One of the most frequent questions I get asked is if I have any specific tips for traveling to Israel.
This is a country I know really well: I go at least twice a year, for prolonged periods of time; I have many local friends. So, if you are planning your first trip and have questions such as “Is Israel safe to visit?” or “How much money should I budget for my trip?” I can help.
Continue reading, and I will share everything you need to know.
37 Very Useful Tips For Traveling To Israel
Learn a bit of Israel’s history before going
Let’s start with one of the most important tips for traveling to Israel!
This is one of the most complicated countries in the world, and I don’t want to oversimplify its history here. But a quick summary may help.
The idea of a Promised Land of Israel is more than 3000 years old. According to the Torah, the land was promised to Jews already during the Iron Age.
Through a series of persecutions, Jewish people got scattered around the world. The idea to form a State of Israel dates back to World War I, when the Middle East was a protectorate of Britain, but only came into place after World War II, when more than 6 million Jews were killed in concentration camps by the Nazis. Holocaust survivors feared going back to their home countries; and during and after the war many other countries shut their doors to them.
Following the 1947 UN partition plan, Palestine was divided into two states – a Jewish one and an Arab one. Jerusalem was placed under UN administration. This plan never really came to life and on 14 May 1948 the Jewish Community led by David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel.
As a consequence, the Arab neighbors attacked Israel and lost even more territories. Palestinians fled and there have been many wars and peace treaties. To date, there still is no solution to the conflict – though Israelis and Palestinians only want peace. Meantime, the reasons for the conflict changed.
Israel is also a country of innovation, known as the start up nation. It’s the country that has been using new and experimental agriculture techniques successfully.
Just keep these things in mind when visiting. And in fact, if you want to learn more, visit Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem – and join one of these two tours – I have taken both, and can’t decide which one is better:
- Gaza Border reality tour – with departures from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it is a bit of a crash course about the situation in Gaza.
- Dual narrative tour of Hebron – it takes you to one of the most fought over cities in the conflict. You will hear both sides of the story, so it is up to you to decide who is right and who is wrong (hint: you won’t be able to).
- Everything You Need To Know Before You Visit Palestine
- What You Should Know Before Doing A Hebron Tour
Consider the culture
Israel is a multi-cultural country. There are 3 main groups, identified with the monotheistic religions practiced in Israel: the Jews (some religious, others secular), who are the majority of the country; the Muslims and the Christians.
Around 75% of Israelis are Jewish, but most Israelis are secular: they follow the latest fashion trends; they drive their car on any day of the week; they love a good party. Even non-religious Israelis value Shabbat: they may not go to the Synagogue, but they will spend Friday evening and / or Saturday morning with their family. Most of them don’t care to follow a kosher diet (which forbids eating certain foods, and the pairing of others); but hardly any will eat pork.
Learn about Shabbat
Shabbat literally means Saturday, and marks the day of rest for religious (and even non-religious) Jews around the world. It starts right before sunset on Fridays and ends right after sunset on Saturdays, and it is a time during which religious people are meant to connect with their inner self.
Religious people go to the synagogue several times (or to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem) during Shabbat. Orthodox Jews are forbidden from using their phone, electricity; driving; riding a bike. It’s not uncommon to see Orthodox Jews protesting against non-religious people who don’t abide by the Shabbat rules.
But what does Shabbat mean for tourists? Here’s what: public transportation throughout the country stops working so if you are planning on visiting places out of town you must rent a car or join a guided tour; most restaurants in Jerusalem are closed, but not in Tel Aviv; shops are closed throughout the country.
If you want to have a proper Shabbat experience, you may want to book a dinner through Betzavta. Finally, make sure to read my post What You Need To Know About Shabbat In Jerusalem.
Almost everyone speaks English
Israelis are friendly and welcoming, and almost everyone speaks good English – so it’s easy to talk to them. Even if you don’t speak a word of Hebrew, you have nothing to worry about.
Learn a few words before going
Having said that, one of my tips for traveling to Israel is to learn a few key words and sentences in Hebrew. It’s just a nice way to start a conversation! So, here are a few must-know:
- Shalom: it literally means peace and it is used to say hello.
- Shabbat Shalom: Good Shabbat. You will hear it loads on Fridays.
- Boker Tov: good morning (Tov is Hebrew for “good”).
- Laila Tov: good night.
- Bevakasha: please.
- Toda or Toda Raba: thank you; thanks a lot.
- Ken: yes.
- Lo: no.
- L’chaim: cheers.
- Sababa: cool / great / of course.
- Beseder: ok.
- Mah: what.
- Slicha: sorry / excuse me.
- Lehit-rahot: see you later.
Appreciate that Israelis are very direct
Israelis can be very blunt – perhaps more than you’d like. Some people find this rude, but try to look at it the other way around: you will never have to read their mind, and if you are annoyed by something or someone, you can just as easily speak up. So, embrace this attitude: be polite, but always assertive.
Carefully decide when to visit
You can visit Israel year round – there won’t be anything to stop you from doing that, at least. Different seasons bring in different experiences. Furthermore, albeit being a small country (you can drive all the way from the border with Lebanon to Eilat in the Red Sea in 6 hours), there are various climates and environments (including deserts and mountains).
Temperatures can get unbearably hot in the summer months, especially between June and September – the best months to enjoy the Mediterranean beaches. Spring and Fall are great if you want to hike; winter brings a lot of rain, and snow in the highlands in case you want to go skiing.
Another thing to consider is the religious holidays: accommodation books up much faster then, and prices will inevitably rise.
Christmas is only celebrated by the Christian communities – but it is high season because people from the rest of the world will have time to travel. Jewish holidays such as Pesach (Easter) or Roshashana (Jewish New Year) in September are huge, with most Israeli traveling outside the country or camping and exploring their backyard.
Check out your passport or visa requirements
Make sure that your passport meets the minimum requirements to enter the country. It has to be valid for a period of at least 6 months from your time of intended travel.
If you are traveling from the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom or any European Union countries, you won’t need a visa. On the other hand, if you are a citizen of an Arab country, chances are you will need to apply for a visa even before booking a flight – double check that!
Keep the blue paper slip you receive at the airport
Israel hasn’t been stamping passports for quite a few years now, which is actually good news as there are many countries that may give you a hard time if they see a stamp from Israel on your passport.
Instead, you will be given a small blue paper slip (like the one in the photo above) with a grainy photo, and your passport number and date of entry. That really is the only proof that you have entered the country legally – so, do not to lose it! You won’t really be asked for it (I was only asked when entering back Israeli territory after visiting Palestine), and once leaving you will be handed a similar paper slip, but in pink. You will need the blue card also for VAT refund claims.
Don’t be afraid of airport security
Israeli airport security has to be the most thorough you can think of – in other words, annoying. Or it really can be nothing. It really all depends on the stamps on your passport, your age, and whether you are traveling alone or in a group. If you are a solo traveler, male or female, between 18 and 45 and have stamps from countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco (even though they do have diplomatic relationships with Israel) security will take significantly longer, especially on the way out.
If you happen to have a stamp from Iran, tough luck: you may be questioned for hours and your phone or computer will have to go through a check as well.
I have been through the process many times (in fact, every time I travel to Israel), so here are a few tips:
- Be patient – if you look nervous, stressed, angry, that will only arouse the curiosity of the guards and the process will take even longer.
- Always state the truth – if you are caught in a lie, the questions will be endless.
- Be friendly – airport guards are only doing their job.
It’s a safe country to visit – even for solo female travelers
Israel is one of the safest countries you can travel to – in general but even more so for solo female travelers. People are generally very respectful of travelers; usually up for a chat and very friendly.
Having said so, there is no denying that this is a country with many tensions – but not to the extent that international news like to portray. Use the typical precautionary measures: read your country travel advisory before flying (this is the one for US citizens); keep your wits about when walking down the street or in public places; get used to going through security at bus and train stations; avoid protests in the West Bank or on the border with Gaza.
Soldiers are everywhere
All Israelis – men and women – have to serve in the army for a period of up to three years, from the age of 18. One of the most common sights is that of soldiers roaming the streets of the city, using public transportation, carrying a rifle and being actually very blasé about it. But that’s about it.
One of the most important tips for traveling to Israel is to pack wisely. Bring comfortable shoes, as you will likely be walking a lot. Pack a swimsuit no matter the season, because chances are there will be a beach to enjoy wither in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea or the Dead Sea.
Modest clothing is necessary when entering the religious sites in Jerusalem – and even more so if you visit Orthodox neighborhoods. For example, if you plan on joining this guided tour of the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem you will need to be covered pretty much from head to toe. If you are a woman, wear long pants or a skirt that covers your knees, and cover your chest and shoulders – and likely your hair in some sites. Men won’t be allowed to wear shorts or tank tops.
It is very gay friendly
Israel is one of the most gay friendly countries in the world. In fact, I recommend visiting during pride week. Pride in Tel Aviv truly is something else, with an enormous parade and lots of music, dancing, friendship.
Consider the travel costs
Tel Aviv regularly makes the list of the most expensive cities in the world, and the rest of the country ain’t much better. You need to budget your trip very, very carefully. Pick your accommodation wisely and keep your food expenses down by cooking at least some of your meals; use public transportation to move around as much as possible.
At the time of writing, the exchange rate is roughly 3.30 NIS (Israeli Shekel) to $1 USD and 4 to €1 Euro.
As a general guidance, these are a few prices:
- 5 NIS – bus ticket
- 10 to 15 NIS – cup of coffee
- 20 to 25 NIS – hummus and pita in a budget eatery
- 70 to 130 NIS – meal in a restaurant
- 22 to 26 NIS – pint of beer
Mind the scams
We often get confused with a currency we are not familiar with. A common scam in markets Israel is that of quoting prices in Israeli Shekels, and then charging in US Dollars. You will inevitably end up paying more than you should! Always pay in the local currency. Or, if it’s easier for you, just pay by card – they are commonly accepted in Israel.
Another thing to watch out for is the prices of taxis. Download Gett for cheaper taxi fares.
Pick your accommodation wisely
Your accommodation can really change your experience in the country.
Israel is expensive. A bed in a hostel dorm will cost you an average of $25 USD including a modest breakfast; a private room in a hostel costs more than $100 USD. The price of hotels is even higher.
Airbnbs are a bit more budget friendly, but they are a hit and miss. The rental situation in Tel Aviv is less than good, with apartments that have seen better days and owners that couldn’t care less to refurbish them, and the same goes for some Airbnbs.
Read all reviews carefully – but keep in mind that negative ones often don’t make it out there. You should also read my posts:
- Where To Stay In Tel Aviv: Recommendations By An Almost Local
- Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv: A Complete Review
Tip your waiter
Tipping is pretty much part of the culture in Israel. You can tip anything between 10% of the total, up to 15% if you think the service was outstanding. Never try to walk away without tipping – not unless you want the waiter to run after you. In general, the wages of waiting staff are quite low, so they will count on tipping to make a living.
Get a local SIM card
Wifi is found pretty much anywhere in Israel – all hotels and restaurants have it, and there even is public wifi in most of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For your piece of mind you can get a local SIM card as soon as you arrive. There is a kiosk at Ben Gurion airport arrivals hall, or alternatively you can go to the newsagent nearby. Select the duration of service and it doesn’t end up being too costly. A local SIM card makes using GETT, Google Maps or Waze much easier.
Move around by public transport – or GETT
Despite the many complaints of Israelis, public transport is quite reliable in Israel. Get a Rav Kav – Israeli’s public transportation magnetic card – as soon as you arrive. You can use it on trains, buses and the light-rail throughout the country (but not on buses that go to Palestine, as those work on a different system) and it allows you at least some savings.
You also need to download GETT, the local version of Uber for taxis anywhere in the country.
Finally, for a truly local experience you may want to rent a city bike – both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are very bike friendly, with bike lanes connecting the entire city – or the locals’ favorite: a scooter (or korkinet, as they call it).
Rent a car
Driving in Israel is safe and easy (well at least it is for us Italians!) and most cars will come with a GPS system. You don’t need an international driver’s license to rent a car, but keep in mind that although the car rental prices are very competitive, the final bill will be quite high with mandatory insurance and other fees.
You can drink the tap water
Tap water is safe to drink in Israel, unless otherwise stated, and you will be normally served tap water at restaurants unless you ask for bottled water. Personally, I find the taste vile – but at least I know it is safe.
You must visit a market
Markets are a great place to learn about the local culture; you may be able to find some nice souvenirs to bring back and you can even try some local specialties – I am a huge fan of limonana (fresh lemonade with mint) and even pomegranate juice. You should visit Mahane Yehuda and the Old City Suq in Jerusalem, and Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.
Food is delicious
Israel is one of the best destinations in the world for food. Food is just delicious there. The combination of great ingredients such as top quality olive oil; fresh produce; and simple yet tasty recipes makes it a paradise for foodies. There is an incredible choice of vegetarian, vegan and overall healthy food options.
Whether you are looking for a traditional meal of Jewish food or for Middle Eastern cuisine, or you fancy some international cuisine such as Thai or Vietnamese, you are bound to find what you want.
Hummus is another must try in Israel (though it actually is a Palestinian traditional food), and the real thing should be eaten as soon as it is made. Keep in mind that, traditionally, this is a breakfast food. So don’t be surprised if the best hummus places close by 2:00 pm.
If you observe a particular diet – ie vegan or Kosher – you won’t have any issue at all. Most food you can get at grocery stores in Israel is classified as Kosher; and shops like Teva Castel carry the most incredible choice of vegan food. There also are many vegan and Kosher restaurants throughout the country.
Make sure to read my posts
- A Complete Guide To Israeli Food
- The 17 Best Restaurants In Jerusalem
- Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide: The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv
GOOD TO KNOW: Israel also produces some excellent wines!
Breakfast is EVERYTHING
Honestly, you don’t know what brunch is until you travel to Israel. If breakfast is your favorite meal you are in for a real treat. Benedict is Israel’s favorite chain and they do breakfast 24/7, but that’s not the only place you will be able to enjoy it. Pretty much all restaurants offer brunch at least some days of the week (and definitely on a Friday and Saturday morning). My favorite is Mi Casa, in Herzliya – a city north of Tel Aviv. It’s honestly worth the 20 minutes drive to get there.
You must try Bamba
If you want a real Israeli snack, go to any store and ask for Bamba. It’s a snack made of – I honestly don’t know, but one of the ingredients is peanuts. It’s best with beer.
Go to Jerusalem for the culture
One of my main tips for traveling to Israel is to head straight to Jerusalem as soon as you land. It’s the city that will require you most time, with many sites of historical, religious and cultural importance. You will find markets; good restaurants; museums; art galleries and much more to keep busy.
A site of such religious importance, Jerusalem holds high significance for many a visitor who build up a lot of expectations before visiting and end up crumbling down when they are finally there. This phenomenon – the Jerusalem Syndrome – is actually quite rare but it has been documented. You can read more about it here.
But not only
Don’t rule out a bit of nightlife in Jeusalem. This city is much more than meets the eye and you will find a multitude of pubs, bars, cocktail bars and much more to keep you entertained until the wee hours. In doubt, head to Mahane Yehuda market, a hotspot for youngsters who want to enjoy a drink and a chat. For a more sophisticated evening, Gatsby Cocktail Room (pictured above) is a great choice.
Make sure to check out my post 15 Great Bars In Jerusalem.
Spend enough time in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv deserves at least three full days (or years, if you ask me). It has a great cultural life and museums, a fantastic bar and party scene, restaurants galore and the vibe is just oh so incredible. You just have to live it to believe it.
Don’t be surprised if many smoke inside bars
I know, it is gross. Smoking in public places was banned in Israel in 2004 and another law of 2019 tried to reinforce the prohibition, but the law is hardly enforced. Another thing to know is that smoking weed in Israel is very common. It was decriminalized in 2017 – though smoking marijuana in public places is still forbidden. But – you got it – it still happens.
Enjoy the beaches in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is home to many incredible beaches, so bring your swimsuit and plenty of sunblock, pack a towel and just go. If you are not traveling to Israel in the summer, worry not: the beaches are fantastic year round, attracting people who go there to exercise (many go running along the waterfront, and it’s a great experience!).
GOOD TO KNOW: Israelis are obsessed with Matkot – it’s like paddle ball, but played on the beach. They play it year round, and the noise of the ball being hit is a summer favorite!
Make sure to read my post 15 Great Tel Aviv Beaches.
While in Tel Aviv you can definitely go surfing. If you want to go diving you will have to head to other destinations further north in Israel (on the Mediterranean) or to Eilat, on the Red Sea (which is also a great destination just for snorkeling).
And learn to float on the Dead Sea
You can visit the Dead Sea on day trips from either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and once there you can cover yourself in the Dead Sea mud – supposed to have many beneficial properties, and then float in the water – it really is impossible to swim!
These are the best guided tours that take you to the Dead Sea:
Visit the archeological sites
You will find many interesting archeological sites scattered around Israel and you really should visit at least one. The most popular one is the Masada, close to the Dead Sea; but you should also consider going to Caesarea, often visited on guided tours to the North of Israel such as this one.
Check out my post Masada Sunrise Guide: Hiking The Masada Snake Path.
Go on a hike
So, here is the last of my tips for traveling to Israel: pack your hiking shoes! You will find many good trails around the country, in national parks and not only. Galilee and the Golan are the best areas for hiking, but even the mountains surrounding Jerusalem have good trails. And if you want a multi-day hike, you will have ample choice. I can definitely recommend the Jesus Trail which goes from Nazareth all the way to the Sea of Galilee – you can read about it on my post Everything You Need To Know To Hike The Jesus Trail.
Environmental protection and responsible tourism in Israel
Israel isn’t considered a wildlife destination, but you can admire dolphins and other species in the Red Sea.
One of my tips for traveling to Israel is to triple check reviews of whichever company you want to hire for activities that may involve the use of animals. For example, if you want to dive with dolphins in the Red Sea make sure that they aren’t attracted with food. If there’s any indication that this happens, opt for another company. Or just don’t go.
Israelis love animals and many of them own cats and dogs. It is quite common to see cats hanging around the streets of a city. Most of them are taken care of by shelters or nice locals: they are spayed and neutered; well fed and taken care of. If you are spending some time in the country, consider volunteering at a local shelter.
With regards to environmental protection, Israel still has a bit of work to do. While this is slowly changing and more Israelis are making an effort, many still don’t recycle. Aside from the typical trash found in all big cities, there is also an issue of big waste being abandoned where it shouldn’t be – forests, the highway, and similar places. Make sure to do your bit to protect the environment, for example using a water purifier rather than buying plastic bottles.
Are you planning a trip to Israel? Make sure to read my other posts:
- 29 Things To Do In Jerusalem You Can’t Miss
- 21 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Tel Aviv
- The Best Bars In Tel Aviv For The Best Tel Aviv Nightlife
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Haifa, Israel
- 17 Truly Unmissable Things To Do In Eilat, Israel
- The 13 Best Day Trips From Tel Aviv
- 9 Fantastic Day Trips From Jerusalem
- Where To Get The Most Impressive Views Of Jerusalem
- What You Must Know Before Visiting Temple Mount And Dome Of The Rock
- How To Plan The Perfect Trip To Israel
- The Best Places To Visit In Israel
- The Best Airbnbs In Tel Aviv
Can you think of more tips for traveling to Israel? If so, let me know in the comments!