Israel doesn’t let anyone be indifferent! Only mentioning its name may spark a live discussion, but here we won’t cover the incredibly complex geopolitical status of Israel and Palestine. In this post, we want to explore Israel as tourists and share everything you need to know before traveling to Israel!
Israel has beautiful beaches, fantastic snorkeling places, cool hikes, a long, complex, significant history, and a unique mix of cultures. It’s also, obviously, a colossal peregrination area for three major religions! It’s evident that this is a very interesting country to visit!
This guide includes 50 things to know before going to Israel to help you better understand Israel and make your trip easier and more enjoyable. We will be looking into the people, tourism, travel destinations, the best way, the costs of traveling in Israel, and much more…
Israel and the Israelis
Where is Israel?
#1 Israel is located in western Asia in the Middle East. It’s bathed by the Mediterranean Sea (to the east) and the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba (a very short strip to the South). Egypt and Gaza Strip border Israel to the west, Jordan, West Bank, and Syria to the east, and Lebanon to the north.
#2 You should note that Israel is tiny! You can easily drive from the north to the south in one afternoon. This means that everything is much closer than you may think. It’s great if you prefer to set a base and do day trips.
The exact borders of Israel are subject to many discussions, even in the West Bank, there are areas controlled by Israel.
Also, you should note that Tel Aviv is Israel’s major economic and technological center, but its self-appointed capital (and biggest city) is Jerusalem. However, many countries don’t acknowledge that. In fact, many Muslim countries don’t even accept the country’s existence, but that’s a whole other issue.
Who are the Israelis?
#3 Israel has a population of about 9 million people. An inhabitant of Israel is an Israeli, but not all Israelis are Jews! In fact, only about 75% of the population is Jew, while about 20% are Arabs, and the remaining are from other ethnicities.
When it comes to religion, about 75% are Jewish, 18% are Muslim, and only 2% are Christian. The remaining population follows other religions.
You should note that Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state and the nation-state of the Jewish people!
#4 Israel was built by immigrants from all over the world, and despite all (or almost all) of them being Jews they came from different cultures. This made Israel a very diverse country and a real melting pot of cultures.
Whoever you are, you won’t stand out from the crowd. In fact, most of the time, it’s very difficult to distinguish Israelis from tourists. A few times, people came to me and started taking in Hebrew, thinking I was a local…
#5 The official language of Israel is Hebrew, but Arabic is also spoken (by the Arabs mostly) and is a recognized language.
A certain degree of English is spoken widely and is the language of choice for many Israeli businesses. Almost everyone we interacted with spoke English, and many of them spoke it almost perfectly, so you won’t have any problems in this regard.
Many road signs and official documents are written in 3 languages (and alphabets), Hebrew, Arabic, and English. It’s great for us tourists because it’s completely impossible to understand Hebrew and Arabic. After all, they use different alphabets.
Is it easy to interact while traveling in Israel?
#6 As we said above, almost everyone speaks English, making it very easy to interact with almost everyone. However, this interaction is, many times, very weird. Israelis are generally very impatient and sometimes plainly rude or even borderline disrespectful.
This was a very surprising thing for us, we weren’t expecting it at all. We even googled about it to make sure we weren’t being crazy or unfair, and apparently, it’s an opinion shared by a lot of people.
Important note: There are obviously plenty of very lovely Israelis; we have met a few that were really cool guys. Unfortunately, the majority of people weren’t that pleasant to interact with. Thus, you should be aware of this peculiarity and be prepared to deal with some not-so-pleasant interactions.
#7 Israel is one of the few countries with a mandatory military service requirement for women. However, the compulsory service is currently two years and eight months for men and “only” two years for women. According to the Defense Service Law, enlistment to the Israeli Defense Forces is mandatory for all Israeli citizens who have turned 18, with some exemptions.
Why is this interesting, you may ask? You’ll see lots of military in Israel, in particular in Jerusalem. And you’ll notice that there are lots of military women.
If you look closer, you’ll also notice that they are very young, and most are very pretty… Because of this, you’ll also see plenty of tourists asking them to take pictures, which they often do!
The climate in Israel
#8 The northern and coastal regions of Israel have a Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers and cool, rainy winters. Whereas Israel’s southern and eastern areas are characterized by an arid climate year-round.
The rainy season goes from October to early May, with rainfall peaking between December and February. You should note that rainfall varies considerably by region from the North to the South. The highest rainfall is observed in the North and central parts of the country, while in the southern part of Israel, rainfall is negligible.
On the other hand, the city of Eilat, located at the southernmost point of Israel and at the northern tip of the Red Sea, has a good climate for beach holidays all year.
Best time to travel to Israel
#9 The best time to visit Israel is in Spring before the heat becomes insupportable or in September and October when the heat starts to go down and temperatures become mild and pleasant. Summer is extremely hot – you should expect 30-35°C (85-95°F) every day, which isn’t nice to travel outside… even to the beach.
Traveling during Spring or Autumn also means it’s shoulder season for tourism in Israel, which means fewer tourists. You should also try to avoid religious and pilgrimage dates; during those days, the country tends to become really crowded.
Israeli Culture and Society
#10 Israel is a developed country. It’s the most advanced country in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Israel has very few natural resources, and a big part of the country is arid or desert, but the quality of its educational and health system and its bet on the high-tech industry really paid off.
Israel is regarded as one of the most innovative countries in the world, a major player in the high-tech industry, and has one of the world’s most technologically literate populations. In fact, Tel Aviv is considered the second most important hi-tech center in the world (after silicon valley in California).
#11 Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, and it’s taken very seriously in Israel. It officially starts a few minutes before sundown on Friday and lasts until the first three stars appear in the sky on Saturday.
During Sabbath, most businesses are closed – shops, restaurants, tourist attractions, and even public transportation do not work during Sabbath.
Make sure you plan ahead what to do on the Sabbath, how to get there, and where to eat… or you get an unpleasant surprise. If you are in Jerusalem, we suggest you go to the western wall on Friday evening and see the Jewish celebrations.
#12 Israel is both conservative & liberal at the same time. There’s a saying in Israel: “Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem prays,” and it really reflects the different cultures of the two most important cities in Israel.
Tel Aviv is a very modern, liberal city with a carefree attitude, a huge LGBT community, wild nightlife, and a relaxed approach to drugs. It’s perfectly normal to see girls in a bikini walking down the street.
Jerusalem is very different, it’s orthodox, conservative religion plays a central role. There you should dress and act modestly. While Tel-Aviv is modern, Jerusalem is ancient, bursting with history. One can feel the weight of the past only by walking around.
Is it safe to travel to Israel?
#13 This is one of the main questions when planning a trip to Israel… the country (or the region) receives really bad press regarding safety, with lots of news about bombs, missiles, or some kind of civil unrest! However, as a tourist, it’s improbable that you will find any problems when traveling to Israel.
We think it’s important to separate external safety from internal safety. There are many issues with the state of Israel and its neighbors. And violence between them may occur. However, it’s safe and easy to travel in Israel (and even to the West Bank).
During our trip to Israel, we have never felt unsafe. We walked around at night in several cities, and it was peaceful. If safety keeps you from going to Israel, you need to rethink and start planning your Israel travel.
Nevertheless, we advise you to travel with insurance! You never know what may happen on a trip, and to enjoy it without worrying about what can go wrong, travel insurance is crucial – it covers not only the costs of medical problems but also theft and loss of valuables.
Travel to Israel and tourism
#14 Tourism in Israel is booming. Israel tourism reported a 14% increase in 2017 and a 42% increase in 2016. Tourists come to Israel mainly from the USA, Russia, and Europe. Jerusalem is the fastest-growing tourism destination in the world.
Religious tourism (mainly Christian pilgrimage) is obviously very important, but non-religious tourism is increasing very quickly. We are non-religious tourists, so that’s the main focus of this part of the post, but we also enjoyed visiting some important religious sites – Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethelem (in Palestine).
UNESCO Heritage Sites in Israel
#15 Israel is home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites – all of them are cultural sites. Here is the complete list of Israel’s UNESCO heritage sites:
- 1981: Old City and Walls of Jerusalem;
- 2001: Masada;
- 2001: The Old City of Akko;
- 2003: The White City of Tel Aviv – the Modern Movement;
- 2005: The Biblical Tells at Tel Megiddo National Park, Tel Hazor National Park, Tel Beer Sheva National Park;
- 2005: The Incense Route – Desert Cities of the Negev – Avdat, Shivta, Halutsa, and Mamshit;
- 2008: The Baha’i Holy Places in Haifa and the Western Galilee;
- 2012: The Nahal Me‘arot/Wadi el-Mughara Caves;
- 2014: The Caves of Maresha and Bet Guvrin;
- 2015: The Necropolis of Bet She‘arim;
What to do in Israel?
#16 Israel has so much to offer to so many different travelers… It’s really incredible how such a small country can have so much to see and do!
- Do you want to Party? You have Tel Aviv!
- Do you want the beaches? Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean have great beaches!
- Do you want to dwell in a different culture? Israel is the only Jew country and has a unique mix of cultures… There isn’t a country remotely similar to it!
- Are you looking for religious tourism? There can’t be a more relevant place than Jerusalem, right?
- Do you want to snorkel or dive? Eilat in the Red Sea is waiting for you!
- Do you love to hike? The Negev desert, Ein Gedi, and Golan Heights have pretty awesome trails!
- Do you love markets? Almost all Israeli cities have great markets… Jaffa, Jerusalem, Akko, Nazareth…
- Are you looking for historic places and ruins? Caesarea, Masada, Akko, and many others are waiting for you…
But let’s explore a little more these and other cool things to do while traveling to Israel.
#17 Jerusalem is the biggest tourist attraction in Israel, particularly for those looking for historical, religious, and cultural tourism. It’s an incredible city to spend a few days with plenty of things to see and do.
If you are planning a trip to Israel, going to Jerusalem is mandatory! Although, visiting only Jerusalem isn’t enough to get to know Israel. We suggest you spend about three days visiting the biggest tourist attractions and, most importantly, getting to know the city’s vibe.
The old town of Jerusalem is obviously the most important thing to visit and where almost all the major attractions are! Plus, what isn’t in the old town is close and reachable by walking or by public transport.
In our opinion, the best thing to do in Jerusalem is to roam freely through its quarters. In seconds we go from Jewish to Armenian, Christian, and Muslim quarters. It feels like time and space traveling at the same time.
One may think of Jerusalem as a live museum, but it’s so much more! Jerusalem is history itself!
#18 As we said above, Tel Aviv is very different from Jerusalem – it’s hip, modern, and liberal – a completely different side of Israel, but less than one hour away—a side that’s similarly attractive, but to other people and for very different reasons.
Tel Aviv is a very lively city with a very young population. It’s world-renown for its crazy nightlife and beaches. In fact, we believe that Tel Aviv has some of the best urban beaches we have ever visited. The water is warm and clear, the sand is soft, and there are some waves to play around with… Plus, there are beautiful people everywhere!
Besides the beaches, in Tel Aviv, you can also find the Carmel Market, the old port town of Jaffa/Yafo, and one of the biggest collections of Bauhaus buildings in the World. You can easily spend a few days exploring the beaches, history, and culture of Tel Aviv!
#19 Eilat is located in the southern tip of Israel, on the edge of the Negev desert, bathed by the red sea. The city itself is very small, but it’s a tourist hot spot because of the year-long warm weather, beaches, and plenty of activities available, like hiking and diving.
The red sea in Eilat has great snorkeling and diving spots. The visibility and marine life are amazing, though you are limited in where you can snorkel! There’s also the marine observatory where you can see marine life without diving. It’s interesting but smaller than we thought. It’s ok for adults, but kids will love it.
#20 The Negev desert is Israel’s hottest and most arid region, but it’s also beautiful. In fact, it’s a pleasant region to drive (with AC on) and enjoy the views.
We strongly suggest you go to Eilat and take your time in the Negev Desert. It has a few amazing things to do and see, which are perfect for a stopover or, maybe even better, for spending a night in the desert.
In the Negev desert, you can find the incredible Mitzpe Ramon crater, Timna Park, and plenty of beautiful canyons, springs, and trails. Among these, we need to highlight the red canyon, which has a very nice, adventurous and really fun hike.
The Red Canyon hike is very short, but it’s really beautiful. During the hike, you need to climb down using the metal bars, ladders, and footholds in the rocks. It’s very cool and less dangerous than it may sound.
#21 Surely, you have heard about the dead sea and its otherworldly characteristics… first of all, it’s by far the lowest place on earth, at about 400 meters below sea level. You can see this by how much you must descend to get to the sea. You can also feel the heat, dryness, and aridity of the region, as it’s one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
However, the most unbelievable feature of the dead sea is its water. The salty water of the dead sea is 10x saltier than the ocean water. This makes it very dense, impossible to dive in, and incredibly easy to float. Going to the dead sea is a must-do experience in Israel, it’s so different from anything else you’ll do anywhere else. Plus, it’s free! The beaches in Ein Bokek are public and have changing rooms and showers!
Please note that the water is really, really salty! It will burn if you have open wounds, goes to the eyes (and even the lips), and the skin may feel very weird afterward.
#22 Also in the Dead Sea area, you’ll find Ein Gedi – an oasis that is also a National Park. In Ein Gedi, there’s also a kibbutz with the same name.
In our opinion, the Ein Gedi national park is a mandatory visit for anyone who likes oases, cascades, hiking, water puddles, and so on. As it’s a really hot area, we strongly advise you to go there in the early morning.
When you finish exploring the park and its many features, we recommend you go to the Ein Gedi kibbutz and have lunch in its cafeteria. It’s a rather weird experience, as you go and eat in the cafeteria, but it’s interesting for those curious about kibbutz.
#23 Haifa is the 3rd largest city in Israel and has the second most important port. It’s an interesting city, but compared with others, it has fewer things to offer, particularly unique ones. The center is interesting but lacks the history of many other cities in Israel.
The biggest tourist attraction in Haifa is the Baha’i Gardens. These are garden terraces around the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel. They are absolutely beautiful and free to visit on a tour. Make sure you know the time of the tour. If you don’t want to, you can view them from above. The gardens also offer breathtaking views of the city and the Mediterranean.
#24 Akko (also called Acre) is located just a few kilometers north of Haifa, and you can easily visit one, staying on the other. In our opinion, Akko is much more appealing than Haifa – it has a long history, a beautiful market, and a charming old town. In fact, the old town is a world heritage site and a must-see in Israel.
In Akko, some of the things you need to do include visiting the port, buying souvenirs in the market, exploring the impressive hospitaller fortress, walking in the city walls, and crossing the templar tunnel. Interestingly, this tunnel was rediscovered a few years ago and connects the sea with the center without crossing the town.
Food and Drinks in Israel
#25 You need to know two very important things about the food in Israel. First, it tastes wonderful! Second, it’s very expensive! We were expecting it to be good and enjoy middle eastern food, but we weren’t expecting it to be so expensive.
Even fast food isn’t cheap compared with almost everywhere else on the planet. It’s basically impossible to find a dish for less than 6/7 USD. The only way to eat for about 10 USD is to eat Falafel and, in some places, Shwarma.
#26 Food in Israel has adopted and adapted elements of various cuisines worldwide, incorporating dishes, ingredients, and cooking styles from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and the rest of the world. You can say that Israeli food is a fusion of traditional foods brought by the Israelis from their home countries.
Dishes and ingredients like Falafel, Hummus, Msabbha, Za’atar, Jachnun, Kanafeh, or Shakshouka are eaten in Israeli, but they also came from other places.
#27 Most restaurants serve only Kosher food. Simply put, Kosher food is for Jews and Halal is for Muslims. This means that food preparation follows certain rules, religious rules.
Among these rules, the three most important that you need to know:
- Can’t eat pork!
- Can’t eat Shellfish!
- Don’t mix dairy with meat!
Have a look at a more comprehensive article about what is kosher here.
What to eat in Israel?
#28 Falafel is a deep-fried ball (or flat or doughnut-shaped patty), made from ground chickpeas, broad beans, or a mixture of both. Herbs, spices, and onion relatives are commonly added to the dough, making it a delicious dish. Each chef adds their own secret mix of herbs, spices, and onion to the dough. You can eat Falafel on its own or as a filling with salad in pita bread.
Falafel is one of the most popular things to eat in Israel. It’s also one of the cheapest. We had tried falafel before, but never as good as in Israel. If you want to keep expenses down, eating falafel is one of the best ways.
It’s believed that Falafel originated in Egipt, but today it’s pretty easy to find as they are sold in about every corner of major cities in Israel (and most of the Middle East).
#29 Israel (and the rest of the Middle East) have several really good dips or spreads. The most famous is the Hummus, but Baba Ghanoush, Msabbaha, and Tahini are also things you really need to try. These are all delicious, healthy (mostly), and vegetarian. You should eat them with Bread, usually Pita.
Hummus is made from cooked, mashed chickpeas (there are variations with other beans and even avocado), blended with tahini, and olive oil, and seasoned with lemon juice, salt, and garlic.
Msabbaha (aka as musabbaha and mashausha) is a variation of hummus, which includes full chickpeas instead of mashed. This means that the biggest difference is the texture. The other ingredients include tahini, cumin, parsley, and lemon. We really enjoyed this alternative to hummus.
Baba ghanoush is another spread served with pita, but it doesn’t use chickpeas this time. Instead, it’s cooked with eggplant. Thus, Baba Ghanoush is cooked with mashed cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and multiple seasonings, including mutabbal.
Finally, we have tahini! You probably have noticed that every other spread here uses tahini as an ingredient, and there’s a reason for it. It has an amazingly smooth, creamy texture and profound taste. It simply goes with everything.
So, what’s tahini, it’s simply a cream made from toasted ground hulled sesame seeds. It’s also served by itself and not only as an ingredient of other famous Israeli dishes.
#30 Shawarma (aka showarma, shwarma) is another middle eastern dish, not only Israeli. In fact, today we can find it anywhere in Europe and it’s one of Europe’s most famous fast food dishes. If you don’t know yet, Shawarma is made with meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie.
Originally Shawarma was made with Mutton, but now you can find chicken, turkey, beef, or veal. It’s very similar to the Doner Kebab and the Greek Gyros. A pita Shawarma is your best option for a cheap (kind of) meat dish. Similarly to falafel, you can find it everywhere.
#31 One of our favorite new things is the Sabich. We only learned what it is during this trip to Israel, and it quickly became one of our favorites quick lunch snacks. This sandwich was brought by the Iraqi-Jewish who migrated in the 40s and 50s.
A Sabich (also written as Sabih) consists of pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, Israeli salad, parsley, and tahini sauce.
#32 Shakshuka is a breakfast dish made with poached eggs in a tomato sauce seasoned with chili peppers, and garlic and spiced up with cumin, paprika, pepper, and nutmeg! It’s usually served with challah bread.
Depending on how much bread you eat, this may be a filling or very healthy dish! Nevertheless, note that the sauce is usually very spicy, which may not be pleasant for some people. For us, yummm…
#33 Finally, we have Jachnun, which is a Sabbath dish. According to Jewish tradition, you can’t work on Sabbath, not even cook, so traditional Sabbath food tends to be served cold or slow-cooked from the day before.
Jachnun is a thinly rolled dough, brushed with oil or fat and baked overnight at low heat. It is traditionally served with crushed or grated tomato dip, hard-boiled eggs, and skhug (a hot sauce from Yemen). This is not the tastiest thing to eat in Israel, but it’s a really traditional experience. If you can find it, we recommend you try it!
Sweets and desserts in Israel
#34 The desserts in Israel are similar to other Middle east countries. They usually include nuts, pistachio, halva, phyllo dough, semolina, dates, rose water, and syrup. Some of our favorites include:
- Kanafeh – our new favorite sweet things! It’s a thin noodle-like pastry, or fine semolina dough, soaked in sugar syrup and layered with cheese. It may or not be topped with pistachio.
- Baklava – the most famous of all Middle east desserts. It’s a nut-filled phyllo pastry sweetened with syrup
- Rugelach – decadent chocolate croissant, usually very small.
- Halva – a sweet made from tahini and sugar, and nuts.
- Dates – Israeli Dates are simply amazing! They are huge, soft, and sooo sweet. It’s like natural candy!
Money And Costs Of Traveling To Israel
#35 The official currency of Israel is the Shekel, and the exchange rate is 1 USD = 3.5 Shekels (in September 2019). When in Israel or Palestine, you should use Shekels. As far as I could see, no foreign currency was accepted to buy and sell things, so you’ll need to get used to them, and we suggest you always have some cash with you.
#36 The good news is that there are plenty of ATMs to withdraw Shekels and many offices to exchange money if you prefer. We always prefer to withdraw money with our Revolut card, as it’s easily the safest and least expensive way to get local currency.
You should note that in Israel, some ATMs charge withdrawal fees while others don’t. The ATMs next to stores tend to charge, and the ones in the banks tend to be free. So, we used to go the several bank ATMs until we found one that didn’t charge a fee.
On the other hand, most stores, restaurants, parks, and so on accept payment with card, debit, or credit even when it’s a relatively small amount.
How much does it cost to travel to Israel?
#37 One of the most important things you need to know before going to Israel is that traveling to Israel is very expensive! This country doesn’t really have cheap things, it’s truly all-around expensive. It’s globally expensive, whereas Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are a bit more expensive than the rest of the country, but we didn’t really find any cheap regions.
During our trip to Israel, we spent 76 USD per person daily, traveling as a couple. As usual, we stayed in cheap hostels and guest houses and tried to eat locally, and often street food, yet it’s one of the most expensive destinations we have ever been to. Jordan also ended up becoming really expensive.
Apart from the flights, these 76 USD include absolutely every expense we had during the trip – including souvenirs, gifts, bank fees, and anything you can think of. Thus it should be a good base to calculate how much you need to travel to Israel – as long as you are a budget traveler like us. If not, the 75 USD can easily become 150 USD or more, even without splurging.
Best saving tips when you travel to Israel
#38 Don’t go…! Kidding… kind of… As we said above, it’s expensive to travel to Israel. However, there are a few things you can do to make it more budget-friendly. Here we will give you some of the best travel tips to save money while traveling in Israel.
- If you are planning to travel to several National parks/reserves, you should buy the National parks, and reserves pass to Israel. There are several passes that offer allow you to enter different parks. Check here which pass is better for you.
- The best way of saving money on food is by eating local street food, particularly vegetarian dishes.
- One other option is booking accommodation with a kitchen and cooking a few meals.
- Public transports are relatively cheap.
- Avoid organized tours and travel independently to destinations. Tours are generally expensive, but if you want to book one, use this!
- Hotels are very expensive in Israel, and most accommodation is overpriced for what you get. Before booking any hostel make sure you read the comments, as there are some pretty bad options!
- Always pay with a card to avoid withdrawing fees. If you use Revolut (or a similar card), you won’t have any additional cost!
Should you tip in Israel?
#39 Tipping is only expected in restaurants. If you go to the local street food corner, you aren’t expected to tip. However, if you go to “normal” restaurants, the waiters work for tips. It’s expected a tip of 10 to 15% according to the quality of the service and your satisfaction.
In other services like taxis, service stations, and hotels, workers don’t typically expect tips.
How to travel in Israel
Are the Public transports good?
#40 Public transportation in Israel works fairly well and isn’t very expensive. If you have enough time, they are a good option for traveling in Israel. Here are some of the things you need to know about traveling in Israel using public transport:
- There are trains connecting most major cities that are relatively fast and comfortable.
- The train is easily the best way of traveling to/from the airport. You can reach the airport from either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem in about 30 minutes.
- You can go from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in less than an hour. It also only takes one hour to reach Haifa from Tel Aviv.
- Public transport doesn’t work on Sabbath, so you must plan your trip around this.
- Note, however, that the exceptions are the taxis and the Arab public buses in Israel work.
- Jerusalem has a light metro, and it’s easy to use and very convenient.
- Incredibly Tel Aviv doesn’t have a metro. It’s still being constructed.
- Uber uses official taxis to transport clients. As always, it’s easy to use, but confirm the price with the driver before starting the service.
- There are buses almost everywhere – from the largest cities to the smallest villages and stop at most major junctions.
- Bus stops in cities and on the roads are marked by a yellow metal flag.
- Note that journeys with connections need a separate ticket for each section.
Things to know about renting a car in Israel
#41 Despite the good public transport system, renting a car gives you the freedom that public transportation can never allow. Furthermore, if you are traveling in a group of 3 or more people, it should be cheaper than using public transport.
However, this means you’ll have to drive in Israel, and that’s… sometimes a pain! Here’s what you need to know about renting and driving in Israel:
- First, and most importantly, you need to be patient, very patient, because Israelis are really impatient.
- Israelis love to honk! They honk for no reason… Get used to it, and… be patient.
- Besides honking, Israeli are really bad drivers. They aren’t crazy or aggressive, but for example, they will zigzag or try to overlap in very weird situations.
- Avoid having to drive in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It’s both a pain and unnecessary.
- There are lots of traffic jams in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If you have to drive in either city, maybe doing it during Sabbath is a good option. There’s much less traffic.
- Driving in Israel is much more pleasant outside the biggest cities, with no traffic and beautiful landscapes. We particularly enjoy driving in the Negev.
- The roads in Israel are fairly good. There are a few exceptions, but that should not be a concern.
- There are only three paid roads. The most important and difficult to avoid is Highway 6, which runs through the middle of the country. This is paid electronically, so you need to figure out with the rent a car how they process the payment. They’ll probably charge for it.
- Renting a car in Israel is very easy, I would say too easy… They just want to check the documents and give you the keys. No explanations, almost no checking of the car…
- Most rental cars in Israel have a few dents, which isn’t surprising with their driving habits. The good thing is that the rental company will hardly notice another small damage you may do to the car.
- All cars in Israel have a code that you have to put in before starting the car.
- Parking may be problematic in many places in Israel. Note that:
- Blue and white lines – paid parking
- Red and White – Parking not allowed
- no lines – free parking
- If there’s a dirt area with many cars parked, you can park there for free. This is very useful – Always search for these before paying for parking.
#42 There are thousands of electric bikes and scooters. It’s by far the most we have ever seen in any country. You can rent them in Tel Aviv, and it’s an easy and cheap way of getting around if you are tired of walking.
Israelis ride them everywhere, in the streets, bike paths, walkways… and as usual, they are impatient and not very careful… Keep your eyes on them as they are silent, and you may not notice them approaching.
Other things you need to know before traveling to Israel
Do I need a power plug adapter in Israel?
#43 Israel uses power plugs and sockets of type C (the euro plug) and H (unique to Israel but compatible with type C), while the standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
If you are traveling from most of Western Europe, you don’t need an adapter, but if you are from the US, Canada, the UK, and most of the world, you’ll need it.
If you need to buy an adapter, we suggest this one.
What to buy in Israel?
#44 Israel is such a unique country with so many peculiarities that buying souvenirs and gifts for people back home is fairly easy. Furthermore, most Israeli cities have nice markets with many things for you to choose from. The only downside is that this country is expensive, and the gifts quickly add up to your budget.
Anyway, these are some of the best things to buy during a trip to Israel:
- Nuts and dried fruits – You’ll find huge and delicious nuts and fruits in the markets. Here we really need to highlight the dates – they are the best we have ever tried!
- Spices – another thing you’ll find in every market and a mandatory gift to any foodie. Out of the hundreds of different spices, we need to highlight Za’atar – a blend of Mediterranean spices used in Israeli cooking and one of the best ways of keeping a memory of Israel at home.
- Israeli olive oil – Israel and most of the Mediterranean countries have amazing olive oil. They use it on everything, and after trying it, you’ll also want to…
- Dead Sea products – the dead sea offers some unique products that are both high quality and a souvenir from an Israel travel. There’s cooking salt, dead sea mud, bath salts, and many different creams.
- Judaica and Jewish-themed Products – From candlesticks, menorahs, and seder plates to decorative hamsas and mezuzahs, there are many things to choose from…
- And then there are also the Christian souvenirs from the Holy Land sold near the biggest Christian pilgrimage sites.
What to pack on a trip to Israel?
#45 Israel is one of the most diverse countries in the world. It offers so many things to see and do, so each trip requires a particular packing list. But let’s explore some of the basic things that any traveler needs to pack for your Israel trip.
- Casual and comfortable clothes. Even if it’s summer, bring some long pants, and wear them when visiting some of the most religious destinations. Remember that some of them have strict rules and only allow you to enter with your shoulders and knees covered.
- Sunglasses – In case you haven’t figured it out, Israel is hot and sunny.
- Sunscreen – In summer, it’s absolutely mandatory, but I suggest you take it whenever you plan to go.
- Flip flops or sandals – These will be useful almost daily, whether for sightseeing, showering in the hostel, going to the beach, walking on the burning hot sand, or even entering the dead sea.
- Hat – For the exact same reason as the sunglasses…
- Good Power bank – While traveling, you may end up without access to electricity for long periods, so a power bank will help you ensure you always have your phone and camera working.
- Neck pillow – This will be useful during the flight, as it can be long and at night. Check here our full neck pillows buying guides.
- Snorkeling gear – Eilat has some serious snorkeling spots, and they are just off the beach. If you take your gear, you won’t need to rent whenever you want to snorkel.
- Light day pack – Israel is made for day trips, hiking trips, full-day tours, and so on… We strongly advise taking a small, light backpack on these trips.
Do you need a visa to enter Israel?
#46 Citizens from most Western countries don’t need a visa to enter Israel. Confirm here the visa requirements for Israel.
Security checks in Israel are serious business, both when you enter the country and when you leave. They will ask you several questions about yourself (and compare to your documents), about your stay, and even about other trips you made. When leaving, they will also ask similar questions, but also where have you been in Israel, if someone gave things, that kind of stuff.
We advise you to go to the airport about 3 hours before the flight. This may seem time-consuming, but all these security measures take time and create huge lines.
You should be aware that many Muslim countries don’t allow you to enter their country if you have an Israeli stamp/visa on your passport. Due to this, Israel doesn’t stamp your passport anymore when you enter the country through Ben Gurion Airport. Instead, you receive a blue permit you must keep with you until you leave the country.
You may be wondering if you can enter Israel if you have been to Muslim countries you can. You may be asked even more questions or have your bags checked…
How is the Internet in Israel?
#47 As expected, in a developed country like Israel, you’ll find WIFI everywhere. Every hostel, hotel, and guest house will offer free WIFI. Most restaurants and bars will also have WIFI for the clients. Furthermore, some cities offer free wifi in several locations. Tel Aviv is a great example offering it in more than 80 public locations spread throughout the city.
However, if that’s not enough for you, you can always buy a sim card with data. It’s expensive, but you’ll have data everywhere and more than enough for you to use all the time.
The network coverage is very good, and the internet is fast. So, no real concerns there. The only downside is that the card costs 20 USD, and then you must pay for the data plan. We paid about 20 USD extra…
Is Israel a clean country?
#48 In general, Israel isn’t very dirty, but this is a complicated issue. People don’t seem to be wary of the trash they make and throw it on the floor. Also, the beaches have so many cigarette buts… The positive side is that the streets are washed and cleaned during the night, making the cities look a little better in this regard.
It’s a little disappointing that a developed country like Israel still has so much to improve on this issue. Particularly in the cities.
One other thing that was really disappointing is the absence of recycling and the overuse of plastics. There was barely any trash separation in Israel.
Other Israel travel facts
#49 Israelis love Matkot! They play it all the time, take it very seriously and spend lots of money on it… You’ll see and hear them playing everywhere. What’s Matkot? Beach tennis!
Israelis play it very aggressively and with a very unique technique. Some people don’t like or are annoyed by the constant sounds of the balls and rackets, but we actually enjoyed it. Probably because we both play tennis and it was fun to watch.
#50 There’s a not-for-profit educational organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage, aged 18–32. This is called Birthright Israel, and it’s a very interesting project that allows people to visit Israel for free.
Since 1999, more than 600,000 young people from 67 countries have traveled to Israel through the program. So, if you are a Jew, you may be eligible for a free trip to Israel!