Travel to Israel

Charles Clore Beach, Tel Aviv

As of September 2021, I have been fortunate to travel to Israel three times, once for a wedding and twice for work meetings. I would definitely like to go again when travel becomes easier. I can still remember the delicious food, the sun, beautiful architecture and nature. In addition, there are endless historical and cultural sites to visit and learn about. My first travel to Israel was in April 2018 to attend the wedding of friends from Tel Aviv. Although that was the main reason, I stayed longer to explore more of Israel and Jordan.

This post is for general tips for travel to Israel and I will write specific posts for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, since I spent more time in each city. The country is small and has been compared to the size of the state of New Jersey. However, within the small country there is a rich history and multiple cultures. At times, there is unrest and sometimes even turmoil, but there are many beautiful sights and experiences in Israel.

As of May 2022, I have also visited and added posts for Akko and Haifa. Both are beautiful coastal cities in the north part of Israel.

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Mount of Olives, Jerusalem
Sheinkin Street, Tel Aviv
Sheinkin Street, Tel Aviv
Cable car up to Masada
Cable car up to Masada

Highlights

  • Jerusalem city tour and visit to the underground part of the West Wall (more details coming in the specific Jerusalem Guide)
  • Tel Aviv for the beach, city architecture, food scene, and markets (more details coming in the specific Tel Aviv Guide)
  • The day trip to Bethlehem was very interesting and included the Church of the nativity with the birthplace of Jesus, the manger, Milk grotto church and many important religious sites. There are also cool graffiti works by Banksy.
  • Floating in the Dead Sea was truly a unique experience. Besides having the lowest bar in the world, the beach and water are worth a visit. The salty water feels almost oily and you can float very easily. There are also many places selling products with Dead Sea mud and salts.
  • Masada palace on a hill with great views of the Dead Sea area. So much history here including a Roman siege. I learned a lot from the introduction video. We took the cable car but some people with more time and energy walked up the hill
  • Swimming in the red sea in Eilat, near the southern Jordanian border
  • The old walled city of Akko or Acre has beautiful, historic sites right next to the sea
  • Haifa is also a coastal town near Tel Aviv, and the Bahá’í Gardens are worth seeing

Before you go

  • Citizens from most countries can visit for up to 3 months with a free visa upon arrival including the US and UK
  • The entry and exit cards are available at machines in the airport. Instead of stamping your passport, you get the small card that you should keep safe with your passport
  • Keep your travel documentation in hand at all border checks as the entry and exit from Israel can be very thorough. Also be prepared to answer questions about your visit
  • When leaving, security can sometimes take awhile at the airport so leave plenty of time. If you have carry-on bags only then there is a separate queue just before security rather than the airline counters
  • Be respectful and aware of religions as many of the interesting places to see are religious places
  • Most people speak English so it is easy to travel around
  • Be aware of the current events in the country as there are times when it is more dangerous to travel to Israel
  • During Passover, some restaurants are closed and bread sections of supermarkets may be restricted
  • At times, I felt harassed by men when I was on my own. I received lots of personal questions including where I was staying (which I would not say!). It was not too scary but did feel a bit aggressive. My Israeli friends said that the men can be pushy and persistent.
Swimming in the Dead Sea, floating in the salty water
Swimming in the Dead Sea, floating in the salty water
At the palace ruins at Masada
At the palace ruins at Masada
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Transport

  • The flight from Paris or London is about 4-5 hours direct
  • Ben Gurion international airport is about 30 minutes by car to Tel Aviv and almost an hour to Jerusalem. This can depend on traffic. There is public transport by train and bus from the airport to Tel Aviv. This saves money but can take over an hour.
  • There are official taxis at the airport and follow signs to “Special Taxi”. Do not go with the drivers who are waiting just outside the door
  • In 2018-19, Uber was not very reliable so locals instead recommended the Gett app
  • For travel to other parts of Israel there are public buses, organised tour buses, or the option to rent a car
  • Bein Harim tours did a great job for the day tours from Jerusalem

Accommodation

  • In Tel Aviv, I have stayed at Gordon Inn (simple, clean, close walk to the beach; I stayed in the new extension), Fabric Hotel (trendy, comfortable, modern), Brown Hotel (fancy, rooftop bar, good air conditioning, breakfast vouchers for nearby restaurants), and Florentin House (trendy hotel / hostel, modern, clean, cool area). Most recently in May 2022, I stayed at a small hotel called HermeSpa. The room was comfortable and had air conditioning. However, there are no staff there late at night and it was very difficult to get to my room when my flight was delayed.
  • I stayed at the Agripas Boutique hotel in Jerusalem. It was a great location within walking distance of the Old City and interesting markets. However, I could not find a recent link and wonder if this hotel is still open…
Banksy graffiti in Bethlehem
Banksy graffiti in Bethlehem
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Street art in Tel Aviv
Street art in Tel Aviv

Currency

The currency in Israel is the shekel. In September 2021, one British Pound is equal to 4.44 shekels.

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

50 Israeli shekels
Spices in Carmel Market, Tel Aviv
Spices in Carmel Market, Tel Aviv
Cooking class at Abraham Hostel, Tel Aviv
Cooking class at Abraham Hostel, Tel Aviv- Shakshuka
Bread bakery in Jerusalem old town
Bread bakery in Jerusalem old town

Food

I could write pages about the food in Israel. I love it and there is an incredible amount of diversity and flavour! There are also many choices for vegetarians.

The breakfasts may seem unusual to some, but I recommend trying shakshuka. This is a vegetarian dish with eggs poached in a tomato and pepper sauce, often served with bread.

Speaking of bread, many types of bread are delicious here. Pitta bread to wrap falafel, bread sprinkled with zatar spices, Jerusalem bagels, challah braided sweet bread, and more.

Some of my other favourite dishes include the roasted cauliflower with tahini, falafel, Jerusalem artichokes, fresh pasta, raw and grilled fish, beet root ravioli with cheese, and grilled meats. The wine and beer are also tasty.

Also the food at the wedding at Beit Hasmachot was delicious and plentiful. A highlight was a dessert table created and decorated as a piece of art by the chefs as a live spectacle. Incredible!

I will write more about the truly amazing Tel Aviv food scene!

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No, not for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as it is easy to walk and visit both cities. However, for the further out places it was convenient for me to go with tour companies for the transport to do day trips.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Yes almost everyone spoke English except at very local places like the nail salon. That is when you may either need a friendly person to translate or use GoogleTranslate

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes it is mostly safe to walk around the cities. The less safe areas are clearly mentioned in the news and on the internet. In Jerusalem at the time, there had been some incidents between religious groups, so the general advice was not to walk around at night in the Muslim area. However, in general I felt safe as a tourist walking around and sticking with the crowds. The men could be quite pushy and aggressive but did not follow me around when I refused to answer questions such as where was I staying and did I want to meet for a personal tour…

Q: How easy is it to send postcards?

A: It is easy to find postcards and to buy stamps at the post office in Israel. See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

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