Vibrant, friendly, interesting and warm. Give me four words to describe Israel and I would start off with those four words. Give me more time and I could talk about this country for days straight. From the moment of landing in Tel Aviv, to the day leaving Jerusalem – I loved every minute of my trip. One week in Israel wasn’t even close to enough to see everything and there aren’t enough words in the world that can describe my admiration for this country.
To be honest, since returning from Israel I can’t shut up about the country. I want to tell everybody everything that I saw and witnessed. I want them to taste the atmosphere and create the desire to travel to Israel for themselves.
I’ve never had this urge before. Not with any country that I’ve visited. But somehow I feel like Israel needs these good stories. Mainly because most stories spread (at least in the country where I live), aren’t exactly positive. And what a shame it would be to make those stories stop you from visiting such a historical, beautiful place in the world.
Enfin, if you ever do get the pleasure of visiting this wonderful country you might want to know a thing or two regarding what to expect. So I’m going to give you just that: 7 things you want to know before traveling to Israel!
In Tel Aviv you’ll be just fine wearing shorts or even less when walking around town. Also – when visiting the beach you don’t have to worry about your bikini. But please be careful with how you dress in other locations around the country – especially around Jerusalem and obviously when visiting religious sites. So whenever you go: pack enough clothes that will cover your shoulders, chest and knees (be careful with tight clothing and things that are see-through) – and you’ll be just fine.
You probably won’t be to happy about the modest outfits seeing the temperatures around the country, but please: respect the culture of the country that is hosting you as tourist.
Don’t forget about Shabbat
When we arrived in Tel Aviv on a Friday the staff from our hostel definitely told us about Shabbat – but we kinda forgot about it exactly one week later when visiting Jerusalem. Mainly because Tel Aviv isn’t so strict when it comes to this old Jewish tradition. However in Jerusalem, on Friday night when we decided to go into town and find something to eat, it got a lot more difficult.
Whilst Tel Aviv was pretty relaxed about Shabbat – Jerusalem is a different story, which is obvious seeing that the majority of the community in Jerusalem is Jewish.
So when walking through Jerusalem on Friday night we discovered the following. Almost nothing is opened: hardly any restaurants, hardly any supermarkets and no stores. Public Transportation doesn’t run. The Taxi’s that do go are twice as expensive. The streets are close to empty and most touristic attractions are closed.
So if I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to remember Shabbat when planning our itinerary. In Tel Aviv you’ll be fine, but around Jerusalem you can’t exactly go out to eat on Friday or Saturday or do groceries. If you wish to book a tour in the weekend, then be sure to book it on Thursday. And if you want to rent a car or go to the airport – plan in advance!
However – must say, that being in Jerusalem during Shabbat was a great and unique experience. So if you happen to find yourself around town on a Friday night: be sure to experience a Shabbat Dinner.
Don’t stay in one place
With so much to see, so much to do and so many places to visit I would really recommend you to switch hotels every few nights. Just to make the most of your visit to Israel. I mean, sure – Israel isn’t the biggest country and you can almost go everywhere with daytrips. However if you really want to experience the cities and locations you will want to sleep there as well.
However, if you want to stay in one place for a longer time I would suggest Jerusalem seeing the fact that it is quite central for most of the touristic highlights. Especially if you also want to visit Palestina or perhaps Jordan.
You can rely on public transport
The public transportation system in Israel is just fine for you as a tourist: most of the big cities are connected by bus or by train and with that you can make your trip quite easy a budget proof one!
There are only two exceptions that I’ve learned about:
– Public transport in the north, around the Golan Heights, is a lot harder to find. So you’ll be better off renting a car or joining a tour in this area!
– Public transport will be harder to find from Friday afternoon till Saturday night because of Shabbat (Tel Aviv is easier). You can find a taxi but they will cost you a lot more during the weekend. If you want to rent a car for the weekend make sure to rent it before Shabbat starts.
Read before you go
With so many stories, and such a divided, long history.. So many sights, ideas and cultures you should definitely read into Israel before traveling here. Of course, when visiting tours or following a guide around you will here one thing or another but they nearly don’t have enough time to tell you all you want to know. So read before you go to learn about the basics of history, about the faith and about the religious sites you want to visit and need to know about!
Expect it to be hot
With the sun burning on your face the entire day, you’ll find the weather to be exactly how you’d expect it to be in the Middle East. Hot. With the exception of the Winter months. When it cools down to a more subtle temperature somewhere around 15 to 20 degrees celcius. However in Summer temperatures can easily go around 40 degrees. Dress for the occasion, be prepared.. and enjoy!
Always check the current travel advice
Luckily I got the chance to visit Israel during a week that it was really quiet around the country. I felt safe throughout my trip, and didn’t need to take any tensions into account. But we all know that the situation in Israel and her surrounding countries like Syria and Libanon can be completely different. Whether there is tension in Israel, and whether it is smart to travel around the country or to Palestine can fluctuate and change per week. So always be aware of the current situation and check the travel advice your gouvernement gives you. Or ask locals for help when traveling around the country itself. Which, by the way, is something you should always do, no matter where you travel.