One of the most frequent questions I get asked is if I have any specific tips for traveling to Israel.
You see, Israel is a country I know really well – I have been there many times already, for prolonged period of times, and each time I visit it’s a bit like going home. I have so many friends, and with time have become family. I get regular calls which usually start with the question: “When are you coming home?”
But if you are planning your first trip, I bet you have many questions running through your mind – things such as “Is Israel safe to visit?” or “How much money should I budget for my trip?”
Don’t worry: I am here to help you and will try to share as many tips for traveling to Israel as I can think of.
33 Very Useful Tips For Traveling To Israel
Learn a bit of Israel’s history before going
Let me start this post on the useful tips for traveling to Israel with the most important one: learn at least the basics of Israel’s history before going. 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 the period of World War I, when the Middle East was a protectorate of Britain. The idea did not come into place then, but only subsequent to 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 on them.
But there is more to Israel than just its geopolitical situation and its complicated past and present. This is a country of innovation – did you know that it is known as the start up nation? It’s the country that has been using new and experimental agriculture techniques successfully; it’s a country of incredibly resilient people.
Just keep these things in mind when visiting. And in fact, if you want to learn more, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem – and joining one of these two tours – I have taken both, and can’t decide which one is better:
- Gaza Border reality tour – they have departures from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is a very intense tour, during which you will learn more than you will see. It is a bit like a crash course about the situation in Gaza.
- Dual narrative tour of Hebron – this tour takes you to one of the most contested 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).
Make sure to read my posts Everything You Need To Know Before You Visit Palestine and What You Should Know Before Doing A Hebron Tour.
Consider the culture
One of the most important tips for traveling to Israel is to understand the basics of its culture. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that around 75% of Israelis are Jewish. However, this doesn’t mean that they are religious (for example, only two of my friends are religious!). In fact, 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.
What is interesting, though, is that even non-religious Israelis value Shabbat, which means that even though they don’t go to the Synagogue, 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, but there is much more to it than just a day of the week. Shabbat marks the day of rest for religious (and even non-religious) Jews around the world, and even more so in Israel. 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.
Most people in Israel spend Shabbat with their family.
Religious ones go to the synagogue several times (or to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem). Orthodox Jews are forbidden from using their phone, electricity (even elevator, and in fact many buildings will have a Shabbat elevator that stops at each floor); driving; riding a bike. It’s not uncommon to see Orthodox Jews protesting against non-religious people who don’t want to abide by the Shabbat rules.
But what does Shabbat mean for people who are only just visiting Israel? It hardly is a nuisance, if you keep this things in mind: public transportation throughout the country stops working so if you are planning on visiting places out of town one of the best tips for traveling to Israel is to plan to 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.
You can learn more about Shabbat on this guided walking tour. And 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.
Appreciate that Israelis are very direct
Israelis are very blunt. They won’t ever hide what they think from you – whether you like it or not. Some people find this rude, but try to look at it the other way around: you will never have to read anyone’s mind, and if you are annoyed by something or someone, you can just as easily speak up. So, one of my tips for traveling to Israel is to embrace this attitude: be polite, but always assertive.
Almost everyone speaks English
I remember the time I walked inside a shop in a mall in Jerusalem and asked the assistant whether he spoke English. He laughed loudly and – with a strong but beautiful Israeli accent – told me: “Of course I speak English, this is Israel!”
This is to say: even if you don’t speak a word of Hebrew, you have nothing to worry about. You will get by with just English. I can guarantee you that.
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. I have never heard it used as goodbye (most people will just say buy).
- Shabbat Shalom: Good Shabbat. You will hear it loads on Fridays, as Shabbat approaches.
- 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 (this is honestly one of my favorite Hebrew words!!).
- Beseder: ok.
- Mah: what.
- Slicha: sorry / excuse me.
- Bevakasha: please.
- Lehit-rahot: see you later.
Carefully decide when to visit
Deciding when to visit a place is key for the outcome of your trip; so one of the most important tips for traveling to Israel is to pick your dates wisely. I assume you’d like me to tell you when the best time to go is and just be done, but I must admit that this is easier said than done.
The good news is that you can visit Israel year round – there won’t be anything to stop you from doing that, at least. But keep in mind that 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; but on the other hand those are the best months to enjoy the Mediterranean beaches. Spring and Fall are great if you want to hike or just tour around; the winter months bring in a lot of rain (I am pretty sure it rained for a solid month when I was there between December and January), but that means snow in the highlands in case you want to go skiing.
Another thing to consider is the religious holidays, because accommodation books up much faster then, and prices will inevitably rise.
Christmas is hardly a thing in Israel – celebrated only by the Christian communities – but it is high season because people from the rest of the world will have time to travel. On the other hand, Jewish holidays such as Pesach (Easter) or Roshashana (Jewish New Year) in September are huge, with lots of Israeli taking this as an opportunity to travel outside the country or to go camping and explore their backyard.
Hopefully this will help you decide when to visit.
Check out your passport or visa requirements
Among my tips for traveling to Israel, I recommend to check out that your passport meets the minimum requirements to enter the country. You will need to make sure that it is 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 to enter Israel. 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
If you like the idea of collecting stamps on your passport, you may be disappointed by this: Israel doesn’t stamp passports anymore. In fact, it hasn’t been doing that for quite a few years now. Try to look at this the other way around though: there are many countries that may give you a hard time if they see a stamp from Israel on your passport, so this is really handy.
However, if you plan to go to Jordan – ie if you are planning to join this two-day tour of Petra departing from Tel Aviv – your passport will be stamped by the Jordanian border control authorities, and there will be no mistake where you came from. I remember when I crossed the border to Jordan I asked several times not to stamp my passport (they can stamp a paper slip, if they care to listen to your request) but after sending me from one office to the other, they eventually stamped it, completely ignoring my request.
Since Israeli border control won’t stamp your passport, you will be given a small blue paper slip (like the one in the photo above) with a grainy photo, and your passport number (I obviously edited mine out of the photo) and date of entry. That really is the only proof that you have entered the country legally – so, one of the tips for traveling to Israel is 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 one 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, whether on the way in (you will be questions before even checking in your bags) or out. I only know too well!
If you happen to have a stamp from Iran, tough luck: you may be questioned for hours; required to strip down to your underwear; your phone or computer will have to go through a check as well. My friend went through the entire ordeal.
I have been through the process many times (in fact, every time I travel to Israel), so here are a few tips for traveling to Israel starting from security checks:
- Be patient – if you look nervous, stressed, angry, that will only arouse the curiosity of the guards and the process will end up taking even longer.
- Always state the truth – if you end up being caught in a lie, the questions will be endless.
- Be friendly – remember that airport guards are only doing their job.
I am honestly so used to these checks that I am not even bothered anymore.
It’s a safe country to visit – even for solo female travelers
One of the most common questions I get asked when I say I frequently visit Israel is whether it is safe to visit.
The short answer to the question is YES! In fact, I think it is one of the safest countries I have ever visited, in general but even more so as a solo female traveler. 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. My tips for traveling to Israel in this case is to 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 – both males and females – 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 on soldiers roaming the streets of the city, using public transportation, carrying a rifle and being actually very blasé about it. Indeed, soldiers are required to learn how to use them. But that’s about it.
One of the important tips for traveling to Israel is to pack wisely. As a general rule of thumb, make sure to break 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 (definitely, if you visit in the summer) or at least the Dead Sea, where it is hot year round.
However, remember that modest clothing is necessary when entering religious sites – which is likely the case if you are planning on visiting Jerusalem – and even more so if you visit certain 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, you will have to 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, one of my tips for traveling to Israel, especially for the LGBTQI readers here, is to visit during pride week. Pride in Tel Aviv truly is something else, with an enormous parade with 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. So, one of the most important tips for traveling to Israel is to budget your trip very, very carefully. Pick your accommodation wisely (more about that below) – apartments on Airbnb are generally more budget friendly than hotels and even hostels.
Other ways to cut down are by keeping your food expenses down by cooking at least some of your meals; using public transportation to move around as much as possible.
At the time of writing, the exchange rate is roughly 3.45 NIS (Israeli Shekel) to $1 USD and 3.90 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
- 40 to 50 NIS – pint of beer
Pick your accommodation wisely
This will be one of the most useful tips for traveling to Israel and it can really change your experience in the country.
I already wrote before that this is one of the most expensive countries in the world. 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 often 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.
My recommendation is to 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
Finally, here are a couple of Airbnbs I can recommend:
- Feingold Studio – it’s located on Yafo St. in Jerusalem, so right in the heart of the modern city and at 10 minutes walk from the Old City. You get the entire apartment, which is charming and comfortable. Perfect for a couple.
- Room in Tel Aviv – this is a nice room with ensuite bathroom in the center of Tel Aviv, minutes away from the beach. The owner Nimrod is a real star and his dog lovely.
You must tip your waiter
Tipping is pretty much part of the culture in Israel, so one of my tips for traveling to Israel is to be prepared to tip your waiter at a restaurant. You can tip anything between 10% of the total, up to 15% if you think the service was outstanding. But never try to walk away without tipping – not unless you want the waiter to run after you (remember what I said about Israelis being straightforward?). 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. However, for your peace of mind I recommend getting 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. You can just select the duration of service and it doesn’t end up being too costly. It will also make using apps such as GETT (see below) or Google Maps or Waze much much easier.
Move around by public transport – or GETT
Despite the many complaints of Israelis, public transport is quite reliable in Israel. One of the best tips for traveling to Israel is to 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 all the way to the border with Palestine, as those work on a different system) and it allows you at least some savings.
One of the best tips for traveling to Israel that I can share is to download the app GETT. It pretty much is the local version of Uber and you can use it to call 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
One of the tips for traveling to Israel I love sharing is to 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 (if it doesn’t make sure to download Waze for directions and traffic tips). 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 of it vile – but at least I know it is safe.
You must visit a market
In fact, you must visit many. Markets are a great place to learn about the local culture; you may be able to find some nice souvenirs to bring back (be prepared to haggle) and you can even try some local specialties – I am a huge fan of limonana (fresh lemonade with mint) and even pomegranate juice. Among the best markets to visit, there are Mahane Yehuda and the Old City Suq in Jerusalem, and El Karmel in Tel Aviv.
Make sure to check out these market tours:
- Local food experience in Tel Aviv – a fun tour during which you will learn about local culture through food.
- Carmel Market tour with lunch – Shuck Ha-Carmel is the most famous one in Tel Aviv and a real must-see.
- Tel Aviv Levinsky Market tour – another popular market to visit in Tel Aviv.
- Jaffa flea market tour – this is one of the most beautiful part of town, and the market truly special.
- Culinary market experience in Jerusalem – Mahane Yehuda is a feast for the eyes and your taste-buds, and this tour will prove it.
Food is delicious
Israel is one of the best destinations in the world for food. 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.
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 you can ever hope to find. There also are many vegan and Kosher restaurants throughout the country.
Make sure to read my posts A Complete Guide To Israeli Food and Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide: The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv for more information, and opt for a guided food tour to fully appreciate what’s on offer. Here are some tours:
- Tel Aviv vegan culinary tour – I took this tour during my last trip to Israel and learned to appreciate the vegan culture of Tel Aviv.
- Tel Aviv classic food tour – a great tour through Tel Aviv’s nicest neighborhoods, which you experience through food.
- The ultimate dinner – you visit four restaurants, enjoy ten different courses and pair each of them with wine – you can’t possibly wish for more!.
- Carmel Market tour with Beit Hair museum visit – a great tour to taste local specialties such as za’atar – a delicious mix of herbs perfect on bread or labneh cheese.
- Tel Aviv street food tour – a market tour with lots of food tastings.
GOOD TO KNOW: Israel also produces some excellent wines!
Breakfast is EVERYTHING
Important tips for traveling to Israel: skip all meals but breakfast.
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 – the Old City Suq and Mahane Yehuda are only the main ones; good restaurants; museums; art galleries and much more to keep busy.
GOOD TO KNOW: 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
Here’s a tip for you: 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, which during the night is a real 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
Here’s one of the best tips for traveling to Israel: plan to spend enough time in Tel Aviv.
Most travelers see that Tel Aviv has less attractions in the traditional sense of the term and decide to dedicate much less time to it compared to Jerusalem. BIG MISTAKE! This is a city that honestly deserves at least three full days (or years, if you ask me). It has a great cultural life, 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 so it is not rare to go inside a bar and – by the time you walk home – smell like an ashtray.
But there’s more.
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 here’s one of the best tips for traveling to Israel: 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 in Tel Aviv are fantastic year round, attracting people who opt to 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.
GOOD TO KNOW: 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
Remember that I told you to pack a swimsuit regardless of the time of year you are planning to travel? That’s right, because one of the most fun things to do in Israel is visiting the Dead Sea. You can go there on day trips from either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and once there you can cover yourself in the Dead Sea mud – which is 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, which is close to the Dead Sea; but you should also consider going to Caesarea, which is 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.
Further readings about Israel
Are you planning a trip to Israel? Make sure to read my other posts:
- The 10 Best Places To Visit During A Trip To Israel
- 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
Can you think of more tips for traveling to Israel? If so, let me know in the comments!
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