ISRAEL, called “Holy Land”, is one of the most unique places on Earth. It has many things that can’t be found or seen anywhere else. Many people go to visit this country for various reasons and often don’t realize where actually are they going. Of course, if they feel satisfied, that’s ok. But if they really want to dig deeper and make their trip more meaningful, they definitely need to be prepared in advance with more knowledge about this place. And I would recommend a basic Israel itinerary, which could cover the key destinations of this amazing country best.
I don’t know whether history and geography have been your favorite subjects at school. If not, maybe Israel would make you love them? But if yes, you can dive into the secrets of this land, exploring a whole new world like in a time machine. Israel’s history is one of the longest in the world. Geographically Israel is considered “in the center of the world” too, being located in the best position between Europe, Asia, and Africa. And about the religion… here the Bible has different dimensions since you can see the real scenes of its stories.
So, a really meaningful trip to Israel is something that you have to prepare earlier, and actually, it can be a very exciting time. Which destinations would you choose? How to draw your route?
Look at the map of Israel. It is a very small country, prolonged from north to south. You can notice four main zones- North, Central and South, and West (although these zones don’t exactly fit the administrative divisions of Israel, for traveler’s and geographical point of view such dividing is proper for drawing a route of a trip).
The North zone is around Haifa and Sea of Galilee. The Central- Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories (West Bank). South- the wilderness, which is south of Beersheba, Negev desert to Eilat. And the West- Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coast. Thus the best route would be like a circle (or better- like an oval), starting from Tel Aviv (since there is the main airport of the country) and ending again there.
Israel has thousands of years of history. Part of it is written in the Bible, thus adding a more special view to this Book. Researching this long history in details may take years to study, so here it can be summarized in time periods:
– Early Canaan period: unknown – to 20th century BC
– Era of the Patriarchs: 20th to 18th century BC
– Middle Canaan period: 18th to 15th century BC
– Late Canaan period (Era of the Judges): 15th century to 1044 BC
– Israel Kingdom of David and Solomon: 1044 BC to 964 BC
– Divided Israel Kingdom: 964 BC to 722 BC
– Late Judah and Assyrian period: 722 BC to 586 BC
– Neo-Babylonian period: 586 BC to 538 BC
– Persian period: 538 BC to 332 BC
– Early Hellenistic (Macedonian and Ptolemaic) period: 332 BC to 198 BC
– Late Hellenistic (Seleucid and Hasmonean) period: 198 BC to 64 BC
– Early Roman (Herodian) period: 64 BC to 70 AD
– Late Roman period: 70 to 395
– Byzantine and Sasanid period: 395 to 642
– Early Arabian (Rashidun, Ummayad, and Abbasid) period: 642 to 964
– Fatimid period: 964 to 1099
– Latin (Crusades) period: 1099 to 1199
– Ayubid and Mamluk period: 1199 to 1516
– Ottoman period: 1516 to 1917
– British period: 1917 to 1948
– Modern Israel: 1948 until now.
And most of the destinations in Israel have their signs and remains from many of these periods. So, if you are a more systematic person, I would advise to make this timeline scheme and take with you. I even made a chronological list of events for every destination, so when I visited them, I knew more about what the destination is. And another thing that I really recommend: read the Bible! Doesn’t matter if you are a believer or not, just read it like a history book, thus you can be ready to see the scenes from the Bible stories in real.
Besides everything else, Israel is maybe the most sensitive place in the world. Almost everybody has its own opinion about the State of Israel, Zionism, Jews, Palestine, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. And the world is divided between “pro-” and “anti-“. But I am telling you, no matter what is your position before you visit Israel for the first time when you visit this country, your political view may be totally changed.
Part of the territory of Israel forms the Palestinian territories. Some people recognize these territories as a “sovereign state, occupied by Israel”. But others see them just as autonomous regions of Israel. When you think about Palestine, have in mind that there are “two Palestines“: West Bank and Gaza, and their status, as well as the situation inside them, are totally different.
RECOMMENDED ISRAEL ITINERARY- OUR EXPERIENCE
So, based on this, how can you draw your route for your travel in Israel? I planned it months before I go there with my wife and two kids, then we accomplished it successfully, diving really deep in the reality of Israel and its destinations. The result was an amazing trip, which not just enriched our experience, but changed our lives, just like in a movie.
We made a 12 days Israel itinerary, starting from Tel Aviv and ending again there. It was our route: Tel Aviv – Caesaria – Haifa – Mt Carmel – Tel Megiddo – Nazareth – Tiberias, and Sea of Galilee circle. Then- Mt Tabor – Beit Shean – Jordan River baptism site – Jerusalem. Only in Jerusalem (and around) itself, we stayed 6 days, then proceeded to the south of Israel: Qumran – Ein Gedi – Dead Sea coast – Eilat, and finally we back to Tel Aviv.
There were few more destinations that we couldn’t visit: Mt Herodion, Hebron, Massada fortress and Timna park, which I definitely recommend too, and we plan to visit these places in another trip in the future.
It is the UN recognized capital of Israel and the second largest city. Tel Aviv is a modern city, famous with its Mediterranean beaches, young tourists’ life and tolerance to various groups of people. However, as everywhere in the country, there is a historic site here too- the ancient town of Jaffa.
The main places of interest here are:
– Jaffa town
Located on a hill near the sea coast, it has been an ancient port since the Early Canaan period. Its old stone houses and narrow streets (in some places the narrow streets are covered above like tunnels) take us back many centuries ago. There are two Bible storied happened here: Jaffa was the port, from where Jonah took a ship to escape from God’s order to preach in Nineveh around 850 BC, therefore he has been swallowed by a whale. It is memorized by a fountain whale on the southern Jaffa street. And the other story is the house, where apostle Peter has lived for a few years- the house of Simon the Tanner. There God gave a vision to Peter about many animals that he has to eat, representing the Gentiles, to whom the Gospel has to be preached.
– Flea market
This is an open street market northeast of Jaffa, a nice place for walking, shopping and enjoying an “old town atmosphere” with its art influence.
– Neve Tzedek
This is the oldest quarter of the modern Tel Aviv, with houses built at the end of the Ottoman rule. A nice and quiet place for walking.
– Rothschild Boulevard
One of the central boulevards of Tel Aviv, with a garden alley in the middle, best representing the cityscape of the center.
– Rabin Square
The main square of the city, in its northern part.
– The beaches
Tel Aviv has an excellent and beautiful beach stripe. The sea water is clean, however, there are jellyfishes sometimes. We haven’t seen them, so we enjoyed a nice time playing there.
It is a famous Roman port city, flourished mainly from 1st century BC to 5th century AD. Again, there are few Bible stories (from the New Testament) happened there: this is the city of the Roman centurion Cornelius, one of the first Gentile Christians. The apostles Peter and Paul spent a few years in this place, serving to the early church, being in prison or just as a starting point for their missionary trips.
It is a new city. The city itself doesn’t have some ancient history. Its most famous place of interest is the beautiful Bahaii gardens– rich decorated gardens with fountains, stairs, and shrines on the northern slope of Mt.Carmel. There are also nice beaches on the Mediterranean coast.
The more ancient sites of Haifa start from Mt. Carmel
It is a low mountain range, located between the Mediterranean coast at Haifa, and prolonged southeast to the middle of Israel. Although the mountain is not high (its highest peak is a little more than only 500 m altitude), but it is very beautiful, steep in some places, with wide panoramas in all directions, and rich with ancient history.
Mt.Carmel is mostly famous with the Biblical events, related with the prophet Elijah. It has been in the ancient kingdom of Northern Israel, where Elijah has lived and served. 20 centuries after Elijah Mt Carmel has been a place for Crusader’s activities when many Catholic churches and chapels were built.
There is a road, starting from Haifa, following the summit of the mountain and finally descending to Yokneam, Menashe area, and Tel Megiddo. And there are few points of interest on this road:
– Elijah’s cave
It is a cavern on the slope of Mt.Carmel, where it is believed that prophet Elijah has lived, hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel
– The Chapel Stella Maris
It is a small chapel from Crusader’s era with great views to the Mediterranean Sea.
– University of Haifa
This university is located in some of the highest points of Mt.Carmel, it offers a great panoramic view to almost whole North Israel. The most interesting part of the university is its Museum. It is really worth to visit since it can give you a lot of information about the area that you travel around.
– Mukhraqa monastery
The monastery is built in the place, where the prophet Elijah arranged a contest between Baal’s prophets and himself, which is actually to prove who is the real God. Baal is known as a “thunder-god”, so Elijah challenged his prophets to require from Baal to ignite an offering by thunder. They pray to him the whole day and nothing happened. Then Elijah prays to God Jehovah, He ignites the offering, thus He is proven among the people. Then Elijah kills all the false prophets of Baal. Centuries later a monastery is built in this place, in memory of this event.
It is one of the many ancient city remains in Israel. What makes it different, is that this is actually the famous Armageddon, the symbol of the future Apocalypse and the end of the world.
This city is best known as the hometown of Jesus. Now it is mainly an Arab city, with significant Christian and Muslim population. There are a lot of churches and almost no ancient remains from the time of Jesus. Anyway, it is still worth to visit, at least for its good location on the hills, giving an image of the environment, where the ancient Nazareth has been. And in my opinion for the goal of such kind of trip, the best place to visit in Nazareth is its Ancient Nazareth Village- an open-air museum, reconstructing the city in the time of Jesus.
Sea of Galilee
It is a beautiful lake, one of the landmarks of North Israel and one of the symbols of Christianity. The lake is best known with the life and ministry of Jesus and His disciples. Dozens of New Testament stories happened here, and we all can see the scenes and environment of these stories, thus we can have more real and clear image of them.
The best exploration of the Sea of Galilee is to make a circle on the road around it, which is around 60 km long. This ring road passes by few destinations to visit, following the clockwise direction:
The biggest city of the lake coast, starting and ending point of the lake circle route.
An ancient town, birthplace of Maria Magdalena.
A town with the Museum of the Galilean boat- a 2000-years discovered fisher’s boat, same as the one used by Jesus and His disciples (or maybe even that one!). There is a small wharf for tourist cruises on the lake.
A city high on the northwestern hills over the lake, where Jesus has served. One of the three condemned for their disbelief cities.
– Mount of Beatitudes
A plain place on the northwestern slopes over the lake, where Jesus preached His “Sermon of the mountain”. There is a Christian monastery built there now.
A place under the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus two times multiplied food for His few thousand listeners.
The most important Biblical city of Galilee, where Jesus lived and served. One of the three condemned for their disbelief cities.
The birthplace of apostles Peter and Andrew, where Jesus also actively served. One of the three condemned for their disbelief cities.
A place on the east coast of the lake, known with the story of the rabid man, living in a cemetery, from whom Jesus cast out many demons, sending them into a drove of pigs, which then run into the lake and drown. Now this place is a favorite camping site of the local people.
A steep, significant among the other heights around mountain, which is probably the place, where Jesus changed His image into a man with white clothes and talked with Elijah and Moses. Although its name is not mentioned in the Bible, following the Biblical text, only this mountain fits in the description. Now there is a monastery on its top. Mt.Tabor is also a favorite place for paragliding.
It is an ancient city, best known as the place where the Philistines hang king Saul’s and his son’s bodies on the city wall after a defeating battle.
Jordan River baptism site
Jordan river is the lowest flowing river on Earth, since most of its current flows under the sea level. Although now it is a very small river, it has a significant importance, both geographically and historically. Today it serves as a border between Jordan and Israel. There is a place on the river (actually, there are two places on the river, considered John the Baptist’s ministry’s site, but the one, located in south, near the road from Jerusalem to Jordan and Qumran, is the real), north of Dead Sea, which is believed to be the place, where John the Baptist has served, and where Jesus has been baptized. Now many tourists visit this place and most of them immerse in the water for baptism- some just for attraction, but some really by faith.
This is not just the capital of Israel, but a kind of a capital of the world! Jerusalem is so full of places of interest, that the time, worth to spend there is almost long as the time for all other destination together! Thus actually this city is a must for every Israel itinerary.
Jerusalem is divided into Eastern and Western part. There are no walls, border checkpoints or other signs of a border between the two parts, but you can feel that you cross from West to East (or vice versa) only by the architectural and cultural difference between them. The Western part is mainly Jewish and looks like a modern European city. The Eastern part belongs to the Palestinian territory of West Bank, looking more Oriental. And most of the historic sites are located there.
In fact, maybe a whole month can be not enough to explore all the points of interest in Jerusalem in details, But at least I can recommend the most important of them:
– The Western (Wailing) Wall
It is one of the symbols of Israel. The lowest stones of the wall (which are the largest stones) are remains of the Second Temple period, therefore the Wall is considered holy by the Jews.
– Davidson center
It is an archeological complex, located around the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, presenting remains from various time periods, since more than 2000 years.
– The Western Wall Tunnels
There are various layers of constructions on the Western Wall, as well as more ancient water tunnels, built by King Hezekiah (more than 2700 years ago), The Tunnels are formed by the empty corridors between the layers, and are connected with the water tunnels.
– Temple Mount (Moriah)
This is the holiest place on Earth. Initially, it was chosen by God to test Abraham (in 19th century BC). Then here were built the First (996-586BC) and the Second (516BC-70AD) temples. Later many empires and civilizations have tried to grad this place. Currently, it is taken and claimed by Islam, under which rule its two important buildings were built: the Dome of the Rock- one of the symbols of Jerusalem, significant with its golden dome; and Al-Aqsa mosque.
– Zion- The City of David and the Tower of David
A historical complex, built by Ottomans, partly recovered the ancient city of King David. 3000 years ago Zion was the place of the King, and until now it represents the Jewish reign over the Holy City and Land. Now the Tower of David is turned into a Historical Museum, presenting all the historical periods of Jerusalem.
– Old City
This is the old part of Jerusalem- a typical “Old town complex”, with its streets, shops, museums, religious buildings, and memorials. It is surrounded by walls with gates, just like during the ancient times. The walls were built by Ottomans a few centuries ago. It is a nice place for walking in an ancient atmosphere and for shopping. The most famous street route, called Via Dolorosa, represent (according to the traditions) the last route of Jesus from the Roman court to the cross in Golgotha (although according to the Bible and history, the real route of Jesus has been different).
– Church of Holy Sepulchre
It is a big Orthodox church, inside the Old City, built in the place, traditionally considered as “Golgotha”, where Jesus was crucified and buried. However, the place is not corresponding with the Biblical text, which points to a different location of Golgotha- outside of the Old City.
– Mount of Olives
A higher hill, east of the Old City. The place, where Jesus ascended to the Heavens, and where He will back again. Now its western slope is mainly covered by cemeteries, set there for reasons, deeply related with the Biblical texts and their interpretations.
– Garden of Gethsemane
A garden, located on the western foot of the Mount of Olives, mostly known as the place, where Jesus has been arrested.
– Garden Tomb
It is another garden, northwest of the Old City, where few tombs were discovered, and one of the tombs was empty. This is the place, which exactly fits the explanation of Golgotha and the grave, where Jesus has been buried and resurrected. Now it is managed by a Protestant organization.
– Israel Museum
This is the largest Museum in Israel. It is located in the Western part of Jerusalem and presents the richest collection of historical, cultural and modern life artifacts. There are two important sites beside the Museum: the 1st century model of Jerusalem, and the Shrine of the Book.
– Yad Vashem
It is a large complex in Western Jerusalem, dedicated to the Holocaust. Its main site is the Holocaust Museum, giving a detailed historical presentation of all the events, related to this horrible for the Jews time.
Bethlehem and Herodion
Bethlehem is most known as the place of Jesus’ birth. Now it is an Arab Palestinian town near Jerusalem. Its main site is the Church of Nativity, considered as the exact place, where Jesus was born.
Further southeast of Bethlehem is Herodion– a coned hill (the highest point of Judaean desert) with remains of a fortress, built by King Herod, and considered as his tomb. Now turned into a National Park.
It is a city south of Jerusalem, in West Bank territory, mostly related to Abraham, who spends much of his life in the surrounding area. There is Machpelah- a cave turned into a family grave of Abraham and his family. There is an ancient prayer building, dated back to King Herod’s period (the oldest functioning building in the world) and Ibrahimi mosque, built as an extension of the Herod’s building.
It is a site in the wilderness northwest of Dead Sea, best known for the ancient manuscripts, discovered there. Some of these manuscripts contain books from the Old Testament and now are preserved in the Shrine of the Book in Israel Museum. There has been an ancient village in this place, and there are few caves on the rocky slopes, where the manuscripts were hidden.
Further south on the road beside the Dead Sea is Ein-Gedi, a nature reserve in the wilderness, mostly known with its streams and waterfalls, as well as a place, where David has hidden from Saul, who have persecuted him.
This unique place is the lowest point on the Earth’s land, with altitude 430 m below sea level. The Dead Sea is actually a lake, where Jordan river finishes its way from the north. It is well known with its extreme salty water (some of the saltiest waters in the world). The water is so salty and thick, that even strong wind can’t raise high waves. Well known for the attraction of laying on the water and reading a newspaper, without drowning down.
It is an ancient fortress, built on a hill near the Dead Sea by King Herod. Its location makes it a place with stunning views to the area around. Today it is turned into a National Park.
Further south in Israel, the wilderness of Judean desert, as well as the deserts of Negev, Paran, and Zin proceed to the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea. There is a hilly area near the Gulf, used by King Solomon as a copper mine site. Today its remains, as well as the mysterious landscape, make this place a worth to visit destination.
This is the southernmost point of Israel, on the Gulf of Aqaba coast. Now it is a modern sea resort, presenting mainly some of the purest waters in the world and their coral reefs.
A VERSION OF A BASIC ISRAEL ITINERARY:
Researching in advance all these destinations, we made a draft Israel itinerary, trying to reach as more as possible of them. Here is our route that we passed. We didn’t make it in the best way, so here I explain what we passed day by day, and how we should make it better (however, even if you can’t follow the better suggestion, but only our itinerary or something like this, you can still make a good trip). Anyway, we still accomplished our goal- we made a deep exploration trip of Israel.
Day 1: We arrived in Tel Aviv. Then we visited Jaffa and Flea market, and finally, since we came there in Summer)- enjoyed the beach of Tel Aviv. However, you can not only go to the beach but also enjoy the nightlife of the city.
Day 2: Tel Aviv – Caesarea – Haifa. We rent a car, passed through Neve Tzedek, Rothschild Boulevard and Rabin Square, then proceeded to Caesarea. In Caesarea, we stopped for almost 2 hours. Finally, we arrived in Haifa and visited Elijah’s Cave. However, you can arrange this part of the itinerary better, visiting Neve Tzedek, Rothschild Boulevard and Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on the previous day (depending on the time of your arrival), then go earlier to Caesarea and Haifa. Thus you can visit Bahaii Gardens in the afternoon (which we couldn’t visit, but at least enjoyed their evening view from outside).
Day 3: Haifa – Mt Carmel – Tel Megiddo – Nazareth – Tiberias. In the morning we departed from Haifa, passing on the Mt Carmel main road. We stopped at Stella Maris Chapel, Haifa University and Mukhraqa monastery. Later we visited Tel Megiddo and at afternoon- Nazareth. Finally, in the evening we arrived in Tiberias. During this section of the route, if you want to visit all of these destinations within one day, you have to leave Haifa earlier, especially for theAncient Nazareth Village, which is scheduled for afternoon.
Day 4: Tiberias- Sea of Galilee circle- Tiberias. This day we made the whole circle around the Sea of Galilee, exploring one by one all its destinations.
Day 5: Tiberias- Mt Tabor – Beit Shean – Jordan River baptism site- Jerusalem. In the morning we visited Mt Tabor, then Beit Shean. From there we entered Palestinian territory of West Bank, driving on a beautiful panoramic road near the west bank of Jordan river. We visited the Jordan River baptism site (although we were late, so we couldn’t explore it and back there on the next day), then finally arrived in Jerusalem.
Day 6: Jerusalem. Explore the Old city: the Western wall, Davidson center, the Tunnels, Temple Mount (Moriah), Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and Via Dolorosa route in the Old city streets- to the Church of Holy Sepulchre. This is the route that we should pass. Instead, we back to Jordan River baptism site and visited the nearby Qumran. Finally, we only walked in the center of the Western part of Jerusalem, as well as in a panoramic park, called Promenade.
Day 7: Jerusalem. Proceed to explore the Old city: Zion, the Tower of David and around. Finally- the Garden Tomb. On that day we passed the plan of Day 6.
Day 8: Jerusalem: Museum’s day. Visit the largest museum in the country- Israel Museum. You need at least 4-5 hours to explore it well. The other time you can spend walking in the center of the Western part of Jerusalem. About us: we combined the itineraries of Day 7 and 8. Thus we had less time for Israel Museum, but it was still ok for us.
Day 9: Jerusalem: Yad Vashem Holocaust complex, and some other remaining places, such as the Promenade and the Bible Zoo. About us: we visited only the Tunnels of the Western Wall, and the Museum of the Biblical lands (it was a good extension to the Museum of Israel, which we hadn’t enough time to explore better).
Day 10: A trip to the south: Bethlehem, Herodion and Hebron. About us: actually that day we visited Yad Vashem and Bethlehem. We missed Herodion and Hebron.
Day 11: A day of Dead Sea. From Jerusalem descend to the Dead Sea and stop in Qumran, Ein-Gedi, Ein-Bokek resort, and Massada fortress. About us: actually, we have already visited Qumran, so we proceeded further south. But we skipped Massada and arrived the same day in Eilat, skipping also Timna park.
Day 12: Proceed further south. From Ein-Bokek cross the desert and visit Timna park. Finally, arrive in Eilat. About us: on that day we enjoyed the Red Sea in the morning, then back to Tel Aviv, thus making the itinerary one day shorter.
Day 13: Eilat. Enjoy the beautiful Red Sea, its coral reefs and clear water. About us: we should enjoy the Red Sea too, instead, we left Israel in the afternoon.
Day 14: Back to Tel Aviv. End of the trip.
So, even if you don’t visit all the destinations and fully follow the suggested Israel itinerary, or just if you have less time for a trip in Israel, you can still make a good journey there. Just emphasize the following destinations: Jerusalem (of course!), Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. We personally plan to make another trip, this time in Southern Israel, Egypt and Jordan, thus we can visit the destinations that we missed.
EXTENDED BASIC ISRAEL ITINERARY
If you have more time, you can use the Israel itinerary above as a basic, and make some detours:
– From the Sea of Galilee, you can go further north to Mt Hermon and Golan Heights
– Visit the north part of the West Bank: Nablus, Ramallah, and Bethel
THE WEATHER IN ISRAEL DURING SUMMER
We were in Israel in Summer. So, as you can expect, it was most of the time very hot. The hottest part of Israel is the Sea of Galilee, Jordan river valley, Dead Sea area and the southern deserts. The temperature often rises over 40°C and even at evening, it is hot. But Jerusalem, located around 600 m altitude above the sea level was different. In the daytime it was hot, but at evening and night it was very cool and fresh, it was a real pleasure to relax outside during that time.
Now Israel is a visa-free state for most of the countries in Europe, America, and Australia. For the rest of the countries, a visa is required, and the citizens coming from some of these countries (mainly Muslim countries) require also confirmation from the Israeli government.
Since 2013 Israel doesn’t put stamps on the passports of the visitors, but only gives blue entry tickets (which you must keep with yourself during your stay in Israel). When you leave Israel, they collect your blue tickets and give you a red exit ticket. And since some Muslim countries (such as Iran, Yemen and few more) don’t allow entry to visitors, who have been in Israel before, by removing the stamps Israel helps the tourists to hide all signs of their Israeli trip. See more info here.
CURRENCY, MONEY CHANGE AND COST
The official currency of Israel is the shekel (ILS or NIS). Currently 1 USD = 3,64 NIS, and 1 EUR = 4,18 NIS. Money changing is easy since there are a lot of change offices in the cities. So this is not a problem. But maybe the biggest problem is the cost of everything. Israel is one of the most expensive countries in the world. A simple lunch of hamburger, chips, and coke can be around 30-40 NIS. Hotels are expensive too. A budget place to sleep is usually more than 300-400 NIS per night. However, in the Palestinian territories, the prices are much lower. Still expensive, but not as the rest of the country,
There are few main ways of transport in Israel unless you arrange your Israel itinerary with a travel organized group.
All buses are numbered. Not only those, which are within the cities but the intercity buses too.
The city buses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are a little bit complicated. You have to buy a bus card, called Rav Kav Card- from the bus driver or from an office at some of the main bus stations. They can provide anonymous Rav Kav Cards, which you have to load with money (again, with the help of the office seller).
The buses to the Palestinian territories are more simple- you just enter and buy a ticket from the driver, without a card. But actually, even in the other buses, where Rav Kav Card is required, once you buy and load it, it becomes easy and convenient too.
Light Rail in Jerusalem
It is a convenient tram, crossing the Western part of Jerusalem. It is easier to use if you don’t have a Rav Kav Card- just buy a ticket from the automatic kiosk, which is in every light rail station.
There is also a train network in Israel, which can also be used as a convenient way of transport, especially near the western Mediterranean coast. It connects the main cities in the country: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Beersheba.
We used the train transport in Tel Aviv, between Ben Gurion airport and Holon district (south of the center). Within Tel Aviv, the train is more like a subway, with many stations. Buying a ticket is easy, just from every station’s kiosk. The stations in Tel Aviv were very nice, there is even a piano in every station that we have been, where everybody can play, just for relax.
Rent a car in Israel is very convenient, and actually not very expensive, especially if you are a few people together, to share the cost. A small car was perfect for my family, finally, it was even cheaper than the bus transport. There are many rental car companies, from which some bigger ones are: Hertz, Shlomo Sixt, Budget, Alamo and Cal Auto. We rent a car from Cal Auto because their price was the cheapest. Usually, if you pick up a car from one location, but drop the car in other location, there is no additional tax for that.
During our trip, we picked up a car from Cal Auto in Tel Aviv for 5 days and dropped it in Cal Auto Jerusalem. Then we used only local transport in Jerusalem, and finally again picked up from Jerusalem, traveled to Eilat, back to Tel Aviv and dropped the car there.
When you add fuel, there are no workers in some petrol stations, so you have to use a credit card, add your name and local ID card. But of course, since you are a tourist, you don’t have a local ID card. We had such experience, and fortunately, other local drivers helped us using our credit card, but their ID card No.
The legal taxis are very correct and the taxi drivers are very polite. However, not all taxis are real and legal. Before you get in the taxi, look whether it has a taxi meter, invoice device, and GPS. Even without a taxi meter, they are usually still legal, but you have to discuss the price first. And again, concerning the price, taxis are more proper for small groups of few people to share the cost- in such case the price is not more expensive than the city bus transport.
Check out your flight information for reaching and leaving Israel:
It is a special weekly Jewish holiday. It starts every Friday at 18:00 and ends on Saturday 18:00 (some restaurants, shops or other companies close even earlier at Friday and start working much later than 18:00 at Saturday, or just open on Sunday).
During Shabbat usually EVERYTHING, which is Jewish stops working. Shops, malls, banks, companies, even public transport completely stops. If something is still working, usually it is held by Arabs.
So, it is better you prepare for this event in advance. Buy some food, because it may be very difficult to find an open shop or restaurant. Plan your Israel itinerary having in mind that you may not find any transport at that time. If you don’t have your own transport, better use this day just to relax, walking and exploring only one place around.
The food in Israel follows the two main culture groups: Jewish and Palestinian Arab. There are a lot of street fast food with hamburgers, chips, tomato and some other things of this kind. The Palestinian food is more Arabic- there are a lot of doners and falafels on the street. The larger restaurants offer mainly European food, especially in the Jewish areas. For the vegetarians- they also have a lot of choices, not only in the restaurants but also in the fast foods.
The hotels and even hostels in Israel are quite expensive, starting from around 200 NIS (the cheapest ones). We personally used mainly AirBnB. It was not only a slightly cheaper, but also we have an opportunity to make a closer contact with their hosts, and to know more about local people’s life. Thus AirBnB accommodation was not just for sleep and relax, but it became an active part of the trip.
Check out your accommodation options in Israel here:
MOBILE SIM CARDS
There are various kinds of Mobile SIM cards. We personally used a local SIM card for 100 NIS (honestly I forgot which mobile operator), which included 50 NIS for the card itself and 50 NIS for 15 GB/30 days mobile internet and unlimited phone calls within Israel only. It was completely enough for us, enough for such kind of trip. So you just can ask for such kind of SIM cards in any mobile shop (be aware to buy a prepaid card). For more information, you can see here.
SCAMS AND SAFETY
Despite some media news, Israel is a very safe country. The only exception is the area close to the border with Gaza, where the terrorists through arson balloons causing a fire on the farms and fields in Israeli territory. Yes, there are some cases when a mad Palestinian kills a Jew, but it is nothing more than a criminal case, no more often than any other criminal cases of this kind all over the world. However, just because it is between a Palestinian and a Jew, it gets a political color. But, for travelers, Israel is one of the safest countries in the world.
You can see soldiers (men and women) with guns walk free on the streets. We even saw a soldier, playing with friends in Ein-Gedi waterfalls, almost naked (only wearing swimming shorts), but holding his gun. Actually, those soldiers really contribute a lot to the safety.
However, if you rent a car (which is with an Israeli number), it may be dangerous to enter in some parts of the Palestinian territories. The locals don’t know that you are only a foreign visitor and may throw stones on the car (cases like this are rare, but we still heard from others). Another place that may be dangerous for independent travelers, is Hebron. We have heard about some cases, in which local Palestinian children beg for money from such travelers. If the travelers give them some money, immediately more and more children come to beg. If they don’t give, the children become aggressive and may throw stones. It was one of the reasons why we skipped Hebron. But if you join a group to Hebron, it is safe.
Be aware of false taxis. We had such a problem in Jerusalem. After two times getting an Israeli taxi, very satisfied of their service, on the next day we got another “taxi”, completely unaware that it may be false (at that time we didn’t have such experience). We even forgot to discuss the price. So when we arrived at our destination (it was from the Old City to Israel Museum, which normally should be around 40-45 NIS, he required from us 90 NIS. We didn’t have the exact sum, so I gave him a banknote of 200 NIS, expecting him to back 110. He grabbed the 200 NIS, put it somewhere, then took out another banknote of 20 NIS and told us that I gave him only 20 NIS and have to give him more 70 NIS! After a quarrel, which became more and more serious, I began to worry about the safety of my family, so we just gave up the case and went out of his car.
COSTS AND FINAL CONCLUSION
So, what is the final conclusion and cost for an Israel itinerary like this?
Accommodation: We used mainly Airbnb accommodation. Average cost (usually per room, not per person)- around 200-250 NIS/night
Car rental: 750 NIS for 5 days, then 480 NIS for 3 days
Fuel: around 1000 NIS for 1500 km total
Food: We mostly ate simple food from the local supermarkets, only sometimes in a restaurant or fast food. Average per person: around 100-150 NIS/day
– City bus: around 7 NIS per person/one bus
– Taxi: In Jerusalem- from Old City to Israel Museum should be around 40-45 NIS, from Old City to Yad Vashem- 65-70 NIS
– Train (in Tel Aviv): around 9,50 NIS (from Ben Gurion airport to Holon district)
– Light rail (in Jerusalem): 5.90 NIS per person
Destinations entrance fees: it was relatively cheap. Many of the destinations were free. For other destinations like Caesarea, Tel Megiddo, Capernaum, Chorazin, Beit Shean, Qumran, Ein-Gedi, Israel Museum, Tower of David and some more, there were entrance fees, mostly between 20 and 50 NIS.
SIM card: 100 NIS total
Finally, the result was a great and meaningful trip, which I would recommend to everybody, who wants to make an exploring journey to this amazing country.
Check out some travel, history and reality books about Israel:
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