The Complete Guide for your Trip to Israel
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Israel: The Best Guide for Travelers
The small nation-state of Israel is fraught with political tension, but it is also one of the most incredible places to visit, filled with religious monuments, archaeological finds dating back to the Bronze Age, stunning natural landscapes, and vibrant cities with acclaimed restaurants. museums, art galleries and more. At just over 8,000 square miles, it's pretty easy to see most of the country on your trip too, especially if you're over a week old.
The capital of Jerusalem is steeped in history and is a cultural melting pot for Muslims, Jews and Christians, who consider the city holy. (This also causes some major political tensions, which you should be aware of before your visit.) Tel Aviv, always considered the more modern of the two main cities, is known for its beaches, an inspired art scene, fantastic shops, and renowned bars and restaurants.
And beyond these cities lies a diverse landscape dotted with deserts, mountains, fertile valleys, and some of the most impressive geological formations in the world - beyond, of course, the salty Dead Sea, the sparkling Mediterranean, the freshwater of the Sea of Galilee. and even a small paradise for diving, the Red Sea.
Planning Your Trip
Best time to visit
Fortunately, Israel is a very good place to visit throughout the year, mainly thanks to the good weather; Although summer can be very hot, it still attracts many tourists. In fact, summer is the peak tourist season in Israel, along with Easter. Many Jewish holidays are fun times to visit, but watch out for rising prices for flights and hotels and increasing crowds at some attractions during these periods. It is also important to know that many things (restaurants, shops, museums, government offices, etc.) are closed during the holidays, so plan accordingly. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit, as the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller (except at Easter, which occurs in spring).
Israel's national language is Hebrew, but you will also hear and see a lot of Arabic and English; Most of the people in Israel speak English and it is taught in schools. All road signs and other important information are usually printed in all three languages.
Israeli New Shekel, usually abbreviated as NIS or simply known as "shekel".
Israel has an extensive bus system, from internal systems in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities to a national intercity system that can take you almost anywhere in the country. The main bus company in Israel is called Egged, except for Tel Aviv and the surrounding area, which is served by Dan. Recent years have also seen an expansion of the rail system in Israel. Now there are 10 lines that cross the country, from Beer Sheva in the south to Akko and Nahariya in the north, and as far east as Beit Shean. One of the biggest recent developments has been a new high-speed train between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport, dramatically reducing travel time.
Taxis are also used frequently, especially in urban areas, and sheiruts, or shared vans, operate within and between some cities. Uber and Lyft do not operate in Israel, but people use the Gett taxi app to call a taxi. If you've been in the country for a long time and plan to get off the beaten track, renting a car and driving may be the right option for you.
Take the time to explore beyond Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, if you can. Places like the Dead Sea, Akko, and the Sea of Galilee are only hours away from Israel's two major cities, making day trips an easy way to see more.
Things to Do
Israel is full of attractions and activities, from ancient archaeological sites to stunning beaches and national parks. There are things to occupy families with young children, college clubs, foodies, history buffs, culture lovers, and nature lovers. Do not miss these activities:
Israel's diverse geographic terrain means that there are excellent hiking trails throughout the country. From deserts to gorges and mountains, forests and caves, Israel's national parks and nature reserves offer incredible landscapes to explore. Also, some of them include ancient ruins of Biblical cities and fortresses, from the Iron Age or Ottoman times. If you are trying to get off the trail, make sure you have a guide with you, as the environment and weather can be extreme, and you don't want to accidentally cross the Green Line, either.
Look at the holy places
Israel, also called the Holy Land, has so many important religious sites for so many different religions, it is no wonder that many visitors to Israel are on some kind of pilgrimage. But even if you are not religious, you will surely be moved to see these often ancient places, important places and beautiful temples and shrines. Places such as the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the Bahai'I Gardens, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Cave of the Patriarchs, Massada and the Mount of the Olives are awesome.
Hit the Beach
Israel is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world, thanks to its 170 kilometers of shoreline on the Mediterranean Sea, the Dead Sea surrounded by deserts, the lush Sea of Galilee, and the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. in Eilat. Besides swimming and sunbathing, Tel Aviv's beaches also offer a lively atmosphere with food, drinks, volleyball, outdoor gyms, and more. And riding a bike or walking the boardwalk is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Where to Eat and Drink
Israel has earned accolades over the past five to ten years for its incredible food scene, staying on the radar of many foodies. Tel Aviv, in particular, is a prominent city with a dynamic and varied food scene, with creative and high-quality restaurants. In addition, Tel Aviv has become a stronghold for vegans and is known as one of the vegan capitals of the world, with around 40 vegan restaurants and 44 vegetarian restaurants1.
Israelis love falafel and shawarma, of course, but Israelis are also the world's biggest fruit and vegetable consumers, and when you walk through any of their bustling open-air markets, like the famous Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem or the Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv, I'll see why.
While classic Middle Eastern dishes like hummus, halvah, tabbouleh, and Israeli salad are readily available, visitors will also be rewarded with modern Israeli fare at critically acclaimed restaurants such as Onza, Mashya, Claro, HaBasta, Dok, Santa Katarina, North Abraxas, Opa in Tel Aviv and Machneyuda, Anna, Mona and Chakra in Jerusalem. (Also, Uri Buri in Akko is a must for lovers of fish and seafood.) And for those who wish to venture off the beaten track, Majda, located in an Arab-Israeli village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, is one of the most adorable and delicious dining experiences he has ever had - one of Chef Yotam's favorite spots. Ottolneghi. Israel has also improved its international offering, with Japanese, Thai, Italian, French and other cuisines available now, and they are really good.
Israel's booze scene has also grown by leaps and bounds, with dozens of wineries, distilleries, and breweries now operating in the country, as well as many high-quality bars and restaurants for well-made cocktails and diverse wines.
Where to Stay
The hotel scene has improved a lot in Israel over the past 10 years, with lots of luxury and more affordable options in locations across the country. In Tel Aviv, there are several options on the beach, in the White City, in Jaffa and in Neve Tzedek, with many excellent boutique hotels (such as Norman, Hotel Montefiore, Hotel Vera and Brown Beach Hotel), while in Jerusalem I want to take a look. look in and around the old town and the city center. Large cities also have several hostels. Airbnb is also a good bet and good deals can often be found.
Outside of Israel's two main cities, you'll find large and sometimes over the top hotel complexes, especially around the Dead Sea and Eilat. In the north, there are some impressive boutique hotels. While there are some major international hotel chains in Israel, such as Hilton, InterContinental, and Marriott, there are also acclaimed Israeli brands, including boutique hotels Brown, Isrotel (which operates the famous Cramim, Beresheet, and Mitzpe HaYamim, along with dozens of others) and Dan Hotels.
There are also some exclusively Israeli accommodations to visit: Tzimmers and Kibbutz. A tzimmer is like an inn, usually located in rural areas or on farms and hosted by a local family. Tzimmers are a great way to get a more local experience and are often accompanied by delicious homemade breakfasts. Meanwhile, the kibbutz, shared communities that were essential when Israel became a state, often have hotels or houses and apartments for rent and some can be excellent. In addition to offering a peak inside a kibbutz, many of them also have great amenities such as pools, gyms, restaurants, cafes, and more, and can be more affordable than hotels.
If you are flying from the USA, you will be flying into Ben Gurion International Airport, outside of Tel Aviv. From there, you can take the high-speed train to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, take a bus to various locations, or take a sheirut (shared taxi) or taxi. Ramon Airport, located north of Eilat, operates locally and receives some flights from Europe.
Upon arrival and departure, expect to be interviewed by passport patrol and other security officers. If you are not Jewish or have many stamps from Arab countries in your passport, you will be asked a lot about the reason for your visit. Security is very common at the airport.
Culture and Customs
Although there are many cultural things to consider, the most important thing is to be respectful. As the only official Jewish nation in the world, there are countless customs that may be unfamiliar if you are not Jewish.
- From sunset on Friday to Saturday night, it is Saturday, or in Hebrew, Shabbat. During Shabbat, certain parts of the country, especially the Orthodox neighborhoods, close in various ways, with buses out of service, restaurants and shops closed, and museums and attractions closed. That said, some parts of the country that are more secular will function normally, like much of Tel Aviv. The customs around many Jewish holidays are similar to Shabbat, and many have other traditions. For example, if you are in Israel on Passover, you will notice that many restaurants do not serve wheat or grains during the week because they cannot be eaten during Passover, according to Jewish law.
- It's a good idea to wear modest clothing, as neighborhoods and religious places require things like knee-length skirts, low-cut tops, and long sleeves for women. Modesty is also required on Muslim websites, including the requirement that women cover their hair.
- Although many restaurants in Israel are kosher, there are also many that are not today, especially in Tel Aviv. So don't be surprised to see bacon, shrimp, and cheeseburgers on menus!
- Many Israelis are known to be rude and brutally honest. They don't sugarcoat things, they have tough skin, and customer service has only become a concept in recent years. That said, Israelis are also kind and generous; it is very easy to get an invitation to a Shabbat meal.
- Tipping in Israel is discretionary, but expected, especially in bars and restaurants. Taxi drivers generally do not receive tips.
- Security is very tight in Israel. Metal detectors are common to see everywhere from the mall to the train station, and soldiers with guns strapped to their backs are a common sight. Upon arrival and departure from the country, you will be asked about the purpose of the trip. Checkpoints while driving can occur anywhere, but are usually found only on the borders with areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
- Finally, it is important to know the political tensions in the country. Borders, occupied territories, the Green Line, terrorist attacks, the military, the government, and more are controversial topics. This is not to say that the Israelis are not going to talk about them, but it may be better to listen more than talk.
Israel is really expensive, with restaurants, hotels, taxis, and gas stations charging high prices. Here are some tips for saving money.
- Try to buy food in the local markets and feel free to haggle in the open-air markets (shuks).
- Stay in a hotel with breakfast included.
- Use public transportation as much as possible.
- Spend time at free attractions, beaches, and parks with no admission fees.
- If you can, travel in the low season (but not during the holidays).
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