The holy land
The complete Israel travel guide
Israel is a small but outstanding country in the Middle East, not only being the only Jewish state in the world but also the only democratic country in the Middle East. Due to the on-going crisis in the Middle East, many travelers have questions in safety, and they do not know what to expect before traveling to Israel; yet those travelers also realize Israel is a wonderful country after they arrive, where beaches, desert, mountain all combine and exist right next to cities.
As an example, it is possible to ski in the morning and then surf by the evening in the same day; not to mention you may also have delicious hummus for lunch in between. Find out more about Israel in this complete Israel travel guide :
Where is Israel?
Israel is located in the Middle East, having a coast to Mediterranean Sea on the West, which brings beautiful sunsets to the country. Israel borders with Lebanon in the North, with Syria in the Northeast, Jordan in the East, and Gaza and Egypt in the South.
Travel to Israel: Quick History
What is the main language in Israel?
Israel has one official and one semi-official language; Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is spoken by Jewish people in daily life and in official matters, whereas Arabic is spoken by the Arab minorities in Israel. The language used in education including universities is Hebrew. Arabic is provided as second language in Jewish schools.
In Arab schools, the curriculum is in Arabic, Hebrew is taught as a second language in some schools. It is also possible to take university entry exam or driving test in Arabic. While traveling different destinations around in Israel, you will see signs in both languages.
When is the best time to visit Israel?
When to buy my flight ticket to Israel?
It is advised to buy your ticket at least 6 months before your trip for cheap ticket to Israel. During Jewish holiday seasons (Pesach and RoshaShana) the tickets are very expensive and usually 1 million Israelis travel abroad. Not to mention, there are only three International airports, just one used as the main one: Ben Gurion Airport.
Haifa Airport only has flights to Cyprus and Greek islands. Ramon Airport in Eilat has seasonal routes to Europe with budget airlines. If you are lucky, you may also find cheap flights to Ben Gurion Airport in the last minute for short routes from Eastern Europe and Mediterranean region.
What are the Visa Requirements?
EU members and USA citizens can enter Israel visa-free. You may also check if you are eligible for visa-free entry to the country on wikipedia.
One bad thing about traveling to Israel is that security is one of the top priorities in the country. You might be asked a lot of questions in the entry or exit by the customs officer. Just share your visit and be honest.
Life in Israel
What's the currency and cost of living?
The currency in Israel is New Israeli Shekels (NIS). The current rate is 1 USD ≈ 3.5-3.6 NIS and 1 EUR ≈ 3.9-4 NIS. Banknotes are 200, 100, 50 and 20 NIS and coins are 10, 5, 1, 0.5 and 0.1 (agora) NIS.
Israel is a very expensive country unfortunately.
It’s biggest city, TLV, was selected as the 10th most expensive city in the world in 2019 by the times of israel. One inter-city bus ride costs around 1.70 USD and a meal in an inexpensive restaurant is about 18 USD. The average cost of a meal in a restaurant is about 25-30 USD.
Whereas the traditional dish of Israel, Hummus costs 13 USD anywhere in the country.
Why travel to Israel
In December, you may see the coexistence in Haifa the most, with the statues in German Colony in the downtown city; Hannukah, Christmas Tree and Hilal (Crescent Moon).
In Jerusalem, you will feel the peace in the air when you step into the city. Old city is one of the most antique places in the world and you will find Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
I might be exaggerating but in my opinion Israel has the most beautiful people in the world.
First of all, people living in Israel are coming from all around the world. Because country is less than 100 years old, as generations pass and the country received more immigrants the newborns are from different ethnicities.
You will see blonde and light colored people as well as darker skin, very Middle Eastern looking people. Not to mention, Israelis love to exercise and are very fit. Yet one of the best characteristics that they have is everybody is helpful and friendly.
Be ready to be asked too many personal questions
Things to do when you visit Israel!
The recommended places
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa are the top big three cities in Israel and is a must-see. Nazareth holds Arab-Christian culture in Israel, which is also a must-see.
Sea of Galilee & Golan Heights:
Northeast part of Israel, where you will enjoy camping, nature and hiking. You may see ruins from the war with Syria as well as from Romanian times. Not to mention, it is possible to get baptized in Jordan river, where Jesus was baptized.
Negev Desert & Masada:
If you want to feel the Beduin culture, Negev desert is the right place. You may also climb to Masada and watch beautiful sunrise.
Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. You can float on water or have a mud bath. As a small tip; your skin becomes very smooth after Dead Sea.
Bahai Gardens & German Colony, Haifa:
Bahai Gardens is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Israel and considered to be the second holiest place on Earth for Bahai religion, with Shrine of the Bab inside the gardens. German Colony is a place just below Bahai Gardens, established by German Templers in 1800s. Currently renovated and has beautiful view of Bahai Gardens, with cafes and restaurants alongside.
Acre Old City:
Acre Old City is UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserving the heritage from Ottoman times.
Jerusalem Old City:
Old City in Jerusalem is the heart of the three religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You will be amazed by the ancient history or even the feeling of peace in the city.
Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Dome of the Rock resides inside Old City walls. Old City comprises of four quarters; Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Jewish Quarter and Muslim Quarter, and the Temple Mount.
Western Wall, Jerusalem: Western Wall is the most religious site for Jewish people. Not to mention, it is filled with many people on Friday evenings for Shabbat pray.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem:
Church of the Holy Sepulchre is most sacred site in Christianity, being Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection place. The church is shared by Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodoxes and Armenians, Coptics, and Syrian Orthodoxes.
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem:
Dome of the Rock is the golden shrine in the Temple Mount in Old City, being the third holiest site in Islam. It is believed that Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site.
Tel Aviv Beachfront:
You may swim, sunbath, play matkot or volleyball, run, or just watch the sunset in Tel Aviv beach.
Just south of Tel Aviv, Jaffa is an old Ottoman port city. Don’t miss Jaffa Clock Tower and you may find free Old Jaffa Tour online.
Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem:
Mahane Yehuda is a marketplace in Jerusalem, preserved from Ottoman times. You may find anything you anything you need; from fruits to vegetables, from meat to fish, spices, wines and etc.
Yad Vashem Museum:
Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and is the second most visited tourist site.
Ramon Crater: In Negev Desert, Ramon Crater is the world largest erosion crater. You may get a jeep ride tour or just enjoy the view by arriving there with your car.
Swimming & Sunbathing:
Any beach by the coast of the country is eligible for sunbathing. All beaches are public. It is not recommended to swim without life guard on duty.
There are a lot of places to surf in Israel, both for kite surf, wind surf and padding.
Diving & Snorkelling:
Eilat has beautiful reef where you may dive or snorkel.
Both north and south of the country have a lot of places for hiking in the nature. In the nature reserve parks you may follow the trail. There are water hikes as well as nice trails to the waterfalls where you can rest and listen to the nature.
There are camping designated areas through the country both by the sea, in the nature and in the desert.
The Israel Museum and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem are the must-see museums. You may also visit Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. I also recommend not to miss Design Museum Holon in Holon.
Yoga & Running & Art crafts:
If you are in Tel Aviv, you will see a lot of people doing yoga or running by the beach. There are also many art crafts and workshops in the city, mostly are advertised on Facebook.
Events & Festivals:
Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa municipalities holds lots of events through the year. Tel Aviv Maraton is highly demanded. Light Festival in Jerusalem lights the Old City to flamboyant colors. Haifa hosts International Film Festival every year in October.
Gay Parade welcomes over 250,000 people all around the world, being the largest LGBTQ Parade in Asia. Festivals in Ashram Desert is amazing for festival lovers. During Easter and Christmas times, you may see festive of Arab Christians with marching band and ornaments in Haifa.
What to eat?
Israeli cuisine is shaped by dishes from different cultures:
- Ashkenazi cuisine,
- Sephardic cuisine,
- Moroccon cuisine,
- Iraqi cuisine,
- Yemenite cuisine…
The top must-try dish is hummus, along with falafel. Shawarma can be eaten either laffa or pita any time of the day. For breakfast you may eat, shakshuka, a popular dish made with tomato paste and eggs; or jachnun, a traditional Yemenite dish served on Shabbat.
But if you want to feel the Israeli experience; Israeli breakfast is also an option, eggs of your choice with little mezes alongside, including tuna salad, labaneh, avocado salad and etc. While serving a dish, you may be asked if you like it ‘’hot’’.
Charif means spicy in Hebrew and Israeli’s love charif. Yet most importantly to mention; Tel Aviv is a vegan capital, and you will find delicious choices for vegans and vegetarians anywhere you go in the city.
Packing for Israel
What to bring in your suitcase?
Deciding what to bring to Israel is easier than you think.
If you are planning to go to the beach, just bring your swimsuit.
Do not forget to bring your hiking shoes if you are planning to visit beautiful landscape in the North (or in the desert in the South). One of the most important thing to bring is water bottle for the summer time. It is very hot in Israel and it is important to stay hydrated. You may ask for refill from any café you see on the street with your bottle.
Although Tel Aviv is a very open-minded city, some parts of the country including Jerusalem are regarded more conservative. It is advised to wear modest clothing: knee length clothes and close shoulders
Other things you might want to pack are:
- flip flops
- comfortable walking shoes.
- Last but not the least; sun protection is very important.
Of course if you forget to pack, it is not a problem as you will find it anywhere on the street. But you will feel the strength of sunlight on your screen from the moment you step out from the airport. If you are coming in the ‘’winter time’’, you should definitely get a rain jacket as it can pour out in some days.
Dear Alyne Super Tips
- IMPORTANT: Keep the little blue paper you receive in the airport throughout your whole stay. This paper is counted as your entry stamp. (Israel do not stamp passports anymore).
- Working days are Sunday-Thursday; Friday and Saturday being weekends. Some companies do work half day on Friday.
>> If you are going to Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv, the market is the most crowded on Fridays, yet closes couple hours before sunset.
- No work is permitted and no public transportation on Shabbat, starting by the sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday, due to Shabbat, 7th and resting day in Judaism.
>> Public transportation operates in Haifa,
>> Privately operated minibus (monit sherut) is active 24/7 in Tel Aviv, including Shabbat.
- Be ready to be interrogated at the airport. I know it sounds annoying, but security is an important matter in Israel due to terrorism. You may feel confused as you did not do anything. I suggest to not be stressed. They are trying to do their jobs. When you cooperate more and be patient, they will let you go quicker.
- In Israel, tipping is important as waiters earn most of their salary from tips. It is expected to give at least 10% of the bill if the service was so-so. Good service 15%, excellent service 20%.
>> You do not need to tip taxi drivers.
- Easiest (and cheapest) way to come to the city from Ben Gurion airport is the train. From the airport to Tel Aviv, the ticket price is 4 USD and the ride takes 15 min. From Savidor station in Tel Aviv, you may take buses to anywhere in the country. The train also stops in Central Bus Station (Hahagana), from where you may also take bus (and also minibus -monit sherut-) anywhere.
>> There is shuttle service to the airport from Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv.
- Do not rent a car if you are planning to stay in Tel Aviv. Parking is a big problem in the city and you will always find scooter to ride around anywhere in the city.
- If you want to eat Hummus, try Haifa or Akko. My suggestion is Hummus Elsham in Wadi Nisnas in Haifa.
- Although Israelis have lack of patience, Israel is the place that you need patience the most. Remember you are in a Mediterranean country, plus you are in the Middle East. Things happen slow. Service is slow. People are late. Everybody is relaxed. So I advise the same 🙂
- Israelis may sound rude because they tend to speak with load voice or have very direct attitude. You may think two people are arguing but they are just ‘solving a situation’ because this is how some things are done in here. They will be very direct and expect the same. If you are indecisive what to eat, I do not recommend making the waiter wait because as I said before they don’t have patience. Israelis want the answer directly and tells you what they think without filters.
- Dating life in Tel Aviv is quite similar to New York City or any big cities. As they say; a lot of fish in the sea.
- Israeli boys will be very persistent and gentleman when it comes to flirting. You will be flattered and feel the charm. I would not recommend falling for it ☺
- Bike or scooter tour in Tel Aviv is very recommended.
- Some Hebrew for Beginners:
Boker Tov: Good morning
Erev tov: Good evening
Toda: Thank you