In this Q&A session, we will answer the most popular questions that tourists to Israel have. And if you have not found an answer to your question, then either leave a comment below or send me an email.
Let’s start with the most popular question.
Is It Safe To Visit Israel?
The short answer is yes. I feel perfectly safe, and there are no restrictions. As a kid, I could hang out with friends outside at night. And today the situation is the same. My house is located in front of a park, and I often see children (10 – 12 years old) at 10 pm playing there.
But I might be biased since I live here. Thus I will back up my answer to “Is Israel Safe To Travel To” with statistics (“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 😉 ).
UNODC murder rates: murders per 100,000 inhabitants of selected countries (source: Wikipedia).
If you look only on those numbers, then the requested conclusion is: if you think France (which has the closest rate) is safe, then so is Israel. But you should keep in mind that this rate has grey areas. For example, killings caused by a non-international armed conflict may or may not be included, depending on the intensity of hostilities and whether it is classified as ‘civil unrest’ or a clash between organized armed groups. Nonetheless, I do not think that including or excluding terrorist attacks in Israel will have any significant effect.
Moreover, the rate is an average. And even in a small country like Israel, these numbers are significantly varying depending on the area.
Is It Safe For A Woman To Travel Alone?
The answer is the same as to the previous question, which is: it is safe for a woman to travel alone in Israel. Of course, you should use common sense, and not do things that you usually wouldn’t. The only restriction that comes to mind is that you should dress modestly when visiting holy sites and religious places.
Is It Safe To Travel To Palestine?
Though this question is frequently asked, we should divide it. Palestine has two different geographic locations: West Bank and Gaza. Traveling to West Bank is relatively safe, but you are less prone to scams (we will touch this subject later). However, if they think you are a Jew or an Israel, the situation might get uncomfortable. Therefore, I would advise pre-booking a tour to the West Bank.
Traveling to Gaza is dangerous, and IDF will stop you for your safety. Moreover, since Palestinians tend to shoot mortars and other rockets, I would suggest keeping a distance of at least 10 km from the Gaza strip.
Does Israel Stamp Passports?
The short answer is no, but the full answer is not that simple.
You cannot enter some countries with an Israeli stamp. AFAIK there are sixteen countries, like Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, and Kuwait. Thus, by default, Israel stopped stamping passports and gives you a paper card instead. You should keep this paper card, which serves as your visa, until the end of your journey as you might need it in various situations.
But when traveling to nearby countries like Jordan and Egypt they can stamp your passport. This stamp will make it clear where you have been. In most cases, you can ask not to stamp your passport, and they will stamp a piece of paper instead.
Thus, if it is important to you, always ask not to stamp your passport.
The Israeli population is a linguistically and culturally diverse community. Hebrew is the official language. And since English is mandatory at schools, most people know it to some extent. Other languages are less common. But if you know English, then you should have no problem getting around.
According to a 2011 Government Social Survey of Israelis over 20 years of age, 49% report Hebrew as their native language, Arabic 18%, Russian 15%, Yiddish 2%, French 2%, English 2%, 1.6% Spanish, and 10% other languages (including Romanian, German and Amharic, which were not offered as answers by the survey). This study also noted that 90% of Jews and over 60% of Arabs have a good understanding of Hebrew.
Also, I should mention that most signs, including road signs and signs in touristic areas (including National Parks), are in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.
And if you would like to learn some Hebrew, here are 100 basic Hebrew phrases.
The weather in Israel tends to be hot during the Summer and rainy in winter. Usually, in most places, the temperatures will be between 15 – 35 C around the year. Thus you can travel all year round as long as you do not mind getting wet (usually from sweat, but sometimes from rain).
Since overall it is hot, there are air conditioners everywhere. Not only in cars (which are obligated by law), but at all public transportation, public building as well. It is hard to imagine there can be hotels or flats without air conditioners, but better verify it before booking be sure.
What Is The Best Month To Visit Israel?
If we are taking only weather into account then March, April, and May would be my top priority. September and October are the second priority.
If you are looking for a more in-depth answer, then check out this post. Also, check out the information regarding festivals and events mentioned in that post.
The moon calendar determines the dates of Jewish holidays. Thus, the specific times are varying relatively to the Gregorian calendar. Here is a link to a list of all Israeli holidays and their dates.
When it comes to holidays, the main question is whether should it matter. And the answer is yes. On the one hand, during Israeli holidays, the prices of hotels and apartments will go up. Moreover, all attractions will be busy. On the other hand, there will be more events and festivals. Thus, if you are not interested in a specific event, I would advise not to visit during the long holidays, such as Passover, Sukkot, and Hanukkah.
Useful Items To Bring Along
In this section, we will go over the non-standard things that you should consider taking along on your trip to Israel. I will not mention all the basics, and instead, I will suggest only the items that you might typically leave at home.
Israel is a hot country. And you could be easily burned by the sun even during winter time. Thus, the first item I want to mention is sunscreen. Take sunscreen with high SPF numbers (like SPF 30 and even 50). Moreover, take a hat and always drink a lot of water.
As long as we are talking about weather-related items, take a light rain jacket if you are visiting during the rainy season and always bring insect repellors (just in case).
Additional items that you should consider is a beach mat (you can rent beds and umbrellas, but it will cost you around five dollars each).
And for those coming from America, you will probably need a converter that will change the electric current from 110 volts to 220 volts. See additional information in the Electricity section.
Most likely you will be walking a lot. Thus comfortable shoes and clothes are a must. But before we get to the specifics, I want to mention clothing in general.
Dress-code In Israel
The general dress-code in Israel is casual and comfortable. Most men stick to T-shirts and jeans, or shorts and a polo shirt. For going out they dress up a little, but suits are rare. If you see somebody in a suit, then he is most likely either a lawyer or a salesperson. In most cases, women wear casual pants, T-shirts or pack a light-weight dress and nice blouse for going out. When it comes to footwear, many wear sneakers, sandals, and even flip flops (they are especially useful if you hit the beach).
Thus, leave the suits and evening dresses behind.
After understanding that casual clothes are the ones that you will be using, I want to dive a little further and mention an additional clothing category.
Visiting religious sites (whether it is a synagogue, church or a mosque) will require modest clothing. There are two main points that you should remember, and they are knees and shoulders.
My wife usually takes a scarf. There are lightweight scarfs that can open up and cover significant parts of your body. You can always buy them in the local markets, like the Jerusalem Old City market, but it is better to bring along if you have one. And before entering a religious site, she can put the scarf over the heads and the shoulders. In any case, the shoulders should be covered. Thus tanks, vests and shoulderless dresses will not do. And of course, dresses should be without a deep neckline.
When it comes to length of the shorts for men or dresses and skirts for women, then in both cases it should go below the knees.
The currency in Israel is NIS – New Israeli Shekel. Or more commonly known as Shekel. And 1 Shekel equals to 100 Agorot.
Though in the next photo, there are coins from different countries, you can see also coins of 10 NIS, 5 NIS, and 10 Agorot.
Several years ago series C banknotes were introduced, but series B banknotes are still in use. You can see photos of all notes and coins here.
Though exchange rates change, as of January 2019, 1 US Dollar equals 3.7 NIS, and 1 Euro equals 4.28 NIS.
Credit cards are widely used in Israel. I keep some cash for two scenarios, tips in restaurants and small purchases (because of the commissions paid to credit firms, many business owners accept credit cards only when purchasing for 25 NIS or more). But, there is no problem in paying cash, at least for moderate payments (see The Law for the Reduction Cash Use in the next section).
The Knesset approved the Law for the Reduction Cash Use in March 2018. It is intended to limit the use of cash to reduce black capital and to combat money laundering, tax evasion, financing of terrorism, etc. If a transaction exceeds 11,000 NIS, the business is prohibited from paying or receiving the payment (in cash) of more than 10% of the transaction price or NIS 11,000, whichever is lower.
While we are on the subject of credit cards, I should mention that Diners and American Express are less prevalent in Israel and some businesses do not accept them.
I would advise holding some Shekels before arriving in Israel. Other currencies are not accepted (besides maybe the most touristic spots). Once in Israel, you can exchange currencies either at the Israeli post office (Foreign Currency Exchange Rates) or exchange bureaus. Some people also withdraw cash from ATMs or exchange money at the banks. When I am traveling abroad, I exchange money at licensed exchange bureaus, as they typically have the best rates.
Prices In Israel
Israel is not cheap. It is a shock for many tourists since all the neighboring are less expensive. But, you should know that Israeli economics is different from the typical Middle Eastern country. Average monthly salary for 2018 was 10,395 NIS, which is roughly 2,500 Euro. And when I was looking for the average wage across the European countries, I stumbled upon a 2013 study which cited 1,916 euros per month. Average salary does not fully explain price level, but I would mention, that many Israelis travel to the USA and Western Europe predominantly for shopping. Therefore, in my opinion, the only things you should check are unique items and souvenirs (see: “What Are The Best Things To Buy In Israel?” section for additional info).
Standard hotel room per couple for one night will usually start at 600 NIS (and these are rare finds), and can easily reach several thousand Shekels for boutique hotels. In most places, the average room fare is 800 – 1,500 NIS.
Overall, food is expensive in Israel, and AFAIK fruits are the only category that is a little cheaper than in Europe.
- A meal at a mid-range restaurant Restaurant per person 60 – 120 NIS
- A snack and a drink (street food) – 30 – 50 NIS
- Beer (0.5 liter) at a pub/restaurant 20 – 35 NIS
- Water (0.33 liter) – 10 NIS. And a sixpack of 2-liter bottles at a supermarket costs 10-12 NIS.
- One-way bus ticket within a city is around 6 NIS.
- Taxi price per 1 kilometer is around 4 NIS, and 90 NIS for a one hour drive.
The accepted tip in restaurants is 10 – 15% of the bills. As per other areas, like porters and other hotel staff, there is no accepted standard. Taxi drivers are usually not tipped.
How To Travel Israel On A Budget?
Using the Pareto principle, we will go over the most expensive components of a trip to Israel.
- Flights – most flights to Israel reach Ben Gurion (TLV) airport. Recently Ovda Airport, not far from Eilat, was opened. Many European low-cost companies flight to Ovda Airport. Thus, check flights that reach all airports in Israel.
- Lodging – hotels in Israel are expensive. Usually, a cheaper solution would be renting an apartment (Airbnb and Booking.com are both popular in Israel). Another option would be booking a private room in a hostel. And the cheapest solution is camping. Though this option is not relevant to the major cities, when visiting nature, you will see that some National Parks offer camping options.
- Food – prices in restaurants and cafes can be steep. One alternative would be street food. This budget option is widespread, and the variety of street food is quite broad. Falafel, Hummus, Shawarma, Msabbaha, Bourekas, Khachapuri, Shakshouka, and Sabich are just some of the options.
- Attractions – entry fee to many attractions can be quite expensive. But, if you plan, and look for coupons and deals online, you can save up to 50%.
And one additional important tip that is correct to all countries is: travel off-season and avoid the holidays.
What Are The Best Things To Buy In Israel?
- Dead sea products include a wide range of beauty products. Ahava produces these items, and you can find them at the Dead Sea and in malls across Israel.
- Spices – you can find a wide variety of herbs and spices in Israel. Many tourists love purchasing them, but before doing so, you need to check whether you will be allowed to enter with them to origin country. Read on Herbs And Spices In Israel for additional info.
As long we are on this topic, I want to mention that some people love to take Halva, Tahini, Hummus, Dates, and Date honey with them. Though they are delicious, they are also heavier than spices. So, beware of your weight limit.
- Jewelry – diamond Industry is developed in Israel, but not only it. You can also find jewelry made of semi-precious stones, silver, gold, copper, brass, Roman glass, Eilat stone, and others. There are many chains and stand-alone stores. You can find them in the malls in all major cities.
- Handicrafts – you can find a lot of unique handmade items in Israel. Whether it is ceramics (Israeli and Armenian), pottery, Hamsa made of different materials, Judaica items, Bedouin handicrafts, Metalace, and many others. The most popular places to buy jewelry and crafts are the Cardo in the Old City of Jerusalem, Mamilla mall in Jerusalem, numerous galleries at Old Jaffa, Nachlat Binyamin Market in Tel Aviv, Ein Hod, and Safed.
- Wine and olive oil have been produced in Israel since biblical times. I am not suggesting purchasing products made by big brands, but instead, visit a boutique producer and joining the activity there. Here are for example our visits to Dvorat HaTavor Visitor center and Olives Picking At Galili Olive Oil.
Wine is made not only from grapes. And a unique option would be purchasing pomegranate wine.
Some tourist love purchasing Antiquities. I am not an archeology professor, and my ability to differentiate between fake and real is nonexistent. And there are many fakes antiquities (see “Scams In Israel” section). Thus, unless you have extensive knowledge in Archeology, I would suggest keeping away from it. Or at least, not to spend too much money on it.
In Israel the standard voltage is 230 V, and the frequency is 50 Hz. You can use your electric appliances in Israel if the standard voltage in your country is in between 220 – 240 V (as is in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa). Manufacturers take these small deviations into account. If the standard voltage in your country is in the range of 100 V – 127 V (as is in the US, Canada, and most South American countries), you need a voltage converter in Israel. You can also consider a combined power plug adapter/voltage converter.
Thus if you are coming from North or South America, you will most likely need a voltage converter and a travel adapter. Otherwise, you might need just a travel plug.
Many modern devices, such as phone chargers, support both voltages. Thus, if you see a sticker that says “Input: 100-240V”, then you do not need a voltage converter for it.
In Israel, you can find several different socket types. According to the International Electrotechnical Commission, Israel uses Plug Types C, H, and M.
Here is a snapshot of a plug from my home:
When I am traveling abroad, I always take a travel adapter, just in case. And since there are different plug types in Israel, I would advise you to do the same. Travel adapters are small and can save the day.
Wi-Fi And Internet
In my travels, I always use the internet. My main usages are navigation and checking reviews of cafes and restaurants (attractions are usually pre-planned). Thus, if you will be renting a car, I would advise purchasing either a SIM card with a mobile internet or renting a phone. And in case you will be visiting only the big cities, then mobile internet will still be useful, but you can do without it as there are many free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Many museums and municipalities offer free Wi-Fi. For example, several years ago, Tel-Aviv created 80 access points across the city. The network is called “FREE TLV WiFi,” and you can find the location of all access points here (street names are in Hebrew).
Various businesses also offer free Wi-Fi. Many cafes, restaurants, malls, gas stations, and even public transportation (trains and some busses) have free Wi-Fi. When it comes to hotels, then the situation is worse. Many offer free Wi-Fi only in the lobby, and if you want Wi-Fi in the room, then it is for an extra fee. And in some cases, the additional cost is too expensive. In those cases, it would be cheaper purchasing local SIM card.
Local SIM Card
If you have an unlocked smartphone, then you can purchase a local SIM card. And if your phone is locked, then you can rent a smartphone, but it will be more expensive then a SIM card.
You can buy a SIM card at the post offices (and there is one at Ben Gurion airport), at telecom operator stores or stands, and preorder them via the web. For example, Partner Big Talk pre-paid packages can be purchased at the post offices or via Partner. Here are several package examples:
- 29 NIS for 1 GB + 1000 minutes within Israel and this package is valid for two days.
- 50 NIS for 4 GB + 1500 minutes within Israel and this package is valid for seven days.
- 140 NIS for 45 GB + 5000 minutes within Israel and this package is valid for 30 days.
You can find information about all their packages here.
Note: you can find all branches of Israeli post here (only in Hebrew).
Most useful apps for tourists in Israel:
- Moovit – in many of my posts I include links to Moovit under “How To Get There” section. Moovit has an app and a website that assists people to get to their destination using public transport. Its data include all bus firms and the train. Thus, if you will be using public transportation in Israel, this app will make your life easier.
- Waze – is a GPS based navigation application. Waze is very popular in Israel. Thus it is continuously updated with traffic status (including locations of police units and speed cameras). And though Waze was purchased by Google, their systems were not integrated, and in Israel, due to its popularity, Waze tends to give better routes. If you are renting a car, this is a must. Note that Waze requires the constant internet connection (SIM card with internet) to load maps and get traffic updates.
- Gett allows you to order cabs and pay the driver through the app. If you are going to be riding taxies, consider using it. It will make your life simple, and the chances of being scammed by a taxi driver go to zero. Gett is the most popular taxi handling app, but are competitors, and raxi and yango are two of them.
- Parking – if you rent a car then you will most likely look for parking. Blue and white curbs mean that it is a paid parking area. You can pay for blue and white using an app. Cellopark and Pango are two of the most popular. I am using Pango, but not sure how it works with international credit cards. If you have a problem setting an international credit card into the app, look for a parking lot or a grey curb. Do not be tempted to park at blue and white. There is a high chance you will receive a fine.
- TripAdvisor and Google Maps – I often use these apps to check reviews and average scores of restaurants and attractions. This way I am sure that I am not going to spend money on an average food or attraction.
The most important thing to know about public transportation is that in Israel there is no public transport on Saturdays. Keep in mind that according to Jewish religion the day starts in the evening (when you can see the first star) and not at midnight. Thus, busses and trains will stop several hours before the beginning of Saturday and resume 1 – 2 hours after it ends. The exact times depend on the season, but as a rule of thumb, the “downtime” is from 1 – 3 pm on Friday till 7 – 9 pm on Saturday. For exact times, check the official websites.
Keep this downtime in mind and plan accordingly.
Though all other transport is not working during Shabbat, airports work 24×7. But if you arrive or leave during Saturday, the only transportation options are a taxi or a rental car.
Two airports in Israel receive international flights. The main one is Ben Gurion Airport (TLV since it is located not far from Tel Aviv), and the secondary is Ovda Airport (VDA which is situated close to Eilat). You can reach both airports using buses and taxis. Additionally, you can take the train to Ben Gurion Airport.
There are several bus companies in Israel, but by far the biggest one is Egged. The other ones are Dan, Kavim, Metropoline, Superbus, and Nateev Express. But you do not need to check websites of all firms to find the appropriate route. There are aggregation sites like www.bus.co.il or Moovit (as I mentioned in Apps section).
You can buy the bus ticket from the driver or purchase Rav-Kav in advance.
Rav-Kav is a form of electronic ticketing used in all bus companies and the national railway in Israel. Launched in August 2007, Rav-Kav was expected to be integrated by all public transportation companies nationwide by late 2009, bureaucratic problems have caused this date to be pushed back several times.
Once the project is completed, Rav-Kav is expected to replace all the existing paper tickets, and serve as a common fare collection system for the different public transportation operators in the country. It is also expected that Rav-Kav will shorten boarding times significantly, as the existing system of purchasing tickets from the bus driver in cash is considered to be messy and dangerous.
Israel Railways has several lines and are comfortable to use. But if you ride during peak hours (typically mornings), the trains will be busy. There is one North-South mainline (with several splits), and several East-West lines. Among the popular touristic destinations, you can find train stations in the following cities: Acre, Haifa, Caesarea, Tel Aviv, Beit Shean, Ben Gurion airport, and Jerusalem. Keep in mind that currently there are two lines to Jerusalem. The one that goes to Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is the old one. It is scenic, but also a time-consuming alternative. The new line goes to Yitzhak Navon station in Jerusalem, and in most cases, this is the line to use. But, up till today (January 2019), the new line is still in pilot mode. So I would advise rechecking the official website.
- You can find a map of all train routes and the stations here.
- The bigger cities have several stations, thus check in advance which one suits you the most.
If you already researched this topic, then you probably read about the negative side of driving in Israel. And I will not deny it, some drivers in Israel are impatient and anxious. Some tourists compare Israeli driving experience to driving in Greece or Italy. These are of course stereotypes, but I guess there is some supporting evidence. I rented and drove cars probably on a dozen different occasions all over Europe. And I drove both in Greece and Italy, and these were among the more pleasant drives. For example, driving in Hungary was much more intense as nobody was keeping a distance.
Here are several tips to driving in Israel:
- In general, I would suggest driving carefully in the right lane and let everybody who is in a hurry to pass you.
- If you do not like something, for example, somebody is driving too close to you or not keeping the lane use the vehicle’s horn. Some call it the crazy general tactics. But I prefer others thinking that I am mad and keeping the distance, over then getting into an accident.
- Keep an extra distance from old cars, as their owners have less to lose. And while on this subject, keep the distance from black or dark German cars, like Mercedes, BMW, and VW Golf. Or more generally, any vehicle whose owner looks like a formula racer wannabe.
- Use Waze and try to avoid traffic jams. Sometimes even regular people start to push the gas pedal too much after spending several hours in traffic congestion.
- Do not drive within the big cities. There is no reason for it, and the traffic is heavy. Instead, plan to visit the towns and only then rent the car (or vice versa).
- After I read different driving survival guides about Greece, I purchased full coverage insurance. You can do the same.
The main toll road, which you might be using, is highway #6. There is also the fast lane at the entrance to Tel Aviv and the Carmel tunnels. All of them have several types of subscriptions, including video subscriptions. And for video subscribers, the license plates are automatically scanned, and the bills are sent to the car owner (either by regular mail or email). Accordingly, at road #6 there are no cashiers, and you cannot pay for your drive. Instead, the rental company will receive the bill. Therefore, ask at the rental office whether you can use toll roads.
If you choose to, you can avoid toll roads and set Waze not to take them into account.
In most cases, regular grey curbs mean free parking. But, there are rare cases when a city municipality does not paint the curb but puts a sign at the beginning of the street. So stay away from that pitfall. Blue and white means that this parking costs money. Either pay using one of the apps mentioned above or look for the parking meter (which is not always easy to find). And do not park on all other colors.
In the case when you are not sure, either ask a local or park at a paid parking lot. Do not expect mercy from a city municipality if you get a ticket since in most cases, there will be none.
Scams In Israel
If you are cautious, you will not get scammed. And I was never tricked. Instead, I am going to list the most common complaints I saw online and in TV shows. And here they are:
- Taxi drivers – there were many complains that taxi drivers do not turn the meter or return incorrect change. It is where technology helps. Use one of the Apps I mentioned above, and you will not stumble upon such problems.
- Free tours to West Bank – if you are offered a free trip, take it only if you know what organization stands behind it. There were many scenarios where a taxi driver or a tour guide provides a free ride/tour to the West Bank. Then the tourists are taken to a souvenir shop and are not allowed to leave until they make a significant purchase. And of course, in most cases, the purchased items are fake. Furthermore, since it all takes place in the West Bank, you have nobody to complain to.
Thus if you want to visit the West Bank, join one of the organized tours. After all, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
- Archeological items – in “What Are The Best Things To Buy In Israel?” section I mentioned that many of the Antiquities sold might not be genuine. Thus, if you are not sure whether it is real or fake, do not buy it. “Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.”
- Red threads – although this is not a scam, I decided to include it so that you could avoid it. In some places, for example in the Jewish quarter in the Old City in Jerusalem, you will see religious Jews with lots of red threads. When you go nearby, they will offer to tire one of those wire around your wrist. Then they will say a short prayer. And afterward, ask for a donation. If you do not plan to give them a contribution, thank them and do not put the wire.
Keep those scams in mind, and dodge them.
Can you Travel From Israel To Jordan?
The short answer is yes. There are many guided tours to Jordan. The shorter ones (1 – 2 days) include Petra and Wadi Rum, and the longer ones (up to a week) will also include a visit to Jerash, Aqaba, and other sites.
There are three border crossings between Israel and Jordan, and they are:
- The Allenby/King Hussein border crossing, 51 km away from Amman and 54 km from Jerusalem. This border checkpoint is located in the southern Jordan Valley.
- Jordan River Crossing/Sheikh Hussein bridge is 88 km away from Amman and 11 km from Beit Shean.
- Yitzhak Rabin/Wadi Araba border crossing is located in the south, 329km away from Amman and 7km from Eilat.
Note that they are not open 24×7, thus if you plan to travel in Jordan independently, then you need to search for opening hours. And you will also need to check what are the transportation options and their costs in Jordan.
Since tours to Jordan are relatively inexpensive, most people I know joined one of the available tours. Another advantage of a tour is that some tour operators will take care of visas for all participants. Yes, you need a visa to visit Jordan, and not at all border crossings you can make a visa on the spot. Thus, you might need to prepare it beforehand.
Where To Travel In Israel?
If it is your first time to Israel, then Jerusalem, Dead Sea, and Tel Aviv are the most popular destinations. But I would encourage you to visit Israel Trip Planner post. Over there you will find a list of the most popular attractions in Israel, and then I divided the whole country into blocks and listed what you can see in each area. There are also several trip suggestions for first timers and families with kids. So, head on to Israel Trip Planner.
If you have not found an answer to your question, leave a comment below, and I will do my best to answer.