Five Things First Time Travellers To Israel Should Know
- Saturday is the Jewish day of rest called Shabbat. On this day, most business, transportation and shops will close down. If you're arriving on a Saturday, you'll need to plan ahead to make sure you can get to your final destination.
- English is widely spoken. While the official language is Hebrew, you won't have much of a communication barrier to overcome. That said, knowing a few Hebrew phrases will be helpful especially if you travel to the more rural areas.
- Don't forget to tip. In Israel, it's common practice tip your waiter around 10-15%. Outside of the hospitality industry, tipping is not expected or common.
- Israel no longer stamps passports. Due to other countries refusing entry to travellers from Israel, a loose paper visa is issued instead. Make sure you keep it somewhere safe as it's your only proof of legal entry.
- You can drink the tap water except at The Dead Sea. The locals also prefer bottled water, as the high concentration of minerals can make you feel queasy. If you start to feel the same way, only use the water for brushing your teeth.
Best Time To Visit Israel
The best time to visit Israel is during the summer. From June to August, the temperatures are high and the evenings are warm. There's also little chance of rainfall, meaning your sightseeing won't be cut short. If you make your way to the coast and the Dead Sea, pack a hat and sunscreen as the sun is harsher in the south.
But if you're travelling on a budget, you might want to give Israel a miss during its summer months. It's the busiest and most expensive time of year, with high hotel rates and crowded attractions.
If you prefer milder temperatures, spring and autumn are excellent choices. While you'll need to wear a few layers, especially in the evenings, the clear sunny skies make this an excellent time of year for hiking. These two seasons are also more affordable for the frugal traveller. Prices are low, and you'll find fewer people at the popular sites around the country.
The quietest time of year in Israel is its winter months. With frigid temperatures, rain and snow on the mountains, the crowds are thin. If you don't mind bundling up, you'll find great deals on hotels and flights, but you'll need to keep your itinerary flexible in case of bad weather.
Located on Israel's Mediterranean Coast, Tel Aviv is a vibrant cosmopolitan city. Its biggest draw cards for travellers are the beautiful beaches, Bauhaus buildings and the historic port of Jaffa.
Spend your days browsing the art galleries, visiting museums, sampling the hummus at upmarket bistros and dancing the night away at the pumping bars.
If you can, plan your trip around the city's biggest events like the Gay Pride Parade and Tel Aviv Fashion Week.
Jerusalem is considered the holiest city in the world. It's where three of the biggest religions in the world come together to visit their most important cultural sites.
Located in the Old City, you'll find the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Church of Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall. Outside of the ancient walls, the city houses some of the country's best museums including the Yad Vashem and World Center for Holocaust Research.
Haifa is a laid-back city located in the north of Israel. Its claim to fame are the beautiful Baha'i Gardens that tumble down towards the coast. Another iconic site is Haifa's gold-domed Shrine of the Bab.
For intrepid travellers, the city also makes the perfect base to explore the surrounding region. It's in day-tripping distance from Akko, Mount Carmel and Nazareth.
Top Attractions in Israel
At 417 metres below sea level, The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. It contains the saltiest water in the world, making it possible for anyone to float. Its mineral-rich mud is also revered for helping skin ailments like acne, eczema and psoriasis.
But The Dead Sea is more than just a natural wonder; it's also steeped in history. Nearby, you'll find the site of Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where it's believed a group of Jews committed mass suicide.
Other not to be missed sites included Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls where found, and Ein Gedi, a lush oasis that is often compared to the Garden of Eden.
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee also called Kinneret, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. It's here where many believe Jesus performed miracles, like his famous walk on water and delivered his sermons.
Today, the area is one of Israel's top tourist sites. Visitors can relax in the hot pools which have been ancient baths for 2,000 years. There are also plenty of hikes to explore the region and water activities like kite and wind surfing.
For history lovers, there is the nearby Korazim National Park. Inside you'll find the Jewish town of Korazim where archaeologists found the "Moses Seat", a place of honour mentioned in ancient texts.
Masafa is an ancient mountaintop fortress that overlooks the Dead Sea. It's believed that King Herod and his followers committed mass suicide after being under a two-year siege against the Romans.
Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit for anyone who is interested in the country's ancient past.
Hike up the winding Snake Path to reach the 1,300-foot peak of the fortress for breathtaking panoramas. Otherwise, there's a cable car if you don't want to break a sweat. At the top, you'll find the remains of the settlement as well as the battery that the Romans built.
The city of Bethlehem is a major Christian pilgrimage site. It's famous for being the birthplace of Jesus Christ and is home to the Church of the Nativity.
It's believed that the church is built on the site where Jesus was born making it the top attraction on the West Bank.
While Bethlehem, is a popular day trip from Jerusalem, it's a great place to base yourself to explore the surrounding area. Visit Shepherd's Field for beautiful vistas of the countryside and make your way to the incredible cliff-face monastery of Mar Saba.
Baha'i Shrine and Gardens
No trip to Haifa would be complete without a visit to the extraordinary Baha'i Gardens and the Baha'i Shrine. Inside the golden dome, you'll find the tomb of Mirza Al Mohammed. He famously declared himself the gateway to God in 1844 and founded the Baha'i faith.
After being assassinated in Iran, his remains were secretly brought to Haifa, and the memorial was built in his honour. Centuries later, the terraced gardens were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their cultural significance and beauty.
For those that still practice the Baha'i faith, the shrine and gardens remain an important pilgrimage site.
Major International Airports in Israel
- Ben Gurion Airport
- Ramon Airport