Guide for Travelling in Israel for First-timers
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Covered in the Article
- Our Getaway to Israel
- Planning a Vacation to Israel
- Before the Departure
- Departing to Israel
- Getting Around In Israel
- Things to See in Israel
- Leaving Israel
- Bottom Line
Our Getaway to Israel
We had a short holiday in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem a few years ago. While our main purpose was to attend Eurovision Song Contest, we had also allocated days for sightseeing in both these interesting cities. In May, the weather in Israel is really pleasant which made it possible to enjoy Tel Aviv's great beaches under warm but not too hot sunshine.
During our enjoyable getaway, we encountered some challenges and we got confused with local habits. To help other travellers in Israel, we collected the most practical tips for a smoother journey.
Planning a Vacation to Israel
Planning a trip to Israel does not differ much from travelling to other countries. As always, there are a few important things you need to take into account.
Understanding the Destination
Before entering a new county, it is necessary to know the basics of the destination. Israel is a state for Jewish people. The country has Mediterranean climate. Israel is known for strict security measures but according to our travel experiences, life as a traveller is relaxed in Israel. It is always important to respect local customs no matter where you are.
Israel is an economically developed society.
Insurance and vaccinations
The most important thing is to purchase travel insurance. In a case of illness or an accident, healthcare in a foreign country may become expensive without proper preparation. It is vital to have travel insurance with high maximum protection.
Another health-related important thing is vaccination. Contact your physician to confirm that you have received all the mandatory vaccines.
Passport and Visa
Confirm if travellers of your citizenship require a visa to be able to travel to Israel. If yes, secure the right type of visa from the Embassy of Israel. Make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the journey. With lacking valid travel documents, you are not allowed to enter the country.
It is also necessary to have a proof of your travel insurance.
We were kind of surprised that hotels in Israel are pricey. To save some budget, we booked 3-star hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but they were still expensive compared to the quality we received. Especially in Tel Aviv, the quality was low despite the high price tag. In Jerusalem, our hotel had much better amenities.
If you prefer to stay in a good quality hotel, prepare to pay a little more. Book at least a 4-star hotel that has many good reviews on a reliable booking site. Booking.com is one of the best agencies to book a hotel.
Our Tel Aviv hotel was a bad choice. During the Eurovision Song Contest, the price level of hotels was high and it was a wrong decision to save from the hotel. Luckily in Jerusalem, we were luckier and we stayed in Hashimi Hotel which was worth the money. It was located inside Old Jerusalem but it was still quiet and very clean. If you decide to stay in this hotel, you need to be aware that Hashimi Hotel follows strictly family values whereas an unmarried woman and man can't stay in the same room.
Before the Departure
Confirm travel advice from your government or for example, read the UK's travel advice to Israel. The situation in the Middle East is sometimes unstable so we recommend reading the latest travel advice just before the trip.
Israel has its own currency, Shekel. You may take dollars, euros or your own money with you and change them in money exchange offices. However, we recommend using Curve card like we did. Curve offers free currency conversion and you can easily save 20-50 dollars during the journey while saving some of your time too.
In addition to cash, it is recommended to have at least two separate payment cards with enough funds.
Mobile roaming in Israel is super expensive. There is public WiFis available but to be able to use Google Maps and taxi applications everywhere, you need to be connected online wherever you are. The best solution is to have a local SIM Card.
We used SIM to Israel. A SIM card can be ordered online before the journey. There are two delivery options. You may choose the SIM card to be delivered to your home by post (international delivery possible) free of charge or the card can be picked up from the airport. The best part is that mobile plans are affordable and they have a lot of data included. This was a perfect solution for us while travelling in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Departing to Israel
Security measures in Israel are strict to protect the country against terrorism. It is wise to arrive at your departure airport early enough because passengers travelling to Israel may be inspected or even interviewed meticulously already before boarding the place. Double-check that you have all the required valid travel documents.
Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport
Most likely you are landing at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv if you intend to visit Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. There are many direct flights from all over the world to Tel Aviv and with one hop, you can reach Tel Aviv basically from anywhere.
Tour operators may have also charter flights to Eilat.
Be ready for a few questions by the interviewer at Ben Gurion Airport and be prepared to prove your claims with pieces of evidence.
Airport Transfer to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem
Airports in Israel have public transport options. During Sabbath, public transport may not operate. For example, it is impossible to reach Tel Aviv from Ben Gurion Airport by train or by bus during Sabbath. Reaching Jerusalem by a shared taxi, Sherut may still be possible.
If you are heading to Tel Aviv on Sabbath, a taxi is the best option. Uber is banned in Israel and you need to use a local similar application called Gett. It is also possible to take a taxi from the airport's taxi queue.
Getting Around In Israel
Israel has a well-working bus and rail network but buying a ticket may be a tough task for a first-timer. For example, not all buses accept cash payments.
We recommended buying a public transportation card called Rav Kav. Buses and trains may accept other payment methods too but Rav Kav is a practical solution. Rav Kav cards can be bought from bus and train stations. You can top up money or load daily passes to the card.
It is possible to buy Rav Kav at Ben Gurion Airport after landing. Topping up the card or buying tickets is possible also online. Refer to the instructions on the official Rav-Kav website.
Uber is not widely available in Israel. You need to install a local taxi app, Gett to your phone. The rides will be metered, so you do not know the exact price before the journey but the app calculates the fare correctly. The payment will be charged from your credit card so there is no need to hassle with money inside the car.
You may also hail a regular taxi and pay by cash. Be sure that the meter is on or agree on a price beforehand.
Buses and Trains
To board a local or long-distance bus or train, you need the Rav Kav or another accepted payment method to pay for the journey. Many buses do not accept cash payments at all.
Public transport does not operate on Sabbath which begins on Friday evening (a few minutes before sunset) and continues until Saturday evening. Prepare to move by walking or by taxi at these times. For travellers unfamiliar with Shabbath, this religious observance entails Jews refraining from work activities to honour the day.
Things to See in Israel
Tel Aviv Beaches
Tel Aviv has nice beaches and the water is warm during summer. While visiting Tel Aviv, you will also enjoy beautiful sunsets.
Old Jaffa in a historical area inside Tel Aviv. It is separated from modern Tel Aviv but it is still easily reachable by a local bus. We recommend spending one full day in Old Jaffa. There are many cosy restaurants with good food and many beautiful things to see.
Jerusalem and Holy Sights
Jerusalem is just an hour's ride away from Tel Aviv. You can take a public bus from Tel Aviv's bus station to Jerusalem's bus station. In Jerusalem, there is a lot to see especially in the Old Town. You will be mesmerized to witness that Jews, Muslims and Christians live peacefully together and you will find many famous holy spots.
The Dead Sea can be reached easily from Jerusalem. Because the Dead Sea is wide, we recommend heading to the nearest beach from Jerusalem to save time. There is a beach called Kalia which is only 60 minute's bus ride from Jerusalem. The beach is more than 400 meters below sea level and it gets really hot during the summer!
If you wish to fly to Kalia Beach, Tel Aviv is the nearest airport.
Kalia Beach is the lowest point on the earth. You can reach this tourist hot spot thru bus number 486 from Jerusalem. Exit at Waterpark stop. Be sure that your Rav Kav has enough value to complete the return trip. The entrance fee to the beach area is 59 shekels for adults while 48 shekels for children and students and senior citizens, discounts are to be availed only with a valid ID. In addition to the beach, you will find restaurants, a bar and a souvenir shop. You may want to pay for the package upon admission which includes lunch or massage.
If you are just looking for flights to Kalia Beach to have a short visit, flying to Ben Gurion Airport is the best solution. From the airport, taking a train to Jerusalem takes only 30 minutes. From Jerusalem Train Station, it is possible to continue to Kalia beach by bus number 486.
Spending a day there is a relaxing experience.
Other Things to See in Israel
Israel has much to offer. One of the easiest options is to attend organised tours. Check GetYourGuide for high-quality tours around Israel.
When flying out from Israel, it is recommended to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before the scheduled departure. There will be a mandatory interview and you will be asked many questions. Our tip is just to answer honestly. The interviewer may be provocative but just remain calm and consistent in your replies. By doing so, most likely the interview can last only a few minutes.
Having a holiday in Israel is not cheap but it won´t drive you to bankruptcy either. With the right choices, you can keep the costs within your budget limits.
Have you been to Israel? Comment your bests tip below!