Travel to Israel

Israel is a small country in the Middle East that has a long strip of coastline skirting the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and also having a small strip of land fronting the Red Sea.

Israel has borders with places like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The disputed Gaza Strip is to the southwest and it shares borders to the Jordan River and Dead Sea with the West Bank and Jordan.

Three major monotheistic religions of the world, Christianity, Islam and Judaism – all lay claim to Israel being one of the holiest of holy sights for them. Quite unsurprisingly, a journey to Israel is a holy pilgrimage to many people around the world.

About 80% of the population identify themselves as Jewish. The remaining population are a mix of Arab, Palestinian, Bedouin, Baha’i, Muslim and Christian.

Israel is one of the most economically developed and westernized countries in the Middle East. Tel Aviv, is a cosmopolitan city situated on the Mediterranean Coast. Famous for its vibrant nightlife, a stopover in Tel Aviv, before moving on to visit other Israeli locations, is a good idea.

Jerusalem is the spiritual capital of the Jewish people, although Christians and Muslims also deem the city to be a very holy place. A trip to Israel would be incomplete without taking in the wonders of the Dead Sea. Being able to fully float in its hypersaline waters, is a feat in itself!

We hope that this carefully prepared travel guide will ease your travel planning and encourage you to take a future trip to Israel.

Travel tips for Israel

Hiking in Makhtesh Ramon

Exploring Makhtesh Ramon in Israel

Let's go hiking at the largest errosion crater in the world. This is a hiker's paradise with a large selection of hiking trails at all levels...

Visa Requirements for Israel

Citizens of several countries don’t require a tourist visa for Israel travel. This is through the Visa Waiver Program that Israel has with several countries. An Israel visa application is required from citizens of many other countries and territories. Nationals of those countries will have to apply for a visa at an Israeli Diplomatic Mission. If you have an Israeli visa stamp in your passport and are traveling from Israel, on to certain Middle Eastern countries, this may pose a problem to entry there.

Please check the current guidelines, of the visa requirements for your country and ways to get an Israeli visa before you travel to Israel.

Important Cultural Information

Israeli people are very kind and hospitable as a rule but they may across as quite direct and therefore, abrupt on first acquaintance. Visitors may be faced with direct personal questions that may come across as invasive.

Foreign visitors are accorded the utmost respect and will be helped with advice and assistance, should you need it.

Care should be taken with dress when visiting religious sites. Women are required to dress modestly and there should preferably be tolerance of local customs and dress code. Jewish holy sites are segregated based on gender. While men are free to wear what they want, women are required to wear a knee length skirt and a top with sleeves. In some instances, Jewish men are required to cover their heads. On the Sabbath, refrain from smoking, cell phone usage and taking pictures at the holy sites.

Similarly at Muslim sites, in addition, women are required to have a scarf covering their hair. You should be prepared to remove shoes at the holy site. Photography is frowned upon at Christian sites with the church surroundings maintaining a calm, serene air.

Sensitive topics like the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict, should be approached with great care and sensitivity.

Banking & Money in Israel

The currency of Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) and called shekel in short. Each shekel consists of 100 agorot. Banknotes in circulation are 20 shekel (red), 50 shekel (green), 100 shekel (yellow) and 200 shekel (blue). Coins commonly in usage are 10 agorot (copper), ½ shekel (copper), 1 New Shekel (nickel), 2 New Shkalim (nickel), 5 New Shkalim (nickel), 10 New Shkalim (copper core, nickel rim).

ATMs are widely available in Israel and there is also wide acceptance of different types of credit cards. You can avail of a VAT refund at the airport for goods costing in excess of 400 Shekel. US Dollars will be accepted in certain tourist locations, particularly in Jerusalem.

Some banks that are commonly found in Israel are Bank of Israel, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and others. Foreign banks include Citibank Israel, HSBC Israel, State Bank of India and Barclays Bank.

Medical Emergency Information

Some of the important emergency numbers in Israel are listed below:

Ambulance 112 (from a mobile phone), 101 and 1221

Police 100

Fire and Rescue Services  102

Israel Electric Company 103

Home Front Command Emergency 104

International Operator 188

Some major hospitals in Israel include Shaare Zedek Medical Center (Jerusalem), Augusta Victoria Hospital (Jerusalem), Bikur Holim Hospital (Jerusalem), Assuta Medical Center (Tel Aviv), Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, EMMS Nazareth Hospital, French Nazareth Hospital and others.

We recommend always getting travel insurance before traveling internationally. Compare options with both WorldNomads and SafetyWing.

Wi-Fi and Internet in Israel

The country code for Israel is +972.

There are a number of cell phone operators in Israel. They include Pelephone, Cellcom, Partner, Hot Mobile and Golan Telecom, among others.

There’s an option for cell phone rental for use in Israel. These can be delivered to your hotel room if ordered in advance. Smart phone can be rented from Israel Phone Rentals.

Unlocked cell phones can be used along with a prepaid SIM-card from Pelephone, Cellcom, Partner, 019 Mobile and Hot Mobile.

Israel provides support for all GSM/UMTS networks. 4G/LTE was being used in Israel from 2014 and since 2018 it is available in most developed parts of the country. Public phones are available and can be used with a pre-paid calling card.

Internet cafes are widely available in most cities. Free Wi-Fi is also available in some cafes (Aroma Espresso Bar/Arcaffe, Cafe Cafe, McDonalds) and convenience stores. Make sure to set-up a VPN (like ExpressVPN) before using public Wi-Fi spots.

Arrival in Israel

The main international airport of Israel is Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV). The benefit of the location of this airport is that it is 12 km away from Tel Aviv’s city centre and 40 km away from Jerusalem too. The main carriers that service this airport are the three major Israeli international carriers: El Al, Aria Israel Airlines and Israir. Transportation to and from Ben Gurion International Airport can be done via bus, shared tax (sherut), train and taxi. Bus and train services are suspended from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, so do consider these points when booking flights.

Ovda Airport is Israel’s Second International Airport and predominantly services the southern part of Israel. The airport is well connected to Eilat/Taba by Egged Bus 282. An Eilat Shuttle runs between Eilat, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Aqaba and Taba.

Search for flights to Israel on Expedia.

You can arrive in Israel by boat- from Limassol in Cyprus to Haifa via Cruise operators like Louis Cruises and Salamis Cruises. Israel’s major sea ports are Haifa and Ashdod. It may be possible to hitch a ride on a freighter ship.

There are 5 border crossings across Israel. Two are across the Egyptian border (Nitzhana and Taba) and three across the Jordanian border (Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, Jordan River, Yitzhak Rabin). Consider Europcar for car hire in Israel.

There are daily buses between Amman and Tel Aviv, Haifa and Nazareth. Cairo to Israel bus service is also available.

Areas of Jordan

Here are the regions of Israel. The disputed territories include the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. The main cities in Israel include Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Rehovot, Haifa, Eilat, Akko, Safed and Tiberias.

Galilee

Northernmost region of Israel, bordering the Golan Heights. The Sea of Galilee is an important geographical landmark along with the Upper and Lower Galilee hill ranges and the Jezreel Valley.

Israeli North Coast

The Israeli North coast is a small strip of Mediterranean coastline flanking Lebanon. It stretches from Haifa to Rosh Haniqra. The Carmel Range is found here.

Israeli Coastal Plain

The most developed region of Israel includes this strip of coastline between the Carmel Range and the Gaza Strip. Tel Aviv is a prominent spot on the Israeli coastline. The area north of it is called the Sharon.

Shephelah

This is the hinterland between the coastal plain and the Judean Highlands.

Negev

A large, arid region to the south of the country that includes the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. Makhtesh Ramon is a geological feature of Israel’s Negev desert.

Transportation in Israel

When thinking about navigating public transportation in Israel, do take into account that on the Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday nightfall) train and bus services are not available and sherut (shared taxi) service are quite limited. This follows for certain religious, public holidays as well. When arriving or departing from Ben Gurion airport consider the Shabbat, Tel Aviv experiences.

Bus service is the most common mode of public transportation used in Israel. The bus Israel routes can be a little complicated, so prior planning is required or assistance from a public transportation app like Moovit or Google Maps is useful.

Monit Sherut’s are shared minivan-taxis that ply along established bus routes. The benefits of using a sherut are that the traveling speed is faster, the operating hours are longer and some sheruts are active on the Sabbath.

The modernization of Israel Railways means that there is less gridlock on the roads as more people avail of intercity train travel. There are intercity and suburban train lines.

Taxis are commonly used in Israel. They are different from sheruts or shared taxis. Drivers should use meters, whenever they drive. Surcharges may be applicable for pick up from the airport, for luggage and calling a taxi.

Israel has a good road transportation network. Roads are well maintained and traffic drives on the right hand side. Car rentals are readily available from most major international car rental companies.

The distance from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is about 70 km. You can take the 405 or 480 bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Accommodations in Israel

There are a whole host of accommodation options in Israel for both budget and luxury travelers and for those who are looking for something in between.

Expect Western service standards in hotels, wherever you go. Hotels in Israel, for the longest time did not possess star ratings. If they did – they may have been conferred by the hotels themselves. A new system of classification has evolved but be discerning about checking out hotel reviews before committing to staying in any accommodation.

Some plush, luxury hotels in Israel include Mamilla Hotel (Jerusalem), The American Colony (Jerusalem), the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, The Norman Tel Aviv and the King David Hotel (Jerusalem). Grand Beach Tel Aviv Hotel is well known for its fabulous central location, a minute away from Tel Aviv beach.

Israel is particularly blessed with a wealth of hostels and youth hostels in particular. The Israel Youth Hostel Association and Israel Hostels (ILH) run a network of hostels. The latter might be suitable for independent travelers seeking hostels, guesthouses and lodges. In particular you’ll find in the category of hostels – Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have the most.

Kibbutzim – collective agricultural communities in Israel –  now include bed and breakfast options. Private residences sometimes offer single rooms for let known as ‘zimmer’. For Airbnb – Tel Aviv has a few options. The Heritage House provides safe lodgings for Jewish travelers and students in Jerusalem. This is to ensure that they receive an authentic experience when developing a personal, religious connection to the city.

Booking.com

What to Eat and Drink in Israel

Israeli food is a mish-mash of a variety of cuisines and culinary influences. Similar dishes have grown and evolved in Arab, Eastern European and North African cuisine but they have assumed a slightly different and original character in Israel. Jewish food practices have also left their mark here.

Some speciality Israeli dishes to try include:

  • Falafel (deep-fried chickpea ball)
  • Hummus and pita bread
  • Matza flat bread
  • Sabich (fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, hummus, tahini sauce, salad and pickles-served in a pita)
  • Kubeh (soup with meatballs made of minced red meat, bulgur and onions)
  • Israeli Shawarma (turkey or chicken meat, slow cooked on a turning skewer and served in a pita with hummus, tahini and Israeli salad)
  • Salat hatzilim (Baba ghanoush) with tahini
  • Israeli Breakfast (an omelette, Israeli salad, cheeses, tuna, olives, different breads, fresh orange juice and afuch- Israeli cappuccino)

Things to Do and See in Israel

There are so many things to do in Israel of tourist interest. Some of them are key locations on the ‘Nativity Trail’ or the ‘Jesus Trail’ and therefore, of great religious interest.

Jerusalem is considered a holy site for three of the world’s monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The Golden Dome Mosque definitely dominates the city’s landscape with the nearby Western Wall.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus is a 1.5 hour drive from Jerusalem. Herodium Hill is the place to head for some panoramic views of the Dead Sea. Other popular tourist attractions in Bethlehem include the Mount of Olives, Shepherd’s Field and the Church of the Nativity. This tour includes some of Bethlehem’s top highlights.

Nazareth, the city of Jesus’ adolescence, has a large Arab Muslim population along with Christians. An archaeological tour of Nazareth Village will take you back into ancient times. Aside from this there are many important churches to visit in the city.

The coastal city of Tel Aviv has the best of Israeli nightlife on offer and the city definitely has a cosmopolitan flair. Gordon Beach, Frishman Beach and Banana Beach are some places to enjoy water activities and the beautiful coastline. Join a fun segway tour of the city or experience a communal Kibbutz.

Akko in Israel, is a port city that is famed for its ancient but well-preserved old city walls.

Another coastal town and a port town – is the city of Haifa. Gardens, beaches and monasteries draw in the tourist crowds. Carmel National Park and the Baha’i Gardens are popular places to visit.

Israel and Jordan, both have access to the natural wonder that is the Dead Sea. Situated 400m below sea level, the lowest point on Earth and with such hypersaline water that the body can float in the sea, this attraction is a must-visit! You can do a tour to the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv, like this one.

Things to Do & See in Israel

Hiking in Makhtesh Ramon

Exploring Makhtesh Ramon in Israel

Let's go hiking at the largest errosion crater in the world. This is a hiker's paradise with a large selection of hiking trails at all levels...

Shopping in Israel

Some of the best souvenirs you can buy in Israel include the following:

  • Olive oil
  • Israeli wine
  • Diamonds
  • Dead Sea Products like skincare products, soaps etc
  • Olive wood carvings
  • Dates
  • Israeli ceramics
  • Judaica – candlesticks, menorahs, seder plates, mezuzahs and decorative hamsas.

The Jaffa Flea Market is the place to go in Tel Aviv for authentic antiques. You will come across beautiful pieces of furniture, rugs, curios but just remember to bargain a lot.

Alrov Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem is the place to go for luxurious items. The mall has places to drink coffee, eat and shop international brands.

Old City Market in Jerusalem is the place to go for that old-world bazaar experience, to buy everything from silk scarves, hookahs, spices, jewellery and clothes.

For a food shopping experience, visit Indoor Port Market in Tel Aviv. This where the locals shop for fresh, organic produce.

Israel’s Nightlife

The best places to enjoy Israeli nightlife include Tel Aviv (known in parts to be the party capital of the Middle East), Jerusalem and Eilat, among other places.

The combination of the warm Mediterranean climate, beach locations and vibrant locals – makes Tel Aviv the perfect spot to enjoy the nightlife. One of the best places to soak up the nighttime scene in Tel Aviv is the Rothschild 12 restaurant by day and nightclub at night. It has a good international style menu and a great atmosphere.

Gatsby Cocktail Room in Jerusalem has the best chic interiors and is very popular particularly during the weekends.

If you are looking for a bit of luxury, then head to one of the sky bars in Tel Aviv, where you can indulge in a lovely cocktail and enjoy the great views. Speakeasy in Tel Aviv is the place to go. If you are looking to taste a variety of liquors then Satchmo in the Florentin suburb of Tel Aviv has 70 different kinds of whiskey on offer.

With everything from Irish Pubs to Reggae playing Pubs on offer, you certainly won’t be bored with the nightlife Israel has on offer.

Safety Tips for Israel

Israel travel safety might be a question for many tourists. Crime rates in Israel are quite low. However, caution should be exercised when traveling alone at night- particularly by single women in deserted parts of the city.

There are chances of attacks between Israeli and Palestinian militants. Although such terror attacks are chance events, caution should be used when traveling to disputed areas.

Police in Israel can be seen wearing light blue or dark navy clothing whereas Israeli Border Guards have a dark grey uniform with green beret. You can be sure of seeing many soldiers about the country as they may be on leave. They may carry rifles and other firearms on their person. Soldiers have no authority over civilians aside from in designated areas.

Israeli has conflict with some of its neighbouring countries. You should be well informed about the current situation before venturing to travel to one of these countries. Travel to the Gaza Strip is not recommended despite current cease-fire.

Despite being a Middle Eastern country, Israel is a gay-friendly country with annual Pride Parades being held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

Conclusion

For many people, the trip to Israel is just not another run-of-the-mill travel vacation. For many people, the trip represents a dream come true, a chance to visit the holiest of holy places.

With Jerusalem being considered as a holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims, this is a must-visit place, if a visit to Israel is a holy pilgrimage for you. The Temple Mount is to be found in the Old City of Jerusalem and is a holy place for both Jews and Muslims. Jews often pray at the Western Wall, by the side of Temple Mount, which is part of the original, 2000 year old outer retaining wall of the Temple.

Apart from sites of worship in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth – there are so many other places that make Israel an interesting country to visit. Natural wonders abound here. The Dead Sea, situated 650 metres below sea level, is the lowest point on the planet. Would you love to take a dip in the sea but can’t swim? Fear not, with its hypersaline conditions, you will be floating in the waters of the beautiful Dead Sea.

Israel is a greatly developed and westernized country. A visit here, is a good chance to experience a unique culture without feeling too much of a culture shock. The food, the language, the many religions that co-exist in Israel will keep you constantly interested.

The State of Israel is a relatively new country but the Land of Israel has a long, complex, mutilated history. The Persians, Romans, Ottomans and the British have all invaded the land. Over the years there have been waves of immigration by the Jewish people, from all over the world.

Despite past and present disputes and conflicts, Israel is an economically prospering, thriving country. With a rich religious history and unique culture – it is a country that should be high up on your Middle Eastern travel bucket list.

Travel Tips for Israel

Hiking in Makhtesh Ramon

Exploring Makhtesh Ramon in Israel

Let's go hiking at the largest errosion crater in the world. This is a hiker's paradise with a large selection of hiking trails at all levels...
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