Visit Israel! – Essential Travel Tips for your Israel Vacation
Israel is an amazing country and a popular tourist and pilgrimage destination. A vacation in Israel can be the trip of a lifetime, but it’s definitely worth following a few essential travel tips to get the most out of your holiday. Read on for a guide on how to plan your dream holiday in Israel and really explore this unique and fascinating country with these essential travel tips when you visit Israel.
Why Choose Israel for a Vacation?
If you're Jewish, Israel is an obvious choice for a vacation - all Jews should visit at least once in their lifetime. The capital city Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish faith and the three other holy cities of Judaism (Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron) are all within driving distance of Jerusalem. Even if you’re not religious, it’s still interesting to explore your cultural heritage and get a taste of life in a modern Jewish nation.
If you’re a Christian, Israel is the cradle of your faith and is packed with important religious sites. These include Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, and countless minor Biblical locations. It’s easy to stand on a high point like Mount Tavor and imagine the landscape as it must have appeared 2,000 years ago.
Religion aside, Israel is a superb destination with something for everyone. It sits on the ancient trade routes between Europe, Africa, and Asia and has an incomparable history. Israel also has an incredibly varied landscape, is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, and has some of the world’s best beaches and nightlife.
Israel sits between the Eastern Mediterranean and the warm Red Sea and is just a short flight from Europe. If you’re looking for a sunny winter break, Eilat is ideal. Israel is also close to Jordan and Egypt (and the Sinai). Travel between the three countries is fairly simple and convenient and you can easily plan a wider tour that takes in several of the world’s ‘must see’ places e.g. the Wailing Wall, Petra, and the Pyramids.
When is the Best Time to Visit Israel?
If you’re planning to lounge on the beach in Tel Aviv all day and party at night, the summer months are definitely the best time to come. The weather is sunny from Mid May to Mid September and can be really hot during July and August. The kilometers of sandy beaches are a paradise for sun lovers and the sea is beautifully warm.
If you’re planning a more energetic vacation in Israel, Spring and Autumn are probably the best time to visit. The weather is sunny and pleasant and there’s usually a refreshing breeze. Depending on when the first/last rain fell, you might also be treated to the wonderful seasonal greenery in the North, or see the unforgettable sight of flowers blooming in the desert.
The Spring and Autumn are generally a lot more comfortable if you’re planning to walk around Israel’s cities or go hiking around the country’s nature resorts and historical sites. Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Ako can be hot and humid during the summer months. October and November can be perfect to explore the City of Ako and its Crusader sites on foot. The same applies to the Old City of Jerusalem.
Is it Safe to Travel to Israel?
Generally speaking, it’s perfectly safe to travel to Israel. The country is in the Middle East and has some issues with terrorism, but the overall crime rate is generally low compared to the US and Europe. Tensions do flare up occasionally in the Middle East. If your own government issues warnings against travel, you should follow them. Most of the time Israel is quiet and millions of foreign tourists visit every year in perfect safety.
Israel is like any other modern country. If you use your common sense and follow basic safety precautions, you’re unlikely to encounter any problems. The people are usually friendly and helpful and will go out of their way to help tourists. A few rough areas aside, you’ll be perfectly safe walking around and exploring - even at night.
How do I get around in Israel?
Israel is a small country. If you take away the desert, it’s comparable in size to a bunch of US counties joined together. Even with the Negev, you can still drive from Israel’s southernmost city Eilat to Metula in the far North East in a single day. The variety of scenery that you’ll encounter en route will blow you away!
If you want to get around in Israel you’ve got 3 main options and a few less conventional choices.
- Hire a car
- Travel by bus
- Travel by train
Driving in Israel
If you’re planning to travel around Israel and want some freedom and flexibility, hiring a car is the way to go. There are plenty of affordable options for car hire and the country has an infrastructure of major highways. Road signs are in English and Hebrew and you can drive on either a foreign license or an international driver’s license.
The downside to driving in Israel is that it can be slightly unnerving for many foreigners. Israelis are wonderful people in many ways, but they aren’t the world’s best drivers - and definitely aren’t the world’s most gentlemanly drivers. Your first time on Israeli roads can be a culture shock.
Israeli roads are still a lot safer than many countries - and traffic cops do enforce the rules - but you should be alert and allow yourself extra reaction time. Aggressive and selfish driving and constant beeping isn’t a personal attack, it’s just the local style - so keep your cool. A smile, and the words “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Hebrew” will usually defuse any situation on the spot.
Travel by Bus in Israel
Bus travel is often an overlooked option for tourists vacationing in Israel. If you want a day out, without the hassle of driving, a bus journey can be a good option. Egged buses (and a few other companies) run regular inter-city services across the entire country. If you want a day out in Tiberias, or Safed, consider catching an early bus.
You can sit back and enjoy the scenery - and the air conditioning. Israelis are gregarious and will often strike up conversations with strangers. A bus journey can often be a surprisingly good way to meet locals. It’s worth bearing in mind that Sunday mornings and Thursday afternoons can be busy. Buses are often packed with soldiers going home or returning to their bases.
Travel by bus is affordable and the intercity buses make plenty of stops along the way (you don’t necessarily have to travel to the local bus depot to board a bus). Local knowledge is a big plus here. The only other drawback of traveling on buses in Israel, and public transport generally, is that there will always be at least one passenger who insists on talking loudly on their mobile phone.
Travel by Train in Israel
Trains in Israel are pretty good, but unfortunately don’t cover the whole country. The coastal line is amazing and gives you fast and convenient access to every town and city between Ashkelon in the South and Nahariya in the North. If you want to visit Haifa or Ako for a day, take the train. The railway is also ideal for a quick trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - with Ben Gurion Airport en route. You can easily get from the Center of Jerusalem to the Center of Tel Aviv in 40 minutes or so. The big advantage of trains is that you won’t get stuck in rush hour traffic, or the frequent traffic jams around Israel’s two main cities.
The rail lines also run to Beersheva, Modi’in, Bet Shean, and other cities, but you will need to catch connections. If you plan your day carefully, a train journey will leave you plenty of time to explore your destination. The trains are clean, safe, and usually punctual. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Hebrew. Platform signs are in English and other passengers will help you. A window seat on a train is a great way to relax and see the beautiful Israeli landscape.
Travel to Israel for the Adventurous
Most people get around in Israel by car, bus, or train, but there are other options. Shared taxis or sheruts ply a (completely legal) trade along major bus routes. They are basically minivans converted to carry passengers. You can flag them down and pay cash for a seat. They are usually a bit cheaper than the buses and often a lot faster. Traveling in a sherut during off-peak hours can definitely knock some time off an inter-city journey, but you can still get caught in the rush hour traffic.
Hitch-hiking is popular in Israel. Male soldiers thumb rides home from their bases, or between postings. Israelis are sociable and many will pick up any hitchhiker who doesn’t look threatening. The warm weather can make waiting for a ride easier, but you should always take plenty of water with you.
Use your common sense if you do hitchhike. It’s better to cause offense by refusing a ride than to take a stupid risk. Single females aren’t advised to hitch rides with strangers, but there are ride-sharing apps and a request for rides on social media can generate good safe offers. Men are safer taking rides with strangers, but should still be cautious. Hitch-hikers have been abducted by terrorists in the past. Never hitchhike without a mobile phone, and always be aware of your current location.
Quick Questions about Traveling in Israel
Israel is a western country with a modern infrastructure. It’s easy to get around and you’ll have a great time. If it’s your first time in Israel, here’s some basic info:
Do I need a visa to visit Israel?
Most visitors automatically receive a free 90-day tourist visa when they land in Israel.
What is the currency in Israel?
The Israeli currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS or ₪). It’s easy to change money and many tourist-orientated businesses will also accept US dollars. Almost all businesses accept credit cards.
Is Israel closed on the Sabbath?
It depends where you are. Some localities close businesses and public transport between Friday afternoon and sunset on Saturday. Tel Aviv and other secular cities have open minimarkets, bars, and restaurants in Shabat. Haifa also operates public transport on Shabat.
Can I drink the water in Israel?
Yes, all tap water is safe to drink in Israel. You can also buy locally produced mineral water in every supermarket, grocery, and kiosk (small store).
Do people speak English in Israel?
Most Israelis speak English - and enjoy practicing their English with tourists.
Can I visit religious areas in Israel?
Yes, but you should show basic respect when you enter religious sites or explore a religious neighborhood. Women in particular are expected to dress modestly. Usually, all that means is long sleeves, a long dress or trousers, and possibly a headscarf.
Do I need health insurance in Israel?
Israel has some of the world’s best medical facilities and everybody is guaranteed emergency treatment. Health insurance for travelers is always recommended in any case.
Is it safe to go hiking in Israel?
It’s usually safe to go hiking in Israel, and there are some amazing trails, forests, and national parks. There are no dangerous predators, but you should keep one eye open for snakes. If you take basic common-sense precautions and respect your environment, you should have a great time hiking in Israel.
How do I get internet and mobile services in Israel?
There is extensive wifi and network coverage in Israel. You can either use roaming with your existing provider or take out a short-term mobile rental in Israel.
If you’re traveling to Israel this summer, check out our best summer destinations. Hopefully, we’re done with COVID-19 restrictions for good and the airports will stay open for the rest of 2022. Israel is one of the world’s most interesting and exciting tourist destinations - and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome!