path in Negev Desert

Being largely unpopulated the Negev Desrt is often an overlooked area. Apart from camel and Jeep tours, which can be quite pricey, there are lots of things to see on a budget. While there are two main roads winding through the Negev Desert, the Highway 40 gets you through a strikingly beautiful landscape shortly after Sde Boker. You can reach Sde Boker kibbutz and Mitzpe Ramon by bus from Tel Aviv or Beer Sheva. Taxis are quite expensive. Best views of the desert can be enjoyed from observation decks near Makhtesh Ramon crater and Ben-Gurion Grave. The Ein Avdat national park is one of the best hiking and biking locations with several trails designed for experienced and intermediate bikers, as well as for families. Wine enthusiasts shouldn’t miss tastings in Sde Boker kibbutz. Accommodation mostly available in nearby kibbutzim or Mitzpe Ramon.

Israel nature reserves and national parks

ISRAEL NATURE RESERVES AND NATIONAL PARKS

Even though Israel is a small country, it has numerous nature reserves and national parks. From the North to the South scenery varies as well as plants and wildlife inhabiting it.

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